I lay in the damp tunnel, feeling
claustrophobic, anxious and cold. I buried my feet deeper
into my three season sleeping bag, which seemed to offer
no warmth at all. Stuart lay about a metre away from me
in his own long dark tunnel, staring out at the Southern
stars through the open deck hatch, trying to puzzle out
the unfamiliar solar system.
"Do you think that orange one is a planet?" he asked cheerfully.
"Do you feel as though you've been buried alive in your
own coffin?" I answered.
"It's certainly cosy."
"It's a tomb. Except a tomb is warmer."
It was our first night on Kakapo, the very basic tiny yacht
that was to be our home for five days and four nights. Stuart
and I were sleeping in bunk holes under the cockpit, but
despite the discomfort, I reminded myself that we had the
first class accommodation. When the children joined us,
they would be sleeping in the toilet.
Coffin class was only slightly
better than sleeping next to the poo potty
It had been a stressful day. "Tack,
take her into a broad reach, close haul, beam reach, jib,
gybe, why are you in the no go zone again?" It was all a
foreign language to me, and I was terrified of the yacht
tipping over completely as it lurched onto its' side in
"Don't worry," said Dave our
sailing instructor, as if reading my thoughts. "This is
one of the most stable boats around. There's no way she'll
go over." I imagined the children being flung across the
cabin as we jibbed and gybed around the bay in two days
time, and felt sick. I turned my attention to the arrow
that was positioned on top of the mast, apparently giving
us a reliable indication of the direction of the wind. It
looked very pretty dancing in the wind but I had no idea
what it should be doing. It was also giving me a crick in
my neck, and sore eyes from gazing directly into the sun.
The wind seemed to be shifting around as Dave kept asking
me which direction it was coming from. As I couldn't glean
this information from the godforsaken arrow, I worked out
a system of flicking my hair into the wind to see which
way it blew every time he asked. But sometimes I needed
two hands to steer and the flicking hand unbalanced the
boat. Now and again I took a chance on the wind and haphazardly
pulled the steering stick towards me in the hope it would
drive us into the close haul that Dave was asking for.
I used hair flick to assess wind direction.. it was easier
than trying to interpret the stupid wind arrow
"Kirstie. You seem
to have stalled the boat again. Why did you just turn her
straight into the wind?" I flicked my hair into the atmosphere
to check if he was right.
Dave let out a long sigh. "Shall we go back to basics again?
He pulled out his drawing of the points of sailing once
more, while Stuart took the stick and began to point the
nose of the boat out of the wind. My head was throbbing,
and although I understood his simple idiots' guide to close
hauls and beam reaches, I still couldn't transfer the concept
to the boat and the damn arrow. All I knew is that I was
a hopeless sailor. "Right," said Dave, throwing his clipboard
into the cabin. Why don't you take a break from steering
and have a go at the sails? Let's take them down while we've
It was the moment I'd been dreading. I eyed all the equipment
with suspicion; little sail, big sail, funny clamping gadgets
and dazzling selection of two ropes and their winding machines.
They terrified me. Stuart, as usual had displayed a flair
for everything. He had instantly comprehended both steering
and sail setting, was masterful with his compass, and wholly
at one with the wind. But I felt he had cheated his way
into the instructor's affections, failing to brief Dave
about his practical engineering background, years of experience
with dinghys, canoes and kayaks, and general ability to
master anything in a day, while the closest I'd come to
sailing in the last ten years was a rowing boat on Coniston
water. I felt stupid, and the mechanics of sailing were
light years from my grasp. The only thing I'd managed to
show any ability for was the reef knot, something I'd learnt
at Brownies thirty years ago. The fact that Stuart hadn't
shown an outstanding talent at reef knots, or in fact any
other form of knot hadn't cheered me up.
"I'm not very practical minded," I shouted to Dave as I
wrestled with the ropes on the mast. "I'm a writer. Less
of an engineer, more of an artist."
"Really? What do you paint?" asked Dave, coming to help
me with a jammed clip thing. It took him moments to release
the main sail, but longer to sort out the little front one
that I'd managed to successfully tie into a reef knot.
"Do you know that Nadine used to
sail this boat with Sylvan when he was a baby? He loved
it, because in French Kakapo means poo potty. And quelle
surprise this boat is a poo potty. I don't know why I ever
agreed to step a foot onto it." I tried to warm my feet
with my hands, which involved getting into a foetal position,
not an easy task in a fibre glass coffin.
"Look, it was a difficult day for you," said Stuart, his
voice muffled as he had buried his way into his sleeping
bag to stave off the cold. "You're a complete novice, and
it was a lot to learn. You were good with the knots."
"Right, ok then. You can sail the boat and I'll be on knot
duty for the next four days. And let's hope that Matthew
can understand the six points of sailing so he can steer
the poo potty clear of an iceberg." At the mention of the
children I started to panic once again. How on earth would
I be fit to crew a boat safely around the Bay Of Islands
with our two precious children in it? "By the end of tomorrow,
if I'm not happy then there's no way I'm bringing Matthew
and Cameron onto this boat you know," I said firmly to Stuart.
I lay in the dark and suddenly felt an intense loneliness
sweeping through me. The children. Why weren't they with
me? They were miles away in Kerikeri and I couldn't say
goodnight to them. Had Cameron had gone to sleep with his
nightly milk? Had Matthew lasted a day without having a
tantrum? For the first time in six months I felt homesick
and longed to be back in Cumbria in my comfortable bed,
the children sleeping peacefully in their cheery bedrooms,
not imprisoned in a coffin on a small yellow boat that smelt
From the discomfort of my coffin
I really really missed the boys
"Stuart, I want to
quit. I can't do it. I'm totally rubbish at sailing, hate
the sea, and will never grasp it." I waited for his response.
When it didn't come I ploughed on with the idea that had
been niggling at me all day. "I'm giving up in the morning.
It's not just me, it's the kids. How could I, as a responsible
mother, bring my children onto this potential deathtrap?
I'm not going to do it. I'll do the second day of instruction,
but after that I'm off outa here." Still no reply. "Stuart
are you listening? Stuart? I give up. Hey I was wondering,
do you think many skippers use the hair flicking technique
when it comes to checking out wind direction?" A huge snore
came from the coffin to the left of me. I tried to turn
onto my side away from him in a huff, but my pregnant belly
got stuck in the coffin. I wrestled it out, banging my head
against the metalwork, closed the hatch, and shivered in
my coffin for an hour or so. I tried to think nice thoughts
about sailing, then gave up and imagined I was back in Brownies,
chanting 'left over right and under, right over left and
under.' It was little consolation that reef knot duty was
going to be a breeze.