“No rest for the aged,” the venerable 100-year-old sailing ketch Fox II must be thinking. If boats ponder, which I reckon they most certainly do. “But still,” it must be adding, “it ain’t half bad,” writes Alex Stone.

I’d agree with her there. As would the skipper of Fox II, Roy Borrelli. A New Yorker of Italian heritage, he left the smoke and trauma of the Twin Towers attack, for somewhere, “much quieter, much more peaceful. I’d even settle for boring in fact.”

He achieved the first two in Akaroa, on the Banks Peninsula. But boring – never. For he and Fox II are about the busiest boat-and-bloke combination in the bay, constantly taking visitors out on tours to experience Akaroa’s splendid bay, its two marine reserves, and to see the friendly Hector’s dolphins. This last element guaranteed.

Roy grew up sailing Lasers on Long Island Sound, but in the USA had found himself diverted into land-based business as a research analyst for telecom companies. Now he runs Fox II Sailing Tours for seven months of the year, and travels internationally and takes classes (adult learning – whatever takes his fancy) for the rest of the time.

His clientele aboard Fox II? “First up – specials for locals.” Before the Covid-times, 70% of his visitor were international tourists. Now it’s mainly Kiwis re-discovering our own country, though overseas customers are picking up again.

“People who give a little more thought about the way we want to do things. Eco-conscious.


“The big tour boats use as much fuel in a day as Fox II uses in a month.”

He’s happy in Akaroa, which by the way is five degrees warmer than Christchurch year round. “We missed the over-development thing,” says Roy, “– apart from our brief brush with too many cruise ships in the harbour.” (Ships over 40m LOA are now excluded from Akaroa Harbour, on the locals’ say-so.)

“Akaroa has maintained a lot of its charm.” What was a busy wee fishing port in the 1970s, with 15 commercial boats before the regulation of the industry, now has only three locally-operating. The two local marine reserves have helped immensely to maintain biodiversity in the bay. John Wright and his boat Murph sell fresh fish from the dock – just like in the old days.

Roy is a great cook and extra-ordinarily generous. We know. The grilled local salmon and salads, and the steady-hot-and-strong showers he offered us while we were anchored as cruising yachties in the bay, well they were most welcome.

Fox II (first name Iris Eileen), now a gaffed-rigged ketch, was designed by Charles Gouk, who supervised the build by the owner, George Elley in Auckland in 1922. He used ‘only the best kauri’ with pōhutukawa knees and all copper fastenings. Cabin linings were rewarewa. She was originally a cutter with a nine-foot bowsprit and a steel centreboard, and employed as a sailing Hauraki Gulf cargo boat.

When Iris Eileen was sold to the Fox Fishing Company, they installed a steam engine, removed the mast, and built a wheelhouse. And renamed her Fox II. Because none of the locals could pronounce the name of the fishing company boss, one Arthur Policandriotis, he gained the nickname ‘Arthur the Fox.’ Perhaps for other reasons too. Anyway, his fishing boats all took the name Fox.

Fox II’s unique schtick was to use the engine to also steam the crayfish on the way back to Auckland from Port Charles, signalling the hot-cooked cargo by blowing black smoke rings from the funnel.
A boat this old’s gotta have had many adventures. One was sinking after being rammed in the Rangitoto Channel in the mid-1920s.


A Kelvin K3 diesel soon replaced the steam engine, and Fox II kept working as a fishing boat until the 1970s when she was sold to Jack Lidgard, then on to Dave Skyrme. Ian Forsythe bought her then, and stepped the masts for the ketch rig, added a new wheelhouse and cabin, refastened the hull, and got her sailing again.

For a while she was the yacht for Sir Peter Blake and his family, based in Auckland.

In 1995 Fox II was bought by Grant and Rachel Robinson of Coastline Adventure Ltd, who re-fitted her, and had her surveyed to NZ Maritime Safety Authority standards, certified to carry 30 passengers.  Since then, Fox II has carried thousands of people around the waters of Banks Peninsula, operating for a while out of Lyttleton. With her low centre of gravity and modest gaff rig Fox II is especially capable in strong winds.

Some local words about Fox II. Michael de Hamel, editor of The Akaroa Mail, had a lyrical piece about sailing her:

“There’s something very relaxing about being out on the Harbour on an old boat. There’s a quiet slip-splashing, a whisper in the rigging, varnished wood and a whiff of the sea on the wind.

“Seemingly effortlessly, and in no rush, the world drifts away as the boat gathers way. Sails up, and there’s a smoothing of motion as the passing air counters the rhythm of lift from the waves.

“Newer boats are faster, make more splash, and more razzamatazz. Engines roar and the boat surges forward. Even at idle there’s a burbling bubble from the engine exhausts, and the smell of burnt fuel spikes the air. A sailboat surges as the wind catches it, heeling over, and spray splashes the deck.”


Michael also observes, “The hull was designed to be slow, in the days when boats were not expected to be fast. It is still fairly slow. The sailing rig has changed a bit over the years, but the principle remains. Putter around, sail when it suits. The engine is so quiet that you may need to be in the wheelhouse looking at the gauges to check it is running.”

A final question from Lesley and I for Roy and Fox II: “What do you want to do when you’re retired?”

Roy answers for them both. “We’re doing it right now.”