Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Innocent Afloat i

1. In the Hands of Other People


In Opua, New Zealand, when I was twenty years old, I met a young woman who'd just arrived, having crewed her way on a yacht, from Tasmania.

Wow, I said, that sounds like fun.

As a child I was regularly car sick and still suffered on ferries. I had never been on a yacht, never met anyone who had been. I'm not quite sure what appealed: the passage in return for work; the untrammelled sea... Back then, I was fit, energetic and fearless. Ridiculously optimistic, I never considered risk as anything but thrilling, something to get the blood rushing through limbs and brain, to charge me with the certainty of being alive. That was that fun that caught my imagination. And for me, that was all it was: a fleeting second of whipped-up possibility.

The next day she told me she'd fixed me up with a possible crew job on a boat heading to Sydney. I just needed to go down to the harbour to meet the skipper and boat.

Les was an ex-pat, single-hander who had come over from England some vague number of years previously. He was sixty-ish and was looking for crew to help him take his boat, a cement-hulled kit boat called Meilani, to Australia. He seemed alright. Friendly. Not too friendly. Old enough to be my dad. He had a boat and knew what bits of it were called. And he seemed to like me.

I was sure about the boat. It looked fantastic. It floated. It had a great name. Meilani is a Hawaiian flower. It also had a mast, some sails, rigging. Three cabins below. A cockpit that could probably seat four comfortably, six at a push.I didn't think to ask about the liferaft, the engine, any safety gear.

I trusted Les because he told me he'd sailed from England. I trusted the boat because he told me she'd got him here. It wasn't a case of being brave. 

We agreed to a trial sail, the next day. After a sunny afternoon’s sail in a sweet force 3, I was recruited: first mate.


This is i in a series on the voyage that could only have been my first.

No comments: