by Christine Kling
By the time we were preparing to leave New Zealand, we had been there for six months, and a storm had been brewing. I’m not talking about a weather system. I mean an emotional gale.
I’d worked most of that time as a waitress in the Quarterdeck Restaurant on the Russell waterfront, and Jim had found work doing repairs and boat sitting on a 52-foot sailboat. Life for us had settled into a peaceful routine. But that all changed with the arrival of Jim’s 14-year-old daughter.
We were anchored out in Matauwhi Bay when the ferry boat came alongside. The driver told us that a woman from California had called the authorities in New Zealand and told them to find our boat – it was an emergency. Jim got this pained look on his face and told me it had to be his ex-wife. He said she could find him anywhere.
It turned out that the girl’s mother had decided their daughter was becoming a handful, and it would be good for her to leave her home in urban Los Angeles, pull her out of the 8th grade and ship her down to go sailing with her father and his new 21-year-old girlfriend.
A couple of weeks later, we rented a car to drive down to Aukland to pick her up. I have such a clear memory of my first sight of this gorgeous curvaceous girl my same height (because she was wearing those 70′s platform shoes) who looked more like she was 24 than 14. She came strolling off the plane with a bag slung over her shoulder, and with a bored look around her she said, “Hi Dad.” She completely ignored me. That was my introduction to Kathi, the namesake of the boat I was sailing on.
For the next several months, Kathi and I had a time of it. I was barely 7 years older than her and I wasn’t anywhere near as sophisticated. I didn’t feel I could be her step-mother, nor was she about to let me be her friend. If I asked her to do anything around the boat from picking up her things to doing the dishes, it turned into a war of wills. Eventually, she made friends with some of the local Kiwi kids and started to be a happier kid, but then it was time for us to go. Kathi desperately wanted to get away from her dad and me. So, by the time we were ready to leave, she announced she was engaged to be married to this very sweet 19-year-old apprentice from Ashley’s Boatyard – Keith- and she was flashing the ring he had given her. She was a very street smart kid from LA, and I don’t think that poor country Kiwi kid knew what hit him.
The day we left we pulled our boat into the fuel dock. Kathi disappeared into town, and her father went after her. He came back hauling this kicking, screaming, crying kid while being trailed by this other lovesick boy making moony faces at her and professing eternal love. Kathi was spewing curses as any good Valley Girl can do and behaving like a double for Linda Blair in The Exorcist. Jim hollered at me to throw off the lines. With his wailing daughter tucked under his arm, he stood at the tiller and put the engine in gear. I jumped aboard and thought, “Right, a ten-day passage to Fiji. This is going to be fun.”
Fun is not quite the right word for what that passage was. Jim insisted that Kathi had to stand watches like the rest of us. We had installed an Aries wind vane in New Zealand so we now had reliable self-steering, but the person on watch had to check the set of the sails and look out for ships and squalls. So, she got a flashlight. When Kathi was on night watch every 30 seconds the light would click on and shine onto the bulkhead brass clock. Then she would tap her foot. Then she’d start humming a tune. Then the light would click on again. My watch always followed hers and eventually, I’d just get up and send her off to bed because I couldn’t stand it anymore. Of course that pleased her no end. She’d won.
Ten days later when we pulled in and anchored off the Suva Yacht Club, the ring was gone and Kathi headed straight for the bar where the typical collection of shaggy-haired, bronzed singlehanders sat elbow to elbow with the gin-sipping British ex-pats. All the fellows clamored to buy Kathi a Shirley Temple. When her father asked her what about Keith, she smiled and said, “Keith who?”
It was in Suva that we celebrated the Bicentennial of the USA on the Fourth of July by setting off fireworks and shooting old flares. At the party at the yacht club, we met a couple on another boat, and together they and Jim hatched a plan to sail around the northern coast of Viti Levu through what is called Bligh Water (due to it being where the mutiny took place). It would be a 300-mile long trip through uncharted reefs, and we would really be getting off the beaten path. There were no roads, no services of any kind, and there were only a few villages where no cruising boat had been in years. The charts we had of the area were based on a survey from the 1800′s.
I looked at Kathi then I looked at Jim. “You sure this is a good idea?” I asked.
“Sure,” Jim said. “It’ll be fun. A real trip to remember.”
And so it turned out to be.
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