Jim Lott’s had a diverse career – teaching navigation and seamanship, helping establish boating regulations, advising national bodies and countless 10-day voyages with the Spirit of New Zealand. He’s also built a 15.2m yacht in which he and his wife Karin sailed for more than 150,000 miles offshore. Here’s his story.

Born in 1947, Lott started messing around in boats during holidays at the family bach on Waiheke Island. After learning to sail in various dinghies (including an elderly X Class) he graduated to crewing aboard the keeler Caprice, a Knud Reimers design built in Norway.

Captain Noel Baddeley, a family friend who headed up the Auckland Nautical School, inspired Lott to learn celestial navigation as a teenager. His first ocean voyage came in 1966, when he helped bring a yacht from Suva to Auckland. “It was on the nose the whole way and I didn’t enjoy it much, but you quickly forget the bad bits and I wanted more.”


Lott shooting the sun

Back home he began an architectural degree at Auckland University and, with his father John, started building a Des Townson 7.9m Serene. Sadly John unexpectedly died a year later and, with money tight, Lott dropped out of university to finish what became Andromeda.

Working for Fisher & Paykel during the day, Lott eventually got a part-time job teaching seamanship at night school classes, then a popular government initiative. He met Karin Houghton and, intending to voyage offshore, sold Andromeda to buy the 9.2m Woollacott keeler Vectis.

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Built in 1929, Vectis needed a two-year restoration to bring her up to offshore standards. In 1975, now married with a 15-month- old son, the Lotts headed to Noumea. “Due to the winds we ended up closer to Fiji than Noumea, so we went there instead.”

Karin and Jim with 15-month- old John departing Auckland in 1975

They spent 12 months teaching in Fiji before sailing Vectis home via Noumea. They sold her to buy a house, but a subsequent owner sailed her to the USA. Lott recently discovered that Vectis – now 92-years-old – has been restored and is still going strong.

Keen to generate the funds to build his next yacht, Lott started working at various boatyards during the day, while teaching navigation at the Manukau Technical Institute at nights. He also continued volunteering for the Spirit of Adventure and obtained his commercial maritime qualifications.

Inspired by the famous offshore writers – Eric Hiscock, WA Robinson, Erling Tambs and others – he began sketching his dream yacht. In 1978 he met John Goldwater, then running the naval architectural module incorporated within the architectural school at Auckland University. After seeing the sketches, Goldwater offered to design the yacht with the understanding Lott would do the scantlings, engineering and construction detailing.


Vectis in Fiji in 1976.

Needing somewhere to build the 15.2m yacht, Lott bought a house in Howick with a big back yard, where he built a 16 x 6m shed. “In those days you just approached the building inspector with an A4 drawing, told him how much you admired his boat and away you went.”

His friend, the late Sandy Sands, founder of Seacraft (now Miller Moyes Seacraft), supplied kauri from his forest at a very generous price and, over the next seven years and 14,000 hours, Lott built Victoria.

By now he was teaching and examining the Coastguard qualifications, plus the commercial qualifications for fishermen and ferry boat operators. He proved to be a popular and successful teacher – besides his solid knowledge base, he deliberately set out to inspire his pupils. “I wanted to instil an enthusiasm in them, because if you think back to the teachers at school, the ones you remember were the ones who inspired you.”

Turning Victoria’s hull in 1994

In addition to his teaching, Lott earned extra money helping other amateur boatbuilders with their rudder, skeg, keel and engine installations. He also managed to find time to crew in eight Auckland to Suva races, the odd delivery voyage, helped found the NZ Yacht Navigators’ Society and undertook regular, voluntary 10-day voyages on the Spirit of Adventure and, later, the Spirit of New Zealand.

Victoria was launched in 1988 and, after a quick shakedown cruise to Napier, Lott and a crew of six entered her in the inaugural Auckland to Fukuoka (Japan) race. After reaching Japan, the rest of the Lott family (Karin and their sons John and Andrew) joined Victoria for the trip home.

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Four years later he entered Victoria in another Auckland to Japan race. This time, instead of coming home, the Lotts sailed Victoria to Alaska, the Aleutians, Panama, the Caribbean, New York, Boston, England, Scotland, then on to the Mediterranean via the French canals. Given Victoria’s 1.95m draft the canals proved more than challenging. “We did a fair amount of mud-ploughing, but we eventually got through alright.”


Victoria in the Beagle Channel

From the Mediterranean they returned to New Zealand via the Atlantic, the Panama Canal and the Pacific. In all they covered 40,000nm over the two-year voyage.

Back home Lott joined Yachting New Zealand as a Safety Officer and Trainer. A strong believer in skipper responsibility and pragmatic solutions, he had considerable influence in the regulations. One example was when the Ministry for the Environment began talk of implementing regulations requiring all boats to discharge their sewage more than three nautical miles offshore. Lott and Richard Brabant were able to tone this draconian approach down to the regulations that are in force today, which aren’t hard to live with.

