Portrait of a Cruiser – Geoff and Alison Williams

Geoff and Alison’s sailing adventures started in 1987 when they bought a 54-year-old sloop and navigated with a plastic sextant. They have lived, cruised and worked for the last 30 years on two very different boats and completed an 11-year circumnavigation during that time. They continue to live on board.

Published 6 years ago, updated 5 years ago

Names of Owners: Alison and Geoff Williams

Nationality: British / New Zealand

Boat Name: Saraoni (named after an island in Milne Bay which guards and protects one of our favourite anchorages – Kana Kopi Bay – frequently occupied by us while we were teaching in Alotau, PNG).

Boat Type/Model and Size: South Coast 36 / 11m

Your Home Port: Tutukaka, New Zealand (see photo below)

Blog: www.sailblogs.com/member/saraoni

How did you start cruising?

We had always been quite adventurous, and had spent much of the time, when not working, on long trips overseas – backpacking, cycling and walking with the main emphasis on exploring natural areas and wildlife. Alison had learned to sail when she was young in Plymouth and we discovered you didn’t need to be rich to buy a small yacht and take off cruising. We went on a couple of courses in Southern England but decided to buy a boat and start cruising in New Zealand rather than Britain as we still had permanent residence status from previous years living there. NZ seemed closer to a nice cruising area and in the mid eighties we were sick of the nasty politics of the Thatcher government, so it was a good reason to go sailing!

Photo below: Saraoni in Greece, Santorini, 2012.

Describe what sort of cruisers you are:

We bought our first boat in 1986 and moved aboard, and have lived on our two boats continuously since then, apart from relatively short periods on land travelling and time in a school campus house in Papua New Guinea. Although we have now lived on one boat or the other for 32 years, we have spent a lot of time working, as well as moving from one place to another in search of work and cruising in between.

We made a living from teaching until recently; now we have a small online writing business where we write and proofread articles and documents – it doesn’t make heaps of money, but it fits in well with life afloat. We still do some teaching from time to time and try and juggle making money, keeping us and the boat in good health and enjoying ourselves, mostly exploring what’s left of the world’s amazing biodiversity.

What type of cruising are you doing currently?

We are currently in New Caledonia. We left NZ last year, sailed to Tonga, Fiji, Aneityum in Vanuatu and New Caledonia. We left the boat here in the cyclone season and expect to return to NZ in October after a short trip to Vanuatu and back.

What were the key reasons you selected your current boat?

It was the largest fiberglass boat we could buy with the money we had at the time. We chose a sturdy, long keeled seaworthy yacht with a reasonable engine and large internal space for its size.

Photo right: Saraoni anchored off the Turkish coast, 2012.

What other boats have you owned?

We had a 30 foot 1933 kauri (wooden) carvel sloop bought in 1986 in Auckland, NZ. We sailed it to Papua New Guinea via Australia and lived on it for 12 years, 8 of which were in PNG where we worked as high school teachers. The boat was sold in Port Moresby, PNG’s capital in 1998.

What changes have you made to your current boat?

A lot! We have bought new sails, a watermaker, a new anchor winch, a new Nanni diesel engine, gone through 4 different dinghies, 4 outboards, installed new water tanks, installed a wind generator; solar panels, a wind vane, rebuilt the engine room and forecabin, changed the standing rigging twice, spent thousands on paint, glue, sealer, bolts, nuts, screws, plumbing bits, various useful and less useful electronics………we’re trying not to spend any more!

Most useful equipment fitted, and reasons for this choice:

Most recently a new Maxwell anchor winch, the original 30 year old one finally died after open heart surgery; good solar panels, batteries and MPPT solar controllers mean rarely having to use the engine for battery power.

Equipment regrets, or things you would do differently:

The watermaker too small – only 5L / hr. The boat is relatively small and slow because of its long keel and is sluggish in light winds. You can’t really change the design, though!

List the countries you have cruised:

Australia, New Zealand, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, Oman, Yemen, Eritrea, Sudan, Egypt, Israel, North Cyprus, Turkey, Greece, Italy, France, Spain, Morocco, Cape Verde Islands, Suriname, Trinidad & Tobago, Grenada, St Vincent, Venezuela, Curacao, Bonaire, Aruba, Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, French Polynesia, Cook Islands, American Samoa, Tonga, Fiji.

Future cruising plans:

We are planning on buying another boat, 45 – 50 feet, lighter, fin and skeg or skeg-less, faster in light airs, nice and roomy down below, no DIY work to be done on it hopefully for a while! Cheapest in the Med., the Caribbean or Eastern U.S., but don’t really want to cross the Atlantic again.

List the oceans/seas you have crossed:

Tasman Sea, Coral Sea, Papuan Gulf, Gulf of Carpentaria, Arafura Sea, Andaman Sea, Arabian Sea, Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean

Approximate sea miles:


Scariest day on the water:

In a nasty gale, 10 days out from NZ towards New Caledonia in our first 50 year old timber boat with no safety equipment or radio. It was our first ocean crossing and to be honest we weren’t sufficiently prepared. Weather forecasting is vastly different today and reasonably accurate or ocean passages of up to a week. The boat still hove-to very well, a skill we had mastered before we left NZ.

Best cruising moment:

Arriving safely in New Caledonia after 17 days at sea on our first ocean crossing using a plastic sextant and transistor radio for navigation in our first boat with no safety equipment or radio and a 50 dollar homemade wind vane. The sextant was remarkably accurate and the experience of arriving safely across the ocean without the constant updates from a GPS made each subsequent passage much more satisfying. It’s almost impossible to replicate this sort of experience these days.

Photo above: Saraoni anchored at Amedee Island, New Caledonia, 2017

Favourite cruising area and why:

Papua New Guinea – it can be a bit dangerous but it’s totally different and there are very few other cruisers. Amazing people living with one foot in the stone-age and the other in the mobile phone age! We worked there as teachers in state secondary schools so also felt more a part of the place than casual cruisers.

Favourite anchorage:

There are far too many to mention. Good anchorages for us mean safety, relative isolation, unspoiled nature, wildlife, friendly people (if any). We have been to many that match these criteria and very many that don’t.

Photo below: Saraoni in Kavala Bay, Fiji, 2017

Photo right: Splash time in Whangarei, NZ, 2017

Favourite cruising apps:


Favourite cruising websites:

Sailblogs (different cruisers); Noonsite; YIT.

Favourite cruising books:

Alan Lucas: Cruising the Coral Coast

What advice or message would you want to pass on to anyone new to cruising or thinking about casting off the dock lines?

Have a Plan B and C and enough money in reserve for emergencies; a flexible, portable way of earning money if you are young: You don’t need a big boat to enjoy yourselves. Don’t leave it too late; climate change may change everything within the next twenty to thirty years.

Why cruise? In a few sentences, what is it that inspires you to keep cruising?

For us it gets us to places that are impossible to visit without a boat. We can’t afford a house in a nice place and wouldn’t know what to do in it anyway, so we are sticking with a boat, which is a lot cheaper to live in! It’s like a campervan, but without the crowded camp sites, busy roads and increasingly expensive costs and regulations involved in touring on land. We still like to mix the sailing and cruising with land travel, mostly long distance walking and cycling and we do have to work as well!

Photo above: Friendly villagers Sideia Island, PNG, 1997.

Any other comments:

Remember to treat the people you meet with away from home with respect, never argue with Customs or get exasperated with officials. Do what you can to preserve what is left of the natural marine environment you are privileged to be part of.

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