Our last day in Christchurch and was it ever wet!
Didn’t do much more than look out at the dripping rose garden thinking how very English it looked. Had we been suffering from homesickness this would have cured it.
We take a coach trip to Akaroa. This place is on the Banks Peninsula , south of Christchurch. The bus picks us up at our holiday home. We’re waiting for quite a while. This is because the driver was waiting at number 150 while we were waiting at number 115. Oh well.
It takes a while to pick everyone else up. There are som Italian, German and American backpackers from different locations, including the ‘Jailhouse’ which was indeed at one time the city jail. There is also an Aussie lady who we seem to have interrupted at her breakfast. She appears, rather flustered, from her hotel with a coffee in her hand. I can’t help thinking of Alice’s half-shod Mad Hatter with his cup of tea and half-eaten sandwich.
Eventually we’re off. It’s a bit of a grey day. The driver is a friendly and helpful kiwi. He keeps up a running commentary all the way which is informative and entertaining. The jokes are, no doubt, oft-rehearsed, but the delivery is droll and well timed. We are amused.
We stop for a break at Little River, a minor tourist trap selling rather overpriced paintings and greetings cards. There are some steampunk models of animals in copper and zinc but you’d need a big place or they’d just be intrusive. Not quite my style anyway. This leaves no time for a coffee so we head back to the bus.
On we go again. Ruggeder and ruggeder. We climb steeply on winding roads through greenery and rocks. Shades of the Forgotten World Highway except I’m not driving this time. Our laid-back driver keeps up the commentary regardless of the terrain. Eventually we go over a final rise and are met by a spectacular view of the bay.
The peninsula is the result of two volcanic eruptions in the distant past. The result is a mound with two enormous craters which became large bays. When we see the size of the bay we are now approaching it is clear that the eruptions must have been immense. They would, I think, have made Krakatoa or Tamboura look like an infants school model of a volcano.
Soon we reach the main settlement of Akaroa. This is the village which, in all the brochures, prides itself on being French. It certainly has a superficially French appearance. The names have a Gallic flavour. There are La thises and Le thats all over the place. There are painted, chalked and etched tricolores here, there and everywhere. Even a gendarmerie instead of a police station.
The truth of the matter is somewhat different and becomes apparent when we visit the Britmart monument. When I heard the name ‘Britmart Monument’ at first I thought it was a memorial to an early pioneer of supermarkets a la WalMart. In fact it was the name of the English corvette which turned up here some time in the eighteenth century and declared this a British colony. A short time later a boat turns up loaded with French wannabe settlers only to find the Union Jack flying high over the bay. Yar boo sucks, Froggie! But in fact the British allowed the French to set up their new homes in the bay in acknowledgement of the privations they’d suffered on their long journey. Pretty bloody decent of our chaps if you ask me.
Anyway within a few years the place had been swamped by Brits and precious little remained of the original French culture anyway. Not that that has stopped generations of locals from using their assumed cultural eccentricity to get their hooks into the tourists’ wallets.
There is a very deep harbour here which means the big cruise liners can anchor here. No doubt this has the locals rubbing their hands in glee in the manner of the Cornish wreckers of yore. So the place is well heeled and, it must be said, well kept and pleasant. There are fine modern dwellings hidden in delightful gardens. There are lovely big trees, some familiar including some splendid pines, some less familiar. There are many small boats in the harbour. There is a lovely wooden lighthouse standing on a pine bluff overlooking the harbour. It is painted in such a jolly red and cream strip that you can imagine it whiling away its lonely hours by playing lively jigs on a concertina. We took our frugal lunch here while watching goldfinches squabbling. We also spotted one of the beefy local kingfishers perched on a wire.
We waited for the bus back to Christchurch in what was by now a distinctly chill breeze. A party of kids boarded a marine mammal-spotting boat trip. A noisy family celebration of some kind was in full swing on the pavement tables of the cafe opposite.
Clouds rolled over the lip of the ancient crater. The weather made the landscape appear rather dark and brooding, but it suited it. The local postcards are, as usual, designed to make the place look trés Jolie and this is certainly the effect aimed at by the twee Frenchification of the local shopkeepers. But it was not the impression I left with.
To me it seemed that the ragged, lowering, tor-strewn skyline of the place was a silent but ever-present echo of its violent birth.
From Kaikoura we continue with the second leg of our Coastal Pacific journey.
