“You don’t do this kind of thing to be a millionaire. We wanted to do it because it seemed like a great idea, and we chose the people we did it with because we were great friends. It’s about relationships.”

WORDS NICKY ADAMS PHOTOS CREW

“YOU DON’T DO THIS KIND OF THING TO BE A MILLIONAIRE. WE WANTED TO DO IT BECAUSE IT SEEMED LIKE A GREAT IDEA, AND WE CHOSE THE PEOPLE WE DID IT WITH BECAUSE WE WERE GREAT FRIENDS. IT’S ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS.”

The idea to buy a run-down yacht from the tiny island of Grenada in the Caribbean, and then spend four months sailing it across treacherous oceans to reach New Zealand may to most seem totally crazy, yet to Matt, Annie, Tina and Don, there was definite method to this madness.

TAKING THE PLUNGE
Matt and Annie had known each other for years, both travelling and working together crewing on super yachts. Ultimately they outgrew this nomadic lifestyle, and settled in Okere Falls, New Zealand. A few years down the track, Matt began looking more and more at the eye-watering beauty around him, and a germ of an idea started to ferment. “I saw an opening; there were not enough ways to explore lakes in New Zealand. A few launches were operating, but nothing to sail – nothing graceful. So I put together a plan and decided to go for it.” Matt and Annie approached good friends Tina and Don, who were instantly on board with the idea. The team wanted to keep the initial outlay, and therefore the risk, down to a minimum; the type of yacht that they were after – while really expensive in Australasia – was ten a penny in the Caribbean. “The yacht brokers’ yards are full of blue water boats – people will cruise the islands for a season, and then have them up on blocks gathering dust.”

Matt started scouring the internet, and it wasn’t long before the perfect yacht appeared. “A small-time yacht broker had pulled a boat out from the back of his yard where it had been sitting for nine years. I knew as soon as I saw it listed – it was the right size, the right layout. We needed the biggest boat we could that would host a family comfortably, but also a group of 30 people. I called the guy and he said ‘If you want it, then you have to be here in 48 hours, as the phone is ringing off the hook.’ I left for Grenada that night. 37 hours later I was there.”

SHIP-SHAPE
The boat was perfect – rundown, battered, and in need of a complete overhaul, but with beautiful bones and ideal for the kind of charter business the four owners had in mind. Matt and Annie had previously always sailed as a team. This time, with their son about to start school, Matt would have to go it alone. For him that was the worst part “I knew it would be a lot harder without Annie. When you’re at sea for a long time it’s the relationships that matter – for me as a skipper it’s the people that hold it together.” Luckily Tina, a “strong, capable woman always up for adventure” was keen to be a part of it, and once Tim, Bernd and Matt’s father Keith had been recruited, within three weeks the team were off to the Caribbean. Once they had arrived in Grenada, their first step was to make the yacht seaworthy – both engines had to be replaced and new steel rigging put in; once done the journey began.

VOYAGE OF DISCOVERY
The route was to take them 1000 nautical miles through the Caribbean Sea to the Panama Canal and then across the Pacific. Around the French Polynesian islands and home. Too easy! The aim was not to dilly-dally but to “stay safe, to actually get to New Zealand and to still be friends when we did.” The first part of the journey was the “shake-down sail across the Caribbean; there were big dumps of rain and funky wind.” Over the course of the week the challenges were thrown at them; the wind was howling, the rain lashing – and the rotten main sail repeatedly ripping and being mended. Arriving in Panama, they picked up a new sail, but here, Keith – who had been suffering ill health – was diagnosed with diesel poisoning, and had to make the tough decision to leave the crew.

With 12 days to wait in Panama before being allowed through the Canal, the team sailed up the Chagres River, where they found themselves in the heart of the jungle, thick with mangroves and howling monkeys. This scenery was a sharp contrast to what was to come – for once through the Canal there was nothing but the Pacific Ocean for 16 days – just water, sharks and the occasional wave-surfing whale. The Galapagos Islands, with their spectacular natural beauty, beaches and wildlife were a welcome sight. Much to her disappointment, Tina had to cut her trip short and head home. However, Matt was unfazed and continued with his crew of two – on to the Marquesas Islands. This was “the most amazing landfall I’ve ever come across in a yacht; starting out as a tiny dot, over the course of the day it kept growing and developing in front of us. Beautiful.” The crew journeyed on, navigating the tricky Tuamotu Archipelago, where low-lying atolls, some of them up to 40 miles long, sit scattered like pearls amid the deep-blue ocean. In Tahiti Bernd was replaced by a friend, Anthea, and the final crew set off for the home stretch.

Despite the long journey Matt continued to be awestruck by the scenery, and highlights such as the Minerva Reefs (south of Tonga) are still dazzling memories. They consist of two submerged atolls, and at high tide only tall boulders are visible; at low tide they become a spectacular reef with a constant flow of water and sharks weaving through it. The final stretch to New Zealand was momentous, with massive waves battering the yacht for three days. Finally, after 16 weeks and 9,500 nautical miles the crew sailed into Mount Maunganui harbour. As they did they christened the yacht Tiua or to move with the wind.

Seven years later Tiua shows little evidence of her humble beginnings. She is a spectacular sight; a luxurious and elegant lady that navigates Lake Rotoiti, catering for everything from private charters for a family to large wedding celebrations. Guests experience the lake aboard a vessel with heart, with character and with history.

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