I write from 36°14′59″ S 175°23′29″ E. Which is to say, Whangaparapara Harbour - Great Barrier Island, New Zealand. I have just finished a walk around of the boat, with a strong torch beam shining in the water, and I guesstimate at a hundred Mackrell fussing about bugs on the water attracted by the saloon lights. The rest of our compliment are in their bunks and over the trickle and hum of the freezer unit you can hear Morepork making their call. The Kaka have only recently stopped screeching and laughing, and they tussled for noise-room with the cicadas. As I lie in the flybridge counting the stars in the crux, I am the paradigm of privilege.
Yes: it is a lovely boat, yes: my hosts are divine, yes: every other deduction you might ever possibly deduce about how one finds oneself in such a splendid spot is valid. But a bourgeois brag is not my angle. (I fell asleep, we are now at 36°10′57″ S 175°20′7″ E - but the intent of this post has only been emboldened by an extra day). Allow me to expound…
This morning as we drank coffee and steamed out of harbour, I had a hunch to troll over a feature which looked interesting on the chart. As we passed over it, the sounder spiked and moments later and we hooked a fish. We had a 20kg Kingfish, it was landed and cleaned. Then late this afternoon, as the sun was setting over Pohutakawa forest and the tide was at its lowest ebb, we stood shin deep in a mudflat, our backs stooped over, elbows on knees, hands working through the sludge, sorting shells and stones, sticks; searching for fat cockles. But largely I’ve spent the day in the ultimate meditative endeavour: helmsman. Hours upon hours of seven-and-a-half-knots, constantly searching the horizon for birds working, the sea for other vessels, between chop and wavelets for the ultimate nemesis - crayfisherman’s pot buoys, or pouring over charts for depths and features and dangers, and the sounder for signs of marine life, always watching the lures. These are all endeavours that allow you infinite subconscious processing power. Latent brain-work I have used in assimilating these words.
Privilege. What privilege I allude to is that of a New Zealander. The special right and advantage to fish, gather, harvest, sail, motor, cruise. To peer five fathoms into the sea and whilst diffracted, not have your view otherwise obscured. Yet, this is not yet even the special honour conveyed. No. No-no. The privilege in all of this is that it is free. No permit, no license, no fee nor tariff. Whilst it behooves you to understand the port to port rule, or that sailboats always have right of way over a powered vessel… There is, so far, no license required to command a five horsepower skiff, nor five hundred horse power launch. You do not have to pay the ‘Officious Bureau of Marine Parks Enforcement’ for the right to enter the sublime and subtropical waters of Great Barrier Island. (Day 3 of this post: 36°2′55″ S 175°22′8″ E, bearing 29.1°M, 15kt s.o.g.) You can, by and large, enjoy all that this nautical little country has to offer, for free. Kayak fishermen catch trophy fish! And never ever forget the old trope 90% of of all marine life lives on the first 10 meters - snorkelers have it all.
My cycling friends are very quick to hashtag on photos of light over landscapes that Turner could not do justice: “Outside is Free”. And this is a sentiment which is not uttered as a parsimonious reproach. In these shaky isles, the outside is still free. (Blogging and helming do not coalesce, hence I am now at 36°6′52″ S 175°25′56″ E, and again at anchor). These vignettes are intended to give the impression of a life available to you, if you just reach beyond the inertia barrier of atrophy and take it. Pursue and execute your privilege.
My own personal emotional attachments to the ocean are at least in part handed down: my parental grandmother was able to express sadness at and then correct my ignorance of a ketch vs. schooner. Part instilled by the romance of laconic seafarers I’ve had the luck to meet - long evenings in chance encounters where for once I am mute and each sparse word from the other party a chest of wealth. Part self generated: snorkelling on an estuary point, hauling myself upside down into a likely hole to gasp and start at a wary Moray, or go mask to snout against a grumpy cod - my fear always countered by the joy and amazement of the encounters. And so it is like that of so many other of my countrymen, I am viscerally called to the ocean.
And lastly, at anchor after an epic day of a big Marlin hook up and a tagged-and-released Spearfish, I will try and do my, our privilege, justice. (36°9′53″ S 175°28′53″ E). Leave your home, walk, run, ride, drive or fly to your nearest coast and take up your right: swim in five fathoms of spring like sea, fish in the bounty, sit in a coracle and bobble about, watch the saturated Shag stretch and dry its wings, puzzle at a smaller mizzen that main and guess at the correct nomenclature. Go and exercise you privilege.
The slap of soft chop upon the chine, Yes I am all at sea. The muted roar of turmoil against rocks, Yes I am amongst the sea. The tick of the anchor chain across the fairlead, Yes I am on the sea.
Bobble a little on the crest of the wave, See: you are part of the ocean. Your body pulled betwixt the surge of the swell, Be: at the behest of the ocean.
Breath searing your lungs, look up from the bottom and see the faint ripple of wind, Sand under your feet, kelp around your ankles, gaze back at the perplexed Leatherjacket. Realise your right place and push up for it is time, let your fear ebb in that moment. It is your first call, to swim not run and so return to your rightful place.
Swim, or sail, uphold your great privilege and be enchanted with the siren call.