It is a beautifully sunny afternoon all the way down.
Past rocks dotted with seals.
Through tunnels and past promontories…..
….past high rugged hills and forests made benign by the sunshine…..
…..past braided rivers……
……warm distant mountains……
….to flatter places. Landscapes like hyper-England. Brighter sun. Greener, lusher grass, more and fatter cows.
Landscapes more like the med. Past vineyards.
All in a state of glorious sunbaked contentment. On the road. In comfort.
To Christchurch. Into a taxi.
Now past huge parks with big, English-looking trees and, as it later transpires ominously, lots of works in progress on the roads.
To Merivale. A green and gardened suburb. Where we have booked Red Door Cottage. It is delightful. Spacious, comfortable and set in a garden which is simply suburban England at is rose-garnished best.
The evening is warm with a deliciously fresh breeze and a scent of roses. Blackbirds sing. If you want a better end to a journey than this then you’re just fussy.
Next morning we have the perfect upmarket suburban spot for coffee.
Good morning Christchurch!
Outside the train station we admire the alpine setting.
We decide to lug our luggage to the Motel. Who needs taxis?
The road is a long one. It’s still pretty warm. And when we get to the motel I realise my battered but comfortable old fleece is no longer with us. Maybe we needed a taxi.
The motel is fine. Does what it says on the tin. We have a decent sized room with all mod cons. And a view of the very tops of the mountains with their snow.
Take showers, test telly, briefly rest on the comfortable bed. Off back to town for dinner. We’ll seek the missing jacket on the way. No joy. The wind is getting up. My eye is constantly drawn back to the mountains. Striking cloud shapes move and change at great speed.
I’m feeling it a bit chilly by the time we get to what is probably the town centre. This is one of the very few occasions on the trip so far that I could have done with the fleece. Typical.
The town appears to be closing up for the night. It is about eight thirty and still very light.
Where to eat? We decide on a backpackery called the Adelphi. They serve us a very adequate meal at reasonable cost. Country music plays as we eat and mountains peer at us over the wild west street view opposite. I ask the waitress if it is always this quiet. She is from Spain. ‘Pretty much’ is her reply. ‘Back home we would only be thinking of going out now’. I muse on the idea of opening a club for the gilded backpacking youth of Europe gapyearing in kiwiland. Too noisy. Rejected, but someone’s missing out.
We stroll back to the motel. The wind is now very strong, the sky is an intense orange-pink with streaks of deep turquoise. Clouds stream above the mountains. The effect is dramatic and beautiful.
Lamenting the loss of my fleece I retire. There is a Japanese student in the room above who seems to take several showers and rearrange the furniture in his room before he too retires.
I am woken a couple of times in the night by trains passing and once by a sheep. In the morning it is apparent that there is a field of them about ten yards from our door.
The mountains fairly gleam in the bright morning sunshine. By the time we’ve taken a frugal breakfast clouds are moiling around them and rapidly thicken as the wind rises again.
We are booked for a whalewatching trip at ten this morning. We make our way to the Whalewatch office, next to the station. The staff are uniformed, courteous, efficient young women most of whom look to be Maori. There is a screen with updated whale trip info on the wall. It’s all very well organised. In fact the train station is just a sideline of the whale watching business. It is doubtful that they will sail this morning, the wind is too strong. We have to wait until closer to sailing time to find out. We admire the Maori decor and the Maori signs on the toilets, fortunately backed up with the usual internationally recognised infographics.
The trip is cancelled. No whales for us today. We are whaleless in Kaikoura to paraphrase Milton. They will put on another trip at twelve. But this will get back too late for our train to Christchurch in the afternoon.
Stiff upper lip and all that. We’ll walk out to the seal colony on the peninsula beyond the town. We’ll see marine mammals by hook or by crook.
We pass through a long avenue of Norfolk pines past backpackers’ hostels by the dozen. The mountains have disappeared in thick cloud but it is breaking up on this side of town. There are tripots as mementos of the bad old whaling days. There are some weatherbeaten and evocative wooden sculptures beside the road. There is a heartrending memorial to a man who died saving a whale.
Now there are exotic red flowers on the cliffs which rise around us but the street names display distinct symptoms of homesickness. Yarmouth, Brighton, Ramsgate, Margate, Torquay. There’s an aquarium and a seafood processing plant in uneasy juxtaposition. There are rose gardens and a whaler’s cottage. The sun is now shining brightly. We sit beside some extraordinary layered rocks while gulls squabble over some unidentifiable part of some unidentifiable sea beast. We walk on past guillemot-type birds trying out different poses on rocky plinths.
