Will Calver – Escaped London with Family on a Yacht

In this episode, Will Calver explains how he escaped a high-powered London Job, purchased a yacht and sailed to the other side of the world with his young family, then started a new successful business in Auckland New Zealand.
One day Will came home to his Wife Catherine and said, “I’ve had enough of this”, a turning point in their lives that many can identify with.
Will went on to develop a system for choosing his ocean cruising yacht which he shares with you here.
He then tells of his inspiring passage from the UK to New Zealand taking you through the highs and lows of his journey.
Plenty to learn here.

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Yacht Finale, Yacht Sailing,

LINDSAY: Today I’m interviewing Will Calver. We first met in Bayswater Marina. He and his family sailed out from the UK and ended up in New Zealand, and he’s got quite a lot of knowledge about sailing and he’s going to tell us his story about why he chose that lifestyle and what he did when he got to New Zealand.

Welcome to the interview Will.

WILL: Thanks mate. Glad you came all the way from Australia to New Zealand just to interview me. I’m very impressed with that. Outstanding. I feel very important.

LINDSAY: Well that’s my pleasure. Any excuse. Tell us a bit about yourself Will and your experience in sailing and how you got into sailing in the first place.

WILL: Okay. Well I don’t think I would say that I come from a particularly nautical background. I was born in London – in south east London, just grew up in an inner-city place but I kind of got introduced to sailing through my step-father who liked playing about in boats and messing about in boats. He had a little Mirror dinghy and my first probably earliest thing was going out in that when I was maybe ten. I didn’t really like it. It was pretty wet and cold and it was on a little lake, an inner-city lake in Thamesmead which is an absolute armpit of a place.

As time went on I managed to go out on a few other different boats through a connection. My step-father worked at the maritime museum in Greenwich and managed to get us out on a few different types of boats as I was going through my teenage years. From Thames barges to little sail training ships like the Royalist and what have you. Really, I think that was through until I was about seventeen, was the last time I went out on a sailing ship as it were at that sort of point.

Then I really didn’t do any sailing at all. I was far more into other things. Into motor cars and finding bars and that kind of things. I did a lot of cycling as well. I did a lot of cycling when I was younger.

I got back into sailing I suppose when I met my, who is now my current wife Catherine. We looking as you do as you become a couple, you start looking at things that you both enjoy doing and one of the things we looked at was going sailing. We both embarked on a dinghy sailing course in the river Medway in October which is a really dumb thing to do I can tell you. October in the Medway is cold and it’s just miserable.

We both passed our dinghy sailing level one and I did level two, which meant I actually capsized the boat and we literally could recover the boat from capsizing. Cate didn’t want to do that, she’s like, “I’m not capsizing the boat geez.”

LINDSAY: When you say capsize, you had to capsize the boat?

WILL: You had to capsize the boat and recover it to pass your level two.

LINDSAY: Right.

Will: Your level one you can tack, you can jive, you can do various points of sail, you can sail a triangular course and all that kind of stuff. Then level two you can do all that but you have to be able to capsize the boat and recover the capsize, and that gives you your level two. I did that and I really enjoyed it and I carried on. I got on well with the instructor down there. At this point I’m in my mid-twenties and I enjoyed it. I carried on sailing. Cate wasn’t interested in it at all and then through that year I met other people that were sailing and I met a very good guy called Ken Rankin who had a little race boat on the Medway. He said, “Look, why don’t you come and crew for us if you’re interested. We’ll go out.” Ken was a very interesting guy. He was a sub mariner and he was an ex professional driver, and he’d worked on oil rigs and all sorts of things. Enjoyed a drink – as a lot of sailors do, but he did teach us quite a lot in terms of going out sailing and we did a lot of racing.

Cut a long story short, the sailing on yachts started to be more than the sailing in dinghies so I started doing more stuff in yachts. Then we really – I say “we” as in Catherine, we decided that we would like to do a bit of chartering. To do chartering over in the Mediterranean and a place like…You need a minimum of a day skipper certificate, so we both went out and did our day skipper certificate. We did it going out for a week on a boat and Cate did her competent crew and I did my day skipper. Ticked the box which enabled us to go and charter a boat. We chartered a boat down the Mediterranean and thoroughly enjoyed that. Really, really enjoyed that. It was great.

After that I decided that I really probably needed to have my own boat. I boat a small sailing boat – little bilge keeler which is ideal for the area we were sailing and I would take that out. It was something I could sail myself, it was something that I sailed with Catherine and then my eldest boy came along and it was something that we sailed with him as well. Spent pretty much every weekend out sailing because it was great. We loved it.

LINDSAY: So you were hooked on sailing by this stage?

WILL: Absolutely. That’s how I got into it and I’ve always loved walking the dock and looking at other people’s boats, you know, as you do, but that’s how I got into it.

LINDSAY: You bought your first boat, now it’s obviously not the one that you sailed out to New Zealand

WILL: Ha! No.

LINDSAY: At some stage you were working in a normal job which was pretty full on I understand?

WILL: Yeah, it was.

LINDSAY: Tell us a bit about that.

