Precision Navigation

After last week’s delving into the depths of the human psyche in all its astonishing and stupefying complexities, there were more practical tasks at hand this weekend. Since we seem to be generously respected for playing by the rules in what refers to our dwelling in public spaces aboard our floating home, we have to, and most willingly wish to, not to play it again Sam, but actually do what the local bylaws sternly asks us to. Bylaws is the term used in Kiwiland for the body of laws issued and enforced by the district councils, which regulate minute local matters wherever there is no superseding federal or national legislation. Our little town of Warkworth used to belong to Rodney District until it was just this past year swallowed by the urban sprawl of the mighty city and now belongs to the District of the great city Auckland, by far the most populous region of all New Zealand. Gone are the days of local government! Not that it would have mattered very much for the simple rule that applies to our situation. It seems pretty clear cut. For fourteen days we’re left alone. If we stay on after day fifteen at the same spot, we risk having an overeager official knocking on our doors, well, on our hatches that would be. My guess is though that that would only happen if the overeager official had been pushed into action by a cranky neighbor calling in with a complaint of some sorts, like saying that we have been overheard burping loudly after diner, or seen picking our noses on deck before breakfast. Anyhow, in order not to tempt the raging bull of public ordinance we decided to… well, to play by the rules!

If we continued upstream from our resting place in the placid mud of the little mangrove bay South of Lucy Moore Park, we’ll meander through a last wide turn, then pass the little boat ramp, the public library a little uphill and the adjacent playground, then we’ll sail by the beautifully restored, two-masted sailing scow Jane Gifford, which takes tourists and adventurous locals out on a quick spin down the river on Sundays. From there we’ll squeeze through the narrow channel along the main wharf at the river’s edge of downtown, where there might be two or three other boats moored. Once past the wharf the river opens up to a wide basin, turns sharply to the left and then comes down over a manmade weir from under the double bridge that brings traffic in from northern end of town. That wide basin looks plenty peaceful at high tide but at low tide it becomes a lunar landscape with rows of eroded limestone slabs gasping for air and enclosing small pools of remaining river water, the latter then peacefully cascades down through openings in those rows. This is the end of the navigable portion of the Mahurangi river. It was the end of the line for the busy traffic of many big, heavy sailing scows like the Jane Gifford that plowed up and down the river a hundred years back or more. They carried loads of coal up to town that had been mined further North at up a river in the Bay of Islands called poetically Kawakawa and was used to fire gigantic kilns where local limestone was refined into quicklime. This then in turn permitted the white settlers to build their heavy walled dwellings on the lands around here that had been wrought from the native Maoris in many a shady deal.

We planned to do a little colonization of our own. If that basin was the end of the line for the Brits and their exploits it must definitely make a good resting spot for a Wharram cat! But some thought would have to be spent with a sizeable amount of care and dedication. We didn’t want Aluna to end up sitting jagged high and dry on one of those limestone ridges! I walked along the wooden wharf on Saturday afternoon, the day before our planned move. I had a good look at the almost empty riverbed from different angles, always imagining how it will look from the perspective aboard Aluna once we’ll inch her into position floating two meters above it.

Sunday early morning I went for a last walk in the mud. Feeling the yucky slosh wiggle its way up through the openings between my toes at each step and sinking in almost half way up my shins I brought the aft anchor aboard just when the tidal waters were coming in. Like this I was able to wash most of the muck off the anchor, chain and rode before heaving it on board. The line I had rigged to a tree from the aft cleat on the port hull was then doubled up by leading it around the crooked trunk of the mangrove tree and back from there to the same cleat, so that I would later be able to pull it in from aboard the boat. It was time for breakfast now and a little excursion in the canoe! We had read the previous day that the Jane Gifford was due to take her weekly load of tourists out at 11 o’clock. Her sailing times vary according to the tides. She needs a good amount of water under her flat bottom, so the excursions are scheduled around the times of high water. With her six-meter beam we certainly did not want to have her coming towards us on our way up the river. So we went and watched.

It’s always fun to observe the maneuvering of such sizeable vessels. It’s a choreography of sorts, executed flawlessly not by tutu sporting prima ballerinas but by bearded chaps with weathered faces worthy of gruesome extras along Johnny Depp’s eye-rolling and lip-curling piracy in the turquoise and treacherous waters of Universals Studio’s version of the Caribbean Sea. The scow’s heavy rudder was being cranked hard over to starboard and the engines throttled up to full steam, pushing her stern firmly against the pillar of the wharf, while her bow swung around in a great circle until pointing down river. Off she went to the rhythmic throbbing of her diesel engines, which coughed out clouds of steamy exhaust into the glistening morning sun, while the wind would have been perfect for her to hoist her sails and perform the same maneuver the way it was intended to by her very capable builders: under sail. But modern man does not proud himself with these kinds of achievements. Noisy power at the command of a handy lever is what’s en vouge and the petrol bug, just on a smaller scale, has also bitten us while living the life of simplicity on Aluna. The gentle wind was channeling down the wooded corridor of the river. There would have been no way for us to go against it under sail and the much raved about yuloh is still clinging firmly to its rank somewhere on our ever-expanding project list.

To the rumble of ‘El Negrito’, our no longer very shiny combustion propulsion device, we turned the corner into the stream and sputtered upwards towards out new home. Just at the height of the last piling of the wharf our first anchor went down, paying out the rode while Aluna slid into the widening basin past the spot I wanted her to come to rest, to where I wanted to plant her aft anchor. Splosh, down went the Danforth when she came to a stop and I ran its rode outside all the shrouds to the aft cleat. Then I pulled her back on the bow anchor’s rode until I had her exactly where I wanted her. A third line to a tree along the North bank and a second line to the aft anchor’s rode to form a bridle fine-tuned her position. Now it was all a waiting game.

The waters in the basing slowly started draining, like if somebody had pulled the plug in our bathtub or poked a hole in the walls of our swimming pool. The noisy gannets with their crooked and shrieking beaks, and shags their stern eyes and tuxedo-like cloak started to take up their position on the emerging rocks, eyeing their respective peers with utter defiance, while the ducks continued grazing peacefully the murky bottom around them unimpressed. Curious human onlookers on their Sunday strolls stopped for a minute or two along the walkway along the riverbank. Their secret bets that this funky white catamaran in their pristine hometown river might end up slanted and crooked on a brown colored limestone ridge turned out to be of no avail. At the very bottom of the tide for about an hour one of Aluna’s hulls came to rest on one side of the still submerged river channel and while cooking the day’s diner the pans for some peculiar reason wanted to slide off the stove. Fiddling a bit with the ropes once we were back afloat corrected that mishap with total ease. The precision navigation for once has worked almost to perfection! Then again by now you must have realized that I’m trying desperately to make a tiny mouse into a mighty elephant. I’m sure however that you are aware that those rodents sometimes do grow mighty big!

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