There is a remote, windswept look to the headland as we walk further past a small picnic area. It is serviced by a hot dog van powered by a generator run off the proprietor’s car. On to a wooden boardwalk and finally we reach the seal colony out on a big rocky point.
A number of tourists are already there. Children are admonished by parents. Seals are wild animals that bite say the warning signs. There is a decidedly doggy smell about the place. We immediately encounter a large and self satisfied seal lazing on a slab of rock. Tourists gingerly circle him with busy cameras. He doesn’t care. He snorts quietly and carries on lazing. This is surely the fault of the welfare state. He’ll lounge here all day and never turn a hand to honest labour. Others of his kind dot the rocks. All are idling slackers. They demonstrate the australasian philosophy of ‘no worries’ taken to its logical conclusion.
We return to the car park and climb a steep concrete path to the top of the headland. It is the site of a Maori pa, an earthwork fort. Te Rauparaha and his mob came here and caused bovver back in the eighteen forties. This information is well presented on a slickly produced display, a visitor service which New Zealand does particularly well. There is a delightful miniature yellow lighthouse nearby. I do like a lighthouse.
We return along the sea front. It is now hot and sunny. We eat breakfast bars looking out to sea while gulls suggest we throw some their way. They have red feet, red beaks and even red rings round their eyes. They must know something about the night life on Kaikoura that nobody else does. I find them rakishly handsome. Alison, in an uncharacteristic display of savagery says they should be murdered.
We haven’t seen whales but we’ve seen something of Kaikoura. We sit in the sun and wind looking out over the Pacific. I imagine fantastically tattooed people sailing over its perilous windy vastness in frail boats to colonise this place at the end of the world.
We wait sunbaked, windswept and content for the 3.28 to Christchurch.
Into Picton to drop off the car at Pegasus. Stop en route to get a shot of huge numbers of cows on very green grass beneath a very steep hill. An archetypal image of New Zealand, along with the sight of a very large number of cows being walked along tracks beside the roads. Cow walking appears to be the laid back kiwi version of bull running.
At Pegasus they are spending their day painting their office.
The car has done well and survived a last minute suicide attack by a local hotshot driving at speed round a blind bend and nearly meeting us on our side of the road.
We drop the bags in the railway station next door, it’s the one with large posters outside advertising air travel.
The lady at the desk is most obliging in sorting our luggage and insists I take a coat with me because of the ‘chilly wind’. Who said kiwis were tough?
Last coffee and lunch on the Picton seafront park. Paradise ducks with small chicks in a puddle get all the tourists’ cameras busy. Gulls violate local begging ordnances.
The Interislander, our old travelling companion, pulls into the harbour. Ignored from our viewpoint by a slightly manic looking Donald Duck.
Kids from the ferry are irresistibly drawn to the big pirate ship on the playground. Ropes, tyres, logs, planks to swing on, jump off, climb over, be young on.
Time to pick up our boarding passes applied for twelve thousand miles away.
The train has very big windows. This makes the whole carriage light and airy, the key phrase in this country. The seats give you plenty of space. It is cool inside. This should be pleasant
We move off at a leisurely New Zealand sort of a pace. Soon we are up to a gentle trot. The train does not say ‘over-the-points, over-the-points’ like an English train. It says ‘no-worries-mate, no-worries-mate’ without a hint of agitation or hurry.
The hills of the Marlborough Sounds drop away and it is rather overcast as we pass through the now familiar vineyards of Blenheim. Then past vaster vineyards with the wide sea far beyond. Now hills close in. These are almost ugly, like reclaimed industrial spoil.
To Grasmere. But this is an enormous salt plant. Huge artificial lagoons, some pink with algae lie waiting for the sun to do the honours and remove the water. A disappointing landscape. You don’t see this on the brochures.
The landscape becomes more lowering still. Now with the odd rocky crag and the eagley birds you see all over the place and which we haven’t identified yet.
I go for ice creams. The carriages are very modern and spacious. The doors open automatically, at a leisurely pace, of course. The decor is chic. The staff friendly and courteous.
The ice cream has the brand name Kapiti and the tub has a picture of the island on it. It is very chocolately. Recommended.