WILL: I worked for a direct marketing company in Croydon. It was a pretty intense time. I was involved in sales and it was a very successful company. They required quite a lot of hours out of you and they demanded a reasonable amount of blood out of you. “You don’t get owt for nowt” as they say, so I was working quite long hours. We started at seven o’clock in the morning and I wouldn’t get home until seven, eight, nine o’clock in the evening most days of the week. They did pay you commensurately for that. We used to call it, “Golden handcuffs.” They’d pay you a lot of money but because you were paid a lot of money you had to keep doing it. It was a bit like the money’s the drug that keeps you going.

LINDSAY: Bit of an addiction?

WILL: Yeah, but I think the main thing with us was that unlike a lot of the guys at work who – and this might be our downfall or not – but we never lived beyond our means. I always thought it was a ridiculous amount of money they were paying me so I never lived to that amount of money. We just used to stick it away. Cate would say that we didn’t take enough risks – we should have bought property and we should have gone crazy, but we didn’t. The upshot of that was that after doing that job for nearly ten years I suppose, I was pretty burnt out. I got to that point in my life where I had my son who at that point was probably four years old, and I hadn’t really seen very much of him growing up. Although we did have a reasonable house and we drove a nice car, it was a lot of strain. I think there was a couple of things that happened in our life in general – one of which was that step-father that I was talking about earlier he died. He actually died sailing his own boat over in Holland and passed away at the helm very peacefully. That was one thing and I suddenly – that was a bit of a shock because it was totally unexpected. He wasn’t very old. I think he had just turned seventy, so that’s pretty young actually.

The other thing was I had a bit of a medical scare, which turned out to be nothing. It was just a benign growth or whatever they call it, but at the time I thought, “Geez what if that had been some sort of life threatening cancer or something.” I suddenly, I think as I’ve said to you before, I came home one day and I’d been out on the motorway driving for I don’t know how many hours because I had clients all over the UK. I used to do forty-five, fifty-thousand miles of driving a year, so it was a fair old bit of driving. I just got home one day and said, “I’ve had enough of this. I think we need to go and get a holiday. Actually have a break and do something different.” So that’s what we did. Catherine was sort of life, “Yeah, okay.”

LINDSAY: This is about the time I guess when you decided that you were going to upgrade your boat?

WILL: Yeah, well I had the little dragonfly and that was a lovely little boat but you weren’t going to sail…You’d sail locally on it but at twenty-three foot you’re not really going to cross oceans on it either. People have I think, but not with my wife and son. So we started looking for another boat and I also at the same time decided that I needed to really up-skill my sailing, because although I’d done a reasonable amount of local coastal bits and pieces, I suddenly thought, “Jeepers if I’m going to take the family out and we’re going to be in all sorts of conditions, I really wanted to be able to sail professionally I guess.” That’s where I took a sabbatical from work pretty much for six months and I did a full-time, seven days a week course which ended up with me getting a yacht master ocean certificate. They call that a zero to hero course kind of thing. I’d already done quite a lot of sailing prior to that, but what it enabled you to do is sail an awful lot of different boats up to including seventy-two foot boats which is not something you get the chance to do, and to skipper them as well.

We’d sail constantly. I think we did a twenty-one day, non-stop, and I say non-stop twenty-one days on the boat just sailing in and out of the UK to France, to the channel islands and that’s an invaluable experience for sailing because it’s some really adverse conditions you can get in that area. Everything you get in sailing crossing oceans is pretty straight-forward – kind of set off and you arrive three weeks later, but if you’re sailing around the coast and it’s a big tide, and you’ve got to navigate and you’ve got shipping, and you’ve got all the other dangers that are involved. The dangerous bit is when you get close to the land, it’s not when you’re out in the middle of the ocean.

That was a pretty good experience for me and at the end of that I qualified and then it was at that point that we really got serious and started looking for a boat to sail and putting down our parameters of what we wanted from a boat. By that stage, I’d kind of started to think about really what I wanted.

LINDSAY: What was that? What were you actually looking for in a boat? There’s a lot of variables there.

WILL: Oh, so many variables and I wonder now whether I would’ve got the same boat. I think I would’ve gone through the same process.

What a lot of people do and what we initially did was we started going through the internet and looking at magazines, and every time I saw a boat that was around our budget, I would go, “Oh! Look at that. That’s really good!” and then it would have some stuff on it that I didn’t kind of like, but I’d try and make it fit. What happens is you just go from boat to boat, to boat and you really don’t get anywhere. You sort of go around in circles and I did that for probably about three months. I just thought, I’ve got to rationalise this and treat it like a work exercise. What would you do if you were actually doing this properly. You need to be able to discount things.

What I did was I basically drew up a list of all the things that I wanted in a boat – that I thought that I needed in a boat. My priority having done a little bit of research, I really wanted to buy a steel boat. That was the hull material. It needed to be steel. So, what I did was I said okay, if the hull material of the boat is steel then it gets a ten. That’s it’s ranking. If it’s a glass fibre boat it gets a seven. If it’s a wooden boat, it gets a five. If it’s a ferro cement boat, it gets a three. What would then happen is that each hull type or the boat had to be between forty and forty-five feet long. That’s what I figured would be a good size for the family. So, if it was between forty and forty-five feet, it got a ten. If it was more than forty-five feet – forty-five to fifty feet, it got an eight. If it was thirty-five feet to forty feet, it got a seven.

