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Kiwi Christmas: SV Harlequin in Whangarei, New Zealand

by Lisa Benckhuysen 26 Dec 2020 08:08 UTC

It's Christmas time - so the calendar says. Yet the sunlight is intense, sky-blue agapanthus and creamy calla lilies are in full bloom, gnarled pohutukawa trees strew their scarlet stamens over vivid green hilltops and rugged sea cliffs. We are in New Zealand still, due to Covid restrictions; while some borders have opened to sailboats, it's cyclone season in the tropics and not a good time to make a multiday passage. Thankfully, our visas have been extended, again. We are determined to make the most of this holiday season and acutely aware of how fortunate we are to be here.

Even in the marina there are visible signs of Christmas. We liveaboards have all put up lights and flags and twined the lifelines with tinsel. Plush elves are boarding the boat next door and other vessels have sprouted baubles and bows and an inflatable reindeer pulling Santa in a kayak. The local boatbuilder had his kids at work with him last week as school is out for the summer holiday. I spotted a lovely young couple with bright red and green hair walking hand in hand on the waterfront. Santa hats, reindeer horns and tinsel tiaras adorn many a head in the long lines at the grocery checkouts. Several weeks ago, schoolchildren put bright knitted and crocheted decorations on the trees and fences around the waterfront: a yarnbombing, intended to promote laughter, curiosity and community spirit. For me it was a delightful prelude to Christmas.

The sound of Christmas is slightly different here. When we arrived this time last year, we were welcomed by children singing in Maori, Hallelujah, by Leonard Cohen: cultural (con)fusion! In the stores, there are pop versions of carols tinkling down the aisles and I did have the thrill of singing in a massed choir at Christ Church on Mill Road. Nothing beats the bass growl of the organ on, O Come All Ye Faithful, or the high note of, O Holy Night, sung by an operatic soprano, except possibly the sound of 800 voices singing almost anything in harmony. Today, Christmas Eve, we had an impromptu carol session in the boatyard, with a chorus of three and an audience of one. It took me back to carolling as a teen at home although the circumstances could not have been more different.

I have maintained family and cultural culinary tradition this year and made fruitcake, which is still mainstream in New Zealand. Fruitcake is medieval trail mix, with lots of spices and a little bit of flour and egg to hold it all together, energy bars really, if you leave out the glace cherries and citrus rind. I was onto something all those years ago when I provisioned for a multiday backcountry ski trip with fruitcake, cheese and chocolate...only. I understand that I have lamb or ham to look forward to at the midday barbeque in the boatyard on Christmas Day. Not a turkey in sight in the grocery stores. There are, however, stacks of large meringues. Traditional Christmas dessert here is meringue pavlova topped with kiwi fruit. While everyone agrees that kiwi fruit originated in China, New Zealand and Australia both claim to have created pavlova in honour of ballerina Anna Pavlova.

The smell of Christmas onboard this year is afore- mentioned Christmas cakes, now bathed daily in cognac, which we salvaged off a friend's ruined vessel-another tale-mixed with the unmistakable bite of iron. Our gift to each other this year is a set of new self-tailing winches that -we hope- will enable either of us, particularly me, to comfortably sail the boat singlehanded for the foreseeable future. The iron scent is due to filings from the stainless-steel bolts which held the old winches in place. In order to install the new winches, the old, seized bolts had to be cut. Not wanting to put steel filings on the newly painted deck, we chose to cut the bolts from the inside... The new winches will handle a wider range of line diameter, are stronger and the self-tailing actually works. We realized how much we needed this when we took the boat out last week and had some excitement with the spinnaker...

The touch of the breeze is chilly just now. While the sun is hot, there is a perceptible drop in temperature when a cloud passes over. It's a bit like being on the top of a mountain: either hot or cold. With higher temperatures, the ants were flying yesterday afternoon so we screened off all the ports and the companionway. Today its cool and blustery with black clouds spilling over the hills. The flags we raised for the boat dressage are threatening to flap right off so Henk has lowered them for now. He's got rye bread baking. We've finished our projects, sung our songs and made our donations. We are surrounded by a community of boating friends and we look forward to cruising the Northland coast over the austral summer. While I miss the family, I know they are all safe and well and loved. That's a blessing anywhere and anytime but I am especially thankful tonight. O Holy Night!

Lisa Benckhuysen is a Canadian educator sailing around the world, slowly, with her husband, Henk, on their modified Express 37, Harlequin.

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