For New Zealand businessman Mike Mahoney, buying Tawera and setting sail across the world was everything he hoped it would be. So good, he tells Michelle Singer, why rush things?
Businessman Mike Mahoney’s passion for sailing has come a long way, figuratively and literally, since he pushed off in a P Class yacht for his first race as a seven-year-old at his local Plimmerton Boating Club, on the southern tip of New Zealand’s North Island.
Any fears he had then of capsizing and cold water are but faint memories almost six decades and more than a dozen boats later. The property developer and father of four is realising a lifelong dream to complete a 16-month, 12,000-nautical-mile delivery of his classic sailing yacht Tawera from New Zealand to Europe.
The route, from his home town of Auckland to Palma de Mallorca, started in April 2022 and is due to end this month. After almost six decades of cruising and racing, it’s the ultimate sailing trip, ticking off a bucket list of dream destinations along the way, including a month cruising the Maldives.
Mahoney is no stranger to cruising through tropical paradises and is familiar with idyllic destinations such as Thailand, Tonga, Fiji, French Polynesia and Indonesia. But weaving through the constellation of Maldives’ 1,190 coral islands and 26 atolls is a first.
Spread across 90,000 square kilometres of impossibly blue waters and white sands, this is a veritable sailing utopia, ripe for a month of laid-back exploration.
The fact this adventure was delayed by two years due to Covid-19 lockdowns has done little to dampen Mahoney’s spirit. He was more determined than ever to get under way as soon as travel restrictions were lifted and seasonal weather conditions permitted.
For much of the journey Mahoney, a highly experienced sailor and a skipper in his own right, has had a crew of three for support as well as friends and family joining at various ports along the way. “I’m turning 65 this year. If I don’t do this trip now, I probably never will,” he says, having long sought the challenge and achievement associated with sailing from New Zealand to Europe.
With 20,000 nautical miles of cruising and racing under her belt, Tawera, a 28-metre Ron Holland-designed ketch, built by New Zealand boatyard Alloy Yachts, is well equipped for the ambitious journey. Mahoney’s purchase of Tawera came after he and Tracy, his wife of 42 years, took a fortuitous stroll down through Sanctuary Cove marina in Queensland’s Gold Coast in 2015 and spotted the yacht.
Mahoney wasn’t in the market for another boat, or even close to making plans for his once-in-a-lifetime trip, so this was the equivalent of window shopping. “We weren’t looking for a boat like this at all, I was just tyre-kicking,” he says. “It wasn’t for sale. The local broker had sold it to another Kiwi guy the week before. The funny thing was the broker rang me 10 days later to say the guy hadn’t paid the deposit and asked if I was keen. Luckily Tracy was there, because it was very much a ‘we’ decision not a ‘me’ decision.”
Mahoney was instantly infatuated with Tawera’s classic lines such as the traditional 10-spoke teak and stainless-steel steering wheel. To this day it remains a favourite detail, immaculately restored by Yorkshire deckhand Tommy Maddock, and one of Tawera’s many features to be carefully perfected under Mahoney’s careful ownership.
“When I bought the boat, I took over the original boat builder, the original skipper and the original engineer to complete the due diligence,” he recalls. “We spent four months going from the front to the back making sure it was safe and reliable, and even with that expertise it took twice as long and cost twice as much as expected.”
An early example of Alloy Yachts’ talent for designing and building beautiful and race-worthy superyachts, 28.1-metre Tawera was first launched in 1995. She has gone on to establish herself as a mainstay of the New Zealand Millennium Cup, winning first place in 2016, 2017 and 2019. Most recently she won the 2021 Mastercard Superyacht Regatta. Mahoney says one of the hallmarks of Ron Holland’s boats is their reputation to “sail very well”, holding a steady 10 to 11-knot cruising speed.
Inside is almost two metres of headroom and accommodation for six guests – including a full-beam master suite – and four crew members. The teak interior, featuring several cream leather banquette seating configurations within a split-level saloon, provides intimate seating or larger guest group dining options. A full refit in 2017 included new sails, rigging, hydraulics and safety equipment, creating a set-up suited for racing as well as comfortable cruising.
On leaving Auckland, Tawera’s first port of call was to Southport on the Gold Coast, Australia. A 530-nautical-mile sail further north up the Queensland coastline to the idyllic Whitsundays was the first opportunity for Tracy and guests to arrive for three months of cruising during what should have been a temperate winter escape.