LINDSAY: So, it’s a weighted voting.

WILL: It’s a weighted version yeah. What you do is every single boat you’d go through – you know, I wanted originally to have a ketch, I wanted two masts and then the second ketch would be a cutter rig, and then just a sloop, and I put in there a schooner rig, I put in their schooner rig. I had them all weighted to what I would ideally like and what sort of was the bottom line.

LINDSAY: By doing this process which, very clever I think, you managed to get a lot of the emotion out of it too I imagine.

WILL: Absolutely.  

LINDSAY: You could look at it far more objectively.

WILL: Yeah. Because that happens when you see boats, you do fall in love with them. The one thing I didn’t have was an aesthetic. I didn’t say, if it looks really good it gets a ten, if it’s a bit ugly it gets a five you know, if it’s a dog it gets a two. I didn’t do that. With all the other parameters…I’d listed equipment in there. If it had a water maker on board and it had a generator and it had this, it got a higher mark. I ended up with a list of probably about twenty things that I was looking for in a boat – all weighted.

Also, there was budget – if it was within our budget it got a ten. If it was ten thousand dollars, or twenty-thousand dollars – pounds it was then, but if it was ten thousand pounds more, or twenty thousands pounds, it progressively got a lower weight.

Add all those things up, when you look at a boat you then straight away you just go through the list and you just go, “Boom, boom, boom.” If it didn’t reach I think it was about one hundred and twenty points, then you just don’t go and see it.

LINDSAY: Discard it.

WILL: You just discard it. Doesn’t matter how beautiful. Don’t care how nice the photographs are, you just discard it. It might be the most beautiful wooden looking boat in the world but if it hasn’t got the things you want, you just get rid of it.

LINDSAY: That would save a heap of time. I know when we were looking for boats even before we had the money, we wasted so much time. Well, not really wasted because you learn something every time about what you don’t want but that would be a good way of fast tracking things.

WILL: That’s what we did and it did save an awful lot of time and it just all stopped all the hand ringing and it stopped us comprising on things. There was also a thing where if it scored more than a hundred and fifty points, then you had to question whether it was stolen. Because it had everything we wanted and it was within budget. If it was within budget and it had everything we wanted then there was no such boat. Ever in the whole world.

LINDSAY: Now I know that you ended up with a beautiful boat called Finale.

WILL: Yes.

LINDSAY: How did you find that?

WILL: We had by this stage a pretty good network of friends and people that we knew, that knew we were looking at going sailing and a friend of ours lived in Antwerp. Because of steel boats being an area that we were really keen on, the Dutch make very good steel boats. They’re renowned for their steel making small boats. We did look quite extensively in Holland and that sort of area and a friend of ours that lived in Antwerp which is obviously Belgium…I originally saw the boat on an advert on a Dutch brokerage site and it was a very, very small picture. It had very little information about the boat. The boat was forty-three and a half feet long, it was steel, the picture wasn’t very good of it, and it didn’t really say much else about it. I actually saw that the boat happened to be in Antwerp so I phoned up my friend in Antwerp. There was so little information about it that I couldn’t even run it through my list. It had like three bits of information from the list which gave it pretty good marks and I said, “Hey Willie look can you give me a favour, just pop down to the yard. It’s in the yard just down the road from you. Just go and have a quick look at it so I can know whether just to fish it out of the thing.” The other thing was it was way outside our budget.

LINDSAY: More expensive?

WILL: More expensive. By a considerable factor. That was another reason for kicking it into touch. That kind of went against all my previous stuff that I just said, but it just so happened that this guy was there. Willie, who’s my friend that lives there he went and saw it and I think I phoned him on the Thursday and he got back to me that evening and phoned me and said, “You’ve got to come and see this boat because it could be exactly what you’re looking for.” So I drove over there that weekend. I went over on the Saturday and in fact it was horrendous. It was snowing and when I got to the boat, the boat was covered, it had big purpose custom built covers over the top of it. It was basically this boat under covers, under snow in this yard. It was freezing cold and I just thought, “What on earth am I doing here looking at this bloody boat in this weather.” Anyway, we had a peek under the covers and as soon as I looked under the covers and I started looking through the boat itself I thought, “Wow. This has been really well done.” That’s the real start of it.

I did fall in love with it without a shadow of a doubt. I was like, “Goodness!”

LINDSAY: Did you run it through your…?

WILL: Yeah I did. It scored really well right up to the point of budget.

LINDSAY: Right. So you negotiated that?

WILL: Yeah. I think we went back. I took Catherine back to see it and she really liked it as well. At that point, the broker had come down and seen us. I think the broker gave Willie the keys with the first time I saw it so we just had the two of us going around it, and then the broker came down the second time. He was a bit of a nasty piece of work if I’m honest. He wasn’t a very nice guy. I hate to say this, but if he’s listening to this then mate you need to change your sales pitch because you’re not very good as a broker. He did give us the details for the owner because at the end of the time we saw it I just said, “Look it’s a nice boat but it’s outside our budget.” I told him what our budget was and the broker basically said, “Well you’re wasting your time. Go away. Don’t waste my time.” But he did give us, or we did manage to get, I think actually Willie managed to get the owner’s details – I don’t know how we did that but he got the owner’s details.

