Hitchhike the Yacht – New Zealand to Vanuatu

Hitchhike the Yacht – New Zealand to Vanuatu
Pacific Ocean – from New Zealand to Vanuatu

The story happens during the third year of our hitchhiking journey around the world. We’re in New Zealand. And looking for a way of hitching a ride to Australia.

7 May
Having left our note – “looking for a ride to Australia” – in the Auckland yacht club, we head for the Northland, that is, the extreme north part of the island. We pass through some hilly landscape, and in the evening arrive at Whangarei, a little town by the bay, which is a meeting point of the yachtsmen from all over the world. We put our note here also, at the yachtsmen’s pub by the water. Among a bunch of similar notes, we find one from somebody looking for a crew to go to Vanuatu. They want someone experienced, but we have nothing to lose by asking.

8 May
I dream about Vanuatu all night. Out of all the Pacific islands, that is where I want to go most. Is it because its name sounds so exotic? Or is it because a long time ago, still in Poland, I met a guy from Vanuatu? It was then that I first learnt about the existence of such a country. Then I didn’t even dream about ever going there, that seemed beyond the realm of possibility. But now…

In the morning we meet with Mike, the seventy-five year old white-bearded captain, and his partner Marj. She is tired of long sailing journeys, and wants to fly. So he needs somebody to help with the sailing. Mike is actually more interested in our attitude than our experience.

“Aren’t you afraid of being seasick? Aren’t you terrified by the fact that on the ocean you can only count on yourselves? Not all people come back from such expeditions…” says Mike, watching our reactions closely.
“Are you sure you can manage about two weeks on this very limited space? Is this what you really want?”
“Yes!” I answer without a slightest hesitation.
Chopin also answers affirmatively. What else can he do?

I can see Mike and Marj like us. They show us around the boat. It’s a very small, thirty foot yacht. It will house two people comfortably, three people a little tightly, but we’re used to any conditions. So, it’s a deal. We’ll go to Vanuatu! I can hardly believe it. Mike won’t be leaving until the end of the month, as there are still a lot of preparations to be done before sailing. He tells us to show up a few days before the end of the month in the Bay of Islands.

9 May
We have about twenty days left before sailing, so we’re thinking of looking for some work in the meantime. Today we seem to be finding what we’re looking for, so maybe we’ll also find a job. We stop by at a backpacker’s hostel in town, and find out that if you rent a room there, they will arrange a job for you. They will even get you a tax ID number, regardless of whether you have a work permit or not.

There’s a ‘gang’ leaving for kiwi fruit picking in half an hour. Do we want to go? Why not? Our gang’s coordinator, a tattooed Maori, drives us to the kiwi orchard. We make a very European ‘gang’: a French girl, a German girl, a group of guys from the Czech Republic, and us, Polish. We’re picking gold kiwi fruit. I’ve never seen this variety before, they are yellow inside and have a more exotic, intense flavor. Picking kiwi fruit turns out to be much easier than picking apples. You don’t have to watch for the ripeness and the color – they’re all equally hard and equally brown: you just pick them all. The wooden boxes fill quickly one after another with tens, hundreds, and thousands of kiwi fruit.

Tomorrow I’m switching into the kiwi pack house. Maybe it’s not as pleasant as being outside, but they say that it’s better because you’re not dependent on the weather. When picking, rains interrupt the work frequently.

Chopin has found a job with a local electrician. It pays better than fruit picking, and he’ll finally be working in his profession. We both have to get up at seven tomorrow.

10 May
My first day in a pack house. I can’t say it’s a fascinating job. It’s not well paid, either. If I had to describe it in one word, it would be ‘monotonous.’ But it’s a job, and it’s not too bad after all. Along with a mixed crowd of local Maoris and a few foreigners, I sort the kiwi fruit from the conveyor belt into the boxes, according to the kiwi size. I can say I’m having a truly “kiwi experience.”

26 May
We head to the Bay of Islands to meet our sailors. It’s perfect timing – we arrive at the marina almost at the same time as they sail in from Kerikeri. They invite us on board. There are still a few things to be done before departure, and we’ll be happy to help. Right now we get to know Marimba (the boat), as Marj prepares a delicious Thai coconut pumpkin cream soup for supper.

31 May

Setting Off
Setting Off
There was a problem with getting diesel, but Mike found some in a local grocery store, and it looks like we might finally be leaving soon. Mike is finishing work on the engine. While sailing, you don’t normally use the engine, but it has to be in perfect condition anyway. In the afternoon, I send last e-mails from New Zealand, and we take our last shower in the yacht club. The next one will be in Vanuatu. If the wind is right, we’ll leave tomorrow.

