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Voyage of discovery

Utuku Thompson receiving steering instructions from Haunui captain John-Reid Willison as they enter the Marlborough Sounds. Photo: Supplied.

Sailing around New Zealand on a small ocean-going waka sounds terrifying to some, but for one Picton man was a dream come true.

Sixty- two-year-old Utuku Thompson spent several weeks sailing on Haunui, one of three waka accompanying the Endeavour replica and the Spirit of New Zealand sailboats.

And though he was an “elder” on the small boat, novice crewman Utuku had never sailed before and found guidance from the youngest crewmember – a 22-year-old nicknamed “Kowhai”.

“I relied a lot on our youngest when it came to tying knots,” Utuku says.

The waka sleeps up to 16 in the pontoons and can stay at sea for long  periods of time.

Food brought on the trip, or caught off the side, is cooked on board and, unlike other waka, the Haunui had full toilet facilities.

“I felt sorry for my brothers on the other waka,” Utuku says.

Utuku says the kai during the trip was “fit for a king”.

“We weren’t lacking variety.

“It’s amazing what you can get out in the middle of nowhere.”

Hot roast meat and vegetables and freshly baked bread every day “lifted spirits” during dreary and cold moist days.

He says the whare, or cabin, on the waka was well set up for providing vittles.

“I changed the gas bottles a few times,” he laughs.

Utuku says some of the high points of the trip were steering the waka around both the top of the north and south islands.

“I hogged my turn a bit at the top of the south.”

He says crewing the waka was like becoming a part of a “little family”.

And although they were in a small waka in a big ocean, he never feared for his safety.

“There are a lot of safety procedures,” he says.

“There were rough seas, but I felt safe.

“I was the only one without sailing experience at the time.

“My only fear was falling short of the mark.”

He says joining the flotilla challenged him to “keep rising”.

“You feel like you’re a part of the moment.”

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