It’s amazing how quickly one can fit into a new way of life.
Life all at sea
Things that seem important back home begin to seem unimportant when you’re enjoying a new community, new friends, new culture.
Over the past few months we have cruised the Pacific on our yacht Sagamo.
Our day starts with coffee in the cockpit. The locals outboard past us on their way to their garden plots, to work at one of the resorts, or to their fishing spots. The odd fisherman swims past, putting his catch in a box he tows behind him. Others scavenge the low tide shoreline.
At 8.30am, it’s time for the ‘sked’ (short for schedule), a position report and community update. VHF radio is the communication method of choice in this cluster of islands where the only incoming dollars are in the pockets of migrating boaties.
First, there’s a request for priority traffic, medical and the like. Next is where people can call in who’s around, which must be an American thing as it’s mostly Americans who announce themselves.
Following that there are arrivals and departures, crew wanted and wanting. It’s part of the itinerant way of life, hello, goodbye, see you down the track.
Then comes buy, sell, exchange, wanted. An esoteric collection of bits and bobs, mostly boat-related, changes hands.
There’s the market report from a fellow called Primrose. He invariably starts with “The market is very beautiful today…” and reels off a list of produce that sounds a lot like it did yesterday and the day before that. The market is pretty cool
though, an open-sided building on the waterfront with heaps of fresh everything.
The sked ends with a round-up of the local businesses. They take turns hosting it: Tropical Tease is Wednesday, Hunga Haven is Sunday and so on. Almost all of these businesses are owned and operated by palangis (Europeans), many of whom sailed in and never left.
Oddly, when you walk through any village on these islands, there are always empty houses. The native Tongans are away in New Zealand or Hawaii.
By the time the sked is over, we’ve had our porridge or toasted, home-baked bread. It’s time to put structure into the day. Jennie might decide to paddle off on the surf-ski. I’ll write or visit the neighbours.
Our neighbours are interesting. Upwind of us are a couple of retired academics, an army man, a gypsy girl, two university lecturers and their family taking a sabbatical, and a young couple who make and sell computer games. There’s an architect who decided to live before he died, and a movie person who quit after 35 years. There’s a writer.
Downwind are the ‘nappy boats’. One has a six-month-old on board. These yachties are always pleased when it rains. They’ve even come and bailed our dinghy out for the extra washing water.
Little faces peek out from backpacks or from between dad’s knees on the paddle board. Their first tottering steps are taken on the sand, shells coming in for oral inspection. There are people who will tut-tut about this, but not in this community.
Further up the age scale, youngsters radio each other to organise play dates. Many use masts as maypoles, some doing things which would get them employment in a circus. There’s a teenager who wants to be a naval architect, but he’s a rarity. If there’s a cohort missing from this community, it is the teenagers.
People are called – and known – by their boat name. When a group of us got together to snorkel the reef a couple of days ago, it was Tregonning, Local Talent, Anthea and Sagamo that went out to the reef, anchored the dinghies and took to the underwater canyons.
It was an interesting day. A lot of the coral here is recently-dead, provoking much discussion among those who saw it in good condition as little as five years ago. But re-growth is everywhere too. Could it be that a warm patch of seawater circulated here, killed off the intolerant species, then moved on?
Evening will find us grouped around contributed nibbles in someone’s cockpit, conversations of all kinds breaking off and joining in. In a very short time we’ve become a community, made friends (some for life), and feel right at home.
You get such a different perspective. If I was at my actual home, I’d have been tearing my hair out at the election results. Here I’ve gained the perspective to see that it needs 51% of the voters to be cognisant, not 5-10% of them voting for one party.
I’ve gained enough perspective to churn out a first draft of my long-threatened book. But the problem is every 10 minutes I stop to pop up the companionway for a look around. One should always move on if one tires of the view.
There are a couple of academics, an architect, a movie person
MURRAY GRIMWOOD and partner Jennie Upton own a 24ha forest block and an off-grid home north of Dunedin, but are currently sailing the seas on their yacht Sagamo. Murray likes to write, lobby, sail and create things.