Geoff Vautier plots round the world sail

Mild-mannered, 65-year-old Haumoana accountant Geoff Vautier is about to sail around the world.

Safe to assume, then, that he’s done plenty of ocean sailing before.

“No, zero. Maybe two hours in Wellington Harbour on a Wednesday afternoon once,’’ a chuckling Vautier said.

Nevertheless, he’s signed himself up for the 2025/26 Clipper Round the World Race, which starts and finishes in England, with stops in Spain, Uruguay, South Africa, Australia, Vietnam, China, the United States, Panama and Scotland along the way.

Officially there’s eight legs, some of which are broken up into shorter races meaning you end up berthing at 15 different ports as part of the approximately 225 days at sea.

Vautier’s enrolled for each of the eight legs, which would see him become just the twelfth New Zealander to sail every leg in the race’s 25-year history.

The 70-foot vessels have a crew of 24. Two who are paid professionals, with the rest rank amateurs such as Vautier. “About 40% do all eight legs and about 40% have never sailed before,’’ he said.

“People say ‘are you going to get seasick?’ and I’ve got no idea because I’ve never been yachting. But I’m the type of guy who’d get on the Interislander in a southerly and go to Picton for the hell of it.’’

Vautier came across the race via a Facebook advertisement and instantly decided he should do it.

“Just because I could,’’ he said.

“No, there’s several reasons. One. I like doing challenges and when I look back on my life I was a glider pilot for 25 years and had my own glider in the Wairarapa. I just found out two weeks ago that’s twice as dangerous as riding a motorbike, in terms of the death factor. I’ve got a big motorbike and I’ve ridden across Australia three times on a motorbike.’’

In terms of the dangers of the round the world race, Vautier says “they all come back.’’

Pressed a bit further, he admits there have been fatalities over the years. “One lady fell overboard without a harness. Another guy was standing in the wrong place when the boom came across and I forget what happened to the third one,’ said Vautier.

“From here it’s quite romantic, but when you see the pictures of those big seas, you know you’re going to be shit scared when you have a wall of water coming at you.’’

Vautier leaves for Portsmouth at the end of September, when he’ll begin the first of four compulsory weeks of pre-race training. He’ll do a two-week block then, followed by a further fortnight in May. That coincides with the naming of the crews for each boat in the 11-strong fleet.

It’s not a cheap exercise, which Vautier says could cost him $175,000 all up. “I’ve told the kids there’s no inheritance.’’

But, even after the training, which graduates in difficulty as the weeks go by, there’s no guarantee he’ll be deemed fit, agile and adept enough to be let loose on the oceans of the world. “There’s a risk of that but, fundamentally, I’ve got a place and their goal is to get everyone through. It’s not like I’ll get to May next year and find there’s a hundred people for only 50 spots.’’

As chance would have it, Vautier discovered he lives two doors up from someone who previously completed two legs of this race, before the Covid pandemic intervened.

From that discussion, Vautier gleaned that the biggest issue is a mental one. Crew members work on four-hour shifts and getting out of your bunk and into wet weather gear and a harness to work on-deck can become a grind. Especially when you’re at sea for up to 35 days at a time.

The age-range of crew members historically is 18 to 72, with two thirds usually male.

Vautier accepts there’s some personal and financial risk about this adventure, but insists he’s not the least bit nervous about any of it.

Nor does he see this being his last great excursion.

“My next goal is to ride around the whole of the North Island on my motorbike.’’

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air


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1 Comment

  1. Most likely Mr Vautier has salt in his veins and wanting to follow in the big footprints left by Frenchman Eric Tabarley. l just hope he does not suffer the same fate and wears his harness , 65 years of age your sea legs are found wanting . BON CHANCE !

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