A Family Adventure Story
From The Family Adventure Project , inspiring families to live adventurously

For two long time land-lubbers, the idea of being able to explore the open seas was both exciting and nerve wracking; the prospect of learning to sail with two toddlers on board however was simply terrrifying. But after two days of professional instruction, we gained enough skills to take on a three day bare boat charter and go exploring New Zealand's magnificent Bay of Islands. If you've ever wanted to take your family out to sea, this could be the way to get started. This feature wa written by Stuart Wickes and Kirstie Pelling for New Zealand's Wilderness Magazine, published in February 2006. You can buy a full colour pdf version in our Adventures Together ebook. Stuart Wickes and Kirstie Pelling are Directors of The Family Adventure Project.


Lee Ho!
Stuart Wickes and Kirstie Pelling learn the ropes in the Bay of Islands

Bowlines, winches, tacking, luffing and gybing. The stuff of sailing was all a foreign language to a couple of land-locked Pom tourists. But we had to grasp the business of sailing in a two day crash course if there was to be any chance of being let loose with a charter yacht in the Bay of Islands.

And there is no better way to really experience the stunning bays, coves and islets around the Bay of Islands, reputedly one of the best cruising grounds in the world, than on a yacht.

















We first met Kakapo on a small wooden jetty in Opua, her bright yellow hull bobbing gently up and down amongst the fluttering flags of overseas yachties enjoying some Kiwi summer sun. Kakapo, a 6m Davidson owned by Great Escape Yacht Charters, looked tiny beside the big foreign boats, yet too big for two novices to handle and too small for three adults to spend eight hours a day on without tripping over each other. But our instructor Dave had a plan; to stay out of the way and get us to do all the work.

"It's the best way for you to learn quickly," he explained. "I'll explain what to do but you're going to do it, with help if you need it."  And with just two days to get us sailing solo, it seemed like a good strategy, maximum hands on for us, instruction and advice on hand, and close supervision in case things went wrong.  

Lunchtime on day one and we anchored in a sunny, sheltered bay near historic Russell. The world looks and feels very different from a boat. There's a sense of separateness and solitude you rarely get on land, the distance between you and the shore transforming once familiar landscapes into unfamiliar scenes.

Russell's white picket fences and smart wooden frontage now a string of pearls on the coastal neckline, great green stretches of woodlands, pastures and hillside now flattened smudges on a bigger blue and grey canvas of sea and sky. The sea brings a whole new perspective and a whole new world to explore, but only to those with sea legs and skills.  And we still had a way to go to get ours.

Somehow we'd made it down the channel, without hitting rocks, the Paihia ferries, the Waitangi flagpole or each other. Kakapo sat gently on the water, her mast rocking gently in the breeze. It had been a challenging morning, swinging on the tiller figuring out how to steer, trying to read the ever changing wind direction around the Bay, and get to grips with ropes, sails, winches and confusing new yachty lingo.

"Now turn to starboard," said Dave as Kirstie hacked at the tiller trying to get control of the boat as we headed towards a rocky islet.
"Is that left or right?" she wondered out loud.
"Into the wind, to your right," he replied.
"Which way's the wind coming?" asked Kirstie, now worrying about that.
"From behind you, turn to your right," said Dave ever helpful.
"Ok turn right. which way do I turn the rudder to go right, into the wind? "
"Away from you, away from you, on the tiller," said Dave reaching to guide her hand before we reached the islet.  

The Bay of Islands is a great place to learn to sail. Not only is it scenically outstanding, it has reliable winds, plenty of sheltered anchorages, and enough day sailing options to get a lot of varied sailing experience in a relatively short time.


In two days with Dave we tacked, gybed, cruised and anchored up and down the Waikare Inlet, the Kawakawa river and the Veronica Channel, learning the basics of navigation, the rules of the road and, most importantly, how to handle a man overboard. And while it wasn't all plain sailing, we did start to get it; Kirstie developed an elaborate system of hair flicking that helped her judge wind direction; we both adapted to sleeping in a bow-shaped coffin, and grasped enough of the lingo to confidently call the little sail a jib, the clamping thing a halyard, and the funny little winding machine a winch. And even if we weren't yet yachties, Dave had enough confidence in our skills to pronounce us fit to go solo. 

"Is Kakapo really a magic boat?" asked four-year-old Matthew clambering aboard.
"Well, if me and your mum can really sail her, she must be magic," I replied.
"And are we going to sleep on it?" asked three year old Cameron.
"Yes, you two are sleeping in there," I pointed to a little cabin up front.

The boys dived below deck and seemed instantly at home in the tiny space, making sleeping bag dens and playing lego on the chart table. Meanwhile Kirstie and I rigged the sails, consulted the charts and set a course for Motuarohia (also known as Roberton Island), site of Captain Cook's first anchorage in the Bay way back in 1779. We figured he probably knew a good place to anchor when he saw one and we weren't wrong.  

Three hours later, our first solo passage successfully completed, we dropped anchor for a celebratory lunch and savoured our own historic moment in the place where Cook had his. This time there was no army of Maori warriors, haka or musket fire, just two chuffed parents, a couple of excited toddlers and some tuna sandwiches.

So after lunch, we rowed ashore, swam and snorkelled in the salty lagoons, then climbed up to the lookout to take in the views of the secluded islands, bays and beaches beyond that now beckoned us come visit. 

Travelling by boat opens up a whole new world of interesting places to visit, places difficult or impossible to reach by road or on foot. Quiet, remote and beautiful places; harsh, wild and wind lashed places; marine reserves, uninhabited islands, hidden coves, and perfect beaches; the Bay of Islands has them all. We anchored with the sunset in Opunga Cove, near a quiet little beach lined with pretty bachs. hat evening after dinner, we combed the beach for treasure, skimmed pebbles on the glassy sea, then sat on deck with the boys, the only yacht in the cove, watching the moon and the stars, and waiting for bedtime.

"Hey boys, watch what happens when I splash," Kirstie whispered as she trailed a bucket through the charcoal waters, "Fairydust in the water."

The children gasped as circles of phosphorescence rippled, shimmered and sparkled around the boat.

"Wow. This really is a magic boat," said Matthew.

As a rule I don't believe in magic but something about this journey was transformative.

Sailing was another world to us. A journey full of new sights, sounds and feelings. A way of travelling that called for new skills and a greater appreciation of the wind, weather and marine environment. A different way to see the world and a different part of the world to see.

Kirstie and I were up early on our final morning, Kakapo's bright yellow paint no match for the sun rising from behind Motukiekie Island.

Our sails swept skywards carving graceful arcs as they took their fill of wind. Kakapo leaned gently over and we set a course for Opua.

"Quick, quick," cried Kirstie a few minutes later. "It's dolphins. dolphins everywhere," she continued. A childlike rush of excitement filled me at the sight of these beautiful creatures swimming near and far, at every point of sailing; Some leaping high and fast in and out of the water, others cruising in synchronised trios, fins bobbing in and out of the sea in glorious slow motion. And this show was just for us; there was no-one else around. Just Kakapo, her Captain and crew. The sun shone, the wind blew, the sails soared, the dolphins splashed, the kids squealed and Kirstie and I smiled the biggest smiles you've ever seen.

"You know I think I could grow to love sailing," Kirstie declared. 

© 2006 Stuart Wickes.  First published in New Zealand Wilderness Magazine February 2006







































































































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