Well surprisingly – or not – our first sail of the year, meaning the spring/summer season, is yet to happen. I have managed to get myself involved with local government politics and, with the weather only recently turning decent, I have found it difficult to get away to our yacht.

I will get there very soon, though as I am desperate – SV Sauvage and sailing is my solace, my peace from life’s storms, and I’m feeling withdrawal symptoms!

I may have mentioned the first time Kirsten and I went out on the water on Sauvage was with the previous owner and the boat broker. It was a gorgeous day, sunny with little wind, and the sail was perfect. We fell in love with Sauvage. Excited for our sailing future, on our journey home we phoned the Penny Whiting Sailing School to ask for a lesson, and to our delight, Penny invited us along on a private family sailing lesson with her. We were over the moon.

Full of anticipation, Kirsten, our three youngest children, and I travelled from Cambridge to Westhaven Marina in Auckland. What would the day hold for us? The kids were at the age of “yeah, whatever. Let’s just be cool about it”, so I think Kirsten and I were more excited than they were.

Time spent enjoying the fresh air is unbeatable.

Wow! Isn’t Westhaven Marina a huge place! Not so big, though that we couldn’t find Penny and her 47-foot Whiting yacht, designed and built by her father and brother. Alongside hers sat her sister’s almost identical yacht, also designed and built by her father and brother.

We were quickly in awe of Penny’s deep spiritual connection to the water, and her desire to keep the yachting spirit alive in her family – her grandson was on board as well to help us learn to sail.


First things first. Before heading out, Penny spent time teaching us about knots. Three of them, in fact.

The bowline; if you’ve been taught it, you may well be familiar with the ditty: “The rabbit comes out of the hole, goes around back of the tree, and then jumps back into the hole.” That was us as we practised it time-and-time again.

Then came the reef knot and the figure-eight knot.

Then it was time to depart. We were instructed in the art of letting the mooring lines loose, and then we were backing out from the berth. With our Sauvage we started out moving forwards into our berth, but as mentioned previously, my wife is short, so we found backing into the berth allowed easier access on and off the boat.

We learned about the Give Way rule in the marina. Give way to anyone coming up on your lane; hold if necessary. But we had little waiting time and before long we were out on the waters of the Waitematā Harbour.

Family time away on the boat is also time away from the demands of everyday life.

It wasn’t until we were out on the water that we realised how windy it really was (how young we were in yachting experiences back then!). We saw quite a few yachts hurtling back to the marina. Penny said, “it is advised not to be out in winds any stronger than these” but at that point in our sailing journey, it went over our heads.

We sailed the Waitematā Harbour, with Penny teaching our family to tack and jibe. Yes, to begin with we were completely overwhelmed, but after a while we accepted that we were in very competent hands and relaxed into the lesson. We all learned to steer using a far-off feature in the distance as a reference point. A bit wobbly at first (aha, who isn’t?), we soon worked through the notion of steering to the far point on the horizon. We became familiar with using the lines and sheets to change the direction of the sails – and we had a wonderful time!


We haven’t sailed so close to Auckland Harbour since, but at the time I remember thinking how big some of the landmarks seemed from the sea and wondering if anyone had ever got themselves into strife sailing in amongst the ferries, container ships and other boats.

Then it was time to turn back. With the wind coming from land onto our port side, the yacht leaned over onto its starboard side. This was a heart-stopping, breath-gulping moment for all of us – we had never been on an angle before, and the angle we found ourselves on was steep! So steep, the sea water was midway up the hull windows!

Life is good as part of New Zealand’s boating community.

My wife, sitting up high on the port side, clung onto her seat for dear life. My daughter and I, who were at the wheel, simply balanced ourselves better on our legs. My two sons were sitting on the bench seat on the starboard side, with their backs to the water. They were both so calm that my youngest son simply reached his arm behind him and trickled the sea water through his hands as we sailed.

I have never been prouder of us in all my life (well, okay, that’s maybe a slight exaggeration…). Here we were at a significant angle, and yet none of us freaked out. Well, my wife did a little – her knuckles were white and after about five minutes she suggested we change the angle – but it was amazing! What an intro to sailing at an angle (I now know it’s called heeling).

We’re still working on our sailing knowledge and skills to be able to sail such a heel angle by ourselves.

Then back to the marina. On the way we learned to raise and lower the sails by turning up into the wind. We’ve stuck to this advice ever since. It makes handling the mainsail so much easier. My wife was given the advice: “The kids can help Dad with the sails, your job is to sail us into the wind.” And we’ve stuck with this procedure ever since.

Then, motoring into the marina and into the berth, where we learned to tie up the yacht correctly. Wow, what a day! What an experience! We loved it, and it made us want to get aboard our own boat even more.

Sometimes you find places you return to time and again.

A few weeks later we had the opportunity to head out on Sauvage for the first time. All the planning and scenarios we went through before we even started! Our anticipation was high, as were our anxiety levels. But the day was beautiful, and we made it out of our marina and into open water with no issues at all. Then back again, bow in front all the way.

We were so pleased with ourselves. Little did we know how much more we would (and needed to!) learn about sailing a yacht on the big, wide ocean!

By all accounts spring should have some enjoyable sailing weather. Heck, after the last five months, anything will be good sailing weather! My offer of local body service aside, I am desperately looking forward to getting out again in Sauvage.

I fear I might have a bit of a job ahead of me first – it was a wet winter and I know our dehumidifier broke down about two months ago. Sauvage has been humid and damp over the past few months, so there will be the normal cleaning, but also, I fear, a layer of mould over everything.

Sailing involves the whole family – we’re all learning the ropes together.

I will let you know the outcome of our winter hiatus in next month’s Boating NZ, after we finish the clean-up, hopefully over the next weeks, and get out for the first sail of the season. I have already got my planning cap on for our first journey of the new season out on the Hauraki Gulf. BNZ