When I was 13 and in my first year of secondary school, I was Ratty in the play, Wind in the Willows. The book had been one of my favourites growing up. The best line of Ratty’s and the entire book, is: “There is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.” What an adage for life. My dad (86 in April and still solo sailing a 32’ Davidson around the NZ coastline for weeks on end) reckons he would have been a wealthy man, if it hadn’t been for messing about in boats pretty much all of his life.
My own first boat, after the family sailing dinghies, was a Laser. I bought it from my Uncle Jim. It had a beautiful blue hull and the centerboard casing leaked. By the end of a day’s exhilarating sailing, the boat would be half full of water. But, wow, could I make some speed on a broad reach – and then it would throw me out and I’d have to swim for miles after it.
I then bought a windsurfer, which, much to my father’s bemusement, is still hanging from his garage roof back home in Whitianga on the Coromandel Peninsula.
During my third year at university (1982), I found a derelict looking 18-foot William Garden-designed yacht, looking rather forlorn on the hardstand down on the First Ave slipway in my home town of Tauranga. Reveries had a ‘For Sale’ sign hanging from it, and I was hooked. ‘Varsity was 100kms away, but I’d try to get home most weekends to work on the boat. I scraped everything down and repainted. Dad had a cabinetmaking business, with an upholstery shop, and his upholsterer made me new wool squabs for the two bunks. Dad even recovered the main hatch with teak decking, which I caulked and varnished. Reveries was my pride and joy.
After months of work, back into the water she went. There was no winch on this hardstand, so we pushed the cradle down into the water. Reveries had been out of the water for so long, the planks had opened up a good centimeter or so – you could practically see through from one side of the hull to the other. Of course, as soon as it hit the water, in poured Tauranga Harbour. Handbailing furiously, we dinghy-towed her around to the old Tauranga yacht club and stepped the mast. For two days and nights while moored out on the boat’s swing mooring, my brother and I took turns to bail while the other one slept.
Reveries had a small inboard engine – an old modified petrol Seagull outboard. It was the bane of my life. I would spend hours getting all the pauls lined up inside the casing to get her started, but would have to time my passage from the mooring to the jetty just right. Invariably the motor would konk out about three-quarters of the way, and judging the tide I’d just be able to drift in and down, kissing the jetty with perfect timing – usually to a round of applause from the old salts watching from the yacht club bar.
There’s nothing like the love affair with a first boat.