So, I wrote a letter to the owner and explained that we did like his boat and we’d be very keen to buy it, unfortunately the budget that we had was substantially less than what he was asking for it. I gave him a bit of a sob story that we were going to set out on an adventure and we had a young family – yada, yada, yada. He wrote back to me and said that he had originally bought the boat with the intention of going sailing with his wife, and his wife had been taken ill and they hadn’t been able to go. He was quite a wealthy individual but he would really like to see the boat go to someone that was going to use it. Whether that was a load of ol’ pooey or not I don’t know, but I think it was pretty genuine. He said that the price that we offered them at was acceptable and he would accept it and I nearly fell off my chair.

LINDSAY: There’s a lesson in that. Don’t always listen to the brokers. If you can talk to the owner.

WILL: Yeah, talk to the owner.

LINDSAY: If you really like a boat, then there’s more than one way to…

WILL: Absolutely. More than one way to skin a cat and the average broker I think takes about eight percent. I know the broker did take a fee out of the money that I paid to the guy. I paid the guy the amount that I’d agreed. I didn’t pay anything else. He obviously had got even less than that because he would’ve taken the brokerage fee.

LINDSAY: So, you obviously did a little bit of work on it, because everybody does a bit of work on a boat when they first get it.

WILL: You know, you buy a boat and you think, “Wow. This has got everything that we need pretty much,” and then you go, “Actually, no it hasn’t really.” So even though a boat’s got lots of stuff and this boat had an awful lot of gear that was new, it was unused. The guy had spent I think it was upwards of thirty-thousand euro which at the time it was an enormous amount of money. It was when the euro had only just been not long sort of come out really, I suppose.

LINDSAY: And you went ahead and spent more.

WILL: Yeah, we did. Well we didn’t have to buy any sails thank goodness. We had all the sails made and luckily, we had all the plans for the boat, but there were a few other things. If you’re going long-term cruising you want to ensure that you’ve got – you know and I’d done all the reading and I soaked up every book about long term cruising. Whether it be the parties – I’ve got a list of books. If you look at my book cupboard out there I’ve still got half of the books of all the different things. Whether it was the Hiscock’s or the…which might be a little bit older, but I tried to soak up as much information as well as my own information.

LINDSAY: Yeah. That’s all part of the process.

WILL: Yeah. So, I did that and I realised that you get a lot of skills in terms of you, you know you have to learn how to sort of be an electrician, you have to learn how to be an engineer, you have to learn how to be a chippie. You have to learn all these different skills.

LINDSAY: To be self-sufficient.

WILL: To be self-sufficient. So, the boat – we beefed up all the battery banks, we beefed up the charging system, we had fail safe systems on the boat. We got the first DuoGen that had been pretty much produced. I saw this very small advert I remember in Yachting Monthly.

LINDSAY: This is a quiet generator?

WILL: Yeah. It’s actually a water and wind generator. There was water generators out there which were a bit like trail and log. You’d put them out the back and it would spin on an alternator. That would then generator but you’d have a thing out the back of the boat which was a hundred metres long. It was a big thick bit of line.

LINDSAY: Sharks like eating them.

DuoGen, generator, watermaker,

WILL: Yeah, they do. I didn’t know that at the time but anyway, I saw this little advert for this DuoGen and it was a wind and water powered generator, but it wasn’t available. There was no price on it. It was basically this guy had put this advert – it was an idea he’d had and he hadn’t gone into full production. He had some prototypes. So being in the job that I was in I’m able to get around, I went up and saw this guy – Peter Anderson’s his name and I said, “Hey Pete, look I’ve got this great boat. We’re going to go long term cruising. It would be an awesome advert for your.” You know, I’m a sales guy, what can I tell you, “I’ve got this awesome advert for your DuoGen that you could put onto our boat, we would take a load of photographs, it’s a lovely looking boat and I think it would attract quite a lot of attention. If it works you know, awesome!” Pete was fantastic. He said, “Yeah”, so we put this DuoGen and I paid him for it. We were like his guinea pigs really and so any time anything went wrong with it – and we did have a few teething problems without a doubt – but Pete would come back from Leicester. He’d help us out and he’d bring parts down and new bits. Every time we had a problem with something whether it was a fitting or a coupling that hadn’t been designed strong enough, because our boat obviously put it through quite a ringer because the boat, you know, she’d go eight knots or whatever — a reasonable speed. He’d originally designed it for smaller boats I think.

So, we did that and that was another thing that we got which was great, and solar panels.

LINDSAY: So, you went through the whole process of gearing the boat up, getting ready to head offshore.

WILL: Yep. Spending an inordinate amount of money. Every pay cheque we had went into the boat pretty much.

LINDSAY: How hard was it to make that transition from quitting your job, moving on the boat and heading off. Tell us the story about that.

WILL: Okay, so I had a deadline in my head of where I wanted to go. I gave my work two years notice and I said, “Right, in two years time I’m going resign.”

LINDSAY: That’s a pretty generous heads up.

WILL: Yeah, “And in that time, you need to find a replacement for us.” It’s a bit like, if you have a fixed date to work towards, I think I needed something in my own head because otherwise you just drift. You go on, go on, go on, go on. I needed a date. I put a date down and sort of like a line in the sand, and everything we did then worked towards that date.