But now the hills have changed again. They’re much more rugged, more rocky, more, well more like real hills. And beyond them yer snow capped peaks! Just as well, I was on the point of demanding a refund. Tantalising glimpses of the heights of the Kaikoura-Seward range. We stop.
I make my way forward to the observation carriage. This is open, though it has a roof and very stout handrails on the side. We’ve already been warned to take care as ‘the trees are very near the line. Don’t lean out.’
We have stopped in a sea of yellow lupin-like flowers with a very powerful, sweet smell. I see that we have stopped by what appears to be a large dog kennel. But it has an unpronounceable name. It’s a station! There are no people at all. Perhaps a bunch of the yellow flowers are boarding the train to seek fresh fields and pastures new.
We’re off again. The train picks up speed. Between lines of pine trees the snowy mountains can be seen. There are big patches of a beautiful blue sky above them. Now the view on the other side shows us huge sweeps of ocean. Crashing waves. Rocks. Sweeping bays. Long promontories appear on the horizon.
This is more like it. Only one thing gets in the way of our enjoyment. I and a number of others in the carriage are sneezing and rubbing our eyes like mad. A chemical attack by the local flora. We suspect the yellow flowers. Through streaming eyes I try to absorb the magnificent landscape as it tears past.
Then, quite suddenly we pull into a dead typical strip of standard NZ issue one street township. Low buildings loads of brash signs, ugly power lines a la USA. But this time with an alpine backdrop.
We’ve arrived at Kaikoura.
A brief comparison of the two towns visited on Wednesday and Thursday of this week.
The drive into Nelson is quite long. Seems longer because of the winding, hilly route.
Blenheim is much easier to get to. A pleasant, flat run that takes you through the Marlborough wine country.
Both greet you with some spectacular mountain scenery complete with snow. In the case of Nelson the peaks are viewed across an enormous, spectacular bay. Near Blenheim the mountains form a backdrop for the extensive vineyards.
The appearance of the town centres (not CBDs, too small I guess) is remarkably similar. The same low buildings and absence of brick and stone construction. We’re getting to be familiar with the local chain stores with names like ‘Cotton On’. There is the open airiness about both places which we now take for granted in NZ towns.
The church in Blenheim is quite striking. Looks to be made of wood and plastic. Pink and cream with a tall, slim spire it is appealing and wouldn’t look out of place on a big cake. Nelson has a disconcertingly stern, grey openwork tower on top of a hill commanding the city centre. Only when you reach the top do you realise that there is a complete cathedral there. It is surrounded by huge trees and has a flight of steps leading up to it on which suntanned young persons, presumably students and backpackers, happily socialise.
What is noticeable in both towns is what we’ve experienced throughout the trip. Anyone we speak to is forthcoming and friendly and direct. There are no airs and graces with the kiwis. No posturing. No brusque surliness.
We missed out on the interior of the cathedral which apparently has excellent stained glass windows. This is because we’d left the New Zealand guide book behind. Silly. For the same reason we missed out on the Suter art gallery which is highly rated. The gallery we did see was less impressive. It was admittedly in an unprepossessing situation. The current show was entitled ‘Day of the Dead’. It had a number of works on the theme of death, most rather obscurely allusive. There was one disturbing piece constructed of actual birds’ wings ‘escaping’ from picture frames. But by and large little use had been made of the space which we felt did have possibilities. Many of the works were quite small and were lost on the large, white walls. As a whole it didn’t work. It did not move you. It was just dismal.
By contrast, on the way back from Blenheim we stopped at the aviation museum at Omaka. This is excellent. It concerns itself with First World War planes. It displays superbly restored aircraft, large scale models and dioramas. That may sound dull, old fashioned museum stuff but it works brilliantly. The space is a large one. The light is very subdued. The figures well made. The staging imaginative. Peter Jackson, he of ‘The Hobbit’, was involved.
We see a workshop where carpenters work on wooden propellers. Having recently flown here in ultra high-tech machines like the A380 it is difficult to believe that these wood and canvas, wire operated contraptions actually flew. And flew to deadly effect. There is a scene where a French flyer’s plane has been brought down and hangs in a tree in the snow. He is chivalrously greeted by his German conqueror while infantrymen look on. The death of the Red Baron after he was shot by an Australian riflemen is depicted. His body lies beside his legendary red triplane. Aussie soldiers are taking his fancy fur boots as trophies. They are cutting the insignia from his plane as souvenirs. One of these actual pieces of fabric is displayed on the wall beside the tableau. Also displayed are the cups that von Richtoffen had made by silversmiths to celebrate his victories. There are more of his belongings and photos of the dashing air ace. There are uniforms and memorabilia. Contemporary photos, posters and diaries. . There is historical, biographical and technical Information in abundance. Movies from the era are shown on the walls. Songs of the time play quietly in the background. The whole era is brought to life.
