Where do you start a column about your first year owning and experiencing a sailing yacht? Do you start with your failed attempts to start your yacht’s engine for the first time or with your amazing sailing trips?

Like other New Zealanders, unsure of the Covid situation in the early 2020s, we embarked on our journey of sailing yacht ownership. Our first 12 months have been beyond expectations. Hairraising and exhilarating all at the same time, we’ve learned a lot – we had to! Some learning curves were steep, but looking back, sailing has changed our lives for good.

As sailing yacht owners who are young in our nautical journey, and with a hugely formative first year of extensive learning under our belts, my wife Kirsten and I suggested to Boating NZ we write a column about our yacht owning experiences – early learnings, successes, minor mistakes and outright failures. We hope this column provides some encouragement to others new to boating and a little light entertainment for more mature yachties!

To set the stage, early in 2020 we started to dwell on the freedoms a sailing yacht would bring. As cafe owners, we were working hard, six days a week, starting at 6:30am every day, but realised that “you only have one life to live, so make the most of it – you never know when it will all change”. Then Covid hit New Zealand and in mid-2020, with the first Covid Level 4 lockdown, we found ourselves stuck at home, without our usual freedoms and desperate to find some space.

And so our dreaming began. We avidly read yachting magazines, followed numerous YouTube SV channels and browsed online for yachts for sale in New Zealand. We envisaged a yacht large enough for a family of six to live on comfortably for extended journeys.

Kirsten and Chris


Once we came out of the 2020 lockdown, we travelled up and down the North Island looking at many, many sailing vessels in different configurations: catamarans and monohulls, bigger and smaller. OK, just putting it out there: we’re not millionaires, so the range of boats we were looking at wasn’t huge. We saw some amazing vessels, many of them very much loved by their previous owners and each yacht with its own rich and vibrant history. But you get what you pay for, and so inevitably our budget increased.

You also learn things along the way.

Electronics and navigation equipment are wise to have, but if they’re even 10 years old they’re out of date. Choosing a yacht for its electronics is not the best way to decide. Heads block easily, so two marine toilets are useful – who wants to be stuck with no working head? And when your wife says, “I don’t like that cabin,” or “the kitchen is not what I want,” she’s serious – best to keep on searching for another yacht. In the end, my wife was given the task of finding the yacht for us.

Sauvage snug in her Gulf Harbour marina berth.

Finally, we found what we wanted – a 1989 Jeanneau Sunkiss 47, a 47-foot (14.33m), four-cabin monohull yacht. It had nice lines, adequate, well laid out interior spaces and it was uncluttered. The electronics were obsolete, but we didn’t consider that to be an issue as the engine seemed to be in good nick and she floated – what more could we want? We bought her: SV Sauvage was ours.

We had the pleasure of going out on the water for the first time during a test run with the previous owner at the helm. A nice sunny day, it was like our dream had come true. In all honesty it was our very first time out in a sailing yacht, but by the time we’d docked we were in love.

The interior is spacious and well laid out – as is the cockpit, with good shelter a welcome bonus.

We enjoyed it so much that on our trip home we booked a sailing lesson with that amazing yachtie extraordinaire Penny Whiting. Penny ran the Whiting Yachting Academy for many years, and although she has retired herself, when we talked to her about our goals, how interested our tweens (and their parents!) were, she proposed to take us out herself. She taught us how to sail! I cannot emphasise too strongly how wonderful a teacher she is and how much knowledge she transferred to us.

Then, two weeks later, the sale and purchase of our yacht Sauvage was complete and we took her out by ourselves for the first time. WOW! While our first seabased experience with Penny was great, this time we were on our own… It was immediately apparent that we still had (and have) lots and lots to learn! However, we did not sink the boat and no-one panicked too much. BNZ