In the meantime, we obviously had the boat, we worked the boat up, we equipped the boat, but we weren’t living on it. It was in the marina. It was local to where we were. We did weekend sailing on it.

LINDSAY: You worked on getting another crew member somewhere along the line there?

WILL: Yes, we did. absolutely right. We did. Originally, we had just my eldest boy and the boat had originally been bought with just the three of us in mind. Suddenly from somewhere, I don’t know how that happened, but another member of the family came along. That was another thing to have to take into account. In fact, we’d already bought the boat. It was quite a long-term negotiation but Cate had fallen pregnant with Patrick at the time and when I had to bring the boat back from Antwerp to the UK, she’d only recently given birth to Patrick. It was I think a week, and I had to go over and bring the boat back. We had a hell of a trip back with the boat. Bear in mind that I’d only seen it on the heart, I’d never sailed it. We literally got over and it was put in the water and we left I think the following day. We sailed this boat with some friends and in some pretty stiff conditions back to the UK. We averaged nine knots.

LINDSAY: Woah. Averaged nine knots.

WILL: Averaged nine knots.

LINDSAY: That’s quite a speed for a forty-three-foot steel boat.

WILL: Yeah. We had no water on board the boat, we had no – pretty much any fuel in the boat, we just found enough fuel to motor into Chatham. It was a lightweight ship. Everything had been stripped off the boat. It had its sails but there was no other gear in the boat so it was like an empty shell. It was as light as it could possibly be and it had a brand-new suite of sails. We had only got one reef in the main I think. The other reefs hadn’t even been set up in the main sail. We had the best part of a steady twenty-five gusting to thirty-five knots reaching right the way across the channel. The boat just flew. It was honestly, she’s never gone as fast since. Ever. So, we got the boat…

LINDSAY: You quit your job, you got the boat, you’ve quit your job and you’ve got an extra crew member there along the lines and you’re about to move on the boat. What happened then?

Will, Catherine, Thomas, Patric

WILL: The boat was pretty ready to go but we hadn’t moved on to the boat and I left work. We had a big party. We were living in rented accommodation – we lived with my brother-in-law. We’d put some of our stuff into storage with various relatives. It’s a very difficult time because everyone’s going, “Are you going yet? Are you going yet? When are you going? Are you going?” and you have this constant. It’s like every time you see someone it’s like, “Oh I better say goodbye because we won’t see you again,” In the end we got so sick of it, because we hadn’t gone because of one thing or another. It was either a bit of equipment or a bit of weather, or whatever it was. We were all down on the boat one afternoon and a great friend of ours came along who had also been planning to go sailing and he’d never got away.

I remember it so clearly. We’d been down and in fact I’d just taken out a hire car and I’d just taken it back to the hire people and I’d ridden back on the bike – boat’s bike back to the thing. We just literally got rid of the car, but I was still expecting us to probably go back to the house. Our friend came along and he said, “Haven’t you gone yet?” and we said, “Oh no, well there’s you know, there’s a bit of weather,” and he started taking the lines off the dock off the boat. He said, “You need to start the engine.” And I was like, “Right” so he said, “Because you’re going now.” He said, “You need to go,” I got on board the boat and I said, “Well, we’re going Catherine” and she went, “Right. Okay. We’re going then.” He took the lines off the dock, I backed the boat out and we went. That was it. There was no big crowd of people waving goodbye. We’d been there and done that. We’d been hanging around a couple of weeks longer than we should have done, but Nick was great. He was like, “No, you just need to go. You’ll sort the rest of your shit out basically on the way. Stop somewhere on the way but hey…” And we did. That’s exactly what we did. The key is having a deadline, working towards it and then going, because there will always be a reason not to go.

LINDSAY: And having a good friend to…

WILL: Having a good friend that comes along and says, “Bugger off.”

LINDSAY: So, you didn’t go very far I know, you went and anchored down river somewhere.

WILL: We did! We anchored just down… In fact, there’s a video that we shot. We’ve got this little bit of footage that Catherine has got of me and the engine started overheating. Just going down the river. I couldn’t believe that we were having a problem and we hadn’t even gone more than about two miles. There’s this little video of me sitting in the cockpit going, “I can’t believe we’ve got bloody…Engine’s having problems.” We did. We went down there, we anchored. Got that sorted out and the next day we went and we went to Dover the next day. We sailed it right around to Dover which was great. I felt we were kind of on our way then.

LINDSAY: Just quickly tell us about your trip to New Zealand. Where you went, how you got through, all the different points you stopped at and the highlights and the worst points.

WILL: Okay. We did a lot of port hoping to start with. We just did little steps just getting ourselves into it. We went from the UK, we hopped down the coast went to Ireland. We spent probably a month or so in Ireland catching up with Cate’s relatives. Went from Ireland down to Spain and that was sort of like a big milestone for us because that was our first real what I call, “Open Ocean Passage.” It’s a five-day sail across a pretty interesting stretch of water. It’s got a huge reputation the Bay of Biscay. Then we hopped down the Spanish and Portuguese coasts. The original intention – and this is how things changed – the original intention we had was to go into the Mediterranean and spend a year in the Med just getting used to being on the boat. But by the time we’d sailed to the place called La Gauche, but the time we’d sailed down to La Gauche we’d made lots of friends on the way already who were sailing down to the Canary Islands and were going across the Atlantic. Some of them were doing the arc – the Atlantic way for cruisers, others weren’t. We met these people, we became firm friends quite quickly with people and we found that when we said goodbye and we turned in towards the Mediterranean and got into sort of the Algarve where people sort of basically go to die by the looks of things.