Ironic, as this display is more starkly and realistically about death than the anaemic show in Nelson.
We take a trip out to Havelock for the last time.
We drive out on the Moetapu Road.
We photograph the evening view from the lookouts.
There is something special about the skies of New Zealand.
There is a sweep to them you don’t get elsewhere.
They seem to echo the vastness of the Pacific.
Land of the Long Cloud.
Yes, that sums it up.
A ubiquitous tree is the ponga
It’s a fern with a trunk and it’s longa
By far than your bracken
In Newport or Machen
But say ‘pung’ and not ‘pong’ or you’re wronga!
A pictorial celebration of the iconic plant. The New Zealand bush is full of it. It’s one of the reasons that the country does a slightly prehistoric version of exotic.
You can imagine the stately moa preening and prancing a primeval pavane beneath it.
Alas the demise of the moa
What a fine sight for eyes that are soa
We’ve kakas and tuis
Pukekos and kiwis
But though pretty they stand so much loa.
The idle tenor of life in the Sounds.
The morning is clear and sunny and rapidly becomes hot. Some of us are a little lobsterish after exposure to the sun out on the water yesterday.
The morning is spent lounging over tea, breakfast then coffees. iPads are in evidence. The New Zealand News is watched. If you go to Sky News it’s all Aussie. The Hobbit premier in Wellington is the big story. Odd how even a brief visit can make a place more real.
Eventually our Calvinist upbringing shames us into action. We decide on an expedition into the big city, Picton, to pick up some supplies. Driving on the winding roads is becoming second nature now. The views of the sound that we catch on the way over are stunning, all under an intense blue sky.
Picton is looking good. It’s central street is well kept and the ornamentally tiled pavements are very attractive. We wander down to the park on the sea front, previously undiscovered, and take a vegetable scone (!) and a very good ginger beer at one of the plesant cafes. We buy postcards, aloe vera for the sunburn and stamps. Then into the well-stocked supermarket. This is in a very small mall. The local teens were hanging out here the day we arrived. Looking cool and detached in such a restricted and obviously provincial space must be quite a challenge but they were doing their best.
Back for further snacks and serious application to lounging. In some cases we may have drifted off for a moment or two.
As the shadows grow on the surrounding headlands some high cloud appears and the breeze gets up. This seems to be a pattern in the Sounds. We decide on a further, marginally more athletic outing. Back up the Moetapu road to Linkwater. Then right off the Picton road to Anakiwa bay to pick up the start of the Queen Charlotte Track. This is a walk beside the sound of that name some 70km in length. It is reckoned to require three to four days to complete. There is a variety of accommodation on offer along the route. You are also required to obtain a DOC permit for the main walk. We are only going for an evening stroll which will not require a permit.
The track is wide and well maintained. The water is a beautiful rich green through the trees. The bush is delightfully cool for walking. There are some very large trees in here and the ubiquitous ponga ferns which still look alien to us. At one point we spot two birds on a nest in a tree. They look like penguins, but since one of them flies off they are clearly not that. Some sort of primitive looking duck, we guess.
We reach a small bay a couple of miles further along. A beautiful area of grass and shingle beach brightly lit by the evening sun. There is a tall wading bird in the water close by. Then we spot a brilliant flash of blue. A kingfisher. The NZ version, like the ones we saw in Oz, is bigger and less shy than the British one. We watch for quite a while as it flies around the mouth of a small stream.
Along the track we’ve seen two other couples. One consisted of a large, bearded American in sandles with an Chinese lady elegantly clad in a way that suggest a fashion-conscious gunslinger.
We take a final look at the whole route on a display map back at the starting point. It would be easily manageable, we think, but would require planning ahead with the accommodation which is how it’s usually done.
Dinner. What to do about it? This is the sort of pressing decision which makes life here so stressful. We opt for eating out in Havelock. The owner of the holiday home has recommended the beer-battered blue cod and chips at the ‘Slip Inn’. So dutifully we set out for the metropolis of Pelorus Sound.
