“I hope you’re ready for an adventure” – that was Joe’s text message, that I read when I was just walking out of the climbing gym last Tuesday evening. But who would have expected that the boys have been waiting around the corner already ? Adventure is nigh ! A few moments later I sit in a little rubber dinghy with Captain Simon Orr, 1st Mate Kolle Collis, 2nd Mate Joe Zonneveld, on the way to “Rāhiri” – Simon’s sailing vessel named after the semi-mythical ancestor of the largest Māori tribe in New Zealand. The night is pitch black and the sky is full of stars when we climb out of the dinghy and step foot on deck – “Welcome aboard”.
We start in the morning and leave Cass Bay behind – course set for the horizon “Aye, Aye, Captain !” The wind is picking up slowly as we pass Godley Head, a prominent headland located at the entrance to Lyttelton Harbour. The Pacific ocean lays in front of us and with it all its surprises down in the deep blue. “A splash on starboard – get the lures out lads”, yells Simon, “I think I saw a fin”, adds Joe. We rush to the bow and scan the water surface – “a DOLPHIN !” I could hardly believe my eyes when suddenly a school of dolphins were swimming just inches below Rāhiri’s bow. They were Hector’s dolphins, endemic to New Zealand’s coast and the world’s smallest and also rarest dolphin. We lay down on deck to catch a glimpse of them – their dorsal fin is rounded and the eyes are surrounded by a black mask. The pale gray skin features a complex and elegant combination of white markings and black stripes. But the most impressing part of their body are their eyes. The Hector’s sometimes even turned to the side and looked at us – with kind eyes wishing an exciting adventure. And as we thought their visit couldn’t get any more better, they even started jumping out of the water right in front of the boat ! Joe was convinced that they love Rāhiri, as they hung out with us for the rest of the sailing turn.
We anchored in Blind Bay where Joe and I stayed on deck, Simon and Kolle jumped into the diving gear and got us some lunch. They gathered Pāua (also known as abalone), an edible sea snail that clings tightly to rocks using their large muscular foot. Their shell is brilliantly multi-coloured and a gem material for use in Māori jewellery. The flesh has a black covering and tastes cooked like… hmmnn… “Bacon of the Sea !” Joe then had the great idea to hang a hammock from the boom and enjoy lunch with style, a perfect moment.
The wind direction became onshore and it was time to set sail and leave our little paradise behind. With a warm breeze from South East, Rāhiri easily made up to 6 knots in joyful down-wind sailing conditions. We hung out in the cockpit and watched the Dolphins swim around the boat. Time to put the spinnaker up – a large three-cornered sail, typically bulging when full, set forward of the mainsail when running before the wind. The spinnaker can be controlled with both hands from the cockpit, while steering the boat with one foot simultaneously. “It feels like flying a kite while driving a van.” Time flies when you are having fun and we passed Lyttelton Harbour under full sail, but how do we get the spinnaker back down again ? “I haven’t read that chapter yet”. We then tied the vessel to a mooring buoy and were soon back on land… sneezing… “we’re probably allergic to land now, arrr!”. What an adventure ! “Chur bros”
- Mind your head, the boom has its own will ! Ropes are called sheets, unless they are on the head of the sail, then they are called halyards. Winches are used to pull sheets and halyards when manpower alone can’t pull them. Winches have two gears, first spin the handle clockwise, then anticlockwise when it is too much for your arms alone. The handles can also be used as beer opener – thanks Kolle for confirming this hypothesis.
- The bow is the front of the boat and stern is its rear, port is left and starboard is right – so “when nothing goes right, go port !” You always sail starboat of other boats, unless it is a container ship then better get out of their way.
- Kaimoana (seafood) is free, tastes fantastic and can be harvested sustainably. 10 Pāua are permitted per fisher per day (except in Kaikoura); the minimum legal size is 125 mm. Don’t fish when there are Dolphins around; not because they would take the hook, but because there won’t be fish around anyway.
- Modern pirates have moved on from the Jolly Roger flag showing a skull and crossbones and set up a gay-pride flag instead.
- “We love recycling – and clean up the ocean one plastic bag at a time”