My boyfriend Fred and I sprawled on a sandy cove of Motutapu Island, which adjoins Rangitoto in the Hauraki Gulf.

That was a fun sail across,” I commented. “I think I did alright on the trapeze for the first time.”

I didn’t say it had scared the hell out me. From my parent’s beach house at Matakatia Bay on the Whangaparaoa Peninsula, Motutapu was further away than it looked. We’d sailed across the sparkling waters of the Waitemata in Fred’s new 18-foot fibreglass yacht.

“A bit more practice and you’ll be good,” Fred said, “then I won’t need to swear so much.”

Having eaten our sandwiches and collected some rock oysters in the empty beer bottle, it was time to sail home. Fred was a good sailor, or else my mother wouldn’t have entrusted me to him. Now he looked across the Gulf with a frown.

“The breeze has got up a bit,” he said presently. “It’ll be quite choppy out there. I think we’ll wait a little longer. The wind usually drops about five o’clock.”

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Kinsa as a 17-year-old debutan

We waited, bored, and collected more oysters. By five the breeze had not dropped – it was even stronger. Cold now, we put on all that we had – life jackets over our swimsuits. The little beach cove tucked in between rocky promontories suddenly felt less friendly. Ever larger waves were dashing themselves against the rocks and the sun was setting.

“Mum will be getting anxious,” I said to Fred, “and I’m feeling nervous. What are we going to do?”

“We’re safer to wait here,” was his reply.

I felt like a marooned sailor – I was one!

It grew dark. In 1959 there was no way to communicate our situation to anyone. Suddenly I spotted a flicker of light on a nearby beach.

“What’s that?” I drew Fred’s attention to it.

“Looks like help to me,” he answered. “Come on. We’ll sail there under the jib. Hurry, before they leave.”

To say I was frightened as we navigated unsteadily around the rocks, guided only by the glare of foam as waves broke over them understated it. One wrong move from Fred and the yacht would be dashed to pieces and in the dark, we’d be battered and drowned. We tried shouting but the waves were too noisy. My heart was in my mouth, but somehow Fred beached us safely.

A family was there, cleaning fish that they’d caught by the light of a lantern. As surprised to see us ghosting into the cove as we were relieved to find them, they offered us accommodation for the night. We learned there was an army barracks on Motutapu and the family was using part of it for a holiday. It was the only time they’d been night fishing.

They put me in one barracks of forty beds and Fred in another and promised to try to contact my family. No food was available for us as they were leaving the next day. I found it impossible to use the shower – there was only a millimetre between freezing cold and scalding hot. I crept into my Army bed cold and lonely, hungry and miserable. Army rations, I supposed.

Next morning when I awoke, the first thing I saw were three children standing in the doorway staring in wonder at the ‘shipwrecked sailor’ in their midst.

Kinsa’s boyfriend at the time, keen sailor Fred Herbert.

Later that morning we sailed back to Whangaparaoa to face the barrage.

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“When you didn’t come back, we thought you’d capsized,” Mum informed us frostily. “We sent out Lew and old Jimmy to look for you.”

“Then as it got darker, other people took their boats out to help search,” Dad added, glaring accusingly at us, “but it was hopeless. They couldn’t see a thing.”

“But it was wonderful to get the phone call to say you were safe,” Mum gave me a hug. “We really couldn’t catch all they said, the connections were so difficult.”

From an old phone on the island army base to the Auckland telephone exchange, to another older exchange at Whangaparaoa to the wind-up phone at Matakatia on a party line shared by twelve others (which we were privileged to share only because my father was a doctor), it was no wonder there was a lack of clarity.

My parents must have appreciated Fred’s focus on safety rather than attempting the sail. They allowed me to go sailing with him again. BNZ

Note: The military barracks at Administration Bay is now an outdoor education camp run for school students.

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