'2020 was not the best time to do it': Life on the ocean suspended for Lyttelton couple

Helen Shrewsbury and Stephen Prendergast hope to sail from the UK to Lyttelton when borders...
Helen Shrewsbury and Stephen Prendergast hope to sail from the UK to Lyttelton when borders around the world reopen. Photo: Supplied
Helen Shrewsbury lives by the motto: ‘To discover new lands, you must first lose sight of the shore.’

“You have to take the risk to have the adventure,” she said.

A year ago, Lyttelton residents Shrewsbury and her husband Stephen Prendergast flew to England where they bought a yacht with the intention to explore the world on a two-year adventure leading them back home again.

Unfortunately, Covid-19 took the wind from their sails and they are staying with Shrewsbury’s sister in the United Kingdom. Their first stop, France, is not allowing people from the UK into the country.

The idea for the grand adventure was a collaboration between the couple.

“I always had wanted to explore the South Pacific. Prendergast said he wanted to sail in the Mediterranean,” she said.

“The idea to buy a boat in the UK and then sail through those places back to New Zealand, grew and morphed quickly from there.”

Helen Shrewsbury and her husband Stephen Prendergast. Photo: Supplied
Helen Shrewsbury and her husband Stephen Prendergast. Photo: Supplied
Both in their 50s, they decided to sell up and make their dreams a reality.

“I want to die with memories, not dreams,” Shrewsbury said.

Cerulean, the boat they purchased once they arrived in the UK, is a 43ft MkIII Sea Stream, designed specifically for blue water – long distance -– sailing.

At first sight, they fell in love with the design of it.

The boat was originally customised by former BBC radio and television reporter Peter Snow.

As a tall man, the boat was designed with 6.7ft of headroom – also perfect for Shrewsbury and Prendergast who are 6ft and over. Shrewsbury is in touch with Snow today. The boat was named after Snow and his wife’s love of Lake Cerulean in Canada.

The rough plan was to sail around France, Spain and Portugal, across the Atlantic, down to the Caribbean, through Panama to the Galapogas Islands, then to explore around Tahiti and Fiji and land on Kiwi shores.

“Unfortunately 2020 was not the best time to do it but we’ve just got to roll with the punches.”

The sailing couple have not wasted their time though. In May, they sailed around the British Isles.

“Luckily, we had few disagreements and really enjoyed each other’s company. It was a good tester for how we could cope,” Shrewsbury said.

“It was wonderful sailing as it was all new to us both. It was also challenging with the new currents and tides and all the traffic to be aware of . . . there are huge wind farms, navy ships and we even saw a submarine.”

“Nothing compares to sailing in New Zealand though.”

In October, they removed their boat from the water and have began to prepare it for when they can depart.

The sailing dream has been a lifetime in the making; boating and the ocean being the great passion of Shrewsbury’s life.

Shrewsbury was born in Cambridge, England, “about the furthest you can get from the sea,” she said.

In spite of being surrounded by rolling hills instead of crashing waves, Shrewsbury started sailing at the age of three and sailed almost every weekend during her childhood.

It was a family affair.

Sailing was something that her father had always wanted to try, and he rallied together his wife and four daughters.

Her father believed “a family that plays together stays together.”

Their weekends and holidays were spent out in the ocean where the family competed both with each other and against each other.

Said Shrewsbury: “I’ve been sailing all my life.

“The connection you have and the memories you create with your family is something I feel incredibly lucky to have shared. We always have something to agree on or talk about.”

While in Perth in 1987, watching the America’s Cup, Shrewsbury met her first husband, who was a Kiwi.

At the end of the 1990s, Shrewsbury and her family, including her two young children, settled in Lyttelton.

Prior to the move, Shrewsbury had visited Lyttelton to see a friend. As soon as she walked down the main street, she knew she wanted to make it her home.

“I felt a connection with the place with has never ended. There is a special vibe there within the community,” she said.

Shrewsbury brought up her family in the port and lived there for the next 20 years.

She had numerous sailing adventures during this time, joining the Naval Point Yacht Club and racing a 22ft trailer-sailer every weekend.

It was the lifestyle and the sailing environment which fuelled Shrewsbury’s sailing passion.

“I love the challenge of sailing and the freedom I feel when I am on the water,” she said.

“I can let go of any pressure or any stress. I feel myself relax.”

Lyttelton Harbour is a special place for Shrewsbury. Almost every time she went out she saw dolphins.

After her first marriage split up, Shrewsbury decided a change was needed and she wanted to discover new seas.

“I spent a lot of time with my girlfriends sailing around the fantastic bays of the Banks Peninsula but I really wanted to go somewhere different, where I could continue to enjoy the beauty New Zealand has to offer,” she said.

“I had to follow my dreams.”

She moved her New Zealand-designed Whiting 29 boat to Auckland and then two years later, she met Prendergast.

Prendergast had only been sailing once before, but Shrewsbury showed him the ropes. As the lead sailor, Shrewsbury has found it frustrating how she is treated as a woman.

“It is unusual for the woman to be a sailor where the man isn’t,” she said.

“Lots of people, particularly in the UK, find it difficult to accept.”

In spite of leaving, Shrewsbury still has a strong connection with Lyttelton.

She said: “I love going back to Lyttelton. I don’t feel like I have ever left. A sense of belonging is really hard to find but you could find it there. I’m really proud to have brought my children up there.”

Shrewsbury and Prendergast were married in 2020 on Banks Peninsula.

“We are looking forward to starting our journey back to New Zealand.”

Shrewsbury said in their cabin they have a photo taken by a friend of Mitre Peak in Fiordland.

“It’s a reminder of the land we’re aiming for,” she said.

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