LINDSAY: Oh really?

WILL: Well a lot of people from the UK and that, they take their boats down to sort of south of Spain and the Portuguese ports and that’s as far as they want to go. They’re quite happy. It’s warmer. It’s a bit of a blighty abroad. It’s an hour and a half’s flight back to the UK, or two hours’ flight back to the UK. So, it’s not too bad you know. They can still catch up with their rellies and what have you. A lot of people, I call it, go there to die and we just spent a couple of nights in one of these marinas and we just went, “We got to get out of here. This is crazy,”

We went from there. We did go down to the Canary Islands. We met up again, we got friends. Some of them were doing the Atlantic rally so they were going off to a deadline and I hate working to deadlines. I like to go with my own instinct, so we didn’t sail with those guys. Also, I wanted to go down to the Cape Verde Islands which is another hundred and fifty miles further than where you would normally go across the Atlantic, but I thought it was so close. So, we went to the Cape Verde Islands. We spent a couple of weeks or so, to three weeks in the Cape Verdes, and then we went across the Atlantic with the trades.

LINDSAY: How long did that take?

WILL: Seventeen days.

LINDSAY: Seventeen. That’s good cruising. Good weather all the way?

WILL: Yeah. We had good breeze, good trade winds. An interesting thing very, very quickly. We had another boat called Melinda. It’s a steel boat. Forty-eight-foot catch. Beautiful. Beautiful steel boat that the…Leif had actually had built for him. He was a Swedish dentist. If you think I was looking for a boat for the best part of nearly two years before I settled on Finale, well Leif had had this idea and he had the boat built for I think it was over a period of about nine years. So, he really thought about it. And this boat – it had everything you could possibly want. Even that wasn’t quite right. The interesting thing with these guys was that when we left the Cape Verdes together we were within sight of each other. We didn’t realise this was unusual, but we remained within sight of each other for the entire crossing.

LINDSAY: Woah, and the boat’s five foot longer.

WILL: Five foot longer. We were literally within visual sight. We were never more than probably three or four miles from Melinda. What would happen is that during the day we would overtake them and at night they would overtake us. At Christmas Day which was spent middle Atlantic we were within probably ten meters of each other singing to each other Christmas Carols.

So anyway, we went to the Caribbean, went through the Caribbean Islands, went through the Northern chain of Aruba and Bonaire and Curaçao. Then heading in towards Panama. We went to the San Blas Islands which was a marvellous group of little islands. Very unchartered and very stunning really. That was a real highlight if you’re looking for highlights. The San Blas Islands was fabulous. They’re populated by the Kuna Indians which I can only describe as something out of Indiana Jones. The guys with the very straight fringes. The sort of Mexican, Indian type. You know, you expect them to have blow pipes and see a big boulder rolling down a cave or something. It was the Indiana Jones stuff. They fish and they live on these little Islands. If you look at a chart, the electronic charts get to the San Blas Islands and they stop. The paper charts stop. It’s this big white area. Or it was at the time, it might be different now. The only guide we had there was an American Pilot book that had been written by the Zeidler’s who had spent ten years just cruising the San Blas Islands. It gives you an idea how extensive it is, but they had lots of hand sketches of different anchorages and different passages. We spent time there and we loved it.

Into the Panama Canal. Just a nightmare. Won’t talk about that. That was a low point. Managed to break the boat, managed to break the generator. Managed to end up in Colón for a lot longer than we expected to.

LINDSAY: Colón’s on the Pacific side?

WILL: No. Colón is on the Atlantic side and believe me it lives up to its name. It is the hole of the world.

LINDSAY: Right.

WILL: With cockroaches, the size of your first kind of thing. It was just a really kind of quite a down time and in fact that was probably our lowest point in the trip. Being in Colón, being stuck there, watching our friends sailing through and going into the Pacific. We felt like we were going nowhere and at one point we actually decided that Cate and the boys would fly home and I would get my nephew out to the boat and the two of us would sail Finale straight back to the UK.

LINDSAY: Oh whoa. That’s really low.

WILL: We were just going to hardcore it. Maybe Bermuda, maybe the Azores and then the UK and that would’ve been it. Bang. Bang. Bang. But a very good friend of mine who passed away recently was actually on the Pacific side and he kind of got wind that we were in this bit of this dilemma and he came back to Colón to see me, and took me out to the yacht club there. Gave me a cigar and gave me a brandy. Sat down with me and told me not to be so stupid. We’ve got this far. It was only a little bump. Don’t worry about it. Once you’re in the Pacific it will be cool. And it was really. It was. We did it. The generator was fixed. We spent another, I don’t know how many dollars on it, I don’t even want to think but we did get into the Pacific. We still had adventures. We still had challenges to go, and in fact this lovely generator the guy had fixed broke down on us within a day of leaving to go to the Galapagos Islands, which as you can imagine I was not a happy bunny. So, we had no generator for the ten, eleven days it took us to go from Panama to the Galapagos Islands. But the DuoGen I was talking about earlier kept us powered up the whole way. It looked after the fridge and it looked after all our power needs. Everything else was working fine.

