Wednesday, December 5, 2007

New Zealand

It was a fairly easy sail down to New Zealand. It only took us 6.5 days. That’s what you can do in a big fast boat. We pounded her straight into the swells and some broke as far back as midship. That’s a distance of 35 feet. Those were big swells. We broke everything; the water pump – no showers or available water (We flushed the toilet with bottled water). The propane sensor – the alarm screamed continuously. The forward hatch – John had to sleep in his foulies with water pouring over him. The forward head – that meant Suzi and I had to share with 4 stinky men. The batteries were wasted – that meant hand steering during your watch. I greatly missed my autopilot. No matter, we made it and Mike completed his circumnavigation. It took him 7 years and 2 boats.

“New Zealand is not such a wide country, but she’s rather long.” This was said to me in failing light by John Gillespie, the captain’s father, just as we saw land for the first time. (I love this guy cuz he handed me the perfect rebuttal to the Euro jabs re WW2: “Well, you came in a bit late mate.” Try to dispute the war with me now you British dandies, and I’m gonna smoke you). It was delivered in an almost apologetic tone. He has nothing to apologize about. It was a lovely country and so long, in fact, that it has palm trees in the north and penguins in the south. That makes for some dramatic landscape. With it’s flora and geography, it looks like a cross between England, Norway and the Land That Time Forgot. Jurassic ferns and blooming hand grenades of burning orange punctuate the countryside’s dense forests. I have no idea what they were called but I couldn’t get enough of those, or the fiery red bottle brush trees. Here’s a bit of trivia: On the narrow side - It’s so thin in spots that Auckland is the only city in the world that occupies both coasts.

Cultural Identity: They have the Queen of England all over their money even though they call the currency “Dollars” and not “Pounds”. Hmm . . . makes you think. I reckon they want the British decency and the Yank economy. I know they think they are culturally different from either, and in the microscopic view they are, but in my mind – they’re Brits with a passing hope for good weather. I’ll share with you my developing “Continuum of Britishness” scale. It looks a little like this: Brits to one extreme side. Kiwis (New Zealanders are called Kiwis after their mascot/zoo bird. I know it’s real but even few of their own citizens have ever seen one in the wild) one inch to the right. Australians 18 inches to the right, Canadians 36 inches to the right, and Americans 72 inches to the right. Don’t get hung up on right vs. left. In this example it has no correlation. I’m just trying to show that the Yanks are very unBritish while the rest of them are more British. Not sure where the South Africans fit yet. I’ve only just perfected their accent.

The Kiwis are extremely nice and polite and generous and welcoming. I had a wonderful time. My friend (and gracious host) Graeme, thinks that there is a direct relationship between country culture and size of landmass. Kiwi’s are very similar to the English (small countries of roughly the same size), Aussies are more like Americans (big countries of roughly the same size). I think he’s on to something.

Suzi rented a car and drove us around a bit. We stayed in hostels, and for the first time in a long time we weren’t surrounded by other long haul sailors. It was an ego trip whenever we met a fellow traveler.

“So how long have you been traveling around?”
“2 years.”
“Holy cow! What, you bought an around the world ticket or something?”
“Nah – I bought a sailboat. I sailed here.”

I never get tired of that conversation. Then the circle would draw in a little tighter and we'd hold court until the scope of the trip would finally dawn on them and they'd go silent. Either that, or they'd realize we were full of ourselves and couldn't think of a polite way to get out of the conversation.

I had surgery while I was there. My finger is now straight again. The exercises feel like torture, but the mobility is coming back. Suzi was a good sport and did all the heavy lifting and back washing. The doctor told me not to use that hand for the next 6 weeks. Yea – right. “Doc, I live on a sailboat. Are you kidding me?” Consequently – I hurt it daily. The pain just gets boring.

You are probably already in love with the HBO show “Flight of the Conchords”. I think it’s magic. Kiwis have a sense of humor (I left out the u on purpose) that can be wickedly clever. I had a great time with them even if they do pronounce “Best” as “Beast” and make “Tennis” rhyme with “Penis”. My parting experience was at the airport. I had 2 bags and 1 was way over the weight limit. The nice female employee helped me shift the weight around and then she looked the other way when the scale still said I owed an extra $60. It was very kind of her. She did find one tube of flammable adhesive that she confiscated, but didn’t notice the other 3 tubes cuz her attention was fixated on the CO2 cartridges. Take note: When smuggling, always have a legal diversion or a cheap illegal diversion you are ready to relinquish.

The modern world is always a nice respite from the primitive one that I’ve chosen to live in. However, NZ has McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Mobile, KFC, and lots of strip malls. White people love to pave things. Tarmac planet. Why not!?! I’ll tell you why not; It’s ugly. Not NZ, NZ is pretty. What’s ugly is the fact that they’ve made some poor choices in what to emulate from the US of A. I think “ugly” stands on it’s own as a solid reason to rebuke convenience. Sorry – Am I preaching again?

Then I came back to Fiji.

And we had a cyclone. It had a name. Daman threatened to rip my boat apart. I busted my butt taking down everything on Barraveigh and stowing it. The cyclone turned east and wiped out another island instead. It was a good drill. Life then returned to normal. That means big plates of Tikka Masala and super cold Fijian Bitter for a grand total of $4 US. Did I mention NZ was incredibly expensive? Fiji is cheap. Cheap is good.

It feels like I’m following the Survivor television program. They did The Pearl islands of Panama, the Marquesas Islands and also Fiji. I think I might have it a little better than they did. Today I bought and installed a 9000 BTU A/C unit. It’s blowing cold air down my companionway as I type. Unlimited electricity now means air-conditioning and ice cubes. In fact, I only left the boat today to watch the 7pm movie that they project onto a big screen in a grassy area near the bar (which overlooks the sea). This is dangerous. I may never leave the marina again.

P.S. / Please shoot me if you catch me listening to Jimmy Buffett

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