Many families dream of casting away from their crowded living room after the Covid lockdowns, but one Auckland family actually did it.
The Townsend family didn’t have much sailing experience when they set off to circumnavigate the country in December 2021.
Dad Jonathan, who spearheaded the adventure, had taken a sailing course a few years before, while his wife Amie, and children – Rio, 10, Jordan, 14, and Africa, 15 – had joined him on a few trips to the Coromandel and Great Barrier Island.
But that was nothing like the 2533 nautical miles and 530 hours at sea they were about to embark on.
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The whole journey took two and half months.
“This trip is the last, all-of-us-together adventure. The time you have with your kids is not that long, so I’m trying to make the best of it,” Townsend said.
The family weren’t alone on the journey and had help along the way. Ten friends joined as crew members, getting on and off at different ports, while family dog, Runa, kept them company at the helm.
The children were there for most of the journey, but all that time at sea took it out of them, so Rio and Africa missed the first and last leg.
As for Mum Amie… “She was at home, working. Paying for it,” Africa said.
“Towards the end, the kids found the sailing quite taxing. You’re looking at the next bit of water and that’s two days, two nights at sea, you start thinking, ‘Oh, really?’” Townsend said.
The children put it a little differently.
“I spent the whole first night up sick, vomiting,” Africa said.
The journey was a way to reconnect – both with old church friends and with family. They visited people in ports around the country.
“Covid has been a very disconnected time. [We wanted to] reconnect with people and talk through old memories,” Townsend said.
The Townsend family is an adventurous one. In 2019, Townsend sold his technology business, so they could backpack around the world together.
They traveled to Egypt, Israel, Italy, France, India and more – all documented on their YouTube channel. But after Covid-19 hit, the travel itinerary became more local.
Townsend left from Sandspit, near his home in Snells Beach, and traveled over the tip of New Zealand. A week later, he meets his family in Nelson for Christmas where they bordered for the start of their adventure.
The family meandered along the West Coast, dropping anchor to dive for crayfish and explore Fiordland.
After circling the bottom of Aoteaora, they stopped at Port Pegasus, Bluff, Port Chalmers, and Lyttelton.
The team docked safely in Wellington harbor just a day before Cyclone Dovi swept through the city.
Jordan and his dad did the last leg on their own, sailing four days and four nights past Tauranga back to the safety of their Auckland bay.
“This was probably one of the last adventures I’ll ever have with all of the family, except Mum. The last night I was on the boat … was a bit emotional,” Africa said.
And the journey was eventful – they ran from seals, sailed alongside dolphins, and flooded the boat with toilet water on New Year’s Eve.
“We spent two and a half weeks cruising and anchoring and fishing and diving through Fiordland. We didn’t race on and go to the next place after we’d gone around there. Done a lot of driving, caught crayfish,” Townsend said.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing. At the very bottom of New Zealand, off the coast of Bluff, the boat’s engine failed.
The family sailed carefully all the way up the East Coast, constantly checking the motor. It lasted until the very last second.
“The day we got back and pulled the boat out of the water, it died. I call that a miracle,” Townsend said.