By Imo Throp
-I wish I was on that boat.
I sighed, as the sun caught the side of the ketch and winked back at me, calling.
I was 31, single and had just finished the last page of The White Rajah, a fabulously written classic by Nicolas Monsarrat. My head was filled with images of pirates, cutlass wielding soldiers, mysterious islands, princesses and tyrannical kings. The boat had been anchored there all morning, and my imagination had been running wild with possibilities of who was captaining it… maybe a prince, lost and looking for directions, lithe and tanned and lonely… It is hard being single in your home town; especially after years spent travelling in distant places when I took for granted the exciting and delicious encounters of unlikely people along the way. Being settled and safe in a town where 89 per cent of my peers are happily married has done nothing for my usually hyper-active libido, although it has put my imagination and daydreaming into overdrive.
-I will go out and see who it is.
I said to myself as I plonked my oversized paddle board into the sea, not knowing then that I was actively altering the course of my destiny by putting into motion a series of events that would lead me to where I am today.
It was a long and steady paddle to get out to the boat, the captain was waiting for me on the stern as I approached – not quite the lean, lithe hunk of a sailor in my mind but a rough, old, salty sea-dog, with thick arms and a permanent roll-your-own dangling out of his tobacco stained lips; his face weather beaten, unshaven and shaggy but clear blue eyes with a sparkle that you often see in people who spend a lot of time in the sea. As I got closer to shake his giant hand, I noticed a tattoo of a naked lady on one leathery arm and an anchor on the other. The quintessential stereotypical sailor named Robert Burn. Arrrrr.
With one thick thumb he gestured me to come on board where his I-talians were preparing a real coffee,
- Not like the instant crap that I usually drink.
He says in a growly Australian accent. I look behind him towards the galley where a young couple was sticking their heads out, trying to get a glimpse of this strange early morning visitor.
I was fascinated.
I climbed on board and got the grand tour before settling down to a delicious coffee and chocolate biscuits and started interrogating the two Italians. They had hitched a ride with Robert from Christchurch, way down south on the east coast of New Zealand. After a rather rough night coming around Cape Palliser heading north towards Hawke Bay they were happy to find calm waters to regroup their energy this morning. They would stay with the Captain until he reached Auckland, then decide from there the next destination. They had no previous sailing experience, and were learning the ropes from Robert as they went.
I had never imagined a life at sea, but this new discovery of crewing onboard (one word) really sparked my interest. For the first time in ages I started to get really excited – it’s amazing how lethargic and boring I had become, fading away into my steady job, cosy flat and pirate novels.
With Captain Burns’ card tucked into my rashy, I slipped back onto my board with promises of keeping in touch and maybe getting on board in Fiji in a couple of months.
This was not meant to be, however, but my introduction to the sailing life had definitely made its mark. Watch this space.
Three months later I’m in front of my laptop screen, cyber-sailing through profiles of boat owners from all around the world who are looking for crew. This crew website seems a little more low-key compared to others that I have come across, who are often only offering paid positions for more experienced crew. This site is fresh, fun, easy to navigate and free to join – so I do.
It is always a giggle writing your own profile – I find it hard to take it seriously. I like to keep mine honest, a bit quirky with a little intrigue, and of course a photo from when I was 5kgs skinnier a couple of years ago.
It doesn’t take long before I am in touch with people from all over the world telling me of their itineraries, dreams and boat size. At first it seems quite daunting; I find it hard to reply NO to people who don’t seem too interesting or just a bit weird without sounding mean. I managed to narrow down my search fields so that the daily matches that get sent straight to my inbox are more manageable. Slowly I find some interesting candidates through my own personal ranking system: photos, itinerary, past experience and whether or not they sound like good buggars in their own profiles. These ones go in my shortlist, and I send them a cyber “wave” letting them know that I am interested.