Kevin Johnson and his new partner Sarah run the Christchurch-based electrical appliance testing business Mega Test. As part of the business, Kevin tests and certifies shore leads and electrical systems for boaties, issuing them with a Test Tag, which is required by many marinas before vessels can connect to shore power.  Story by John Eichelsheim.

A year or so ago the couple bought a Bayliner 2556 through Vining Marine in Picton. Replacing the boat’s dated and tired interior became a project they thoroughly enjoyed and their association with Vining led Kevin and Sarah to take on a role brokering boats for the company in Christchurch part time, working out of Lyttelton’s Te Ana Marina.

In May this year, while also wearing Vining Marine T-shirts, they opened their first Test Tag electrical testing pop-up at the marina. This event saw several shore leads issued with Test Tags, but also drew considerable interest from marina users, who gathered around to chat and socialise.

“It was good fun,” they both said, which got them thinking. “What if we also offer coffee?” Maybe the pop-ups can grow into something quite social and communal? “And what if we tie that in with sponsorship? A good cause. What about Coastguard?”

After talking with local Lyttelton-based Coastguard, Vanessa and team were keen, so Kevin and Sarah were soon offering coffees at their Test Tag/Vining Marine pop-up events, donating the proceeds to Coastguard.

The coffees were a great success and one thing quickly led to another. Kevin spotted a vintage trailer boat for sale, part of a deceased estate, and hit upon the idea of turning it into a mobile office and billboard for their businesses. He showed Sarah a picture of the boat, an early 1960s Carl Augustin design, pitching his idea of an office boat. “Dammit!” she said, “I was hoping you wouldn’t see that!” But with their recent experience refurbishing the Bayliner, they were keen on another project, so they bought the boat and set about planning the work.


But before they could really begin, tragedy struck. In July, one of Sarah’s 30-year-old twin sons took his own life.

“It was and still is incredibly difficult,” recalls Sarah, “It totally shook up our world.”

But rather than dwell on their loss, Sarah decided to use the example of her son’s death to advocate for better support for people suffering mental health problems in New Zealand.

“There is so much more we can do to save lives,” says Sarah.

Renovating the old boat became a welcome distraction and motivation for the couple to move on.

“Working on the boat and coming up with all these ideas put smiles back on our faces,” said Sarah.

Kevin and Sarah had decided to convert the old boat into a mobile office housed permanently on a trailer – somewhere boat ‘Captains’ could enjoy coffee and a yarn (proceeds to Coastguard), which explains the new name: Captain’s Inn.


With the old cabin removed, the boat was relocated to Kevin’s lock-up for fitout. The boat had already been stripped of paint in preparation for an earlier refit that was never completed, and Kevin subsequently removed a small amount of rot before the main work of interior fit out and painting began.

At their monthly pop ups, Kevin and Sarah, had had discussions with Vanessa at Coastguard, who expressed an interest in using the mobile facility for Coastguard’s own fundraising promotions. She was the one who suggested fitting a BBQ for sausage sizzles, an idea Kevin and Sarah enthusiastically adopted. Vining Marine could also see potential in borrowing Captain’s Inn for their own purposes. It seemed the couple was onto a winner.

Kevin’s lock-up used to be his father Doug’s, now deceased, and contained a lot of his father’s old stuff. Doug, a coachbuilder, once had a business building caravans, so for Kevin, refurbishing Captain’s Inn brought back many happy memories of working beside his father. Many of Captain’s Inn’s fittings and features are items Kevin’s dad had collected over the years.

Because Captain’s Inn was never going to see the water again, there was no need for an engine, which Kevin sold. Neither was marine plywood required for the new cabin – ordinary plywood would do. And paint rather than a layer of fibreglass would suffice for the hull.

The boat was painted all over with top-quality exterior paint, which should provide years of protection. The striking signwriting is by the couple’s good friend and the interior design was a collaboration between Kevin and Sarah. The surfboard bar leaner and TV were Kevin’s own ideas, designed and built from scratch, which is why the names ‘Johnson Surfboards’ and ‘Johnson Televisions’ brings so many laughs. Then came the chiller, with an old Johnson outboard motor cowl as its lid. How many more things can Kevin get his name Johnson onto?

“I love building stuff and finishing things off,” says Kevin, whose skills came in very handy with this project, “but it was quite a learning curve nonetheless, with lots of watching videos on YouTube!”

‘Launch’ day brought smiles to the faces of everyone who attended, but most especially to Sarah and Kevin. The project had served as a way forward during a dark period in the family’s life. Captain’s Inn is a success on many levels – the pair have done a fine job with restoring and repurposing a derelict old vessel, navigating a difficult personal journey along the way, and creating a charming, quirky and extremely versatile mobile, office, billboard and promotional vehicle for their own use and the enjoyment of others. Captain’s Inn is one of a kind.


When not fundraising for Coastguard, Captain’s Inn can be found once a month parked beside the water at Te Ana Marina, where Kevin and Sarah welcome a stream of ‘Captains’ for coffee. While they’re there, they can also have their shore leads tested or discuss their brokerage needs.