Sunday, 8 June 2014


Maurice on 'Celeste'

Like damp flannels we were draped around our small wooden beds, sodden with sweat and drowning in boredom. On the rare occasions it stopped raining, the humidity left you drenched. This wasn’t what I’d expected when I booked a two week visit to Tahiti in 1984.

I was sort of hitching around the world, flying over the oceans and taking boats across the seas. How bad could a fortnight on a tropical paradise be, travelling from California en route to New Zealand? A better question would have been ‘How powerful is our ability to fall for the hype?’

Tahiti turned out to be an active outpost of the French Empire. Luxury resorts were laden with super-rich tourists, while the locals squandered an existence out of underpaid jobs and exorbitant prices, imposed upon them by far-distant Paris.

These days taking a year off in your 20s to travel the world is almost ‘de rigueur, dwarlink’  but back then there was no market for it. Neither food nor fun we could afford; no place to stay, except this room where we four weary travellers lay: excluded, demoralised, fighting off mosquitos the size of tennis balls.

Tim, a Kiwi lad with a deep voice and dry wit turned to me.

“I’m out of here tomorrow.”
“Where ya going?”
“Got me a ticket on a boat to an island called Huahine.”
“You’re kidding!”

On my last day in San Francisco I’d wandered into a curious little shop in North Beach and saw a tiny map of an island. The coves and curves, hills and lagoons satisfied all of my childhood treasure map dreams. Reaching into Blue Bag, I handed the map to Tim, who leant back on his damp rancid mattress.


“Bloody eh. Looks like you’re coming too, mate.”

The next evening I found myself lying on the deck of a small ship laden to the gunwhales with cargo and people. Covering every inch of space, families were stacked over each other. 

Tim voiced concern about how there were only four lifeboats.

“They get some pretty bad storms out here.”

Watching the sun set across the South Pacific, my mind wandering back to the sterile world of marketing I’d left behind, I was far from fear. Aping his Antipodean cousins, I suggested:

“She’ll be right, mate!”

My love of boats goes back to my teens, when instead of going to university like a sensible chap, I worked Winters in warehouses and hitched around Europe in the Summers. The ferries I took to Calais, Dieppe and Cherbourg represented the cutting of my leash. Standing astern, upright and excited, I’d watch England disappearing into the distance.

Hours and hours of my life have been spent staring over deck rails, as hulls cut through water. To this day I cannot watch a bow wave surge, foam then fizzle without a thrill running through my body, the repetitive rhythm of its formation and destruction allowing meditative thoughts to wash away the bilge of my everyday life.

My love affair with boats was to take a new turn a few weeks later. By the time I arrived in New Zealand I was travelling with a Californian lass called Cory. Standing in the reception area of a hostel in Auckland, we were approached by a silver-haired bespectacled man called Maurice, who asked us if we’d like to spend a couple of weeks with him on his yacht, cruising around and beyond the Hauraki Gulf.

Seemingly he had spent years building the beautiful 38-foot Celeste, enjoying nothing more in his retirement than taking a couple of young people out, teaching them how to sail, fish and forage for food.

To my shame, only Cory grabbed the opportunity to learn how to sail. Maurice was a great teacher and I lapped up every morsel of his encyclopaedic knowledge of the local flora and fauna. Yet while Cory took instruction in tying knots and navigation behind me, I sat in a state of profound peace on deck, wondering at my incredible luck and the beauty the universe reveals, when you’re willing to take a chance on life.

In the evening we’d sail towards the sea birds, throw lines, catch fish and take the dinghy to the shore. After building a fire, we followed Maurice as he found wild veg and salad plants nearby, then sat and ate food as fresh as the moment.

Ocean-fresh fish for dinner...

Those two weeks will stay with me forever, as will the love of sailing that Maurice instilled in me. He hated the invasive noise of a boat’s engine and by the time we sailed back into Aukland, locally known as ‘City of Sails’, I was in love with sail’s blend of wind and silence, wave and speed.

So last weekend I was absolutely thrilled to find myself midway between the coasts of counties Clare and Galway, surrounded by a fleet of Galway Hookers gathered from all over the country and Connemara.

All three classes of Hooker, the Bád Mór, Leath Bhád and Gleoitiog, were represented In the largest traditional boat regatta ever to take place in the city. I counted thirteen at one time, but might have missed a couple, as I was somewhat distracted by the unique humour of Galway’s outgoing Mayor.

Thanks to the efforts of my friends at Bádoiri an Chladaigh, alongside The Latin Quarter, Galway Hooker Association and Galway Harbour Company, these fantastic boats are back on the bay, with young people being taken off the dole to learn the traditional local skills of sailing, boatbuilding and skippering.

My thanks go to Bádoiri an Chladaigh Chairman Michael Coyne who so ably skippered his boatload of landlubbers and Peter Connolly, Club Secretary, for his invitation.

There was no place for an amateur such as myself on a Hooker that day, as they raced each other across Galway Bay as nature intended, but now that I’ve been so close to these glorious vessels out on the water, I’m eager to experience one from the inside!

©Charlie Adley

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