Paihia to Opua- a walk

A post from Webb Chiles in Opua brought memories of a walk we made from Paihia to Opua in April last year.

The walk follows the bays, first across rocks and along a beach, on through mangroves and then along a sometimes wider, sometimes narrower, sometimes rough, sometimes smooth path. We walked comfortably through bush or along the water’s edge beneath the low and somewhat fragile cliffs.

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Vanuatu – Cyclone Pam

The New Zealand Herald has a report from one of their reporters in Vanuatu this morning – here. The video clip shows the destruction in Port Vila. Sadly, there has been loss of life. I understand wind speeds were in the 300km/h mark.

Yesterday, Webb Chiles carried a photograph of the damage in the harbour and a first hand description of the harbour itself – here

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Nobody told the albatross

I have just got back from London having attended Roger Taylor’s lecture at the home of the Cruising Association at Limehouse Basin in London.

Roger is the self-styled Simple Sailor . He has written three well-received books about his voyages first in his Corribee, Ming Ming, and now in her successor, Ming Ming ll. In 2009, he was awarded the Jester Medal by the Ocean Cruising Club “for an outstanding contribution to the art of singlehanded sailing.” The large number of members present was a fitting testament to his endeavours.

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Plastic everywhere

“This is what we found in the stomach of a chick.”

I vaguely heard the words but I was looking out of the window. The ground sloped steeply in front of us, the sea glittered in the morning sun. A ship had just passed heading who knows where. Small fleets of clouds from the Southern Ocean drifted across the sky. We had climbed from the visitor centre to the lookout to view the colony of Royal Albatross. The place was Taiaroa Head near Dunedin, New Zealand, the time: eight weeks ago.

I am not a bird person. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy when they come near me and I can even identify some of them, but I don’t normally arm myself with telescope, binoculars and sandwiches and go looking for them. But these were different. These were Royal Albatross, the largest and the most graceful of birds, birds that fly thousands of miles without touching land. These were the birds that had reached mythical status, the subject of mariner’s tales. I had seen my first one two days before. It floated along effortlessly, its shadow rising and falling with the swell, its wing tips within a fraction of brushing the water. I was elated.

Now we were looking at albatross chicks. I could see two, no three large white bundles sitting in the grass. One had its head up – small head, large beak; it was peering around in an awkward, juvenile fashion. The other two looked heads-down bored. Apparently there were more around the corner. An adult drifted overhead.  I wanted to see how big it was but there was nothing to judge it against. I was slightly disappointed.

There were murmurings behind me and I turned to find an outstretched hand holding a plastic food box full of plastic. All at once I clearly heard the words from a moment or so earlier.

I counted: one piece of foam, two short pieces of soft plastic tubing, four plastic bottles tops, at least twenty pieces of unidentifiable plastic – some as large as a bottle top, . . . one tooth brush (one what?)!

The warden talked of adult albatrosses picking small pieces of plastic out of the sea because they float on the surface just like their normal food. The parent brings them to the nest and feeds them to the offspring which sits there with its large mouth wide open, dying for food – (literally in this case). We can guess that most adult albatrosses and by implication baby albatrosses have one or more pieces of plastic lodged in their stomachs. This chick was unlucky to have a parent who was particularly adept at finding it.

I glanced out of the window at the bundles in the grass – now in my mind tainted by human hand. I was shocked.

Last Wednesday on my boat, I was trying to stow an awkward container into an equally awkward locker. It would fit if I trimmed some of the plastic edging, so I picked up a sharp knife and cut little strips away – and it did fit. I was pleased and congratulated myself on solving the problem. I was now sitting on deck with a pile of small plastic chippings. Let’s be frank, of course there was a huge temptation to drop them overboard into the current. They would have disappeared instantly. It would have been the work of a moment and I would have thought no more of it – just like millions of us around the world.

Unfortunately, the millions of us around the world have been too thoughtless for too long. The albatrosses, the seals, the sharks stuffed with plastic are just one part of a wider problem we must solve as quickly as possible. No sentiment, no wailing and gnashing of teeth, just an intelligent focus on a very complicated problem. If you haven’t started yet, start now.

