One of the advantages of owning your own superyacht shipyard, is that when you want to undertake a refit on a former navy vessel to turn her into a family yacht to travel the world on, the answer from the yard will of course be yes.

This is what Peter White-Robinson, owner of New Zealand based yard Fitzroy Yachts has done. With his wife Sharon and their two sons Cole and Finn, the couple and a group of family friends set off from Auckland today to undertake a two and a half year tour around the world on board their converted yacht, MV Kahu. The yacht is named for the kahu, an Australasian harrier and abundant native bird of NZ and the word also means cloak in Maori. One of five ex Moa class inshore patrol vessels of the Royal New Zealand Navy, Kahu was refitted by the White-Robinson’s in a year-long refit project to become what will be the family’s home until 2015. 

MV Kahu, moored in Auckland's Viaduct Harbour prior to departure

“We’d been wanting to do something adventurous for quite a while and had considered different options,” said Sharon. “The navy had five of these boats in the Moa class, and as they replaced them they sold them off. We had talked about it, and we heard that two had sold and we though that’s not such a bad idea but it just wasn’t the right time, and the planets just weren’t aligned in the right way. Then when they finally got to selling this one, she was last in the series, we thought well it’s now or never. We put in a price and it was accepted and then we jumped for joy and then we thought oh heck, what have we let ourselves in for. I think we’re still going oh heck aren’t we?”

Having bought her, the White-Robinsons used her as she was for some time, before beginning the refit in June 2011. “The real project took just over a year,” said Peter. “It worked out to be bigger than we originally thought.”  The work list was extensive. “She was 92ft, so we added 30ft of length to her,” said Peter. “We raised the bulwarks up forward and we took the superstructure off and added a new superstructure.” “She was quite small topside so there wasn’t very good captains quarters and the mess and the galley were downstairs so we’ve topsy turveyed it,” added Sharon. “All the accommodation is downstairs and the general living areas are on the main deck and the bridge and another saloon are above.”

The yacht is now fully equipped: “We added a lot of equipment like a sewage treatment plant, water makers, a third generator, stabilisers, bow and stern thrusters and an extra anchoring system. We’ve upgraded all the electronics and GPS, radar and we have a whole different suite of instruments up there in the bridge,” said Peter. Most importantly, considering the travel itinerary planned, her fuel capacity was upped from 13,000l to 32,000l giving an 8000 mile range at 8 knots. “The navy listed their range as being 1300 miles so we have a much better range now,” he said.

The bridge

By the White-Robinson’s own admission, she is not a superyacht – and was never intended to be – although the touches of those who build superyachts are clearly there and she is not many worlds away from an explorer yacht.  “You wouldn’t want to look to closely at the faring and painting,” said Peter. “For us, for what we’re doing – two and a half years bashing around the world – it was the right level of finish for us. We’re not going to be sitting tied up in the Med all the time. It wouldn’t have been practical for us to do that [level of finish] and I didn’t want the cost of it.” “She’s not a plastic fantastic,” agreed Sharon. “She’s been a work boat and we didn’t want to change that too much. It would have been not the right thing to do to remove her completely from her roots.”

The main saloon dining area (above) and galley (below)

With the refit complete, Kahu is a light, bright and airy family boat. Sharon undertook the interior design herself, with consultation with Peter. “Between us and the joinery team, once they knew the wavelength I was on they could bring all their experiences to the design,” said Sharon. The palette has been kept quite neutral and clean with bleached woods and timber blinds, all complemented by the huge windows, which let natural light in throughout the yacht. “The team were really good, having built lots of superyachts. I had the idea in my head but they were really good about turning that into a reality,” said Sharon. “I think it was hard for the team to take several steps back from the superyacht level they are used to, but they’ve made a great job and we’re not complaining."

There is accommodation on board for 16, all with the same neutral palette. As well as the master cabin, there are two queen suites, a double and a twin bedroom. Their sons, together with the sons of two family friends who are joining them on the trip, have their own four-bedroom cabin with bunk beds. A sofa converts into an extra set of bunk beds should the boys have friends visiting. The trip has been timed around crucial periods of the children’s schooling, and while away they have a teacher on board and will be taught in a specially designed school room.

The master bedroom

“We’ve tried to create quite a few different areas that people can have their own space in,” said Peter. “Technically we’ll have 14 on board, and then quite often we’ll have guests – we’ve got quite a long guest list – as well,” said Sharon, who explained that because of this it was important to have several useable spaces that could be used and retreated to.  “We wanted to try and make it as homely as possible, we’re not formal people, and it’s not a crew guest divide yacht, half the crew is family and we all sit down and eat together so there’s no them and us.” True to the brief there are many useable spaces, including a den forward (which, with a day head in close proximity, can convert into an extra cabin if necessary) and two main lounge spaces as well as spacious deck areas.

The den area, located forward: "The idea here was to make it cosy," said Sharon White-Robinson

The bridge leads off from the upper saloon, which leads in turn to a large exterior deck space: “I like this room, it will have such great views,” said Sharon, whose musical instruments are housed in this salon. A further open deck up top provides abundant storage space. As one would expect for a family adventure, there are plenty of toys and tenders on board, including a sailing dinghy, kayaks and tenders. “There’s not a jet ski much to our older sons enormous disappointment,” said Sharon. A crane has been installed to allow the various watercraft to be lifted in and out of the water easily.

The upper saloon (above and below)

Departing Auckland today, the yacht has a packed travel itinerary to keep the family busy until their planned return in 2015. Their first stop will be Tahiti, then Fiji, then Rarotonga, the Marquesas, the Galapagos islands before going through the Panama canal. Next on the list is travelling along the Mississippi river and then afterwards hopefully undertaking the North West passage before finally making their way home to New Zealand. It will be the adventure of a lifetime, without a doubt.

Peter and Sharon White-Robinson on board Kahu

Having completed Kahu, Fitzroy Yachts is undertaking completion work on the Dubois flybridge G50, which is set to launch in the coming months. The yard has also secured a new order for Hull FY17, a 37m Dubois designed fast cruising sloop which began construction in May and will complete in 2014. Fitzroy Yachts will be exhibiting at the Monaco Yacht Show.

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