It is time for Wild Card to leave New Zealand. The hurricane season to the north is over. Southerly winter gales are beginning to form. It is cold. Condensation drips from our metal hatches, stainless steel deck bolts and damp chainplates.
“Colder than a witch’s… mammary gland,” I recently complained to Carolyn, my first mate. “I mean, it’s more frigid than my ex-wife…”
“Do you have an ex-wife?” Carolyn queried. “If so, it is news to me.”
“I don’t know,” I said honestly. “I’m in my mid-fifties now and thus don’t recall specifics. If I did, I don’t remember her name… you believe me, don’t you… er, er…”
“Carolyn,” she kindly informed me. “I’m Carolyn.”
“Exactly,” I said, confident I’d amply demonstrated the depth of my memory loss.
At this age, dear reader, it is easy for me to lose my train of thought… where were we? Ah, yes… leaving New Zealand!
The problem is when-to-go. There never seems to be a good time. For the last few months, all our Kiwi sailor friends have told us, “…not yet! Too soon! Why, surely you’d get whacked by a late-season Tongan hurricane, Fijian cyclone and/or Solomon isle typhoon if you left this early!”
Yesterday, I looked around… and realized they’d all headed north at dawn. So I called them on the VHF and asked if it was a good time to leave.
“WAS a good time to leave, Fatty,” one laughed aloud at me. “You’ve missed the window, ole sod! See you next year… if you don’t die of hyperthermia first!”
“That’s not a ‘weather window’” I complained, “that’s a weather pane… a bit of glass… a mere shard!”
Of course, New Zealand has a thriving marine industry which is fully supported by its government. By that I mean, while we cleared in, official representatives of the MPNZ (Marine Pirates of New Zealand) came down to the boat and vacuum-cleaned all the loose money out of Wild Card’s bilges.
“That should do it, mate!” said the guy with a grin.
“Wait,” I said, not wanting to cheat while clearing, “I’ve still got some pocket change…”
“No worries,” he said. “In fact, buy your wife a plate of white rice on Helen Clark!”
Helen Clark is the Prime Minister of New Zealand. She’s a looker, all right… but most photographers don’t want to risk the camera. I’ve been thinking for months on how to spin her in a positive light… and the best I’ve come up with is, “…better than Dubya!”
Things aren’t normal here——even the globes are weird.
They put the globes in the brackets upside down… so the people in the northern hemisphere fall off… not the southern.
Did you know there is a lot of ‘hemispheric prejudice’ which the people of Kiwiville and Oz are a tad hyper-sensitive about?
That’s right… maps here have the South Pole up! You constantly hear phrases like, “…the frigid south wind” which strike our Ameri-Euro ears as rather strange.
And they’ve got issues here we’ve never even dreamt of in the States! Example: Mormon farmer’s polygamy issues here aren’t limited to ‘human’ wives! (The common rural consensus: if you can afford to marry another sheep, the government shouldn’t prevent you from consummating!)
And with 70 million lonely sheep to choose from, well, it should be no surprise that some of them ARE kinda cute!
Everywhere you go is the ‘longest bungy jump in the Southern hemisphere!’
Never tell a Kiwi to ‘go jump out a window,’ they will. Not only do they regularly… daily… bungy-jump from the SkyTower in downtown Auckland… they also jump from the busy harbor bridge while boats are going under it!
I mean, I wasn’t expecting it and thus blurt out to Carolyn in surprise, “Did you just see an upside-down man in the cockpit… VERY briefly?”
As the summer draws to a close in New Zealand all the cruising vessels coagulate in Opua, which is the warmest port to clear out of.
It is here where most cruisers make their final attempt to drink North island dry——and to find the mythical ‘weather window’ to Fiji.
To do so, they use a ‘whether (to go or not) router’ by the name of Bob McDavitt.
I call him ‘Bob McDamnit’ because every time I give his long range forecasts any credence, I end up saying, “Damn it, that’s not what Bob said!”
He’s actually a fairly colorful guy. He bills himself as the ‘Kiwi weather ambassador’ and promotes his marine forecasts shamelessly. He even has a car with cool ‘storm graphics’ all over it.
Needless to say, he charges for his ‘yacht-specific’ forecasts. That’s only fair. But if he gets it totally wrong and you complain about it… well, he emails you back with carefully worded explanation of why he was so completely wrong… and ‘cha-chings’ the cash register again!
“Now that’s chutzpah,” said the amazed boater when he got the bill.
Actually, I’ve come to rely on him. “What’s McDamnit’s forecast for today,” I always ask Carolyn before leaving the boat.
“He says ‘heavy overcast and continuous rain,’” she replies as she hands me my shade hat and sunblock.
Actually, I’m being too hard on Bob… he’s only 50% less accurate than flipping a coin.
But many of the Kiwi craftsmen are highly skilled. Example: the sailmakers here are among the best in the world… at making storm sails. And you have a wide choice of materials: Dacron, Kevlar, sheet metal and stainless steel plate are all popular options on local vessels.
The New Zealand SAR (search and rescue) unit is highly experienced, too. True, they’d don’t air-evac everyone who attempts to sail in their waters… just, well, most!
The best part of sailing New Zealand is the remarkable sense of humor the local ‘blow-boaters’ have.
“Bit of a breeze,” they say if it is over hurricane force. If you’ve just pitch-poled and call the Kiwi vessel sailing alongside you, its skipper will muse, “…you have a bit of sea where you are, aye? I haven’t notice anything building here… but if I do, I’ll get back to you!”
A lot of people are amazed to hear me say, “The best part of summering in New Zealand is the weather,” but it is true. Once you’ve experienced the coastal pleasures of NZ… anywhere else you sail will be heaven!