Writer and Sailor Sarah Ell Shares her personal story with dream yacht charter for #Morewomenatsea
Sarah Ell is an Auckland-based writer and sailor who has been covering the New Zealand yachting scene since the late 1980s. A committed racer, she’s also become a keen cruiser as her two children join her and her husband, yacht designer Rob Shaw, on sailing holidays. She writes regularly for Boating New Zealand magazine and has published 10 books, including several about sailing and the sea.
How did first you get into sailing?
My family had a sailing dinghy which we used to go out in when I was a kid — but I wasn’t really into it! It wasn’t till I was in my teens and had some friends who were racing dinghies and asked me to crew for them that I really got the bug.
What types of boats have you sailed?
I started out racing Sunburst two-handed dinghies, then got into sports boats like the Magic 25 and Shaw 650, as well as racing keelboats. In New Zealand a lot of women’s racing is done in the Farr MRX fleet, which is a 10.3 metre keelboat designed for match racing and one-design fleet racing. My husband and I also used to own at 9 metre full-carbon canting-keel race boat called Karma Police, which he designed, but that had to go once we had kids!
How did sailing become part of your career?
I am a journalist and writer, and a lot of my work has been around sailing. When I was training as a journalist in the late 1980s I was asked to cover the sailing round, so I got to write lots of stories about the golden days of the Whitbread Round the World race, ocean-racing events like the Admiral’s Cup and New Zealand’s early attempts to win the America’s Cup. In the 1990s I was the editor of Boating New Zealand magazine, and I am still writing for them now.
What kind of sailing are you involved with now?I am sailing with an all-women team under skipper Sally Garrett, which a bunch of ladies I have been friends with and sailed with for years, with a few breaks. We got the team back together a couple of years ago, and 2019 we fulfilled a 20-year dream by winning the women’s national keelboat championships for the first time. My role is to trim the genoa upwind and spinnaker downwind.
So you’re a racer, not a cruiser?I used to be racing all the way, but in recent years I have enjoyed slowing down a bit and getting into cruising. In the last few years we have started going away more and more on my husband’s parents’ 42-foot ketch with our children, who are now 9 and 7. When they were younger we would only go for day trips or overnights, but now we are up to spending a couple of weeks out on the water at a time. The kids absolutely love it — my son loves to row and snorkel and explore the shoreline, while my daughter likes to lie in her cabin listening to music and go paddleboarding with her dad. They are both very interested in nature and marine biology.
How has sailing changed your life?Well, the biggest thing is probably that it brought me my husband! We first sailed together back when we were in our early 20s, and our paths kept crossing . . . Eventually he asked me to sail with him on his sports boat in the early 2000s, and the rest is history! On another level, I think it has taught me so many skills that I use in all other aspects of my life — I find sailing a great stress reliever; I love being part of a team and the sense of working together for a common goal; I enjoy being intimate with the forces of nature; and it has taught me patience and perseverance when things aren’t going my way.
Where is your favourite place to sail?
We are very lucky living in Auckland, New Zealand. The Hauraki Gulf, on the east coast, has more than 50 islands and there are so many great anchorages and beautiful beaches within a few hours of where we keep our boat. But my absolute favourite place to cruise and race is the Bay of Islands, 120 nautical miles north of Auckland. The weather is fabulous and, best of all, it’s usually not very busy. Even at the height of the season you can still find yourself your own little spot in paradise.
Where in the world would you like to go sailing?
I would love to cruise the Adriatic coast of Croatia, and also down the coast of Turkey. The combination of history and fantastic food appeals to me. I am also looking forward to going cruising with Dream Yacht Charter in the Whitsundays this winter — I’m hoping to see a dugong! We will be sailing on their Bali 4.1 Catamaran “Namaste”, and I will have my family on-board. I will be doing a story on Sailing with Kids for Boating NZ Magazine
Are you excited about America’s Cup 2021?
Auckland is a city built on the America’s Cup — it was transformed by hosting the event in the 2000s, and there’s lots more work going on for this next event. When the racing is on, it seems like everyone in the city, and maybe in the country, is watching and holding their breath. We can often see the boats out training from our house and I can tell you, it’s going to be spectacular — expect plenty of drama!