Sailing over 17,000 miles in 21 months with a non-sailing wife (who also preferred not to swim!!) didn’t deter John Colebourne from chasing a dream and wanting to tick a few things off the bucket list.
Luckily, wife Shelly was up for the adventure and after 9 months of meticulous planning they picked up their new Hanse 445 “Falshator” in Croatia and the journey of a lifetime began…
They crossed two major oceans, explored beautiful places like the Greek islands, Caribbean, Galapagos islands and Fiji to name a few …and won a yacht race! (first place in the Malolo Classic Regatta in Fiji)
They arrived back in New Zealand in November 2015 with plenty of stories to tell us…
So John why did you decide to sail around the world?
We are based round the Auckland area and I’d done coastal stuff for nearly 30 years but never done any blue water sailing as such. I was in business for over 28 years and never had a chance to get to Europe so we were crossing a lot of things off the bucket list really. I got to a certain age and said if we don’t do it now we are never going to do it. We wanted a new boat and thought if we picked it up in Europe, then we could do Europe, the Caribbean and blue water sailing. It was just at the right stage of life for us to be doing it really.
What made you choose Hanse and the 445 for size?
The fundamental thing I went for in the Hanse was the hull design.
It’s a great design, a very fast slippery hull and the construction of the boat – The stringers, bulkheads and the top deck are all hand laid in and the way the keel is fixed to the hull through large Galvanised Steel plates and large Stainless Keel bolts, surrounded by a strong grid system makes for a very stiff boat. I wanted something that would be resilient for blue water sailing. So I chose it for the construction basically…and the rigging.
I was actually quite keen on the 415 when we were in New Zealand, primarily because it fitted into a 12 metre berth. We were targeting that boat and then we decided to go to the Sydney Boat Show. We flew over and I was looking at the 415 and my wife, Shelly (who incidentally hadn’t done any sailing at all before) wandered next door onto the 445 and she said “you’d better come and look at this.” I started looking at it and for the extra 3 feet or so it had so much more stowage. It offered so much more. So we started looking at that and then she started wandering off and I said “hang on”. Next door was the 50 footer and I said “You’re banned from going on there!”
Also, Shelly had only done a bit of sailing on a family holiday charter boat. I introduced her to the 42 foot Beneteau here in NZ. After 3 trips away I said “What do you think?” She said “Ok it’s fine but we are not getting anything smaller than that!” So I probably made a mistake there as well. I probably should have started her off on a 20 footer!
At the end of the day the 445 worked out fantastic – the extra waterline on the water makes it just a little bit faster boat for covering the miles over the sea. Fundamentally the extra stowage on that boat and what you can fit into that boat and the walk around bed was great for live aboard.
Were there any special adaptions that you made to the yacht to cope with the long passages?
There was a lot of planning involved. I spent a lot of time working out what your average amp hours, power usage would be in a 24 hour period. We had the fridge freezer that was supplied on board the boat but we also had a separate 50 litre fridge freezer on board which I wired into one of the cigarette lighter sockets I had put throughout the boat. This gave us extra storage space for all our vacuum packed meals that we froze down for the longer legs. So all these things you had to take into account with the electrical issues.
We also had a water maker on board which made 50 litres per hour and drew 38 amps. Along with all the other things like Auto Pilot, Inverter, Nav Gear, Lights etc, it all takes power and you have to gear up the boat to suit. So I doubled up the batteries, I had 660 amp hours …and then we had to have some way of making power. I looked at wind generators and generators but went for the solar because with wind generators when you are running with the trade winds you don’t get a lot of productive wind. Also solar panels don’t make any noise. like Generators and Wind Generators. I set up two 240 Watt Panels along with a good MPPT charge controller to suit. This gave us plenty of amps coming back in and the engine with its Alternator as back up. It was just a case of working out the amount of amp usage and the number of amps we could produce in a day.
You made decisions in New Zealand but picked up the yacht in Croatia? How did that go?
Originally I was dealing with a crowd up in Malta. I met Dominic from Windcraft here in New Zealand and I found Windcraft very easy to deal with as far as getting everything processed and quite reassuring with the way the way things were panning out and in the way I wanted it done…like getting the boat trucked down from Germany to Croatia.
They seemed to think that nothing was a problem, we’ll just make it work.
