Circumnavigation

Writing my short piece of blank verse about my expedition into Mayor Island reminded me of another small odyssey undertaken in the same month. I was camped in South-east Bay for a couple of months. I had originally gone there with Glenn for a fortnight but I was having such a good time I stayed on after he went home. I was getting on right well with some of the other campers in my own age group, though I don’t recall their names now. We dived and fished together, shared meals, and drank at the big game fishing club where we also traded crayfish for supplies. The demand was high and the payments in kind were generous.

It was mainly through that illegal activity I was able to stay on camping so long, though at one point when the weather was bad and I couldn’t fish or dive, I was down to half a bag of onions and a loaf of mouldy bread. It was then I learned that if I trimmed off the mouldy crust and the black fruiting bodies of the mould, I could fry the bread in butter and it tasted like Madeira cake, because the hyphae of the fungus had grown through the bread and turned a lot of the starch to sugar. Fried bread and onions. Great sustenance.

I was even recruited as deckhand on a charter boat for a couple of days. I worked for food. The skipper loaned me a dinghy for a day. I took it out to the eastern side of the island where I caught the largest snapper I had ever seen. I took it back to the big game club and they weighed it for me. It was, as I recall somewhat over thirty pounds in weight. There was much excitement and the manager went off to consult the books (no internet back then).

It turned out I had caught a pinfish. A new weight record. Unfortunately as I was not a member of any fishing club it did not count. No pin. No record. But for a time I unofficially held a record. I heard later next year that a larger fish had been caught. The internet tells me that the latest record holder is Kiwi angler Neil Gorringe who caught a 32.5lb (14.75kg) snapper on 8kg line in 2016.

The biggest adventure was a snorkeling morning that turned into a bit of an odyssey. Five of us set out from western bay and at some point, far from where we had entered the water, we wondered how far we had come. I decided it was far enough to have go at continuing all the way around the island. The others were not so keen. In the end, being young and foolish, I decided to go it alone. The others turned back.

I was fit, I had flippers. I knew I could make it, though I had no real idea how far I had to swim (turns out to be just over 11 km).

It was an adventure. I experienced a lot of firsts on that trip and logged a lot of new sightings in the logbook I kept in those days. Particularly on the ocean side of the island, where the cliffs went deep below the surface, there were species I hadn’t yet encountered. Morays, congers, sharks, grouper. Most notably an electric ray. One of about 14 electric ray species in the world, Torpedo fairchildi, is found only in New Zealand. Exciting.

I was in the water seven hours or so, without a wetsuit, and even though the water was warm I was pretty drained by the time I got back to camp. The others said they had been about to send out a search party. As I said, I was young and stupid then. Now I’m old and stupid because I’d probably try it again. The sea is still my spiritual home.

Now that I think about it, I did not really complete a circumnavigation after all. I set out from Western bay and emerged in south east bay. I didn’t swim round the promontory between the two bays. I may have to go back, and do it again.

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