« Maman les p’tits bateaux qui vont sur l’eau ont-ils des jambes ? »
(French lullaby that says « mamma, does the small boats in the sea have legs? »)
As for my second HelpX in New Zealand, I’m aiming something a bit peculiar: volunteering on a boat. When I saw Cameron’s announcement, it didn’t take me a minute of reflexion before asking him if I could volunteer on his boat. He lives with his family on a boat, off Opua’s shore. It sounds like the perfect opportunity to live with locals and… on a bloody boat for a week!
What I didn’t picture, though, was that I was going to fell off the Tranquillity on my first day…
BACK TO PAIHIA
But before that amazing wet story, I had to come back up Northland, to Paihia –Opua being located nearby. After spending four hours in the bus from Auckland, I decided to go back to the Pickled to spend the night. Right after settling down, I borrow one of the hostel’s bikes, and here I am, bicycling around the (few) Paihia’s roads, at sunset. The sensation is exhilarating. I haven’t been bicycling since the week before my departure, with my best friend in the beautiful Alsace’s vineyards, and before that episode it had probably been something like ten years that I didn’t put my ass on a bike… However the old saying has it all right: you never forget how to ride a bike. What I shouldn’t forget though is to ride on the left side of the road.
ARRIVAL IN OPUA
Around noon the day after, Cameron is picking me up in Paihia. Opua is at ten minutes’ drive from here, but if you go by walking it’ll take maybe more than an hour. As I’m carrying Monster, I’d rather take the car. Opua is a little coastal village in the Bay of Islands, Northland, famous for its marina. Everybody here has a boat. However, it seems there’s not much to do, there is just one coffee shop, one little supermarket, one laundromat and basta…
Cameron brings me to his office, which is also a kind of shop, where he works, on Opua’s harbour. His job is to sell and set up a whole wide range of different electronic materials on boats so they can be self-sufficient. His specialty is setting up the WiFi on boats. He tells me he worked with the Malama Honua, on the Hikianalia boat. Their goal was to sail around the world with two traditional Polynesian boats, without any guidance systems. They were, as Polynesians used to do, guiding themselves thanks to the sky, the wind, the waves. On each town they went to, they tried to raise awareness about respecting the Ocean. That’s when I discover that Cameron and his family only settled in New Zealand five years ago. Before that, they were sailing in Florida, Hawaii, Polynesia, and Fiji… and finally settled down back in New Zealand, mainly for the kids. Cameron and his wife were homeschooling their kids until then, but Maya is 13 and Finn is 11, so it became more and more obvious that they needed to go to an actual school. Cameron is calling his family “sea’s gipsies”, nomads from the sea.
My job at Opua Transmarine Pro –that’s how Cameron’s business is called- would be to clean and tidy up the place, so Cameron would be able to find his things and his papers, and welcoming the upcoming guests of the high summer season. I’d have to do the same on the boat on weekends, because, as he explains to me, between the kids, his job and the boat, he has no time for cleaning duties. As a matter of fact, the boat is still more or less under construction. For the past ten years they had been living on it.
My first afternoon is free. I’m heading to the coffee shop to try my first New Zealand’s Fish & Chips. And that’s a pure delight –thank goodness because it was particularly expensive! Since the weather is great, I stroll a little on the Opua-Paihia walkway which is linking both towns following the coastline- one way’s taking approximately two hours! I’ll be wandering on this walkway almost every day after work. And even sometimes to find some treasures, for my stay in Opua will be my first Geocaching experience –but that’s another story that you can read here.
FIRST FALL – FIRST FAIL
Then comes the moment when Cameron takes me to his boat. I’m so happy, I’m going to sleep on a boat tonight!! But the boat is parked off shore, not in the marina like I had imagined. Which means we have to take the little motor boat to get there. I try my best to put all my heavy stuff on that tiny boat –Monster, bloody backpack, I could have had killed you and we’re heading towards the open sea and the S/W Tranquillity.
When we reach the boat, well it’s obvious that we have to transfer ourselves and all my stuff from one boat to another. That’s when my balance got it all wrong. My feet are pushing away the little motor boat while I’m trying my best to hold on to the Tranquillity’s platform. Inevitably, at some point it’s all going wrong. I can’t manage to lift myself onto the platform, and my feet are restlessly trying to find something to hold onto, but there’s nothing, I already pushed the motor boat too far away… Cameron is trying to lift me onto the platform, but the poor man just had a surgery and his stitches are about to blow up if he tries too hard. He still manages to grab my backpack, before saying I should just let go and fall into the ocean. I’m laughing. In my head. I’m not at all worried or panicked about falling into the open sea with all my clothes on –actually I love water, otherwise I won’t be dreaming about living on a boat for a week. But the water is freaking cold.