1 June
We’re setting off.

2 June
Sea sick.

3 June
Feel a bit better.

4 June

Lost in a Book
Lost in a Book
Coming back to life. It’s the first time in three days that I’m able to function normally.
Mike warned me that it can take three days for the body to get used to the new, constantly rocking environment. No miracle cures worked for me. I took a tablet, then following somebody’s advice I stuck a ear plug in my left ear (it’s supposed to help the right handed), and then on the first evening, when I started feeling uneasy, I put some homeopathic medicine under my tongue. But still, the moment I smelled some food being cooked, I had to lean out to port side. I discovered that the only thing that worked was falling asleep, so this is how I have spent most of the last two days. Chopin, on the other hand, remained totally unaffected, and is enjoying this new experience.

After two days’ fast, I discover that if you don’t feel sick anymore at the smell of food, and you even feel like having some, it means you’re cured. Chopin is our untiring, enthusiastic cook, and I’m happy to be better, to enjoy his meals, and the sailing.

There isn’t much to do here, in fact. Nowadays, GPS and the self-steering device take care of most of the navigation, you just have to adjust the sails. Then all you have to do is go to the outer deck every fifteen minutes or so, and slowly check the horizon. It would be a regrettable mistake to bump into some other vessel just because we didn’t notice it on time – although that’s quite unlikely. I believe we’re safer here than in the streets of Auckland.

During three days, Chopin saw the light of another ship on the horizon only once. The rest of the time, it’s just us and the water. Water all the way to the horizon and far beyond.

5 June
Nothing but the ocean and the sky all around. And us in this small yacht rocked by the waves and pushed by the winds… Reading, cooking, and contemplating the ever-empty horizon fills our time. Today the captain and his crew lose themselves in the books. I’m finishing “Chasing the Dream: Tryst Around the World,” describing adventures of a couple and their four daughters on board their trimaran. Sailing around the world, with stops in different places, took them five years. Our captain knows them all personally, and did a similar route with his yacht, some thirty years later. A lot has changed since those times. Back then, the dolphins, sharks, whales and all kinds of fish were a regular sight. All we can see now is a never ending surface of dark blue water, and a few solitary birds from time to time.

6 June
The wind got stronger, the sea rougher and the yacht is rocking more seriously. My dream of the day is to fall asleep and wake up once we reach the shore. Just going about the daily routine, using the toilet or making some tea, seems like one big balancing act, and requires an undisturbed sense of balance.

7 June
“I still haven’t decided what I want to do when I grow up,” our seventy-five year old captain says, after he asked us what we want to do when we finish the journey. Many people ask us the same question, but we have to disappoint them – we don’t know. And we don’t feel the need to know. This is still a distant future, and instead of narrowing it down, I’d rather be open to different possibilities. Mike agrees with me that life is more interesting when you don’t have it all planned. While a lot of people his age spend sad time in front of their TV sets, our captain, still healthy and energetic, sails the world, writes, and designs. He is designing a bigger, more luxurious and modern yacht, which he’s going to build for sailing when he’s eighty-five, he says.

As far as our plans – all we plan right now is to make tomato soup for dinner.

8 June
The event of the day is a flying fish, landing on the deck of our yacht. It has incredible, bird-like wings.

“It can consider itself lucky, to land on board of a friendly yacht,” says the captain. “I guess you won’t let me fry it.”

He’s right, the flying fish is lucky, and instead of in the frying pan, it ends up back in the ocean. Not that there is any danger of landing on anybody else’s deck around here – we haven’t seen a single other vessel for a few days.

11 June

The Misty Outline of Efate Island
The Misty Outline of Efate Island
For the first time in twelve days, we can see the faint outline of land on the horizon. It’s one of Vanuatu’s southern islands. We don’t even know if it’s inhabited. I wouldn’t mind checking – stopping there for a day or two – but Mike doesn’t want to ignore the rules, saying that you have to arrive at the official port of entry first. Vanuatu’s port of entry is its capital, Port Vila, on Efate Island, a few islands further on.

Right after we left New Zealand, we noticed a change in the climate: from ‘less cold’, to ‘a bit warmer’, to ‘what heat!’. We left wearing our fleece jackets, and now we’re only wearing T-shirts, and we’re still sweating. We can tell we’re moving north. And last night, just above the horizon, for the first time in months, I could see the Great Bear constellation, familiar from our northern hemisphere. I love sitting out on the deck and watching stars – bright stars in the dark sky above our lonely yacht, dashing silently across the dark water.

12 June
The misty outline of Efate Island shows up on the horizon in the late afternoon.

This passage comes from my recently published book about our hitchhiking journey around the world: www.ledbydestiny.com

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