There is an unshakable optimism in New Zealand.
The phrase “she’ll be right” is heard everywhere.
Even when the outcome looks uncertain, when someone from North America or Europe, would go and get reinforcing beams, and safety straps, and extra insurance, the kiwi will happily forge ahead.
And that positivism, that sense of luck, has been of benefit here. This tiny island nation has won the America’s Cup, year after year, beating the superpower of the world, and largely because they just optimistically threw themselves into it. They enthusiastically play rubgy and their All Blacks dominate the world.
And here now, where we are, in a rural boat yard, that attitude is a constant thing. And in a rural boat yard with limited funds, that attitude is surely needed.
Illusion had been swinging on her mooring in the Auckland harbour for seven years.Just behind the Harbour Bridge, in front of the airport. She had been there so long that part of what was covering her deck was black soot from the burned fuel of the airplanes flying overhead, year after year.
Doug, the owner, is an electrical engineer. He had been working in Vancouver and saving money, all those seven years, trying to build up enough time and money to go back to New Zealand and recover his beloved boat. In the end, he realized that he had
to quit planning and simply go there and do it. So he just quit his job and flew down here. A few of us flew down with him. No real plan, just a belief that things will work out as we go. That “she’ll be right.”
So after two weeks of working on her, we freed her from her mooring and she sailed for the first time in seven years. Out of the Auckland harbour and north, toward the Mahurangi river, where she would be hauled out and given new rigging. The point of a “shakedown cruise” is to see what breaks, what bits fall out when you shake her.
And on the way down the Mahurangi river, some of the things that fell out were the engine belts. The first of the two belts simply shredded. The second one was coaxed to hang on, shuddering and shaking, but intact as long as the engine was at very low revs.So motoring along the river was done very slowly.
That caused them to be an hour late on arriving. And in any other haulout place in the world that would not matter. But Mahurangi River is a long narrow channel, silted up with mud, and shallow. I had gone on ahead and was waiting for them to come up the river to us.
And in talking with the yard’s manager Ashley, I learned how important was the timing. The haul out point has 2.1 meters at high tide. Our boat needs 1.8 meters to float.And the tide rushes out of that river fast, meaning we had a forty five minute window to get our boat out. And with the broken belt, they were an hour late, and would not make this window.
So I”m texting all of this to Doug, who is driving down the river, one eye on the last shaking, shuddering engine belt, another eye on his watch.
And Ashely keeps saying “She’ll be right.”
An absolutely unshakeable optimism. Pronounced more like “She’ll be roight.”
And now, I’m just not getting this optimism. It now seems more religious than practical.Maybe it helps you win sailboat races, but tides and the rotation of the earth and the moon are outside the purview of man. The movement of the celestial bodies in our solar system do not in the slightest bit, care about Ashley’s optimism. The moon’s gravitational pull will draw the water away and the keel will run aground and that is what is going to happen. And also, we are in a very rural boat yard indeed. There is a small Ferguson farm tractor used to haul the boats around. Sometimes you hear a crash and it’s a jury
rigged scaffold that has fallen, just a plank on top of a pair of empty barrels that the workers were standing on, while scraping boat sides. The workers just get up off the ground, rebuilt the scaffold the same way, and get back to work.
The yard is beside an ancient, derelict cement factory. There are ruins of cement walls, and cracked old tall towers. Ruins of huge kilns where they would cook the lime they quarried, to build their cement mixes. In the river, just behind the haul out place where we are waiting ,the most that these kiwis can do, with their optimism and complete lack of funds, is to build a strange machine to keep the mud away. This rural yard cannot afford proper dredging. So behind us is an old tractor tire, floating in the river, bits of old string holding it several feet away from the bank. And an extension cord trailing out to it is spinning an electric motor lashed on top and covered with an old plastic yoghurt container. It spins a shaft that goes six feet down, underwater, and at the end of the shaft is an outboard propeller. The propeller spins in the mud, continually stirring it up. And when the tide goes out, itcarries some of this mud with it. The river looks like a cappachino all the time. And they hope this will substitute for dredging. And I realize that this old outboard propellor is what they are all relying on. It is what is keeping this rural boat yard in business. As well as the commercial docks all down the river.
It is now past the height of the tide. It has turned and I can see the leaves now flowing back, flowing down the river to the sea, toward Deb and Mike and Doug and his boat. After a long time, Ashely and I see Illusion slowly come around a river bend.
Encouraged by the yard’s manager, Doug heads straight into the Travel Lift, the boat lifter that we have run down the boat ramp, into the brown water, waiting for them.
And of course, as expected, the boat runs aground. She slides to a slow halt in the mud. Just ten feet away from her destination, the waiting cradle that was to finally lift her up onto dry land. So Doug backs up and we’r’e starting to think of where to anchor for the night. And then Ashley, the kiwi manager, says “She’ll be right. Come on in, just give ‘er.”
And I realize he wants Doug to power ahead.
“But I’m aground now” says Doug.
But come on. She’ll be right.”
Doug does it. This kiwi’s optimism is contagious.
But it’s daft of course. The boat is aground. The moon is over there now, not over here. And there is not enough water and that’s that. This optimistic phrase is now annoying me. It’s just not grown up. It’s childish. I want them to stop saying that.
But as we watch, Illusion slowly moves forward. Her propeller surging up chocolate whirlpools behind her, the bow strangely moves toward us. The boat is actually plowing. She is digging a deep furrow through the soft mud and carving a channel toward us.And Ashley is right. The mud here is so silky smooth that a large heavy boat can do this. Ashley’s spinning outboard invention behind us has turned the river bed into a soft foam, and a lead keel can slowly fly through that foam like it does through water. And I don’t know if Ashely has figured all this out, or if he’s just blindly echoing the thing you say in New Zealand when things look dodgy. “She’ll be right.”And she was.