. . . A toothbrush??? . . .



Captain of his ship

It is his hands I notice first. They are small, the fingers delicately occupied.  In company shirtsleeves, he is sitting in his captain’s chair and he is working the joysticks of this tourist boat.

The chair is deeply upholstered in fawn leather and it holds him firmly and comfortably. Here is a man at home in his world.

I am standing in the doorway of the wheelhouse, curious to see how the boat is run. It is really a small ship – 56 passengers this trip.

The captain, for this is he, carefully maneuvers us past a set of all-too-solid rocks. I want to say ‘then he relaxes’ but I never see him when he isn’t relaxed. A wide oval face beneath a wind-blown shock of silvering hair turns towards me and grins broadly – a wide welcoming smile. “Come in, come in. Come out of the weather.” A heavy New Zealand accent.

He sits before two large screens showing gps and radar positions, plus digital readouts of the minute details of both engines. Irreverently I wonder whether he has digital readouts for every piece of equipment on the ship including the toaster in the galley. Here is a man who can handle the technology, a seaman who has dispensed with a ship’s wheel and runs this large, elegant machine with two joysticks and a mouse. Clever.

Clever, yes, but he needs to be more than clever, he needs to be master of this environment. Technology is not enough. We are in the very south west of the South Island of New Zealand. This stretch of water is where the great explorers of the 18th century – the English, the French, the Dutch, the Portuguese all tried to gain a foothold. And on this particular stretch of coast, nobody did. It is uninhabitable. The rocks, the lack of soil, the way the vegetation grows. Their density and their lack of anchorage to the rock beneath mean trees eventually grow too big to hold on and fall to the waters below taking other trees with them. In this rain-forest environment, the whole fecund process starts all over again – first moss, then smaller plants and so on. This is raw country where the weather and the waters are unpredictable – hidden rocks, variable currents. Up-to-the-minute technology or not, it takes an experienced seaman to navigate here.

We have one, in this shortish, slightly over-weight – (I notice the cake and the coffee brought up from the galley!), genial man. He doesn’t stop talking. Here is someone who really enjoys this place and his work in it and wants everyone else to enjoy it too. He talks of the marine life, the terrain, the history. He talks about this boat and previous boats and adventures that occurred. He talks to his passengers but he also takes time to run through a crew-member’s questions about an upcoming exam. They go through the various readouts on the screens and worry over minute discrepancies. He acknowledges, with slight irony, that now everything is monitored, the minutest changes are noted and worried over whereas before nobody would have noticed unless there was an obvious, major problem.

I am sure he has a wife, a car and a lawn-mower at home and knows other sides of life,  and maybe, just like the rest of us, he isn’t the perfect paragon of virtue, but here he is in charge. He has accepted responsibility for his passengers, his crew and his boat. He steps up to the mark every day. There is art as well as science to his work. He shares his enjoyment. I admire the guy. Good on him.


Back to studying

For those who tune into this blog occasionally and are wondering why I am dodging around topics, it’s because I am doing a short course with WordPress – Writing 101. It lasts a little under three weeks and involves participants posting a blog most days. The topics are varied and a little out of my usual line. My intention is to get back to a writing habit that I lost over the past year. Bear with me, something good will come from it.


For those who are wondering what has happened to Blue Mistress, the refit is nearly complete. A lot has been done in between longish pauses and I see the chance to get back in the water in the next two weeks. The boat is looking good but needs to be afloat!




And if you are also wondering when I am going to talk about New Zealand, it will come. In the meantime, this is the Bay of Islands where Webb Chiles (see below) is headed.



If you are not following Webb Chiles, you should be. Aged 72 and circumnavigating in a boat smaller and lighter than Blue Mistress. It is his sixth time round, I believe. He prefers the solitude of single-handed sailing and was reluctant to fit the Yellowbrick – technology impinging on personal space. In the meantime, we have the privilege of sitting back and admiring. He has been sailing at over five knots for most of the voyage. Fair winds to him.

You can follow him here

(All images taken by Bill Whateley)