Sailing the great expanse of water that surrounds New Zealand offers a sense of liberation and independence that is hard to dismiss. There’s a pull in its promise of ‘beyondness’ and adventure that is undeniable.

To entertain the very idea of sailing the wide, wide ocean as a family, we first had to learn to sail beyond Gulf Harbour. But even before that we had to get on the water.

Most of you will agree that 2021 was a very long year. Like normal it was 365 days, but in those 365 days Covid lockdowns became a lived reality. Coming from Cambridge, we did not bear the full brunt of the lockdowns as Aucklanders did (I offer my humble thanks for your amazing efforts), but we still found ourselves impacted by them. As a business owner and as it is also for sailors, unpredictability can stuff up the best laid plans.

I’d had Sauvage on the hard through winter for maintenance and paint work but found myself in the stressful situation of not being able to return to Auckland to get her back on the water. With increasing costs in mind, I was thankful the good folk at the marina office offered us a towing solution – two small craft towing Sauvage to its berth.

I temporarily installed the new Mobile Data Router-WiFi device atop the solar arch.

By December 2021, the long and the short of it was that my wife Kirsten and I desperately wanted a break and were ready to go – to go anywhere, just not here!

Truth be told, my feet had been itching to get back out on the water since the previous autumn. Every extension to the lockdowns just increased my desire to explore and feel some freedom. So, I planned for our first outing after lockdowns were lifted – a nice long sail down the east coast of the Coromandel Peninsula, which first meant a whole heap of improvements to Sauvage. I spent my time planning and sourcing new or replacement kit for her: a watermaker, a solar arch, solar panels, lithium batteries, an electric toilet (I had to use the batteries on something!), and a tri-colour anchor light.


Our plan was to head up to Gulf Harbour the first week of December to install the new gear. But to my consternation, the lockdown dates were extended through until December 15th. Covid lockdowns kept thwarting my best-laid plans!

Installation of the solar arch.

The time I’d set aside to install the kits before sailing, hoping to get everything working myself without too much help, all but disappeared. That’s the reason for wanting to get off the hard earlier – you can only spend your money once…

In the end, shifting dates got too much for me and I asked the team who fabricated the Solar Arch to install it. They were able to visit Gulf Harbour and measure up Sauvage for the arch – I had already provided my vision and several mind-mapped boards which they used as input for what became a beautiful, sleek stainless arch, all securely attached to Sauvage.

With hindsight, I am so pleased we did this. It makes a world of difference when you’re away on the boat for a period of time.

As you can imagine, I was emotionally more than ready to be out on the water with its promise of space and freedom. We arrived at the marina on December 17th to find the rest of our kit waiting for me. Although I had an estimated a week of work to install the new gear, my feet got too itchy and I wanted to be somewhere ‘out there, where it’s not here’ on Christmas Day, so I said to Kirsten, “Let’s just go. I can install everything once we’re gone”.

Head with backwash

That was my first mistake! In my heart of hearts, I knew trouble would find me, but I was on a mission and so just before casting off, I unbolted the forward head (toilet) and took it to the dumpster. Let me tell you, removing a 30-year-old toilet with 30 years’ worth of ooze is a nasty job.

In the process, I discovered the reason for the backwash that had pushed me to swap the head out in the first place – the combination of switches, gears and tanks was mis-configured and could have been easily fixed… “Oh well,” I thought, “the new toilet can be our COVID treat!”


We had a working aft head (one of the reasons we bought Sauvage was because it had two heads), so while I did the forward job, all five of us would share the aft toilet.

Starting with an uncooperative head and moving on to a very uncooperative through-hull valve.

On arriving at Great Barrier, I busied myself in the forward bathroom, preparing and planning the installation of the head. Oops! The old head had a different sized waste pipe – normally easily addressed, but not on Great Barrier Island a few days before Christmas Day. I didn’t panic, though, and thought to myself: “we have the aft head, we are all good and when we get to Whitianga next week, I will get the parts and install it then”.

The sea gods surely have a sense of humour because a day later the very cool – and in the 1980s very futuristic – vacuumoperated aft head stopped vacuuming! Not to be beaten (by the situation or my wife), I unscrewed the wall panels to get to the manually operated vacuum where, sadly, I found the issue – a split pipe oozing fresh deposits.

As an aside, one of the things I have really grown to enjoy on the boat is the ‘number 8 wire’ mentality – if you are somewhere not close to anywhere, you have to make do! The best I could manage, after attempting but failing (in the most disgusting ways!) to patch, bypass or replace it with a bodged pipe, was to admit I could not fix it.

It went everywhere! A manual bilge pump was great to pump out the nooks and crannies.

Even worse, I discovered that the valve in the through-hull black water outlet did not actually close properly. Over the years some internal components had rotted away! I had to bodge around this problem more effectively to stop a gush of seawater coming in, turning it into a regular drip, which requiring a daily run of the bilge pump for all six weeks of the sail. However, in this case good management was as good as a solution!

Well, having almost stopped the new leak and eliminated any further encounters with fresh human waste (by stopping people depositing any), we were left with no working heads. Hello bucket!

Yep, for the next week we used a bucket. From that moment on, I suspect we went to the toilet about a third as often as we had previously! Nothing like having to manhandle your poop to make you want to make less… We got to Whitianga. A five-minute trip to shore and a visit with the very helpful team at Longshore Marine and I had the metre of pipe required so we could complete the installation of the forward head. One hour later… aaahh, the pleasure of sitting on a freshly installed head and contemplating life! I commissioned it immediately.

The good news – after you have replaced a head you really get to understand how it works.

Now that I have made a long story long, a onesentence gem for everyone: complete improvements and installations on shore. It’s painful not having access to the parts you need for a simple job!

While on Great Barrier I did install the new lithium batteries and the watermaker (which came as a kitset with every part required in the box). Thankfully, this was a simple job.

Finally, and very importantly when starting a six-week boating trip with three kids, for everyone’s sanity I had invested in a decent mobile router/WiFi device and a strong antenna. For a family on a boat, good, reliable internet is fundamental to a successful extended trip.

The floorboards had to come up to clean up the mess.

As I come from a telecommunication background I used a bit of back-knowledge and got a Teltonika RUT950 Dual SIM LTE Router and a QuSpot LTE, WiFi & GPS Antenna, which are specifically designed to work together. A single sealed unit, I installed it on the Solar Arch on the transom, up high to get the best mobile signal, and well placed to beam the WiFi throughout the boat. We got a Skinny data SIM to install in the unit and went online to purchase the unlimited data pack. This meant the kids could access the internet to surf the web and message their friends in the evenings and during rest times – happy kids, happy wife, happy life!

There’s more information about the WiFi installation on our Facebook page in case anyone wants to repeat my successful solution. BNZ