LINDSAY: And they’re really quiet.

WILL: Yeah. well they just – they sit in the water. You sail and it pumps in six to eight amps all the time. Just constantly. Boom. If you know your power requirements, six to eight amps is a pretty mean as amount. It’s a lot more than you get out of solar panels that’s for sure.

LINDSAY: That’s awesome yeah.

WILL: So anyway, we went Panama, Galapagos, Galapagos to Marquesas which is a twenty-one day. That’s a big passage. That’s the longest passage. From Marquesas, you have to sort of hop a little bit. We did Marquesas down to Tahiti. From Tahiti, we went via – as a little Atoll. Not Suvorov it’s below Suvorov Six or seven days to get to this place which was…Apparently, all our friends had been there for a couple of weeks and they said it was absolute paradise. Absolutely wonderful this little island. We got there and then within two hours of being there the weather completely changed and we sat at anchor for twelve hours in rapidly deteriorating conditions. We couldn’t even get off the boat. We couldn’t land. That was pretty depressing and I just said where we were was becoming untenable to stay and we ended up having to up sticks and go.

We spent six days getting there, none of our friends were there. We were the only boat at anchorage there and one of the guys came out on a little boat, got out through the reef, came out to us, thanked us for turning up but understood why we had to go. Presented us with this freshly cooked parrot fish – all filleted, and we went. I just remember that very clearly. Just as we were about to go, literally about five metres from our transom a sperm whale surfaced and went past. It was the size of our boat. Surfaced literally right behind our boat and just went behind us. We all just sat there looking at this whale. Massive big whale. That was a bit of a low and a high at the same time. We were really low that we weren’t going to get onto this island, and we were really amazed that we’d just seen this whale so close to the boat.

We’d seen whales, we’d seen dolphins. We’d seen heaps of dolphins, but only from a distance and the dolphins obviously, we had lots of dolphins.

Then we went from there across to the northern Tongan group, near Tuputapu and then we went down to Tonga. From Tonga, we then kind of really chilled out. Spent a long time in Tonga. We went straight from Tonga via Minerva reef down to New Zealand. That was us. That was our trip.

LINDSAY: And that’s when we met you.

WILL: Yeah. I think in total the trip was twenty months – twenty-one months in total of traveling.

LINDSAY: Any regrets doing that?

WILL: Not really regrets. I don’t know how, given the circumstances we would’ve done anything very differently. I think hindsight’s just a fabulous thing to have, but I don’t think so. We had two young children. Two years old and six years old when we left and I think the trip formed a huge part of their lives and just being on the boat formed a huge part of their lives. It certainly has had a formation on our family and the relationships we’ve had as a family.

LINDSAY: You’re a very close family.

WILL: Yeah, we are a very close family. That’s what it does to you I think. Certainly, a lot closer than you would’ve been otherwise. Without a doubt.

I don’t think I’ve got regrets. You can’t sit and think, “Well we should’ve done this,” and, “We could’ve done that.” It would’ve been lovely to, and I think that you realised pretty quickly, in terms of finances. We financed ourselves from savings pretty much. We didn’t have a regular income. I worked my socks off. We put as much as we could away in the bank and the rest of the money got spent on the boat. We had a fixed pot of money and we drew down on that as we went. In fact, we actually took that money with us in the boat. Again no one knew that but we were the bank of Finale basically and the money was hidden everywhere. It was hidden everywhere. It was in US dollars and it was in UK pounds. It was all over the bloody boat. There wasn’t a lot sitting in the bank because I figured we wouldn’t be able to have access to a bank as we were going on. We did have some money still in the bank but we did have a reasonable amount of cash on the boat.

When we got to New Zealand that cash was pretty low and we realised at that point we’d need to get back to work and do some work. It would’ve been nice to be able to cruise a little bit less frugally. We actually were quit, I guess, relatively affluent compared to some people that were out, but nowhere near as affluent as others that were out. When you get to all these lovely, exotic places I think you really want to be able to have sufficient funds to explore and to get out, and to hire a car or to go inland. To see a bit of it. As opposed to getting there and just go, “Right. Well we’ve got here and we’re just staying on the boat because we can’t really afford to go and do other things ashore.”

LINDSAY: What you’re saying is that eating into your savings was not as ideal as those that had some sort of investment return or portable income that they could keep the money coming in while they were cruising.

WILL: Most people we met had some means of income. Whether it be from rental properties – in fact a lot of the people we met were traveling on the proceeds of rental from either their own property or from properties that they had. Or from businesses that were still running. That does also bring its own problems I have to tell you now. They were pretty stressed out a lot of the time because to try and manage either properties or businesses satellite from a distance…When they’re woken up at one o’clock in the morning because their satellite phone goes because someone’s drains got blocked. It was kind of like, they couldn’t manage that very well.