The little town is very quiet when we arrive. Many boats are bobbing in the marina but people are scarce. Into the ‘Slip’. Modern and rather cosy with some competent but expensive paintings on the wall. We order from a cheerful local lass. Soon afterwards the meal arrives. Very good. Being one time devotees of the exquisite fish and chips of Scarborough and Whitby we are not easily overwhelmed by efforts in this field but this is a lot more than adequate. It is a generous portion served with a good salad.
We chat for a while with the waitress. She’s a volunteer firefighter and general emergency worker. A good citizen. The moon is full and upside down in the north as we leave. Jupiter is below it. There are some duplicatus clouds in the sky beside them. We wind our way back towards Linkwater and stop to get a few shots of the moonlit Pelorus Sound. Then back to the mountainous fastness which is Moetapu Bay.
We take the mail boat from Havelock up through the Pelorus Sound. We go as far up as Maud Island delivering mail to the isolated folks who live out that way.
The skipper is a scot who visited Havelock as he was travelling around and has never left the place again. Clearly a man who believes he had found his niche in life.
On board with us were an Australian couple, another Aussie and his Glaswegian wife and yet more Aussies, a couple and their travelling companion, a casually but elegantly attired gent who sounded a bit like Gore Vidal so I said to him; ‘You’re from the States I take it!’ ‘Shame on you he replied, I’m from Alberta!’ Faux pas. There were also two English couples one from Kent and one from Lancashire the male of whom was intensely irritating. It is always a bad sign if someone opens a conversation by describing their home plumbing problem in great technical detail. I climbed the ladder to the top deck to escape him. Alison had already retreated there for the same reason.
It was so pleasant and sunny up aloft that we spent virtually the whole day there, which eventually came to about eight hours. We descended to steerage occasionally for coffee which you just helped yourself to.
The people who live out here are largely farmers, pretty surprising considering the steepness of he hills here and the amount of bush on them. They were all waiting on the pier for their mail and deliveries. Better to say either they or their dogs were waiting for the mail as the dog, and there almost invariably was one, was often there first.
The skipper kept up an entertaining and informative talk on the region throwing us titbits of information throughout the trip over the tannoy. There are a number of interesting characters in the area. There is an heir of the Scottish engineering family of Brownlie in his eighties who seems to be the Southern Hemisphere’s answer to Fred Dibnah. He runs a range of power tools purely on water power in his workshop. There is the local possum hunter, a redoubtable lady, who came out to meet us in her boat, with the dog, of course.
We stopped for lunch at a most unlikely looking restaurant at Te Rawa, miles up the sound. And miles from anywhere except that it’s on the Nydia track which is a two day walk over the hills and the cafe provides overnight accommodation. It also has fuel for the boats on the sound. It’s still difficult to see how they survive as a business but the season is not really under way yet. Perhaps it will get a lot busier. They claim to sell the best chips in New Zealand at $5 a plate but we had our own packed lunch with us so did not indulge. The interior was an odd assortment of bits and pieces. The proprietor a large bearded Guy in shorts. The overall effect was friendly and welcoming. There is a dog in this photo.
The trip was a long one but the weather held up. The sound became choppier and windier as we got further out. We were hoping to spot dolphins. These failed to materialise in spite of us spotting a large number of shearwaters and gannets near Maud Island. The skipper assured us this was a sure sign of the presence of the marine whizz kids. He also told us that orca are quite frequently encountered in the sound. Maud Island is another reserve which DOC are trying to return to it’s pristine state. There are a three wardens on the island.
Our Lancastrian nemesis seemed to use a rather forced cough to redirect the group’s attention to himself if it showed any sign of wandering so we kept to the poop deck ( or whatever the correct nautical term is) as the boat headed for home. At one point the skipper became a bit panicky and called Alison down to take the wheel through a particularly dangerous shark-infested maelstrom.
We arrive back in Havelock around five thirty. The skipper asked me at one point if I was a boating man. I had to admit to being a landlubber. I did tell him that my grandfather was a ship’s engineer with Cunard before the Second World War. Dad was an engineer too and though not nautical loved the Clyde steamers and similar vessels. He used to take me on paddle steamer trips down the Bristol Channel from Newport when I was a kid. So ‘This one’s for you, dad.’ I thought to myself at the end of this hugely enjoyable day.