Jo Ivory is living her sailing dream and she’s keen to share it.
The vastly-experienced skipper, who was raised in Marlborough and learned her sailing skills in the top of the south, currently helms iconic Kiwi round the world yachts Steinlager 2 and Lion New Zealand for the NZ Sailing Trust, based in Auckland.
The charitable trust, which was inspired by the adventures of Sir Peter Blake and his racing teams, ensures that key yachts from the nation’s rich sailing history are preserved and provide sailing adventures for future generations.
Jo is a big part of their plans, the only female skipper employed by the trust, taking groups of youngsters out in the famous vessels, teaching them sailing, navigation and life skills in six-day trips.
Although she is pinching herself at being given the opportunity to take charge of such wonderful yachts, she has compiled an extensive sailing CV over more than 30 years at sea and jumped at the job when offered.
Fate also played a big hand in her recruitment by the trust.
After travelling the world since 2014, Jo was based in the Caribbean in late 2017 when Hurricane Irma struck, “annihilating” her sailing base in the British Virgin Islands. With her immediate prospects of resuming work in the Caribbean scuttled, she followed some friends’ advice and applied for a skipper’s role with the trust.
“I never thought that I would ever be considered,” said Jo, “but I fired my CV off and they came back immediately and wanted to know when I could start.
“So one door had slammed shut [with the hurricane] and another immediately opened up with the trust.”
Her early introduction to the new job did not go entirely to plan. The idea was for Jo to do one week on Steinlager 2, then have a week off followed by a week on Lion NZ. However Lion NZ was undergoing a $1.6 million refit and when funding fell short the trust were down to one boat for a year.
Unable to exist in Auckland on part-time wages, Jo seized the opportunity to deliver a yacht from Tenerife to the Mediterranean, then worked in the Greek Islands until March 2019, when Lion NZ went back in the water.
Her dramas did not end there though. Two days after returning to NZ she fell over in the backyard and broke her arm, meaning it was three more months before she was able to take up her current role.
Along the way Jo found time to hop onto another iconic yacht, helping legendary skipper Tracy Edwards sail Maiden, famous for carrying the first all-female crew to complete the Whitbread round the world race in 1989-90, up to Hawaii.
Now Jo is fully focussed on her work with the trust and thrilled by the opportunity to get behind the wheels of such illustrious craft.
“I can’t believe it … they are amazing boats, absolutely amazing.
“Because Lion has had $1.6m put into her, she is just the crème de la crème, but Steinlager is the one that really gets your heart and rips it out.
“When you have got fingertip control, guiding that big red beast and she is just thundering along … she has got legs and just gets up and runs.”
Jo is fully aware she steps into some mighty big shoes in the cockpit of both boats.
“I’m blown away … I can’t believe that this little lady from Blenheim, in her 50s, is doing this.
“When I first took Lion out I had to try and pretend it was Caro-Vita [a 53 foot yacht she ran for 10 years out of Picton] not this most iconic yacht that I was in charge of.
“It’s a lot of fun. I can’t believe I am getting paid to do it.”
The trust runs several different ventures, such as corporate charters, to bring funds into their coffers. However the COVID-19 lockdown has hit them in the pocket, losing a steady stream of bookings through March to July.
“We have taken a huge [financial] knock,” explained Jo.
However, she is quick to point out that their main focus is youth training, an area in which she feels the trust have barely scratched the surface.
“I would love to have Marlborough kids here, “she suggested. “We tapped into Auckland and we have started to tap into Northland and the Bay of Plenty, but we have the rest of NZ … there is so much of the country untapped.
“These kids will love it. They will never forget it … it’s over and beyond,” Jo added.