Living in the Public Eye

John was just one of the many people we have had the chance to get to know a little closer, thanks to our prime position a block away from the main drag of downtown Warkworth, first for two weeks hanging on the anchors in the river basin, then another week and a half actually tied up at the wharf. The daily parade of curious onlookers that pass by our bedroom and kitchen table at close range produces every couple days one or two of those blessed souls who allow themselves to freely jump across the fence of interpersonal space, which the general Kiwis are only too keen of keeping up, electrified and barbed wire topped. You can usually distinguish them also by a certain shine in their eyes, revealing an availability to be awed, the vulnerability for the wondrous bug of curiosity.

Colin was one of the first ones to get hooked by the exotic appearance of Aluna. He had apparently been driving down the motorway from visiting friends up in the Bay of Islands, heading back down to his home at the Upper Waitemata Harbour in Auckland, and decided to swing through Warkworth for a short rest stop. While getting a glance at shiny white Aluna while driving over the bridge into town he said to himself: “These must be foreigners. No Kiwi would park his boat that much up the river!” I was just about to ferry Beatriz to shore for her afternoon shift in the realm of economic productivity when I saw Colin on the grassy shore, hopping from one leg to the other in bubbling, boyish curiosity. He turned out to be well into his sixties, and a professional boat builder by trade who had messed about in just about any type or shape of boat throughout his lifespan.

I brought him back with me aboard Aluna in our canoe for a cuppa, the stern British expression for an infusion of roasted tealeaves. His brain turned out to be as bubbly as his legs and our conversation crisscrossed New Zealand’s history up and down the centuries, returning again and again to the troubling state of the present. And of course the boats! A guy who has boats in his head has them in his head for good. His mind constantly searches for better ways to face the insurmountable challenge of putting a vessel to sea without getting beat up in the process. Colin’s present building project seems to be a trimaran he’s nursing to life in his shed. And he wants us to come and check it out! We can tie up Aluna to his private jetty, he says, live in one of the empty rooms in his house and use his utility truck to drive around town. How about this one for a friendly invitation!

A couple days later I’m sitting at the table in our galley trying to come up with some interesting stuff to write about for this blog. I’m hearing Beatriz popping her head out the companionway of the other hull and talking to somebody on shore. I’m glad that for once it’s her turn to explain why our masts are so short, where we come from and that we really did come across the ocean with this ‘thing’. “Yes, you’re right,” I hear her say, “she is a Tiki 38 but with a modified rig.” These onlookers seem to know quite a bit, not only that James Wharram designs really good catamarans, but they’re familiar with the exact model Aluna is. But I do need to concentrate now. While I fickle up and down my list of tricks to work around the dreaded writer’s block, the conversation outside seems to go on and on. But I’m not paying attention to it. I always push myself to write something of real significance, searching for the uncomfortable. There’s enough writing (and speaking) of nonsense, superficial and trivial. How about this Maori problem we’ve been hearing so much about here in New Zealand. The pink-skinned people of European descent always seem to cringe in one way or another when tickled by our enthusiasm for finding out about all things Maori. This is definitely a hot button issue. Nobody seems to be able to talk clearly and freely about it. How to go about this without stepping on any of the big toes too early on? “Let me call my husband, he can explain that better!” I’m finally hearing outside and that’s the end of my efforts for now. But I’ll have to come back to this, sooner or later. New Zealand does seem to have a Maori problem, and it might be actually a white man’s problem. “Beat, could you come out here for a second?” Beatriz now insists, and I have to step on deck. I try to do this with certain grace and let out a cheerful: “Did anybody say ‘husband’ here?”

Nephi and Sandra have settled down onto the lawn along the riverside by that time. They had seen us sail out in the distance past Algie’s Bay when we were leaving Sandspit Harbour for the entrance of the Mahurangi River. Initially they believed seeing Te Aurere, New Zealand’s very own traditional sailing canoe, a modern replica of the ancient crafts built in the late 1990s and inspired by Hokule’a and the pioneering work of the Polynesian Voyaging Society of Hawai’i. Then they realized that this was a different craft and had now recognized Aluna sitting peacefully in the brown river, again while driving across the bridge. The conversation goes back and forth across the water and covers the usual weavings of using ancient knowledge with modern engineering but it is quite obvious that our latest admirers have a bunch to say about just that. “Would you like to come to our home for diner?” is an unexpected turn of the discussion coming from the shore. This bout of generosity has to be immediately reciprocated, and we return this message to the shore: “Would you like to come aboard and have a look at our boat?”

I paddle Alunita over to the rocks and bring our two new friends aboard. It turns out they are the proud owners of a Pahi 31, another Wharram design, which they keep on a rolly mooring off Algie’s Bay. They are thrilled by the open deck space of the Tiki line, on their Pahi they have to clamber over every beam when moving around the deck. “And I’m way too old for that!” Nephi jokes while diligently observing every little construction detail of Aluna. A couple days later we’re sitting on a comfy leather sofa in their Sandra and Nephi’s living room, waiting for a tasty diner to be conjured up in the kitchen next door.  Just like Aluna, their home in Wellsford, the next town just up the motorway going north towards Whangarei, has the cozy warmth of timber. It is decorated heavily with Maori artifacts and many photographs of their extended and extensive family. As for any native people still connected to the earth, ancestry is important to Maori culture. And so is weaponry. We’re given a lively demonstration of a series of instruments for intense person-to-person combat. Nephi insists that his maternal tribe was a peaceful one, opposed to what is generally known for the fierce Maori warrior nations. His life challenge is therefore unique: to balance that gentle maternal lineage with the tough stance of his paternal predecessors.

With our line-up of visitors we’re starting to scratch the surface of this little island nation at the edge of the vast ocean, slowly inching down to the deeper layers of human conflict, quarreling identities and apparent incompatibilities. It’s definitely not like what’s painted in the travel brochures and the small, almost insignificant settlement of Warkworth starts to reveal its very own version of small town hell!

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