Dig Dig

Sailing vocabulary of the day: gunk-holing—to cruise one’s boat upriver until the bays become ponds, the rivers become creeks, the seabirds are replaced by ducks and geese, and high tide becomes a prerequisite for all navigation. Synonyms include creek crawling and giving the keel a mudbath; an example includes visiting the fine town of Kerikeri.

Kerikeri, meaning digdig in Maori, is the largest town in the Bay of Islands but maintains the ambiance of an adorable historic village one might find in a town of 3,000 or less in California.

One of our buddy boats, Wairua, has ended their four-year cruise in Kerikeri. So, along with our friends on Arbutus, we decided to head two miles upriver and pay them a visit.

It’s a short trek that, understandably, few cruisers make. We waited for high tide to motor through a snaking path of day markers, mooring piles, and mud flats. Helios draws five feet, a relatively shallow keel for a monohull of our size, and more than once our depth sounder read less than a foot between our keel and the mud bottom.

We had one short-of-breath moment when we found ourselves cruising along the wrong side of the pile moorings (driving in the parking lane, essentially) and had to make a fast 90 degree pivot between two pilings to avoid a docked fishing boat we were too rapidly approaching.

The excitement was a short moment in an otherwise tranquil and beautiful ride. The river was lined with beautiful homes, modern and Victorian in style, and we enjoyed views of their blooming gardens. White faced herons, cormorants, and the resident purple mud hens, pukekos, nested and flew along the shores. Dominic likened the experienced to the jungle cruise at Disneyland; I enjoyed scouting future real estate investments.

Our friend Paul on Arbutus escorted us into the basin from his dinghy and helped tie our stern off to a piling as we dropped two anchors off the bow. The area is protected from wind and swell, but the current is reputed to create a whirlpool effect as the tides ebb and flow.

Ferns, mangroves, and eucalyptus trees wrapped around our stern, and the Stone Store, New Zealand’s oldest stone building built in 1836, was perched on the shore. We were surrounded by a creek with a bridge, a park with wild roosters and a waterfall hike, and a flower garden with an adorable café. We spent the weekend eating at delicious restaurants and having poolside barbeques; I went to my first yoga class in way too long; we chowed on oyster po’boys and fresh blueberry ice-cream cones at the Saturday market; we found goat cheese and fresh mozzarella at the grocery store. Kerikeri is a place I could live.

Kerikeri is also a place I went for an unplanned swim. Dominic was at the hunting and fishing store as I took a small load of groceries from the dock onto the boat. I started the outboard in one deft stroke while a small audience fished from the dock. I motored easily to our stern. I attached the dinghy to the (loose) davits. I put one foot on the swim step, ready to shuttle grocery bags, as I have done so many times before.

And then the dinghy slipped out behind me—in an instant I was hanging on the outside of the inflatable rim, left arm and leg in the water, right arm and leg dry, sideways like a salamander, clinging to the raft and whatever was left of my dignity.

Thankfully, I was hidden from view. Unthankfully I was fully clothed and, (literally!) this was first time in eight months I had my cell phone in my pocket.

I spent a few awkward moments kicking with my left leg, trying to propel myself onboard. Obscenities ensued. Then I resigned myself to dropping my right leg into the water and lifting myself into the dinghy as though I was, by choice, swimming in the gunky, slightly chunky, water of the Kerikeri Basin.

The groceries survived. The phone did not. Aside from a little ego bruising, I came out unscathed, and I do think one earns something of a pirate scout badge for experiences such as this.

These be the joys of gunk-holing, matey.

Enjoying a drier, land based moment, and a few wild roosters.