Of Cyclones and Friends

Our return to the North Island began with two glorious days on the Coramandel Peninsula, just across the road from Hot Water Beach. We had rented a lovely beach cottage, more windows than walls, to serve as a transition space for Mark’s sister Zara to recover from jetlag before stepping onto our beloved, but very crowded, Anthea. Due to health issues, Zara had to cancel her trip at the last moment, so the four of us, with hearts heavy from the goodbye with my parents and the sadness of not seeing Zara, found ourselves ensconced in a beautiful cottage by the sea. Determined not to wallow while the sun shone, we set off to explore a new coastline. We hiked to the remains of a Pa site (fortified Maori village) and then returned for a low tide dig on Hot Water Beach. Joining several hundred other people, we shoveled holes in the sand to create an instant spa, heated by geothermal seepages in the ancient volcanic landscape. As the tide crept in, Anson and Devon wielded their spades ferociously to reinforce sand walls and keep our pool intact, while neighbors were inundated by cold sea water. Little did we know that years of playing “keep back the tide” on Humboldt County beaches would provide us with engineering expertise for the longest lasting pool! The following day we hiked to Cathedral Cave, a cliff-side hike with panoramic views of the turquoise waters, where Mark, Anson and Devon body surfed for hours.

After a month of land-based travel, hot showers, and separate rooms, the shock of returning to Anthea was profound. Mark and I found ourselves standing in the galley while Anson plugged himself into Photoshop on one side of the settee and Devon occupied the other. We were penned in with nowhere to go! Negotiating cramped quarters is one of the daily compromises of life aboard a 41-foot classic Swan. When the weather is sweet and the cruising grounds lovely, we rarely long for the comforts of home. But the bottom line is stark: Anthea is small for four, not to mention five!
The weather had shifted and once again we were on extra-tropical cyclone watch as Cyclone Hola was headed our way. Wind, rain and waves foiled our plans for a Great Barrier Island cruise, so we hunkered down in the marina and re-adjusted to life aboard. It quickly became apparent that Zara’s staycation in her beautiful seaside cottage in Westhaven was the perfect place for her to heal and rejuvenate (which she did), especially as rain dominated the weather for all but two of her planned 14 days in New Zealand. But this same rain, and Cyclone Hola in particular, brought us a treasure: a connection with another cruising family with young people the same ages as ours.

Seeking refuge from the predicted stormy weather, Fiuu, a spacious 50-foot performance cruising catamaran, pulled into the slip opposite ours. Seeing a family aboard and hearing French, Mark playfully joked (in French), that Anthea is the everyday people’s model by Citroen (think very small car) and Fiuu is the President’s model (think large sedan). We soon found out they were kiteboarders, and a plan was made to try out a local kiteboarding site, putting the high winds to good use. On board their boat that night we began to share stories and learn about this French family who has sailed for the past seven years. Pascal is an adventurous woman who loves sailing as much as I do, Yves a calm and gentle man who is a retired search and rescue helicopter pilot, Lucile a young woman with an open, joy-filled spirit, and Simon a young fishing genius. They are in the final moments of their cruise, with Lucile off to University to study biology and/or engineering and Simon to attend high school back in France.

With dismal weather predicted for several days we hatched a plan for a bake-off – two teams of chefs would produce the tastiest and most beautiful dessert possible, and the adults would take on the serious work of judges. To capture the day fully would require pages, as the competition quickly became serious: Lucile and Anson against Devon and Simon; the long drive for special ingredients; two galleys with cooks flying; heated discussion over design and presentation; moments of crisis and rescue; judges’ cards hand calligraphied and wax sealed; a trophy prepared; formal presentations of the creations; and finally the judging. The mystery dessert won (Lucile and Anson), as the reach was high and the risks many, but the perfect Carrot Cake (Devon and Simon) was the one that in the end made our bodies happiest. That night we reeled from the dense chocolate of the mystery dessert (chocolate, salted caramel, raspberry mouse with small basil leaves), but the sweetness of finding friends was the ultimate reward.
A weather window opened for sailing again, so we journeyed out for a short sail to an anchorage around Bream Head. Devon, Simon and Yves caught fish for dinner, we played an epic game of ultimate Frisbee on the beach, and the young people prepared for a beach barbecue while the parents cooked and dined aboard. We decided that evening to delay our plan to sail to the Great Barrier Island and follow Fiuu to Whangarei. Friendships were blossoming and our time all together was limited by Pascal and Lucile’s upcoming departure for a six-week tour of Japan (a birthday and high school graduation present of an epic scale).

We spent rainy days in Whangarei, enjoying time together, joining a birthday party of Celine (a friend of Fiuu’s), and helping Pascal and Lucile make their flight to Tokyo when their local flight was canceled. The rain finally abated and we set off sailing once again, delighted to hear that Simon and Yves would follow us to Great Barrier Island. Kim

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