LINDSAY: So, it’s good to have that income but having a bricks and mortar business that’s located in a different place is not as ideal as…

WILL: I guess it depends how it’s structured, how it’s run, how it’s managed, but we did bump into a lot of people who were at a place where one of the people on board – normally the Dad or whatever, wasn’t there because he’d had to fly back because the business…Was required for a business meeting, or was required for a board meeting or whatever. I guess you know, that’s okay. You can manage that but it made it a little bit more stressful.

I think the people that we met that were probably the happiest cruisers were the one that had the least equipment. The guys that we met that were travelling light, they really didn’t have complicated boats. They didn’t have complicated gear. They sailed everywhere. They probably saw more of the places than we did, but they lived a much simpler kind of existence. That to me, yes, it’s a lovely ideal to have, but at the same time I know that that doesn’t necessarily appeal to everyone. I like the idea of it, but I also like the idea of being able to afford a beer in a pub, and sit in the local yacht club and having a couple…

LINDSAY: So, having a bit of cash flow from maybe an online business or something like that would be ideal.

WILL: Yeah, I think it would be. I think when we went, and the time that we went – bear in mind this is back in 2003 – the way that communications has changed since then has been huge. I see people that we cruised with that then went cruising again. They’re posting their Facebook blogs from all these places that have got internet now, and wireless, that never had it before.

LINDSAY: Well the world has changed.

WILL: The world has changed massively in that period of time.

LINDSAY: Which creates opportunities.

WILL: Yeah. It does. It does.

Looking back – the way we did it was the way we could do it. Should we have kept our property? Well if we had we wouldn’t have been able to buy the boat. It’s as simple as that.

LINDSAY: When you arrived in New Zealand you started a business which I’m absolutely amazed at how successful so quickly you were with this idea that you’d got when you were out in the middle of the ocean, when your mind was clear of all the rubbish that living in a city has. You came up with this idea and it tested away and you put it into action when you got to New Zealand and the business is?

WILL: Well ocean photography was the business. I think, you know what do they say, “Necessities the mother of all invention.” The idea had come when we were in the Caribbean when a guy came out and taken a photograph of our yacht as we were coming into one of the yachts. Then he’d come up the next day and try to sell us the photographs of the boat. Then in discussion with other cruisers, it transpired he’d done the same for all of them as well, and other charterers that were there and they’d pretty much all bought the pictures of their boat. I thought, “Gee that’s a pretty smart idea. I like the idea of that.” That was the seed.

Then as you quite rightly say, as we came across the Pacific and we were getting closer to New Zealand, I don’t think at that point we’d actually decided to go to New Zealand. I think we might have done yeah, because our friends Doug and Rosie were coming to New Zealand we thought, “Oh what the hell.” Australia – New Zealand, let’s go to New Zealand. I’d never been to either so it was no skin off my nose. Then as we were coming across the Pacific I was trying to think how I could do that, because I’d studied photography years before and I just thought it was kind of a cool way to do things. Then when we went to Auckland, Cate was a nurse – qualified nurse, but to actually start earning money as a nurse in New Zealand you have to register, and you have to go through a process and that was taking…That normally takes six months, and we didn’t have six months of money to spend. I decided that you couldn’t do this job that the guy had done in the Caribbean because there wasn’t cruisers arriving at the time, and you didn’t have charters arriving all the time. It just didn’t work. When I got to Auckland and I saw that they had the two Americas Cup boats that were going out every day with thirty people on each boat, sailing around the harbour, and four Pride of Auckland boats going out with charterers on every day going out for an hours sail. I thought you could apply the same logic to those boats. You just have to find a method of delivering the images to the people on those boats. To that end, came up with the idea of ocean photography. Going out taking the day boat sailors pictures, action photographs on the harbour, coming back in time. Processing those onto a CD and then selling the CD to the guys on the boat. It took a lot of work, it took a lot of effort, it took a lot of gift of the gab. I was lucky I got a good location in a bar that was close by the boat and it worked. It worked as a business straight away. Straight off the bat it was successful immediately. The first day.

LINDSAY: And all those thousands and thousands of photos you have now are online at oceanphotography.co.nz. If anyone listening to this go there, they’re still available to purchase.

WILL: Yeah absolutely. The business developed and in the end, we sort of became a more artistic and actual photography type business and we ended up starting a gallery. That was another chapter of our lives. The gallery we had for eight years and that subsequently closed but the work is still available through the – I forged a very strong relationship with the National Maritime Museum in New Zealand.

LINDSAY: Downtown Auckland.

WILL: Downtown Auckland. How things turn out – if you think my step-father was a National Maritime Museum in Greenwich and that’s how I got into my sailing, and then I end up having my work at the National Maritime Museum of New Zealand. It takes up a reasonable portion of their lobby and they sell the work on behalf of me.

LINDSAY: But people can buy online?

WILL: Yeah. People can buy it online.

LINDSAY: Well Will that’s absolutely fantastic. Thank you very much for your time. I’m sure you’re a great inspiration for people that are thinking about going offshore. You’ve told us some of the systems you came up with for choosing a boat which is always a very difficult part of the process.

WILL: One of the hardest things actually.

LINDSAY: So many variables there.

WILL: Yeah.

LINDSAY: And your trip from UK which is the other side of the world from New Zealand, and all the time you were doing this, you were building this close bond with your family and living an adventurous life.

WILL: They still put up with me as well.

LINDSAY: Fantastic. Thanks again.

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