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.
Wickes and Kirstie Pelling learn the ropes in the Bay of Islands
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.
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
"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
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,"
"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
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.
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
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.