Power Down

It’s amaz­ing how quickly one can fit into a new way of life.

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Contents - Words Mur­ray Grim­wood

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.

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