Before anything else, the awareness of again being in Polynesia. Signs in a Polynesian language and Polynesian faces create inescapable images - of the Land of the Long White Cloud, of voyaging canoes, and tapu and a cosmology expressed in swirling tattoos. Having sailed a small boat through the vowel-rich archipelagos of the Marquesas and Tuamotus and Tonga, it will be forever impossible for me to be aloof towards Polynesia.
Driving to meet a yacht broker at a marina, I see the unmistakable signs that I'm entering the uneasy territory that yachties at times cannot escape. In this case, the signs are literally signs – street signs. People living on sailboats, as much as they resist, at times find themselves needing a marina. And the marina, so often, is the centerpiece of a multimillion-dollar coastal development scheme, soulless and expensive and straight from the imagination of an inadequately-talented designer of some sort. Terrible places just because they are so diametrically different from the dream of palm-fringed anchorages that beats in the heart of any yachtie. I know I'm arriving in one of these places when I start passing signs for "Spinnaker Dr" and "Trimaran Ct" – in the US and Australia and now NZ, it seems that designers working on these sorts of places cannot resist these specific names.
The Joy of Fatherhood Travels with You
Driving along a twisting two-lane highway through countryside that is lush and hilly but not mountainous, offering the visual delight of family-scaled farms passing one and another. And then, around a bend in the road, a vision: a small flock of sheep all inexplicably dyed bright pink-red. A sign announces "Sheep World: sheep and dog demonstrations daily". A dismissive thought about impossibly rustic Kiwi attractions might have come to mind. Instead, that cringing feeling that I get right where the heart is meant to be as I think, oh god, Elias would LOVE that.
Is it Their Fault?
I viewed four boats beside the one that I came to 'en-zed' to see. One was very nice. Painfully, dreamily nice. Nearly too nice to be true. A 40-footer, 1987 hull. Bought in the U.S. by a Swiss couple who had already circumnavigated the aqueous sphere in a different chapter of their lives, on a different boat. They knew what they were about. They refitted the boat, and where normally a "refit" is broker-speak for a bunch of big jobs done on a boat poorly, these two did it right. New rigging, new sails, new liferaft, all new electronics, new fuel and water tanks, a new Monitor windvane glinting like yacht jewelry on the stern. And all of it done proper. Not "professional", since being a shipwright is usually halfway to being a criminal, and a "professional" job in the sailboat world typically means something done to a standard good enough only for boats that live in marinas. This boat is better than professional. And so it offers half of what we want – proper kit, used enough to work, but not tired. But the other half of what we want, a particular set of design criteria, isn't there, so I move on.
And then I see three disaster yachts in quick succession. One a terrible design, and two others that will be ready to cruise again just as soon as someone spends a year or two working full-time on them. I walk through these two, noticing dozens of jobs that need doing. Meanwhile, on each boat, the broker is standing in the background, muttering things like, "they knew how to build them back then", and "for the price of a little new gear, someone's going to get themselves a rock-solid yacht here". And all I can think is how impossibly hard it must be to remain honest with yourself if you flog over-used boats for a living.