We left Darling Harbour, Sydney at 11:18 hours, Thursday 10th October 2013. And we sailed with the other Tall Ships through Sydney Harbour’s Heads at around 14:00 hours. The official race began for us on board the good [Dutch] ship Tecla as we approached the 4 nautical mile line; it was 14:42 hours and we were under sail. We were headed east.
My brothers and nephews were at the docks to wish me farewell and fair winds. As was the granddaughter of William and Lillian Wood, Carmen.
Carmen’s grandparents set sail from this same place 120 years before me bound for the same place, Paraguay. She brought me yerba mate, which I’d not managed to purchase before I left. And we spoke of her grandparents and her memories growing up in Paraguay, the child of the Australian diaspora. She said that her grandmother Lillian always thought they were just leaving Australia for a bit of look-see! While we chatted we shared some mate together in the huampa made from palo santo, quebracha (‘break-axe’, the toughest of woods from southern South America) that I’d bought during my first visit to Paraguay eleven years before, and Carmen remembered that her parents wouldn’t have been doing the same 120 years ago. Indeed for them it was always just tea. And throughout the rest of their lives in the Australian colony in Paraguay they continued their Australian tea-drinking customs.
I’m now fully immersed in the sea faring life and loving it. There were some tough psychological moments of endurance on board this first leg to New Zealand. But they were temporal. And fair times abound. I was thinking though of those Australians on board the Royal Tar bound for Paraguay in 1893 and 1894. And I’m sure they didn’t have the mod cons that I enjoyed on my boat. But of the high seas I know we shared the same highs and lows.
After eight days on the Tasman Sea we made it to the historic Bay of Islands and the township of Russell (where ex-NZ PM David Lange was conceived!). We passed through a few days of dark and stormy weather coming across The Ditch. The first day and half was tough on many of us. And I suffered some sea sickness well and truly! But it settled quickly after that. My team’s watches were from 1200-1600 and then 0000-0400, and as the days wore on the rhythm of the good ship Tecla became apparent. Between hearty meals (eaten on the deck if good weather) and grabbing a moment’s shut eye in the dank and cramped bunk room, we helped sail the ship. Mostly a given watch team could manage this. But there were times when we needed all hands on deck. And when the swell was mountainous and the odd freak wave came over board dousing us all in a crash and a splash of cold salty water it was exhilarating to be heaving on the main sheet or pulling on the halyard and feeling my hands cramping up. At other times in the calm of the night, with steady plain sailing on a rolling sea swell, the waxing moon shone bright. At times I lay on the back bench behind the helm, taking turns to steer the ship. And when I gazed upon the star sprinkled heavens the rolling motion of the masts on high looked like the giant pendulum of a grandfather clock ticking between Orion’s Belt and the Southern Cross.
Today, with yesterday’s official NZ Tall Ship’s welcome over – and the fearsome hakas rightfully received and well respected – we set sail to cruise the Bay of Islands, en route to Auckland by 25th October. We’ve some fine weather and the beach fringed islands sound appealing.