With the long cold winter evenings keeping my northern friends inside, with the hot summer days and school holidays hopefully keeping my southern friends away from their desks and giving them some spare time, thought I’d share a story I wrote recently which shows that big feeling adventures can happen on the shortest of cruises
Happy New Year to each and every one of you. May 2017 be good to you.
Lin and Larry
The Smallest Cargo Ship
“Lin, can you check that course again? Visibilities pretty bad, are you sure we’re in the center of the channel?”
I climb over boxes full of garden implements to reach the chart table, check my last plotted position, then call out, “According to my calculations, we’re right in the center of Tiri Tiri Channel and should be clear of any dangers in about two more miles, say 20 minutes if we keep trucking on like this.”
“I am just not comfortable,” Larry calls down to me, his voice barely discernible over the sounds of pounding rain, throbbing wind and rushing water as Taleisin surges toward our home on Kawau Island. “Sorry to ask, but how about getting on your foul weather gear and helping me take down all the sails so we can head into the wind and wait this squall out?”
Fifteen minutes later, as we lay stopped, the squall begins to ease away. First the cliffs of Whangaparaoa come into view, then the rocks at their base. When I realize just how close we are to the wave battered rocks I no longer resent the hassle of getting into my foul weather gear and boots, and then climbing out into the wind and rain to help Larry act on his sixth sense. One look at the compass shows me how we’d have come within feet of that hull threatening mess if we’d carried on through that squall. “Too darned close,” is Larry’s comment as he goes forward to raise the mainsail and jib so we can sail onward in the far more moderate southwesterly wind that has blown almost all the clouds from the sky. “You sure about those bearings you took earlier?”
Now that we can see all the islands along our course towards Kawau, there is no reason to rely on the compass to determine our course. But I take a set of bearings with our brand new handbearing compass and go below to plot them. “Exact course past Motuketekete and on to Martello rock is 330 degrees from here,” I state as I climb into the cockpit and take a look at our main compass. Taleisin’s bowsprit is pointed exactly along the line I’d plotted and she is headed right where she should be, but her compass is off by almost 15 degrees. “That’s odd,” Larry says when I point this out. “Just had the compass adjusted two months ago, was perfect when we sailed into the city well after dark on Friday night. Depended on it all the way from Kawau and up the harbour…” he pauses then begins to laugh. “But that was before we loaded all the cargo on board. Just think about it, there’s a drill press, a band saw, shovels, spades, rakes, three galvanized iron boxes of bolts for the jetty, all in the bathtub just under the compass. All that metal is within a few feet of the compass.”
Yes, that is the answer. The magnet inside the compass had been attracted by all the tools we’d been given by city friends who saw us as needy. And yes, they had been right because we’d arrived in New Zealand owning nothing but what was on our boat. And this was not the first time since our arrival that we’d used Taleisin like a cargo ship, though it was becoming one of the more eventful ones.
When we’d crossed the Pacific for the first time in 1985, and like many voyagers arrived in New Zealand expecting to enjoy the cyclone-free sailing for the summer, then head off again either north or northwest toward more South Pacific island cruising. But, we’d immediately fallen for the cruising offered around the Hauraki Gulf. So we decided to stay for an extra six months to write the books we’d each been given advances to finish. We’d found a little cottage to rent not far from Auckland plus a mooring for Taleisin and signed up for the two-handed racing series being organized by the Richmond Yacht Club. This immediately introduced us to a crowd of like-minded New Zealand sailors. Then we discovered Kawau Island and, in the perfect protection of North Cove, a totally run down cottage with a broken jetty, a scruffy looking boatshed, a foreshore littered with sunken barges, 50 crates of empty beer bottles and absolutely no flat land all for the same price as we’d received and banked from selling Seraffyn, our previous 24-foot-long cruising boat. “If we spend a year or two fixing it up, would be a great place for us to create a home base for when we grow tired of wandering the world,” I said to Larry. Fortunately, he agreed and even more fortunately, he had the skills and willingness to do most of the work himself, with me as a willing apprentice/assistant. So we used every penny of our savings to become home owners.
There were a few problems to overcome, getting permission to become residents: getting approval from the appropriate government departments because as foreigners (I am originally from the USA, Larry from Canada) we could not, as of right, own waterfront property if it was larger than a quarter acre. “That’s just a bit of paperwork, your department,” Larry stated. “Bigger problem is, we have to find tools and gear for shore life, shovels, rakes. Guess we’ll have to haunt some garage sales. Not easy if we are living on a small island.”
In spite of relocating from Arkles Bay to Kawau Island, we weren’t going to give up racing in the two-handed series, too much fun and besides, after five races we were in contention for first or second place and the prize for winning the series was a substantial credit at the local sailmakers. So began a routine I truly enjoyed. On Friday afternoon we’d quit working early and set sail for the city. As we sailed engine-free we never knew exactly when we’d arrive and sometimes if the wind died we anchored in some pretty strange places to wait for morning. On Saturday we’d meet up with a few of our city friends. On Sunday we’d race. On Monday we’d shop for groceries then set sail for Kawau prepared to work on writing and fixing up our new home for ten days straight until it was time for the next biweekly race. The first time we did this, we’d been so excited about our new home, that was all either of us could talk about when all the crews gathered together after the race. Later that week the phone at our Kawau house rang. “My father died a few weeks back,” said Ian Nicholson, one of the folks we raced against. “I already have a garage full of tools so was planning a garage sale. How about you save me the trouble. Pick the stuff up when you sail back down.”
