Skip to content

Sailing adventure with a Brompton side

After completing this trip, my mum reminded me of something I’d forgotten. When we moved to Auckland from Sydney in 2015, I’d told her that I aimed to do two things that were relevant to our new home: learn te reo Māori and learn to sail. Well, one of those two things had been working out. The other would seem to be on troubled waters.

My friend Pete Thornton of Cargo Bike World (world famous in Christchurch), on the other hand, has been involved with boats in one way or another his whole life and invited me on a sailing trip from Nelson to Northland. His boat Rāpaki is handmade, wooden, 40″ long and a ‘keeler’, which I’m told is a boat that doesn’t get out of the water without very good reason. I think of that when people ask silly things like ‘how do you transport it’ (ie ‘how do you drive with it’) when they see our Gazelle Cabby ‘bakfiets’ style cargo bike. It’s been on a few trains and travelled from Holland in a boat, but it’s never been on or in a car. Both its wheels stay on the ground unless in exceptional circumstances!

This voyage was to continue on to Fiji and Vanuatu and back (without me), so Rāpaki had indeed been completely out of the water for a full re-paint and hull and keel inspection, amongst all the other maintenance you need (and probably want) to do before customs will allow you to leave the country. By the time I arrived, she was back in water in the Nelson Marina and we were busy sorting out the last preparations for the next day’s departure. As well as Captain Pete there was first mate Suzy, an old hand on sailing boats, but excited for her first trip ‘offshore’, or what land folk would call ‘overseas’. And although I had been on Rāpaki once when Pete and whānau were travelling through Auckland (they took me to Tiritiri Mātangi island), I didn’t know which way was ‘forward’ on a boat or anything else really.

We left at 2pm in the sunshine on clear blue, calm waters with snow capped peaks in the background. Leaving the harbour this very quickly turned to bouncing around on choppy seas, travelling straight into the wind (‘on the nose’). This was all a lot of fun, but I was aware that soon enough I’d be sick. I’d never had the opportunity to be seasick before but any rational person could see that the ocean was giving more than a body wanted to take. Sure enough, by 7 o’clock I was over the edge and again every 15 minutes like clockwork. It’s amazing what you get used to. Time was divided into 3 x 5 minute slots. The first for throwing up, the second for feeling functional for 5 minutes and the third for wondering how many minutes left… Sounds miserable but I don’t really remember it like that. And of all the places on earth that you could be sick, it was definitely the most convenient – plenty of fresh air and nothing to clean up afterwards. No chance of even smelling it because the wind is blowing and the boat had moved on.

A couple hours of that and it was my turn to go sleep below deck. It was a nice surprise to find that by jumping into bed immediately and closing your eyes, the sickness went away. 6 hours later it was time for my shift on deck which unfortunately was just like before bed – 3 x 5 minute existence for about 3 hours, marking our progress past the oil rigs of Taranaki then back to bed at sunrise. Turns out 30 odd sessions of violently throwing up isn’t sustainable for me and I slept or did something like sleeping for 24 hours solid while the adults kept the boat moving. They were going to have to be just the two of them for the trip from Northland to Fiji and that fact made me feel less guilty about abandoning post. Emerging on deck again at dawn I was feeling better and even managed to eat a little. By afternoon I was ready for another shift which unfortunately was short lived – the seasickness came back and I wasn’t willing this time to see how long it would last – it was back down below deck for another 24 hours for me!

Apparently while I was out, I missed the pods of dolphins accompanying the boat in the moonlight and other sorts of magic that draw people to the sea. But I was grateful enough to be feeling better in time for Rāpaki to reach the tip – Rerenga Wairua and slowly turn the corner. I’d never been to Cape Reinga and it was very special to experience it from the sea. We anchored just beyond at Kapawairua/Spirits Bay, about as North as you can get, dining on freshly caught fish. The land sure looked alluring and it was time to go back to work. We decided I would go to shore in the morning and start making my way back home by hitchhiking, with the wee Brompton folding bicycle, a Rāpaki permanent resident, as my plan B.

I have to admit my favourite parts of the trip were when we weren’t at sea – pottering around in the marina getting supplies and readying the boat, then seeing the Nelson harbour and port from all angles and listening to all its weird noises. Anchoring at Kapawairua, getting a lift on the jollyboat to shore. Finding a ride to Kaitaia within minutes of reaching the campsite, killing 24 hours in Kaitaia including a cycle on the Brompton ride to Ahipara and the return of appetite. The trip from Kaitaia to Keri Keri, on a bus where strangers talk to each other, the radio plays loud and the driver does her announcement while looking at you, not through the intercom once underway. An hour stop over to change bus routes in Keri Keri, enough for a short Brompton ride and a visit to the north-most (not very north) bike shop in Aotearoa.

But travel is inseparable from its context and you can’t match a sailboat and an old Brompton for a back drop. If I suggested a 7 hour bus trip to spend 24 hours in Kaitaia and then hitchhiking to the top of the island, I don’t know if I’d get any takers. And anyway, it wouldn’t be the same without the ground bobbing everytime you stop moving.

Maybe next time I’ll try some seasickness medication and enjoy the sea parts in their own right!

Te Rāpaki o Rakiwhakaputa ki Akaroa, Rāpaki ki Whakatū, Rāpaki mā te Tai o Rehua ki te Rerenga Wairua, Rāpaki mā Kororāreka puta atu ki te Moana nui a Kiwa, ki Tuamotu e. Tū te ao, tū te pō, tū mai e ngā rangatira first mate Suzy rāua ko kāpene Pete. Turou Hawaiki!

Posted in ,

Maurice Wells

Scroll To Top