The call of the sea has carried Dunedin sailor Stuart
McLachlan from Otago Harbour around the world. Now a change
of tack has brought him back into familiar waters. Chris
Battered yachts and ticking clocks have dominated the life of
Dunedin sailor Stuart McLachlan.
Now, the 39-year-old is home from the sea, returning to
Dunedin in search of a quieter life after stints putting
yachts back together for two Volvo Ocean Race teams -
Telefonica and Camper Emirates Team New Zealand.
Mr McLachlan has returned with English partner Sophie Luther,
a former Volvo Ocean Race communications manager now working
for Animation Research Ltd in Dunedin.
The couple plan to build their new life, and home, on a hill
overlooking Careys Bay.
The views will include fishing boats and yachts bobbing about
at moorings, which will have to do - for now - for Mr
McLachlan. He is, for the first time in many years, without a
yacht to call his own.
''It can't always be about the sailing,'' he told the Otago
Nevertheless, it represented a big change for Mr McLachlan,
whose early years were spent learning the ropes while sailing
on Otago Harbour, before graduating to Sydney-to-Hobart
races, the Mediterranean Cup and even fleeing armed fishermen
off the coast of Vietnam.
More recently, Mr McLachlan has also circumnavigated the
globe during the last two instalments of the Volvo
round-the-world race, working as a key member of the
Telefonica Blue shore team in 2008-09, followed by Camper's
shore team in 2011-12.
Working as Telefonica Blue's shore-based boat captain, he led
a team of 50 specialists tasked with restoring their team's
battered racing machine at the end of each race leg in time
for the start of the next leg, days later.
The team strived to stay one step ahead of the race yacht by
skipping around the globe setting up bases ahead of the
fleet's arrival in each port.
The speed of the yachts meant two identical bases were used -
leapfrogging each other across the globe - to stay ahead of
the faster fleet, he said.
Once in port, a small army of boat builders, riggers,
sailmakers and others descended on the yachts, doing what
they could in a limited time.
And when adverse weather conditions last year cut the Volvo
fleet's Auckland stopover nearly in half - leaving only three
days to work on the yachts - the pressure grew as the fleet
prepared for the hardest leg, including a rounding of Cape
''It can be very stressful, because you are working to really
''It's nothing unusual to work 20 or 22 hours a day in those
short stopovers. Sometimes the guys would just sleep in the
sails ... pass out for a couple ofhours and then get up and
carry on,'' he said.
And, as shore-based boat captain for Telefonica, the buck
stopped with Mr McLachlan.
''If the jobs aren't done, or aren't done up to standard,
then they [race crew] will come to me about that,'' he said.
Later, working as systems manager for Camper, Mr McLachlan
was responsible for many of the racing yacht's moving parts -
from its hydraulic canting keel to its water system.
He also rubbed shoulders with the likes of Emirates Team New
Zealand boss Grant Dalton, and was impressed by the team's
''They are the best. The level they operate at is
phenomenal,'' he said.
It was a far cry from Mr McLachlan's first few years learning
to sail on Otago Harbour, initially on his father's keeler
and later, from age 5, in his own optimist.
A member of the Port Chalmers Yacht Club, he competed at
national level in the optimist and javelin classes, including
in the Sanders Cup, and then the Auckland to Tauranga coastal
classic, all before he was aged 20.
Then, with a four-year boilermaking apprenticeship under his
belt, Mr McLachlan moved to Auckland aged 21 to work and race
keeler yachts, with his mind still far from a professional
''I just wanted to keep racing, getting on more competitive
boats ... pretty much just getting the mileage under me,
getting experience and learning how to sail.''
Eventually, he graduated to an Auckland to Fiji race,
followed by his first Sydney to Hobart - the yacht race with
a fearsome reputation that, a few years later, would claim
six sailors' lives, in 1998.
True to form, Mr McLachlan found himself high up a mast in
45-knot headwinds, swinging around as he desperately working
to fix a broken spreader - a key piece of equipment - that
threatened to bring the yacht's rigging down.
He was affected by concussion for his efforts, but managed to
complete the job and finish the race.
After more time on the water in Auckland, he moved to the
United Kingdom in 2001, aged about 27, and found project
management work for a London engineering company.
He soon found himself on a yacht racing out of Hamble, in
England, in his spare time, before talk turned to the
upcoming Farr 40 World Championship in Sardinia, Italy.
''I quit my job and hopped on a plane and flew over there to
talk to some people,'' he said.
In 2003, that led to a spot on the racing team, and a request
to arrange for the yacht to be shipped to the United States -
Mr McLachlan's first taste of the logistics career to follow.
Four years of work for Dutch businessman and sailor Peter de
Ridder followed, before the Dutchman made an aborted attempt
to enter the Volvo Ocean Race in 2008-09.
Afterwards, Mr McLachlan was shoulder-tapped to join the
Telefonica Blue team for their 2008-09 bid, followed by work
as an organiser and race official for the round-the-world
Barcelona World Race, and then with Camper, again as part of
the shore team, for the 2011-12 instalment of the Volvo race.
The years since joining Telefonica Blue had been a stressful,
challenging and rewarding ride, he said.
Among the biggest hurdles to overcome was dealing with the
aftermath of Telefonica Blue's collision with a rock during
the 2008-09 race, while leaving Marstrand, Sweden, and
holding second place overall.
The result, including a damaged keel, rudder and hole in the
hull, was inflicted on live television, and watched by a
shoreline crowd of some 20,000 onlookers, and it was up to Mr
McLachlan to organise repairs.
The delay meant last place in that leg, and slipping from
second to third overall, he said.
''It was pretty horrendous,'' he said.
''But it's still a great challenge. I do love it, actually.''
However, the scariest moment on the water came not amid
howling winds or savage seas, but when accosted by Vietnamese
fishermen, who approached the catamaran he was sailing on a
delivery trip to Singapore in 1997.
It was only when the fishing boat got close that ''we
realised they were holding guns'', he said.
Luckily, the catamaran's twin engines - started in a hurry -
allowed the yacht to slowly pull away from the fishermen and
''It was not a fast getaway, but it was a fraction faster
Now back in Dunedin, Mr McLachlan and Ms Luther planned to
focus on their new home, as well as trying their hands at new
They had no regrets about leaving behind a lifestyle of
international travel and sailing destinations for the more
humble surroundings of Otago Harbour, and no plans to return
to the Volvo Ocean Race scene anytime soon.
However, they will not be lost to the sport. Both plan to
lend a hand with youth sailing in Dunedin, helping the next
generation of sailors grow up on Otago Harbour.
• Born in Dunedin 1973
• Age 39
• Learnt to sail on Otago Harbour.
• Extensive harbour, coastal, blue water sailing
• Volvo Ocean Race experience.
• Telefonica Blue shore-based boat captain 2008-09.
• Camper Emirates Team NZ systems manager 2011-12.