We had a grand beam reach down from Kawau the next Friday evening, the easterly breeze surprisingly warm for early September. We secured to the guest mooring in Westhaven Marina, right next to downtown Auckland. Saturday morning, we decided to head to the downtown shopping center to find some cheap kitchen gear so I wouldn’t have to strip the boat to outfit the house. Our route took us past the North Sail loft. Larry, had he lived on land all the time, would have been a professional dumpster diver. He can’t walk by one without having a peek, especially ones near sail lofts. He spotted some sail fabric spilling over the top of the dumpster and stopped to take a look. Then he noticed a long pile of timber next to the dumpster. Before I could stop him, he had run into the sail loft and found one person working there. “Wood is the crating someone used to ship a big mast down here. You are welcome to it,” he was told. So while I headed into town, Larry headed back to the boat for tools to disassemble what had been a shipping crate for a 75-foot-long mast. He stacked the wood behind the dumpster and covered it with scruffy looking cardboard.
“Sure hope no one notices that pile of pine. I already have plans for how we can use it to build shelves in the shed,” he commented as we set sail for the starting line the next morning. On Monday, we were up early to bring Taleisin alongside the guest dock. Ian was waiting for us, his pickup truck laden with what to us looked like treasures. His partner Leigh Gillard had added two boxes of household items and now helped transfer everything to the boat. Then Larry and Ian headed off and returned to begin piling 15 and 20-foot-long lengths of pine onto Taleisin’s port side deck. Four empty 50-gallon plastic barrels were secured on the starboard side decks, ones we’d bought to add floatation to our landing pontoon. And to add to the load, while the two men secured the load, Leigh took me to buy two weeks’ groceries and 15 pounds of ice to keep the meat and veg fresh in Taleisin’s ice chest. By the time everything was on board, Taleisin had settled two inches deeper into the water. “She’ll pack her canvas well. Must by close to a ton of extra junk on her. Make her harder to stop when you get home!” Leigh stated as she began helping us loosen our mooring lines.
Her comment made me stop. “Larry, with this pile of timber in the way,” I said, “I won’t be able to get to the cleats to secure the fenders and mooring lines when we come alongside our jetty.”
“Good thinking,” Larry agreed. Let’s set everything up ready to go.
We set sail from Westhaven feeling slightly smug. We were saving loads of money by carrying everything to the island on our own boat, we’d save tons of time and money by not having to rush around to garage sales, we’d remembered the scouting motto and prepared for what lay ahead and we had a fair wind, a blustery southwesterly to speed us along the way. But, our smugness definitely was dented by the incident in the Tiri Tiri Channel. And now as we sped past Motoketekete, the Beehive and then Martello Rock and were within a few miles of our cove, the wind was gusting across our stern at 30 knots. I began to worry.
“How we going to stop this boat when we come alongside our pontoon?” I asked Larry. “Wind is going to make her want to keep going. With this pile of timber in the way, I won’t be able to just step off the deck like I usually do.”
“Nope, this time you are going to have to be ready to jump. But remember, even if you miss the cleats and she just keeps on going, worse that can happen is we’ll end up stuck in the mud.”
His casual attitude didn’t calm my concerns as I thought — our pontoon is visible from every window in the cove, it is sundowner time, we are probably the only folks out sailing, everyone will be watching and notice if I screw up. And, if I did miss the cleats and we did get stuck in the mud it would be even worse because we didn’t have a dinghy with us so how could we get a line ashore to pull us off — my imagination was running on over time as we approached the entrance to the cove.
“As soon as we get inside,” Larry said, “how about getting the mainsail down. Easy to run down under just the staysail and ease it out if we get moving too fast. You can just let it fly when we come alongside and take it down after we are secured.” By the time I had the mainsail down and loosely secured in the lazy jacks, we were already speeding towards our jetty. I rushed forward and draped the mooring line over the lifeline so I could grab it easily when (if) I got the boat stopped next to the pontoon. Then I ran back to the cockpit, grabbed the stern mooring line and clambered up onto the 2-1/2-foot-high pile of timber then worked my way forward until I could grab hold of the aft shroud. Meanwhile Larry let the staysail fly free, but even with it flogging in the wind, Taleisin was still moving too fast. So he began steering her through a series of large S-bends, first to port, then to starboard to slow her down. She did slow down, but the wind seemed to increase. “You’re going to have to be ready to jump quickly,” he called when we were less than 100 feet from the pontoon. “Don’t hesitate, just do it. You’ll be fine.”
I barely had time to register his words when Taleisin’s bowsprit was alongside the pontoon. I normally don’t do jumping. But all I could think of was the dozens of eyes watching me, the teasing we were bound to get if I screwed up. So I jumped. I fell, I snagged that line around a cleat and threw the fastest wrap I’d ever done and as I felt Taleisin snub up against the pontoon and grudgingly stop, I began laughing, laughing so hard I couldn’t stand up. Seconds later Larry was on the pontoon and had the bow line secured. He climbed quickly back on board and dropped the staysail. Only then did he point out that, not only had I been successful, if a bit clumsy, but we’d had a bit of extra luck. The tide was just low enough that the structure of our jetty had hidden my fall from the eyes of anyone who might have been watching. “So just get up and go about putting the boat to rights as if everything has gone exactly to plan,” He said as he gave me a hug. Then he too began to laugh.
In spite of sporadic outbursts of laughing, it took only a few moments to stow the sails then grab just enough fresh food for dinner. We headed up to the house, laughter pouring forth each time one or the other of us commented on our “just in control” docking system. And we continued to laugh while Larry set to work putting a dozen Band-Aids on my scraped elbows, skinned knees, and dented shin.