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The Magic Garden

On Wednesday morning I oversleep, miss the train and catch the traffic, wasting in the most tedious way a gloriously post-southerly morning: still, crisp and clear. Glances from the office show that the winds arenít freshening much. I brave the early evening traffic back to the boatshed and launch the Spirit of Lomas.

Tide assisted we head against a gentle, warm northerly out of Porirua harbour. A large launch speeds past: in my sprint to catch the wash I just have time to zip my sprayskirt up but not slip into the braces: an exhilarating but soaking ride follows, the Nordkapp ploughing a wall of spray as she surfs the left hander. My free rideís heading too far north, so I back off left.

Pleasant seas to Mana Island as I head anti-clockwise around the dark side, as sternly dramatic as ever. Around the south end two rogues rise from the background of gentle swells, catching my mind in its usual neutral, despite having encountered exactly the same in the same place two weeks before.

Then, I had paddled around Mana with Tony Baldwin, on the finest summer evening Wellington had seen for a month, a short lived lull in the otherwise incessant northerlies. A classic paddle: glassy blue seas; teaming Kawhai breaking surface in unison; the sun setting in front just as the full moon rose behind; that odd rogue swell to keep one alert in the rock gardens each end of Mana; and finally tea, biscuits and yarns at Mana DOC station courtesy Tony Henry. Moonlight around Mana, one of the finest trips imaginable, and none the worse for being on oneís doorstep.

Leaving Mana beach by the full moon, Tony B discovers that heís lost his sunglasses. Why he needed them I do not know. After unsuccessfully scouring the beach we settled on a pleasant paddle back to Titahi Bay and the traditional beer on the beach.

The next day Tony H phones from Mana. He had found the glasses - miraculously still lying at the seaís margin - but by then the northerlies were back with a vengeance, and the mainland cut off. By Sunday morning the winds had dropped to some 25 knots, so Tony Jennings and I headed out. The going into a 2m swell was wet fun, but Tony J was piloting one of those slow, plastic sit-on-top contraptions. Half way and we had to turn back so he wouldnít miss his footie practice. Surfing back into the bay I rode a prolonged, soggy broach, landing to find the Spiritís rudder severely bent.

It was the following Sunday before I had time to replace the blade, but with 45 knots forecast I paddled close inshore that day. The winds dropped again on the next Wednesday, which is where this story began.

So, that second Wednesday, as I rounded Manaís south point, I was keen to land to collect those sunglasses lost two weeks before. The sun had set, and naturally there was no moon now. In bright twilight I landed, a few northerly gusts cautioning me to what the next hour or two might bring. Thatís the trouble with northerlies. Southerlies are worse, but at least they advertise their intentions. The northerlies sneak up on you out of a clear sky.

After a misdirected jog up and around the hills, I find Tony H in the boatshed by my kayak. Glasses retrieved and gossip caught up on, Tony helps me launch into the dark, assuring me that the new Seacat ferry is not due through for a while. Those tiresome northerlies have strengthened, so itís jacket on and Iím powering into a metreís breaking sea. Iím thoroughly soaked, but warm and comfortable, and pleased with how the bodyís performing after a summerís idleness, courtesy El NiÒo. I am pleased also with how the Nordkapp handles the invisible sea, steady through the onslaught, albeit by deflecting the rogue water over me. For the best part of an hour I am alone in the dark, soaking wet in a wild sea, paddling by feel. At last the Spirit and I approach the scattered lights of civilisation and reach the shelter of Plimmerton channel. Before the hourís up Iím in dry clothes in the brightly lit boatshed, sipping beer, and drying and stowing boat and gear. As so often happens, the paddle is almost a dream already. Have I really just been pitting body and soul against the black forces of the sea?

I leave the shed and lock the door. My boatshed key is green, strangely alluring amongst its chrome and brass fellows. The thought occurred to me that it was really a key to a magic garden. Ahead of me, lights, traffic and tarmac front rows of neat suburbia. Behind me, a door beckons to a different world of excitement and uncertainty, beauty and danger. Who knows what adventure that green key will unlock next?

ConradEdwards September 1998

Page last modified on September 07, 2005, at 07:20 AM