Personal Journey: Throwing off the bowlines

Not a bad office: The author (center) on Waewaetorea Island with shipmates from the Rock, a cruise boat in the Bay of Islands. Her job: Taking guests fishing, kayaking, snorkeling, hiking.
Not a bad office: The author (center) on Waewaetorea Island with shipmates from the Rock, a cruise boat in the Bay of Islands. Her job: Taking guests fishing, kayaking, snorkeling, hiking.
Posted: August 21, 2011

I thought I would never get the fish guts out from underneath my fingernails. Or rid my hair of salt and sand. And shoes? Well, I hadn't owned a pair in more than two months, and my feet had the calluses to prove it.

But this was life in Paihia, the standard of living for me and the four other crew members who worked on the Rock, the overnight cruise boat based in the Bay of Islands in the amazing country of New Zealand.

I went to New Zealand to explore every nook and cranny of the country. But after three months, I landed the perfect working holiday job, living on a boat, getting paid to take guests fishing, kayaking, snorkeling, and playing in the crystal-clear blue water of the Bay of Islands.

The Rock was a perfect combination of fun activities, social atmosphere, and environmental education. The cruise would begin in the late afternoon, with the 36 guests being introduced to the crew and then competing in a shooting competition with our plastic duck, Matilda, as the target.

We would cruise until sunset and then drop anchor in a pretty cove and hand out the fishing poles. Guests would try to catch red snapper, and any fish longer than the legal limit of 10 inches would be wrapped in foil and tossed on the barbecue for dinner. I'll never forget the 6-year-old boy who reeled in a fish nearly as big as he was.

We would all sit down at a long table for a scrumptious meal of steak, fresh fish, and salads - the ideal setting for getting to know one another.

Next, we would take the guests on an incredible night kayaking tour. The phosphorescence, or "stars in the water," as the guests described it, shimmered with every paddle stroke. When fish swam beneath our kayaks, the phosphorescence erupted like fireworks. Then we'd lie back in our kayaks and teach guests about the beautiful Southern Hemisphere night sky.

Back on the boat, we'd turn off the lights, break out the guitars and marshmallows, and have sing-alongs around a campfire.

Waking to incredible sunrises, a dawn dip in the calm, cool water was a great way to start the day. After breakfast, the guests would suit up for snorkeling, and we'd show them the diverse underwater wildlife in the bay, feed the sandagger wrasses by hand, and collect sea urchins, or kina, as the Maori call them. We'd finally drop anchor at one of 144 islands and hike to a peak for a breathtaking view of the Bay of Islands. We'd then have beach time to splash in the clear, blue water, play rugby, or just lounge in the sun. And then, after 22 hours of fun, we'd cruise home, tasting kina eggs on the way, and then say goodbye to our new friends.

"Every day is a school day," preached my skipper Adam, a Kiwi boy who knew more about fish (or "fush," as Kiwis say) than any aquarium keeper. The Rock was so much more than a job; it was a life experience that taught me more about New Zealand and the world than I could ever have learned as a tourist. I learned how to fillet fish, bait fishhooks, fix fishing rods, pull up an anchor, tie a bowline, drive a dinghy, crack open kina, pull up moorings - the list goes on and on.

And my earnings paid for my scuba-diving certification in Fiji, where I dove with bull sharks.

Then there are the friends I made while working on the Rock - I'll never forget them.

Mark Twain said it best: "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."

So, go. Find your own boat. Have an adventure. I promise, the fish guts come out from under your fingernails - eventually.

Kristi Falco lives on North Carolina's Outer Banks.

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