(Editor’s note: enjoy our last toast to fun in the summer sun. Next week we’ll start our fall season of gear reviews to get you ready for those dreamy days in the backcountry. Psyched for snow!)
Last December found me in Colorado with an anemic snowpack, so I decided to take a break from skiing and headed south for a new adventure. Sailing is not something I would consider myself experienced at. Growing up in land-locked Colorado did not lend itself to many water-based escapades, that is unless the water was frozen, or in a creek. But when the opportunity to sail across the Cook Strait on my friend’s boat came along, I knew I couldn’t pass it up. The trip from the south to the north island of New Zealand typically takes around eight hours – two to three hours if you are on the ferry. We joyously stretched our excursion into three days, cruising around the islands in Marlborough Sounds, soaking in the nature, wildlife, fishing and friendship. We also bunkered down for the epic downpours and vicious winds – of which our captain, Jared, had “never seen the likes of!”
New Zealand is composed of islands. Sailing, surfing, diving, fishing and sea kayaking are just a few activities of which one can partake. Jared lives on his 32 foot sail boat in the harbor in Wellington. For Christmas vacation, aka – the Kiwi’s summer holiday, he recruited friends to sail around the magical sounds lining the Cook Strait. Our journey on the Albatross started in the evening as we rapidly learned to navigate in the dark via the color coded lights dotting the waterways. After several hours and a delicious curry cooked up in the hull, we anchored for the night.
A storm blew in during our sleep and we woke in alarm when the boat made a huge “thud” sound. The northerly winds sweeping off the peaks surrounding us were too much for our anchor and drifted us into a neighboring mussel farm. Sleep deprived, yet running on adrenaline we were able to pry our motor blade off the mussel nets without much damage to either. This left us no option but to motor on in the dark in search of a new place to anchor. As we continued, we noticed we were the only boat out. After a quick listen to the weather report we realized we were in for a 48 hours of angst while the vast majority of all other ships were safely harbored elsewhere. This new reality left Jared very grumpy, Craig slightly seasick, and me in a weird state of helplessness.
I wanted to relieve Jared of duties, but my limited knowledge of sailing was no boost of confidence. I passed the time concocting new flavors of loose leaf teas to drink, anise and nettles being my favorite, to help calm our spirits and keep us awake. We finally found a private buoy in a somewhat protected cove and decided to moor up. The possibility of the buoy’s owner arriving in this weather was not very likely. After suiting up in wet suits and designating each other Navy Seal code names, we kayaked to shore (which took forever I felt) and set up a three-point anchor system to help the boat from rocking against the winds. After a hike in the native bush to get some exercise, we hopped in kayaks and battled the headwinds back to the boat. The tiny hull never looked so cozy before! Regardless of the weather, I was having the time of my life because I honestly thought this is what all sailing is like.
Once the storm blew through and the sun’s warm rays came out, a new joy swept over our boat. We left our tumultuous cove, all worries of the past 48 hours behind us and sailed for more open seas. As the sun warmed our bones we trolled for Kahawai, jumped into the ocean for a “bath”, swam to shores to stroll on beaches, and collected fresh mussels off the same beach on which Captain Cook first landed the Endeavor in 1769.
The moment I fell in love with sailing came when a pod of dolphins emerged from the turquoise waters, jumping and diving at the bow, swimming circles around our boat, jutting away and coming back time and again – just as curious about us as I was about them. I swear we even made eye contact! To experience such magnificent creatures so closely was incredible. With that experience as our blessing, we sailed onward, safely across the strait.
WildSnow Girl, Amy Heuer, Alaskan backcountry skier and aviation mechanic, now adds sailor to her resume.
WildSnow Girl, Amy (Heuer) Helm, grew up in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. When she wasn’t skiing, she was flying small planes with her father. Now she pursues both passions in Juneau, Alaska, where she is an aviation mechanic.