“We had three months of terrible weather,” Tracy laughs. “We didn’t have a single swim and everyone had to go and find warm clothes.” It was here, mid southern hemisphere winter, that the crew took the last opportunity before monsoon season to reach Thursday Island at Australia’s remote Top End, clearing out to Kupang, Bali, and Batam, Indonesia, before moving on to Singapore and Phuket, Thailand.
After reprovisioning in Thailand, Tawera reached Galle in Sri Lanka in February in preparation for the next leg, a two-day 450-nautical mile sail due west to the most northern nautical entry point in the Maldives.
“Ultimately this is a delivery trip, but the Maldives is a bonus interlude and it’s somewhere we’ve always wanted to go,” Mahoney says. “It has this mystery about it, and it hasn’t disappointed in any way. We’re lucky to have seen [only] three or four other boats the first 12 days and the beaches are like white sugar.”
Utilising the services of Asia Pacific Superyacht agents for shore support, advice on arrival documentation and itinerary suggestions made the rigorous immigration and customs process seamless.
The first stop for many long haulers is the centrally located Marina @ Crossroads, south of the Maldives’ capital, Malé. Adjoining Marina @ Crossroads is SAii Lagoon’s beach club, where crew and guests have access to restaurants, bars, swimming pool and protected beach, as well as provisioning and laundry services.
For the Mahoneys, four weeks in the Maldives felt like barely enough time to explore the 1,190 coral islands – of which fewer than 200 are inhabited. He likens it to “a more sophisticated version of Fiji”, due to the high standard of luxury properties, architecture and restaurants.
“It’s the perfect cruising ground, particularly during the northern winter, outside of the monsoon season,” he notes. “And it’s not that far, about 3,000 nautical miles from the Med, with sheltered water, and guests have easy access to fly in and fly out of Malé.”
Daily activities involve pre-breakfast snorkelling trips to uninhabited white-sand islands such as Vangaaru, dolphin-spotting from the bow, fishing, and admiring the spectacular sunsets. From north to south, island to island, the languid days rolled on from one to the next, filled with visits to pristine house reefs, explorations of coral reef drop-offs, turtle sightings and visits from harmless black-tipped and grey reef sharks.
“The nice thing is you can cruise for a few days and no one is forcing you to go to a resort, but the option is always there if you want to visit a restaurant or relax by a pool,” Mahoney says.
The private JA Manafaru is one resort that extends its five-star service to visiting yachts. For $200 per person per day, the resort provides a buggy tour along sandy paths that takes in the tropical gardens, 84 modern villas, four restaurants and spa. Access to other resorts varies from $50 to $2,000 per person per day, or a minimum spend on food and beverages, but all come with warm Maldivian welcomes from immaculately turned-out staff, including the general manager on many occasions.
The all-suite Hideaway Resort, located in the northern Haa Alifu Atoll, extends to superyacht visitors access to its premium spa, gym and recreational facilities and on request provides private tours of its Signature Collection villas and sprawling market gardens, which are filled with tropical fruits, vegetables, chillies and flowers.
For Tawera’s New Zealand skipper Conrad Joblin-Hall, it is particularly poignant to be part of a trip that’s been discussed ever since he joined Mahoney’s crew in 2017. “I don’t remember a time when Mike didn’t have this trip on his mind,” he says. “It’s also an adventure for all of us. I’ve sailed most of the world, except for the stretch between Bali and Cyprus. That’s the one section missing. This is as much about the destination as it is about everything in between.”
By the time of publication, Tawera will have travelled to Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, through the Suez to Turkey and on to Greece, Montenegro, Croatia, Venice, Italy and, finally, Mallorca, where she is now berthed and listed for sale with Burgess Mallorca. Coveted destinations all – but it will take a lot to take the gloss off the memories of the Maldives experience.
“I would rate [the Maldives] as attractive as anywhere I’ve sailed,” Mahoney says. “The breeze is consistent every day and you have access to the best resorts in the world if you want to use them, or you can be Robinson Crusoe. It’s entirely up to you when you’re cruising.”
First published in the September 2023 Life Under Sail supplement. Get this magazine sent straight to your door, or subscribe and never miss an issue.SHOP NOW