And it was quite reassuring to do it from this end rather than dealing with somebody up in Malta that was on the other side of the world and didn’t know us.
John planned the trip carefully researching customs requirements, dress regulations, buying courtesy flags for all the countries and working out which places to avoid. They stuck to their plans until they got to Fiji!
What happened in Fiji?
We got to Fiji and we loved it so much there and we’d had enough of being on the go. We just thought that we are that close to home now. It’s only 7 days away, maybe we can go to New Caledonia next year. We got there in July and spent 4 months there. Fiji has got 360 islands to explore and you can spend years up there just in Fiji alone. They are fantastic people. We entered the boat in the round the Malolo Yacht Race Classic up there and won it!
It was one of the highlights of the trip because it was the first time we had raced it officially as such. We had a couple of unofficial races against other Kiwis that we met up in Italy. Actually we smoked them as well..and they were in a bigger boat!
What about other highlights?
There were so many highlights it would be hard to express one or two.
Going through the Panama Canal was a huge highlight. All the cultures and the history involved in Europe. It’s something that New Zealand and Australians can’t comprehend. I mean we are only two or three hundred years old where as up there we were going to places that were 5000 years old. The history of all those places up there blows you away.
The Corinth Canal
The Corinth Canal that takes you from the Ionian Sea towards Athens was fantastic because it was built by men labouring away with picks and shovels, there were no diggers back then! It was started by Nero with Jewish labourers centuries ago and finished by the Greeks….A lot of people died doing it.
You are going through the canal and I think it is something like 20 metres wide and 6 metres deep and they have ships going through this narrow passage.
And the walls of this place are like 100-150 feet high! That was quite mind-blowing doing that.
Doing the Greek Islands was fantastic. We had another couple from NZ, friends of ours Barry and Sue came and joined us. We cruised the Greek Islands and we had a great time up there. Just the ease, the food, the price of things, the history…
What about crossing the Atlantic?
People always ask about that and looking back on the long legs like the Atlantic and the Pacific, I compare it to like running a marathon. They are not always enjoyable, they can be quite mundane and they can be quite painful. You’ve got to look out for chafing and breakages, look after the boat and slow everything down. It’s not easy but when you’ve done it, you look back on it with a great sense of satisfaction. There’s a lot of preparation for doing it too and there’s always the satisfaction of getting the boat set up and making it survive the 3000 miles out at sea.
You’ve got to stock the boat well. We stocked as much fresh food as we could. We had frozen dinners prepared so when the weather gets rough you want to be able to eat and heat up meals easily…tins and stuff that lasts for a long time so that if you are out for longer than expected you can start breaking into those reserves.
Things like extra water (if the water maker packs up), extra fuel stored in Jerry cans were stowed away in the sail locker at the front and at the back. There is a lot of extra stuff you are carrying and it all puts extra loads on the boat. So you really have to look after the boat and under sail her.
Any major breakages along the way?
It was pretty good. I had a lot of chafe protection on the boat, trying to look after the sails. The one calamity we had was the gennaker. You have a lot of squalls come through and can be in 8-10 knots of breeze and then all of a sudden 25-30 knots of squall will just come through. We blew out a gennaker and tore it to shreds. Shelly fixed it – she sewed it back together along with some tape. It wasn’t pretty but it lasted another 8 or 9 hours before that gave out. I had it fixed by a sailmaker in the BVIs but didn’t trust it so bought another one as insurance as I didn’t want to do the Pacific leg without a light wind sail. Aside from that, that was the only fatality really.
Did you have any other crew on the long legs?
On the Atlantic leg we took on two other people and our friend Barry was on board from Panama through to Papeete for the Pacific leg. We also brought on board Shane, another friend from NZ to do the return leg from Fiji to NZ.
Whilst it does take the pressure off a bit with having crew on board, it is mainly a safety aspect. Shelly hadn’t done a lot of sailing and if something happened to me then it wasn’t fair on her to sail the boat on her own.
Any other highlights?
Croatia itself was a highlight. We wish we could have spent more time there. The people are so friendly there. We got befriended by one family, they took us under their wing. This family has spent 500 years in the same home. They don’t want for much and they make do with making/catching their own food and wine. They had us round their house several times putting on traditional BBQs with all the trimmings and were so welcoming. The cruising around the islands was fantastic and we’d go back there in a heartbeat.
