Mon, Oct 3, 2022 6:00 AM

Taking family life to the sea


Tessa Jaine

Living on a boat is the stuff dreams are made of. One local family of two adults, four children, two dogs and two birds turned their dream into reality and say their time living on a boat in Havelock has been an adventure.

Words: Adrienne Matthews

The onset of Covid with its subsequent lockdowns had Haylee and David Eagle thinking harder about an idea that had been brewing for some time. For many years it has been a family tradition to go camping at Bethany Park in Kaiteriteri, but on their last visit the tent ripped and they were faced with the question of what to do next.

A lot of their friends were buying caravans. They’d come and park next to the Eagles and set up in five minutes, while they lost half a day erecting tents and another day packing them back down. So they began looking at caravans, thinking that would be their next thing. But the brutal reality of being in one with four kids, two dogs and two birds was a bit “daunting”.

David driving the 56 foot trawler style motor yacht.

Whilst that conversation was happening, they were also having another one around their living situation. Their home was bought two decades ago, before children and when the cost of a house was roughly what a deposit for one is now. They had thought of selling it and buying something bigger. In fact, they even attended a few open homes. “But we soon discovered that if we did sell, we’d essentially be buying a renovation and we’d already done that once,” says David.

At one open home, their eldest daughter Sophia asked her parents why they wanted a bigger home. “We’d just be further apart.”

“The children were happy sharing bedrooms,” says Haylee. “We decided it was time to stop looking at other houses and upgrade our lifestyle instead.”

A bach in the Marlborough Sounds seemed a good idea. They could keep their home in town and have a little getaway.

Maia with dogs Zen and Shiloh.

Properties, however, were dramatically increasing in price and the roads in the area were becoming storm ravaged. “There were some coming onto the market but you couldn’t get into them unless you had a boat,” says David.

Then it dawned on them: Why get a bach when they could get a floating one?

Although David had no experience with life at sea, Haylee’s early years had been spent around boats on Lake Taupo where her father had a marine business. “I grew up on boats and that was my happy place,” she says.

The couple researched carefully what kind of boat was going to work for them. “We weren’t brave enough to jump into a sailboat,” says David. “That would have been too big a learning curve, especially with all the children, so we settled on a coastal-rated twelve-mile inshore vessel. We can’t go to the likes of Fiji, but we can go all around New Zealand.”

They had been looking “for ages” but eventually were at the right place at the right time.

“We saw the ‘Oriental Lady’ on Trade Me an hour after the previous owner had listed it. We picked up the kids from school and by 4:30pm we were in Havelock. By 5pm we’d agreed to purchase it,” says Haylee.

The boat has a deep semi-displacement hull. This makes it slow, but very stable and all-weather capable. Built in 1989 it is solid, seaworthy and around seventeen metres in length. There are three cabins for the children which each have a spare bunk, meaning Max, the youngest, can choose which of his siblings he wants to sleep with. David and Haylee’s cabin is at the other end of the boat and has its own ensuite.

Seven year old Alex has gained a new level of independence since living on the boat.

The kitchen and main living area are in the middle of the boat. The kitchen has a stove, oven and standard fridge/freezer so with the help of chilly bins for fresh fruit and veges they can stay out at sea for weeks, says Haylee. “We also have a covered outdoor kitchen and table where we BBQ and eat in the summer.”

The previous owners, Ross and Janet, offered to help David learn to drive and maintain the boat. “They were so gracious,” he says. “We went out together on three trips and Ross taught me everything I needed to know. I have always been interested in how things worked and am quite practical, which helps.”

The matter of who was going to be First Mate soon came up. It couldn’t be Haylee as she is responsible for the children’s safety, but Sophia, then thirteen, was keen. She is about to sit her Day Skipper’s licence and will eventually be able to drive the boat, before she can drive a car.

The first time the family came back into the harbour at Havelock the previous owners came over to help guide them in. “The local community on our pier were there in force as well and were really supportive,” says David. “It is a strong community and lovely to be part of.”

Max and David enjoying a cuppa on the boat.

The family now try to spend as much time as possible on the boat. “Covid taught us that our marketing business, ‘The Big Picture’, could still function incredibly well no matter where we were based,” says David. “At the start of lockdown, I rushed to Mitre 10 and loaded up thirteen bags of concrete for a project at home, but the business suddenly went crazy with everyone wanting to know how they could improve and increase their online presence. “I’ve still got those thirteen bags of concrete sitting there,” he laughs.

Each day on the boat starts before sun-up when daughter Maia and David get the tender ready and take the dogs to the nearest beach. Then they are back for breakfast before school starts for Haylee and the kids. Schooling is a very important part of this adventure for the family.

“We have found that the children do really well at online learning,” says Haylee. “They are disciplined and self-motivated and work well wherever we are, so we are home-schooling them this year. It is a great advantage to have them spend more time outdoors discovering their own independence.

“Art, physical education and the natural sciences are easy out on the boat. The kids love learning about the sea, the environment, the weather and all of the technical aspects of running a boat. They bring heaps of crafty stuff and books so are never short of a range of activities depending on the weather, or their mood.”

Around noon the paddle boards and kayaks drop into the water and it’s off the boat paddling, swimming or walking trails until a late lunch around 2pm. “One of our best experiences has been parking up in a bay and spending the day exploring the surrounding bush,” David says. “Making a fire and cooking dinner on the beach in the rain was really special for all of us and then we even got to see the magic of phosphorescence on the water while paddling back to the boat. What could be better than that?”

Afternoons vary depending on the weather and the season, or even whether or not it’s time to move to another bay or anchorage. In the evenings the kids will play a game, do craft activities or watch a movie whilst David and Haylee get another block of work done.

Alex and Sophia.

“Living this way we do a lot more as a family,” says David. “Even though the days are busy, the time seems to go slower. Being up before dawn we tend to make use of the whole day. There is a lot more teamwork and responsibility required and the children are cultivating a keen sense of independence, as they explore the places we visit onshore.”

Asked what part of the adventure they love best, Alex says “the swimming in summer, building huts and exploring,” while Sophia adds, “the views change every day, but it is always beautiful being on the water.”

“I love that I have my own room on the boat and exploring with the dogs every day,” says Maia, while the youngest, Max, loves it all.

Maintenance is a regular part of living at sea. The boat is over 30 years old, which means it was built to last, but it has also been used in the sea for three decades. The family have kept up with the previous owner’s rigorous maintenance schedule and paid special attention to the power systems, as they say they are a lot more energy hungry than Ross and Janet. They are also learning to do as much of the mechanical maintenance themselves so they are more self-sufficient at sea in the event something blows or breaks. They carry a lot of spare parts and a full workshop.

With the best part of a year at sea living this rich digital nomad lifestyle and still running a business, David says they really do have the “best of both worlds”.

To document their new lifestyle the couple have set up Instagram, YouTube and Facebook pages under Knot Nauti. “We have become obsessed with knots since starting on this journey, so the name seemed appropriate, and we are not particularly nautical…yet!” laughs Haylee.

“Our life now is full of options,” says David. “We made a choice to make memories with our family in a different way. There is nothing better.”

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