According to the ship’s log it is exactly 112 days and 10 hours since the sails of Flying Fish were last filled with wind.
Flying Fish has undergone a series of maintenance and repair projects that have kept her lashed to the dock and in the boatyard since her landfall in Opua, New Zealand last October. She needed a little lovin’ after the 10,000-mile passage from Key West. It has been too much time away from the water. Today Flying Fish once again spreads her wings.
The tropical cyclone season continues in the South Pacific so for another several months my passages will remain close to the safe harbor of Opua. This week I’ll sail among New Zealand’s Bay of Islands. In 100 square miles there are nearly 150 islands, some with fascinating historical antecedents.
Researchers believe large Māori migration canoes journeyed to the Bay of Islands a millennium ago from Hawaiki, the mythical home for the Polynesians dispersing across the Pacific. Captain James Cook landed here in 1769 and while he hunkered down waiting out a series of gales he charted and named the Bay of Islands. It was the first area in New Zealand to be settled by Europeans. The Māori provided the early settlers with and abundance of fresh produce and fish. The Europeans reciprocated with guns, alcohol, and venereal disease. Whalers arrived towards the end of the 18th century, and the first missionaries settled in 1814.
The missionaries and whalers did not cohabitate well. By the 1830s the settlement of Kororareka in the Bay of Islands was known as the “Hell Hole of the Pacific.” Dozens of whaleships anchored in the Bay of Islands, many of which had been at sea for over a year. Canoes filled with Māori women, “many naked and covered with fish oil” swarmed the boats to barter their favors for gunpowder and tobacco. Ashore, vagabonds, runaway sailors, and convicts bloodied each other in the crowded grog shops and brothels that lined the waterfront.
In 1835 Charles Darwin visited the Bay of Islands in HMS Beagle and left with the opinion that the European residents who had settled here were “the very refuse of society.” He described it as “the land of cannibalism, murder, and all atrocious crimes.” However, according to historian Richard Wolfe, before he departed the Bay of Islands Darwin donated £15 to fund the building of a new church. It was an ironic gesture coming from a man who would go on to publish The Origin of the Species, a treatise that would shake the foundations of Christianity.
Eventually, missionaries established a settlement a few kilometers across the bay in Paihia. Church hymns could be heard on the missionary side of the bay while gunshots echoed across the water from the Hell Hole of the Pacific.
I drop the anchor of Flying Fish in the lee of Urupukapuka Island. The water is turquoise and crystal clear. New Zealand’s Park Service maintains walking trails across the island that feature stunning panoramic views, beaches, and verdant forests abundant with native vegetation and rare birds. There are also archaeological ruins here, including the remains of author Zane Grey’s fishing camp in Otehei Bay. Grey arrived in 1926 and described the waters off the Bay of Islands as an “Angler’s Eldorado,” rich in billfish and tuna. His son Loren Grey once said that his father fished 300 days a year.
Born Pearl Gray (he later changed Pearl to Zane and Gray to Grey), Zane Grey published more than 90 books which sold in excess of 40 million copies. Over 100 films have been based upon his works. But on Urupukpuka Grey’s luxury lifestyle in the 1920s, as the worldwide economic depression loomed, chafed the local New Zealanders. He and his wealthy companions were considered the original glampers. It was said that when Grey caught a big fish he’d pull out a megaphone to announce his catch as he approached shore in his launch. Nonetheless, Grey is widely credited today with playing a major part in the foundation of New Zealand’s modern sport fishing industry. In Tales of the Angler’s Eldorado, Grey said, “The New Zealand coast is destined to become the most famous of all fishing waters. It will bring the best anglers from all over the world.”
I feel as if I am a time traveller as I sail among the the Bay of Islands. The Hell Hole of the Pacific, now named Russell, has been gentrified with chic shops, art galleries, and cafés. Offshore the New Zealand Millennium Cup is underway. Billed as the South Pacific’s premier superyacht regatta it features racing sailboats 160 feet long. The entry fee alone for this race is $5,400. On the ruins of Zane Grey’s fishing camp a group of Japanese tourists with mosquito net hats and bird binoculars chitter about while pop music plays and a server brings them burgers and beer.
It’s a little too much commotion for this solitary sailor. I tack offshore, trimming the sails to look for a quieter anchorage. I prefer to migrate toward a more simple existence where nature dictates the rules. Or as Zane Grey once said (presumably without a megaphone) “I need this wild life, this freedom.”
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Text and Photography © Jeffrey Cardenas 2019
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