Joining the Kiwi Volvo team for a day on their promo tour of New Zealand we got more than we bargained for

It is perhaps typical of the Kiwis to make light of their own hardships, but in Lyttelton near Christchurch NZ, only the inhabitants can make fun of their difficulties following the recent devastating earthquake.

“When you come round to the club mind the rocks”, advised one club member. Our navigator was confused and replied that he had checked the charts and couldn’t see any on the approach.

“I mean the ones in the car park!” came the reply.

In his welcome speech at the Camper Emirates Team New Zealand presentation, Lyttelton Yacht club’s acting commodore made reference to the recent quakes.

“Before we begin, a few housekeeping points,” he said. “Given the recent earthquakes, if we did have to evacuate the building, make sure you turn left not right when you leave by this exit. The cliff to the right is a bit unstable.”

While he clearly wasn’t joking, many took barely any more notice than they might during pre-flight safety checks on a commercial airline. The chances of another quake were surely slim.

Camper’s skipper Chris Nicholson was midway through his description of the Volvo Ocean Race route when it happened.

A loud double bang like a muted clap of thunder was one thing, but to feel the building and whole floor shudder at the same time as if we’d been rammed from behind was an unnerving and disorientating experience.

In a split second, a flash of alarm swept through my mind and body. The fact that the tremor, that measured 4.0 on the Richter scale, had been unexpected made it all the more disturbing while the instantaneous gasp from the 200 or so members at the lunchtime gathering provided a chilling confirmation that this was for real. To feel such a powerful movement in the earth is deeply disturbing. In a flash, it was spine chillingly clear why earthquakes instil such fear. The message had hit home.

Yet, in one seismic blow the tremor had also graded the entire audience.

“The second it happened I could see the two different looks in people’s eyes”, said Nicholson who as the speaker was facing the audience. “Locals, who were still listening to the talk and then the rest of us, wide eyed and wondering what would happen next.”

As the rumble subsided, a grain of relief and cause for concern followed in the same simple sentence as one man, clearly a local mouthed, “and that was a small one.”

Clearly this was nothing out of the ordinary for Lyttelton’s inhabitants since the devastating quake on 22 February this year, but as well as coming as a reminder that tremors don’t just happen to other people on the news, there was the worry that more might follow. Few locals in the room seemed bothered though. Hardened no doubt by a string of aftershocks over the last couple of months, to them the speakers had been captivating and there was plenty more they wanted to know about their country’s Volvo campaign.

An hour later the Kiwi’s new Volvo 70 in her bright red Camper livery was crammed full of local sailors as we scorched up and down Lyttelton harbour at 18 knots. By then the talk of the tremor had stopped and this time it was the turn of the locals to be wide eyed.