Nfld. & Labrador

A failed attempt through the Northwest Passage brings a sailor from New Zealand to St. John's

A sailor from New Zealand has tied up in St. John's harbour, citing mechanical and technological problems with his custom, self-built yacht.

Alaska is Peter Smith's last high-latitude destination to explore

Peter Smith has sailed all over the world for 44 years. Now he finds himself in St. John's. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

A sailor from New Zealand has tied up in St. John's harbour, citing ice conditions as preventing his custom, self-built yacht from exploring the Northwest Passage this year.

Peter Smith, 71, is a boat builder, long-distance cruiser, offshore sailor and designer of the Rocna anchor brand. His vessel, the Kiwi Roa, was built 24 years ago, and he has lived onboard ever since it was launched.

"We decided that we would try to get through the Northwest Passage, and that would bring me to Alaska, which is the last high-latitude area of the world that I actually haven't cruised," Smith told CBC News while sitting in the galley of his boat.

"That was basically a year of preparation and getting underway. It takes six months to get from Portugal to the Northwest Passage proper."

Smith says only two vessels got through the passage this year — not even cruise ships with ice-breakers got through. 

Life at sea

Smith has been sailing for 44 years, and the Kiwi Roa is the 13th boat he has built for himself.

He works from and eats, sleeps and lives on his vessel, mostly taking contracts to build boats in the places he stops, which is all over the world.

Smith has spent time in England, Portugal, Papua New Guinea, Thailand and countless other countries during his life at sea. 

Why sailing the world is the only way of life for this New Zealander

4 years ago
Duration 1:55
Peter Smith, 71, says living on a 52-foot aluminum boat gets harder every year, but he wouldn't have it any other way. He and his boat, the Kiwi Roa, are currently in St. John's harbour.

"I can't live in New Zealand for what I cruise this boat. Not many people can probably do that. I think that comes from experience," Smith said, adding he knows how to cut corners to save money while living at sea. 

"In all these places I've found work. Always, my boats are my advertising. People ask me, will I build them a boat, or will I maintain a boat or do something similar."

No stopping now

Smith won't let the failed Northwest Passage attempt stop him from getting to Alaska, however, as he's already thinking about his next adventure after he leaves Newfoundland. 

"I don't have enough time left. I don't have enough years left to kill time. I need to keep moving, keep doing things," he said, adding that he's considering going south to Bermuda, through the Panama Canal and then up to Alaska.

"The seasons are right to do that," he said.

The Kiwi Roa will find its way to Alaska, one way or another, says Smith. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

As for his time on the water, Smith calls himself lucky. 

"I just can't see anything else for me. It's a fantastic way of life, it's a fantastic lifestyle. I couldn't want more," he said. 

With files from On the Go

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


  • A previous version of this story said Smith blamed mechanical problems with his boat for the failed attempt. In fact, it was due to ice conditions.
    Oct 14, 2018 2:43 PM NT