Tuesday, January 14, 2014

LIVE from the Deck of Jacques Cousteau's Boat!

PORT TARAKOHE, NEW ZEALAND — I screeched to a halt. There, on the side of the road, tucked into a cave descending into the Abel Tasman sea, was a small wooden book shelf. Above the shelf was a cardboard sign that read "Pirate Book Club Exchange." 

Discovering a book club in a New Zealand cave
I know it's early in this story, but I think a recap is in order: Driving along a coastal road in a semi-remote area of New Zealand, I stumbled upon a pirate's book club tucked into a cave. 

But wait, the story gets impossibly more unusual.

After cogitating on the nature of New Zealanders who put bookshelves in caves and label them "Pirate Book Club Exchange," I drove on to my destination. I was headed to dinner in Tata Beach with my little girl and my sister-in-law. As it happens, the list of interesting people my sister-in-law knows is shorter than the list of people she doesn't know, and the dinner party would once again prove just that. At the dinner, I met a couple who cycled across China because they could, a couple who met trekking in a frigid part of Australia, and an American-Kiwi couple who met on a boating research expedition in Alaska. But that wasn't the best part. The best part was when I remarked on that Pirate Book Club Exchange in the cave.

"Can you believe it?" I'd said. "A pirate's book club?!"

"Oh, the pirate?" one of the dinner party adventurer guests said. "He's having a party tomorrow night. You should come. We're going." 
An old Jacques Coustea vessel turned into a cafe in New Zealand

Well of course.

Turns out, the "pirate" owns an old French sailing vessel and he's an otherwise normal New Zealander man whose name is Ollie. A few years ago, after turning a profit on the sale of a property, Ollie bought a boat. The boat, according to local fishermen who informed Ollie of his good fortune, turned out to be none other than one of Jacques Cousteau's old fleet. Ollie didn't make a big deal of his find, but he did move in. For seven years, he lived on his boat. He started up a now-renowned cafe with a sign that simply reads, "Espresso." People come from miles around (and countries, too) to see this Cousteau-boat-turned-cafe and to drink his terrific coffee.

The following night, I met Ollie at his party. Seven of us packed into the car (my sister-in-law in the trunk) and drove to Port Tarakohe, where Ollie and his boat are moored. It had been raining that day, but the sky was now clear and the sea was calm. The party, however, was not calm. A D.J. was spinning from the cockpit, churning out a thumping beat. On deck, a crowd of mostly women danced under the starry skies.
Ollie making iced mochas on his "Espresso" boat cafe
Someone (possibly me) was so inspired by the whole scene that she dropped to the floor and did push-ups.

And then my sister-in-law introduced me and my husband to Ollie, the "pirate." At first, it was awkward. Despite the raging party he was hosting, Ollie is polite and shy. 

"Are you a pirate?" my husband gamely asked.

"No," Ollie responded, clearly confused. "But this is my boat."

As my husband exited stage left (after that opening line, he kinda had to), Ollie told me his story. He explained how he'd stumbled upon his boat, why he'd opened up the coffee shop (to make a little money), and he told me about that odd little Pirate Book Club in the cave.

"A friend on a nearby boat was getting rid of a bookshelf," he said simply. "So I rescued the shelf and put it in cave on the side of the road," he went on, shrugging as if it were nothing to create a book club in a cave. "And I made a sign that said Pirate Book Exchange." And that was that.

"What's your dream?" I asked him, already knowing the answer.

"I'm living it," Ollie said, and I nodded. 

Patricia Sexton is the author of "LIVE from Mongolia," a true story about what can happen when you follow your life's wildest dream. The book is available on Amazon.com, BN.com, and in various bookstores from New York to New Zealand. She's the host of a TV show about people following dreams, and writes this weekly blog about the same. 

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