It’s not often that you meet someone as courageous as Sarah. Sarah left home in the UK at a young age in search of the sun. She flew from the UK to Hawaii and then sailed all the way down to New Zealand. Sarah is undoubtedly a one of a kind, amazing woman and true adventurer. More recently Sarah has been sharing her adventures with her awesome family of 5 kids and husband Chris. Often spending 6 months at sea, sailing to the Pacific Islands and back.
Over the Christmas holiday I got to catch up with Sarah in Kerikeri. Over the lockdown period she had been learning how to Wing Foil. It didn’t take me long to realise that Sarah’s ocean story was one that had to be shared, for women to be inspired as much as I am to try new sports and explore new places.
A Q&A with Sarah Kennedy, a true adventurer. Happy reading!
Can you tell me a bit about where you were born?
I was born in a village called Manley in North West England.
We lived on a dairy farm and when I was 6 my parents had a big auction, sold all of the farm machinery and animals, bought a digger and dug a lake which became a windsurfing centre.
How did you find yourself in New Zealand?
I was a registered physio and wanted to go somewhere I could work with the same language (I think from about 12 years old I knew I was heading somewhere warmer to live). I had worked with heaps of Aussies, kiwis, South Africans and Americans in bars and hospitals around the UK and I preferred the kiwis so that's where I got a one way ticket to. I stopped in Vancouver, Hawaii and Fiji over 6 months on my way. I had my windsurfing gear with me and in Fiji met Chris my husband. He picked me up from Auckland Airport and I have lived with him in Kerikeri ever since.
How many make up your family?
We have 4 boys and a girl. The boys are 16, 15, 13 & 12, and Eleanor is 9.
I know you are into kiteboarding, what got you started on the sport and where has it taken you?
I had my first lesson when I was on holiday in Tarifa (Spain) in about year 2000. I could only afford one lesson so didn't get too far. My dad bought some kites in 2003 and we learnt to fly them but never progressed as kids started coming. Then when we were going on our first boat trip I was worried I might get bored and got 3 kites and a board off trade me. I had some lessons with Kirsty at Mounu Island in Vava'u (best place to learn) and we started following the trade winds a lot more closely.
What new sports have you just picked up?
We have been wing foiling since January.
What made you decide to buy a Yacht and move your family onto it?
When I first met Chris he said he'd get a boat and we could go sailing. After the GFC we were thinking about buying an ex charter boat in Greece and sailing it back. Then a friend of ours who had welded his own aluminium cat said he'd build one for us. 2 weeks later we had bought the alloy sheets. There were a few hiccups and we ended up having to build a 2nd boat so things took a couple of years longer than we hoped. So when we launched the boat, we moved onto it straight away so that we could learn to sail it and head up to the islands in the next season 5 months later.
What is the boat like for a family of 7 plus?
A lot of fun, sometimes stressful and a lot of food required.
How much sailing have you done?
My parents always had boats so I grew up around the sea and the lake.
Where did you go?
Our first trip was to Tonga, Samoa, Fiji and New Caledonia. Our 2nd trip was to French Polynesia and back to Tonga. Then our last trip was to Fiji.
I had never sailed offshore so was pretty green. I YouTubed the worst storms at sea so I knew how bad it could get and hoped that we chose a good time to go! As it turned out it was mostly pleasant, and life kind of carries on, there's food to make, washing to be done, we had 2 of us doing watches and so tiredness is the worst part for me. We have had a few storms with over 30 - 40 knots and that is enough for me.
What do you take with you? How do you pack for such a journey?
You don't need many clothes in the islands mostly swimwear. I just take one lot of warm clothing for leaving NZ and passages which get cold at night. It has been a shock this winter being in NZ and how many clothes you wear and have to wash constantly.
Provisioning is a big job and I fill all my spaces. Food is pretty expensive in the islands. The longest we have been without a shop is 6 weeks, but many go for a lot longer!
How does the family find the sailing?
The kids say they hate passage but they're all pretty chilled in reality. A couple get a bit nauseous if it's rough.
How does it affect your life sailing half the year?
It's hard to get back in to work after 5 months off. Unfortunately we haven't been in the financial position to go away for a couple of years. We get to see where the kids are at with their school work, and we have had the most amazing adventures with them.
What sea life did you see? Surprising very little on passage, 1 pilot whale, a few sharks, dolphins in the distance and tuna swimming alongside the boat. French Polynesia was amazing for snorkelling and diving like being in an aquarium. And Tonga is fantastic with humpback whales all over the place. New Caledonia wins for turtles.
Could you do much diving and kiteboarding?
We learnt to make sure we were in a good kite spot when the trade winds were forecast. And in between we would re provision or find some good snorkelling spots.