He was still volunteering regularly – skippering the three- masted barquentine Spirit of New Zealand, undertaking Category One inspections, and teaching and serving on the Board of Auckland Coastguard.

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the track of the voyage

In 2000 he was offered the position of Manager Recreational Boating for the then Maritime Safety Authority (MSA) – now Maritime New Zealand. At the time there were around 25 deaths per year from boating-related accidents and Lott was determined to help bring the numbers down.

“There were many opinions from those who wanted to see licencing brought in which wasn’t based on evidence. Opinion’s useful but not nearly as good as evidence. Evidence and facts are what you should base legislation on. Yet more and more, we’re seeing is opinion-based legislation – a blunt tool which often has unintended consequences.”

Through research, Lott and the MSA team were able to show that 95% of New Zealand’s boating-related deaths had two common denominators: “We found that 95% of the deaths wouldn’t have happened if two things had been in place – wearing a life jacket and having a waterproof means of communication.”

Through the MSA, Lott helped implement a PR campaign to promote the use of lifejackets and having a waterproof means of communication including the use of Ziplock bags for mobile phones. Contrary to popular opinion, he believes pyrotechnic flares are obsolete. They only work for about a minute, are expensive and are very rarely involved in a rescue these days. “When are we going to get rid of flares as means of communication? They were invented for the Napoleonic Wars. We have got so many other more effective things we can use now.”

The safety promotions saw recreational boating deaths drop by more than half without either skipper licencing or boat registration. Space prevents a full list of the pragmatic, practical and cost-effective influences Lott helped bring to MSA and other government departments over his 11 years with them. Suffice to say without his input today’s boaties might have to deal with all manner of draconian, impractical regulations.

“With any regulation, you have to aim for at least a 75% compliance rate otherwise you’re wasting your time.”

During these years Lott had been quietly readying Victoria for what had been his 30-year dream – to sail to South America. In 2009 he changed Victoria’s rig from a cutter to a ketch. “She didn’t want to heave-to with the single mast, the bow just blew off and she needed more sail aft.”


Jim and Karin Lott

It all came together in June 2011. Lott and Karin both retired one Friday and on the following Monday hauled Victoria out to attend to the last details. They set sail in August that year bound for South America with weather guru Bob McDavitt doing their routing. “I told Bob we wanted 15 knots aft of the beam and no gales, which – one gale aside – we got.”

Over the next seven years they sailed Victoria to South America, around the Horn, then on to the Caribbean, USA, Canada, England, Scotland, Scandinavia, France, Spain, the Mediterranean, back across the Atlantic and home via the Pacific. And between July 2011 and January 2015 he wrote a monthly column in this magazine about their travels.

They returned home every northern winter, leaving Victoria on the hard in whatever part of the world they’d reached. For six years they enjoyed an endless summer. “Even in Europe or the Mediterranean, it wasn’t expensive to haul Victoria out for the winter – it’s much more expensive here.”

While family members and friends joined the boat at various times, all the ocean passages were generally sailed two-up. “The good thing about a 15.2m yacht is it’s not too big for a couple to handle, yet it’s great at sea because it sails so easily in the 7- to 8-knot range without pushing.”

The couple settled into an off-watch-on-watch routine, simplified by Victoria being steered by an electric autopilot. “The novelty of steering offshore wears off after five minutes.” The yacht’s ketch rig proved a great success and the three forestays meant the main could be furled in winds aft of the beam, removing the risk of accidental gybes.


Victoria carried them safely for more than 150,000nm.

While visiting home during the summer of 2014, they bought another yacht, the 11.8m Bob Stewart-designed Camalot named Mokoia, built by the late Max Carter in the 1960s. “Some people call the Camalot a motor-sailer but she sails surprisingly well.”

In 2018 they returned Victoria to New Zealand, having clocked up another 60,000nm, taking their total to 150,000nm. With deep regret they sold her a month later to a delightful English couple with three children. Victoria is now based in the Beaulieu River in the Solent.

The couple haven’t swallowed the anchor yet: they still own Mokoia and Lott is still sailing as “the old man” on the Spirit of New Zealand. No surprise then it’s the 10-day youth development voyages on the Spirit of Adventure/New Zealand that’s proved so pleasing.

“Seeing 16 and 17-year-old kids – from all walks of life – being forced to give up their cellphones and have to talk to each other, learn to accept each other and then work together – it’s incredibly rewarding.”

In a life messing about in boats, Jim Lott’s had many roles – boatbuilder, volunteer, sailor, navigator, skipper, teacher, trainer, educator and governance. Through it all is one common denominator – he’s passed on his skills and wisdom wherever he’s been, leaving boaties better off.

He’s a thoroughly good bloke. BNZ