Emerald water rippled viciously around a white cigarette boat as it cut through the surface like a steak knife through lime gelatin. Although the sun was unobscured, hanging golden and vibrant in the southern sky, the seawater was cool as a post-game ice bath. Jets of frothy saltwater splashed onto the men’s faces, blotting their dark sunglasses as they drove through the deep water of the harbour.
“I knew it would be beautiful here, but never imagined like this. Did you take it for granted when you were younger?” Nick asked, leaning his head back to soak up the warmth of the sun.
“Never, mate. We knew we were blessed growing up, mum wouldn’t let us forget,” Steven shouted over the groan of the motor. His long hair whipped behind his shoulders in the wind, curly brown trestles wet from the briny water of the Hauraki Gulf. He seemed lost in thought as he effortlessly piloted the boat, cooly steering the ship while never looking back.
Mid-afternoon light sparkled across the waves and reflected off the silver towers on the shore. An endless green horizon laid behind them like a shimmering cricket pitch as their boat rocketed towards the Waitemata Harbour and the rigid skyline beyond.
The ceaseless white noise of the ocean bled into the boat’s motor as Steven throttled it into a lower gear. The men enjoyed each other’s company, but moreso found pleasure in their silences, the absent moments where they could could be together as teammates yet alone still as solitary men.
Nick closed his eyes and bathed in the warm sky’s radiance and the ocean’s cold spray. Thoughts of the last season, that year where things were so crazy they almost worked, were on the opposite side of the earth. Even the year ahead, an unsure path towards a nearing retirement, was not on his mind.
A solid beat passed where they breathed and listened to the engine putter and felt as bouyant as the high-sailed yachts that bobbed in place a league or so away. There were no cameras around, no reporters or handlers. No booing fans or teens who wanted pictures taken… Only an uncaring ocean at the bottom of the world.
The serenity was almost unbearable until a voice jolted them from behind.
“Dude, there’s dolphins over there!” Cameron Payne announced as he stood up, breaking Steven Adams’ intense concentration. Steven quickly jammed the engine into a lower gear, causing Cameron to nearly fall backwards out of the boat. He gave a mean snarl, long mustache curling around the edges of his lips, and Cam’s face went from joyous to fearful.
“Chur bro, now sit the hell down,” Steven barked, briefly accelerating the boat. A pod of bottleneck dolphins raced alongside, taking turns hopping out of the water, each arc forming a crescent moon before crashing back into the sea. Their guttural, high-pitched bleeting was rhythmic and peaceful. The graceful curve of their fins and stubby noses jutted out of the water and they swam to keep up. One of them moved close to the boat and Cam reached a hand over the edge, feeling its smooth rubbery skin as it passed by. It was an electrifying sensation to touch something so elegant, strong and lean.
The pod was quickly drifting away, and a dolphin in the front sprayed from its blowhole in a dramatic display before diving underneath the water and swimming away. Her companions soon followed, and it was no bother because the men’s boat was approaching the dock.
As the engine eased up and they drifted towards land, a shiny glint caught Cam’s eye. Out in the horizon far behind them, a large white boat glimmered and disappeared in the sun. An uneasy weight sank in his bowels, but he wasn’t sure why.
“Hey… do you guys see that big boat behind us?” Cameron asked, pointing in its direction while turning towards his teammates.
“No, and I don’t care,” Nick sighed. “I’ve already seen enough dolphins and whales to fill a Lisa Frank Trapper Keeper, and there’s obviously going to be boats out here. Can you keep the running commentary to a minimum on this trip? We’re trying to relax.”
“Sorry. I know it’s dumb. It’s just that…Something about it feels weird. I don’t know. I’m just overreacting.” Cameron shrank in his seat and shook his head.
“It’s okay. You’re probably just seeing things,” Nick said. “And I’m being an asshole. I’m still a little jetlagged, and it’s weird being so far away from home. Don’t worry about it.” He turned to Cameron and raised his bottle of Corona, which was met with a hearty clink. They drank and the beer felt cool and tasted good.
“Anyways, we’ve got a big night ahead at the banquet. It’s best we don’t lose our cool so soon on this trip. We may have work to do, but I’m here for pleasure, too!”
Nick laughed and Steven turned back, pulling a white captain hat from underneath the seat. He donned it on his head, saying in his gruff voice “Alright boys, bottoms up on those stubbies. We’re about to dock, but there’ll be plenty of time to get pissed at the big party tonight. I can’t wait ‘til you get a load of the jewels we’ll have on display, they’re the pride of New Zealand!”
The boat grumbled to a stop as it pulled into a space in the harbour. Nick tossed a rope that was accepted by a lean old man on the dock.
“Good you boys got in now, the dock is all chocka today!” the old man grunted. The boat gently jerked above the waves as he tied the line to a cleat. Nick and Steven began to gather their things, but Cameron looked off, distracted by the white ship that was no longer in sight. Why did it give him such a bad feeling? He shook his head and attempted to banish those thoughts as he stepped out of the boat and onto the shore of Auckland.
To be continued…