After my fall –or fail- I manage to lift myself on the boat, finally. Maya gives me a towel so I can warm up a little bit. Lucky for me, the Tranquillity has running water and a heating system which means I can have a nice warm shower. Once I’m clean and dry, we all burst into laughter. I’ll surely remember that first day volunteering on a boat!
LIVING ON A BOAT
As for the boat, it’s an old boat indeed, with leaks when it’s raining and A LOT of mess. There are hideouts everywhere to optimise the space, but each hideout is so full of a random mess it makes my head spin. The family also has a lovely ginger cat named Spice –first time I hear about a cat on a boat- which obviously spread its hair everywhere. Seems like I’m going to have some more work to do here with the cleaning. Lucky for me, I’ll have free accommodation, free meals and free laundry.
At night, I’m sleeping on the kitchen table which converts into a bed – which is actually pretty comfy considering the fact that it’s a wooden table. Considering the smallness of the boat, there’s almost no space for intimacy, which turns out to be fine as I already lived in smaller places and spent the night in backpacker’s mixed dorms with at least 5 other people. As for the food, Cameron is a pretty good cook and he’s cooking for us every dinner. I would have loved to cook some traditional French food in order to thank him but without any oven and acceptable cheese, the task seems complicated. I still managed to bake some French toasts which the kids devoured in less than 5 minutes.
I start my days at 6 A.M, as the kids need to go to school in Kerikeri, a town located about 45 minutes from Opua, and they need my table-bed to have their breakfast. So, I have to wake up at 6 A.M. Which didn’t happen to me since I was going to those travel agent classes in Colmar 6 months ago. The noticeable difference here is that while having breakfast, I can watch the sun rising and the sky bursting in all shades of orange and pink around the boat. After my healthy breakfast –cereals, grapefruits and yoghurt -we take the motor boat towards the harbour and Cam’s office. The kids take their school bus and I start to clean. The kitchen –in which I find food that expired in 2013…-, the floors, the windows, the walls, and I finally get to tidy those cupboards in which there is way too many stuff that I understand nothing about. I finish my work every day around 12:30 and spend my afternoons at the Marina Café or Geocaching around the walkway.
Cameron is quite taciturn. The kids are pre-teenagers addicted to their phone and pads, so there are not many talks. I mean serious or deep talks. It’ll take until the 3rd or 4th day of me being there that Cam finally asks me what I’m doing for a living. Why I don’t drink alcohol. I tell him about my father. He confesses that the reason why his wife is away isn’t because of her job, but because she’s in rehab… Because of alcohol. She left 6 months ago and he was able to see her for the first time last week. I can now understand a bit better why there’s so much mess around the boat and why he’s hiring helpers to help him out. I feel like I’m living in those kinds of TV-shows, you know, where those travellers are living this super touching moment in which they discover something intimate about random strangers. Except that this time, it’s happening to me in real, he’s indulging himself to me and there are no cameras.
LET’S GO BACK TO THE DOLPHIN CRUISE
I’ve done such a good job that Cameron allows me to take one day off and drives me to Paihia so I can go back on that Dolphin Cruise – I was telling about that cruise fail here. And this time, magic happens. The weather isn’t that great, it’s cold and very windy, and the sea is wild and choppy.
But they are there this time. The dolphins. We stumble twice upon several groups of dolphins while cruising and I couldn’t be happier! It’s impossible to go swimming with them though, as there are a few young dolphins. I meet some amazing girls on the boat, Birte, Suzy, Sarah and Anne-Lise and we have the best day ever all together.
My week on the Tranquillity is almost over. It’s time for me to try another kind of volunteering adventure, in Kerikeri.
An adventure with… Alpacas.
WHAT I’VE LEARNT THERE:
- The words “galley” and “spuds”
- Tying the rope into an eight-shape when docking the boat
- Jumping from the small motor boat to the Tranquillity, from the Tranquillity to the platform dock, from the motor boat to the dock, without falling into the sea, and sometimes even by walking on the rope –oh yes, I feared for my life every single time.
- Putting yoghurt instead of milk into my cereals in the morning – It’s even better!
- Geocaching is amazing!
LET’S GO THERE!:
Pickled Parrot (BBH), Greys Lane, Paihia
Transmarine Pro, 1 Beechy Street, Opua
Opua Marina Café, Unit 26, Opua Marina Retail Building, Opua
Opua to Paihia Walkway, at the end of the beach, after the Opua ferry landing
Explore, Discover the Bay Cruise, Paihia