When I arrived in Whangarei in August 1992 on a dismasted yacht, I decided that having suffered many mishaps on the boat, each one more severe than the last, that after a dismasting the next event would likely not be survivable, and I left the boat.
I took a job near the Town Basin in a new shop called Boat Books Northland selling marine books, and that way kept my hand in with the maritime life I had enjoyed for the previous few years. I also got to spend time around books – a passion almost from birth. A boatie had wandered into the store at some point and mentioned that the Whangarei Leader was looking for a new boating columnist. That sounded great – a boating columnist. If I got that I would surely be on my way to a writing career. I knew I didn’t stand a chance without experience but nothing ventured, nothing gained, and thus threw my hat in the ring.
Imagine my shock when the editor turned up at the shop, snapped my picture and told me he wanted a four hundred word story every week. Petrified, as well as horrified by what I’d let myself in for, my only thought, round and round and round, was how could I possibly achieve a 400 word column every week. But I’d promised, so I talked one of my boatie friends into taking me out to watch the sailing club races that weekend and wrote copious notes and took many photographs.
So copious were those notes, because I had no idea what to leave out, that by the following Monday I had a ten thousand word story. I very smartly worked out what to leave out and by the appointed hour, delivered a 400 word article which was accepted for publication.
The experience of determining how to write succinctly to deadline was incredibly stressful and for some time afterwards, I relied on children’s author, Diana Menefy to kindly steer me. When I had a few articles together, I would pay her a pittance to show me how to improve them. From Diana I learnt to put the most startling sentence right up front. Newspaper writing was different from the magazine style articles I’d had published to that point but when you have to have a column every week, you learn quickly.
I wrote the boating column for the Whangarei Leader for three years, almost 150 articles on all kinds of marine-related activity, and in particular about many of the cruising vessels that spent summer in the Basin during the tropical cyclone season before leaving again in May. Elsewhere on this website is a list of many of those articles which still have value today and were published between 1993 and 1996. Have a look if you’re boating-oriented at some northern New Zealand marine nostalgia.
A legible copy of the article pictured is available to anyone who would like to read it – just email me.