The children sat on wet rocks in
the pitch black, chattering excitedly.
"Could anyone help my pregnant wife down the cliff in the
dark?" Stuart joked, as I hauled myself down the unseen
rocks with a pressure cooker full of warm rice in my arms.
Ahead of us, Nadine untied the small rowing boat that would
take us out to Nanu, the eighty four foot yacht where we
first met the Kuczera family some five years ago. It was
this family that started us on our family adventures, showing
us close up how you could still have children and an adventurous
lifestyle. Back then, they were sailing around the world
while we were on our cycling honeymoon in Patagonia. Now
we were adventuring with our own two boys while they were
reconfiguring their lives. Nadine and Bernard had separated,
Nanu was up for sale, and their kids were living a normal
life. But the family and their friends still gathered together
on Nanu; it was still the party boat, and we were about
to be reunited with it.
One of Nanu's legendary parties
in Patagonia, 1999
"Is everyone ok?"
Nadine asked. "Are you ok boys?" Stuart shone his head torch
into the boat, while Nadine loaded up the children and a
huge Tupperware box of food, then took the oars and threw
herself down in the seat at the back, her black hair tumbling
around the pressure cooker she had jammed beside her. The
little dinghy rocked and tipped, but she held firm to the
oars, while Matthew and Cameron clung on to the edge of
their damp seat like limpets. "Now, look what happens when
I splash," whispered Nadine, "magic fairydust in the water."
The children gasped as a circle of phosphorescence rippled
around the oars. The edges of the small boat began to shimmer
and sparkle in the warm night, and further out into the
charcoal bay magic pools appeared where fish were dancing
and hunting in the enchanted light.
"Nanu is a magic boat you know Matthew," I heard Nadine
say as they disappeared into the night towards a pinprick
of light on the horizon, leaving traces of fading fairydust
in their wake.
On the boat, the party was in full
swing. Toddlers scampered around, adults drank wine from
pewter goblets and the smell of French onion soup simmered
on the hob. Nadine and Bernard's son, eleven year old Sylvan,
for years the youngest on the boat, now supervised the children.
"Wow, I'd forgotten how beautiful this boat is," I said,
stepping down wooden steps into the massive wood panelled
bedroom area, lined with crew bunks and mattresses.
"And there's our honeymoon suite," Stuart laughed, pointing
out a tiny triangular cabin at the bow; our bed for a week
all those years ago. I sat in the beautifully carved bow
and was immediately back in those pale blue Patagonian fjords,
with Stuart and without children, recalling dreamy memories
of an idyllic week relaxing, exploring, kayaking and partying
with the Kuczera's on their family home. I wandered around
the boat, oblivious to the noise around me and took in the
silent atmosphere of the huge deck, and the towering mast
cutting through the starry sky. Up the mast, an agile seven
year old Sylvan, climbed like a monkey, then launched himself
into the icy fjords below, calling for his flippers.
The honeymoon suite, better than
This boat was an enigma to me five
years ago. Bernard had designed and built it, shaping its'
steel hull, rigging its' masts and sails, fitting a warm
wooden interior to make a roomy and much loved family home.
Back then I watched him check his charts, set the sails
and steer the huge yacht around the Chilean bays, but had
little involvement in the sailing and no idea how it all
worked. I had no interest in learning the bowline Sylvan
tried to teach me, being much more interested in the Polynesian
dances eleven year old Sofia demonstrated daily. But now,
after a week on Kakapo, I found myself surprisingly familiar
with some of Nanu's sailing nuts and bolts; the headsail,
mainsail, winches, cleats, sheets and halyards. Nanu was
just a great big Kakapo. I thought back to my first day
of instruction when I felt so lost, so stupid, so clumsy
and I smiled.
My transformation from non sailor
to passable crew started on day two when I reached a tiny
plateaux on my steep learning curve. While the mention of
a beam reach still gave me panic attacks, I suddenly got
the hang of the little arrow, and somehow the rest fell
into place. "If I push the stick away from me then I'm nosing
into the wind. So I find a point on the horizon, set the
sails and check the arrow hasn't gone into the dead zone.
Stuart…I'm doing it! I think. I'm tacking. Aren't I?" But
my confidence in doing it with kids was still zero. By the
end of day two I reluctantly allowed the children to come
aboard but lay awake all night worrying about how we would
all cope. In the morning I briefed Terry, the owner of the
boat, that we'd probably be back by lunchtime.
"Let's be conservative with our plans." I told Stuart firmly.
"No further down the coast than Paihia for the first day.
And if we feel like it we can motor there. There's no need
to put up the sails at all really. OK?" But once we were
left to our own devices, and there was no one watching me
watching the arrow, I began to relax, and to figure out
things for myself. We motored out that first day, and together
worked out how to get the sails up. We steered the boat
into the open seas, over into a sheltered bay, and miraculously
managed to anchor. Stuart skippered and I crewed, hauling
up sails, starting motors, trimming sheets and steering
the boat without the trusted hair flicking technique. I
even developed a worrying fondness for watching the arrow
and manoeuvring the boat accordingly. In the evening Stuart
and I lay in our coffins, wrapped up in our sleeping bags,
and made up a song for the kids about Kakapo.
"We sailed on Kakapo, she's a magic yellow boat you know
We sailed on Kakapo, the boat that smells of wee."
The boys giggled from the their toilet cabin.
The boys were sad to leave the
magic poo potty
But Kakapo, while a great vessel
for learning the ropes on, always felt cramped and slightly
smelly whereas Nanu felt like a home. Although she was looking
older, and a bit rusty in places, she was still our beloved
honeymoon yacht, and the emotional start of our family adventure.
I hugged Bernard, the Captain, pleased to see him after
five years and he liberally poured red wine all round. Stuart
and I toasted Neptune, stared out at the Bay we had sailed
around single handedly for the last three days and thanked
the stars above us for our incredible family adventure.
"Stuart," I said later that evening
as we cuddled up for the night below deck, "Isn't this better
than a coffin in a poo potty?"
"I was getting quite fond of my coffin," said Stuart, his
breath heavy with the scent of one glass too many.
"Next time we go sailing, let's do it on a boat like this,"
"Last time we did it on a boat like this, we ended up starting
a family," slurred Stuart rolling over drowsily.
"Will we go sailing again mummy?" asked Matthew pushing
Stuart back onto his own side of the family sized bunk.
"I'm sure we will Matt," I replied, "but not until this
drunken sailor sobers up."