How many miles did you cover?
17,605 miles all up. When you consider most boats in New Zealand and Australia would be lucky enough to do 2-300 miles a year. What we did was probably 20 years worth of cruising! With the construction and the way it is put together, the boat has held up very well because there are no signs of any fatigue or any cracking of any sorts.
It’s a fundamental test for the boat to do something like that and it came through ok.
What about taking an inexperienced sailor like Shelly with you?
Basically I was sailing the boat and making all the decisions but what she undertook was far above what I undertook. For someone to do such a thing and never been on board a boat before, never been past the Barrier Island in New Zealand… to do what she’s done is a massive undertaking.
Over to you Shelly, what were you thinking at the beginning of all this?
Well that just made me have tears…!!! I think I’m crazy that’s what it is. I remember him coming home and saying, “Let’s sell this and that and buy a yacht.”
And I thought he had gone mad initially. It took him about two months and he kept coming home and talking to me and said “this is a great adventure”…Anyway we made the decision and off we went. I think I was terrified at the beginning of it but you get very used to it.
He’s a very confident man and I feel very safe with his decisions and things like that. I’ve had girlfriends that said “Shelly you don’t even swim!” “You don’t sail” and I said ”Oh John will be fine. He’ll have a plan.” I think it’s because I trusted him so much. He was always reassuring me but I was terrified at the beginning I must say.
I didn’t even know port and starboard before I left!
How do you feel now having done it?
I think I feel very proud of myself. I think it is a wonderful adventure. I feel very, very grateful is the best word to describe it all. It’s amazing what we’ve seen. At the end of the day John said to me, the boat can be singlehandedly sailed. That’s how he described it to me. So I just need you to be there for whatever else.
I do the cooking and I make sure he is fine. I think the hardest part I found on the long legs was the lack of sleep – that really tired feeling. We were doing 3 hour shifts, 3 hours on and 3 hours off but once you’ve gone through it and come out the other end it’s fine.
What were your highlights?
Croatia again. I loved it. But I think we rushed it a little bit. I think we had this plan, we had to be at A,B,C and D. We had children meeting us at different parts and things. And I think that’s something we wouldn’t do again. Other more experienced people said, you give them either a time or a place but not both. We really wanted to get to Turkey, everyone said it’s amazing and we actually missed that due to different things and hold ups. We had to get to a place because we had people flying in. We possibly wouldn’t do that again. That’s a good learning curve.
Is there anything you didn’t like as much?
I didn’t like the long legs quite so much and my worst nightmare was probably Niue to Tonga – to me it was hideous. We had really bad weather and it was really rough. And it was the first time in the whole two years that I wasn’t able to go down and cook or prepare something decent as a meal. It took me 15 minutes to get down, I opened up a can of something and handed it to him and that’s all he got. It was terrible. That was the hardest part for me. And when we got there it was horrible weather the whole time. So that particular part wasn’t great for me.
You took the highs with the lows, you just had to and obviously missing the family. That was hard.
It was a big decision to do this crazy thing anyway because I don’t sail and I don’t even swim! Plus leaving 3 beautiful daughters and a grandson was more emotional for me than John. I mean you get through those things. And there’s Skype, Facebook and the blog to help.
How long did it take to feel more confident on board?
To feel more comfortable, about 6 months. John would yell out, “Pull the halyard ” and I’d think what’s that? He’d say, “the blue and white one.” But we got through that and we laugh about it now. And sometimes I’ll talk in terms and he’ll say “Wow – you did pick up some stuff”
And what about swimming?
I’m still not a great swimmer but definitely more confident in the water and wouldn’t have jumped in the ocean mid-way on the Atlantic crossing and when we crossed the Equator before the venture!!
What’s the next thing?
Hopefully this year we will go back to Fiji and that will be great. I do tease because I’ve met lots of people along the way that say “I used to do what you did and now I’m one of those fly in and fly our wives” And I do tease him saying “Can I be one of them? Fly in and fly out?” and he says “No you are not!”
It’s a great adventure and it was great to do it with him. I’m very proud of him, that it all happened.
You can read all about John and Shelly’s adventures on their blog.
Dreaming of doing the same thing? Contact Team Windcraft.