Living the dream leads to booming eco tourism business for mariner Mat

By Carl Muir

It takes a salty sea dog to know another one.

I’m on the ocean with Mat Collicott, founder of Boom Sailing and he’s at the helm of his catamaran Fully Charged.  It is pretty clear from the moment he picks us up from the beach at Whitianga’s waterfront that the ocean is where he has always been destined to work and play.

A bit of time on the water with Mat and he feels like a long lost bro. It’s days like these where you wonder how many people in the world are truly following their calling like Mat is.

Today a dozen tourists from Germany, the States, UK and the South Island are kicking back on bean bags and big trampoline decks of his catamaran. We’re en -route to Cathedral Cove, sipping back on Kiwi craft beers and taking in the sights of Mercury Bay. There is complete silence as the hull of Fully Charged slices through the water and Mat has a big smile on his face as he looks out into the bay for the next wind shift. It is a way of life Mat has enjoyed since he was a young fella, sailing right here on the Coromandel.  

“My first taste of sailing was summers spent camping north of Coro town. It didn’t matter what we had, we made it up as we went along, most of the time we were sailing in dinghies with half blown out sails and making stuff up as we went along.”  

It is a story reminiscent  of some of New Zealand’s great mariners like Sir Peter Blake . “My ancestors were all mariners, my grandfather built WW1 submarines. My Dad hopped on a merchant ship in Plymouth, lived the dream and ended up here in New Zealand.All of my uncles had dinghies and boats when I was growing up, it was a way of life, and it has been ever since.”

Watching Mat at the helm it is clear he is in his element being powered by the wind.  And right now there is a big gust of wind behind the sails of Boom Sailing. “We’ve been showing visitors from around the globe the awesome playground we have here for three years now. This summer of 2019 it has really taken off. In 2018 we took around 290 people sailing over the whole year. This January we topped that in one month, with over 300 people hitting the decks of Fully Charged!  We’re fully stoked and our customers have been stoked as well.”

A quick check of tourist review site Trip Advisor confirms this with over 100 glowing reviews - all five star. They key says Mat is exceeding their expectations and “doing everything we can to make them happy. Little touches like plates of local smoked mussels, and the best Kiwi craft beers like Moa. Most of all people just love how relaxed and chilled out the trip is - that is what a holiday is meant to be about.”

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“Mercury Bay was made for sailing. The earliest Polynesian and European navigators like Cook all gravitated to the Bay. Now with us running two boats, this chilled out experience, plus our hard core America’s Cup foiling boat, and Avon on the Windborne with a traditional schooner experience, Whitianga can really put itself out there as New Zealand’s premiere sailing destination. The best thing is we all work together, we’ll sail past Avon and he will text me pumped that my trip is full. That is when tourism works best, we don’t compete, we all work together.”

Seeing his own eco tourism business flourish is a dream that has been a long time in the making for Mat.

Mat’s foray into sailing as a career started by crewing on a 60ft steel ketch the Gemini Galaxy, out of Tauranga. “It was owned and skippered by an old salty sea dog called Graham Butler. Graham was a wildlife nut and photographer so most of the time I was left running the boat while he was off running around the deck taking photos.”

From there Mat started his own company Yacht Delivery NZ. “I delivered posters everywhere around New Zealand in my old Valiant looking for deliveries. Then the phone calls started and for the next 15 years later I sailed hundreds of thousands of miles around the globe” Just like his Dad, Mat still has all of his journeys documented in an atlas with all the routes sketched out.

“We ended up everywhere. We were sailing these mega expensive boats into poor countries. But what made the difference is we were just three guys with dreadlocks, they weren’t our boats, we were just workers and once you got that across the locals they would open up and welcome you with open arms. We were travelling through other peoples back yards, doing crazy stuff your ordinary tourist wouldn’t get to do. That is what sailing has always been to me, something that has helped bridge language and culture.”

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“We did the Coconut Run every year, sailing from Panama through the Galapogas, Marqueses, Tahihi, Samoa, New Caledonia and through to New Zealand. We ran away from hurricanes, we were pirated off honduras, we were even detained in Cuba for 22 days straight. That is one I wasn’t sure we would make our way out of, being bailed up by a drug squad and firearm dogs, all for bribes.” Mat laughs!

Asked what Mat’s favourite place was to sail “Vanuatu hands down. I just love the people, their big smiles and how content they are with the basic things they have in life.”

Mat saw glimpses of what a sailing tourism business might look like, helping other businesses out in the Malborough Sounds. There he met his wife to be, Natalie who was working as a ranger in the Sounds, and later went on to be an advisor to the Minister for the Environment.

Mat’s sailing adventures eventually lead him to the Coromandel.

“I’ve always had a link to Coromandel. I just love the place. Years ago I sailed from Kerikeri to Tauranga, and we came in real close to the Mercs and Whitianga. There was something alluring about it. I swore I’d go back and do some exploring sailing there.”

That opportunity came when Mat’s wife Natalie got a posting with a Kiwi conservation group in Whitianga. Mat gravitated to the water immediately, originally driving the ferry, then going on to become Whitianga’s harbourmaster. All the while he was setting down plans in the background to launch Boom.

In his last month before leaving to devote his energy to Boom, Mat made headlines rescuing an Orca that had become tangled in a crayfish pot’s rope. The Orca had been stuck in the rope for 12 hours with local authorities knowing about it but doing nothing. Mat ignored orders and made a dash to save the Orca. “It would have died overnight if we’d done nothing. Yet, I was stood down immediately” laughs Mat. “I guess that was a sign I was doing the right thing, getting away from all of that bureaucracy!”

Boom has gone from strength to strength ever since, originally with just Mat crewing, then a growing team of passionate sailors. Today 20 year old Charlotte is crewing for Mat, shes been sailing since she was in primary school and describes the gig with Boom as “my dream job, I get to do what I love every day and put smiles on peoples faces at the same time!”

“The best thing is, anyone who comes on board can get to try sailing as well. You can sit back and drink a beer if you want, but plenty of people will get stuck in and give it a go.”

When the opportunity came up for Mat to purchase Team New Zealand’s original foiling catamaran he pounced on it. “Where else in the world can you get to sail on a full on America’s Cup foiling weapon? Nowhere!” Mat says that the New Zealand sailing community has bent over backwards to help him put the foiling experience together. “We’ve had some of Team New Zealand’s crew out giving us tips, suppliers calling us up offering us free sails, everyone wants this to be a success and the sailing community is behind us 110%. We’ve already got people from all around the world keen to travel to New Zealand to give it a go.”

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With a keen crew soon able to take the helm of Fully Charged for Mat he will be able to devote his energy to the more “adrenaline” based foiling experience that is Excess.

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Two days later, I took the opportunity to sneak out for a testing day with Mat on Excess - Boom’s foiling catamaran. We donned wetsuits and helmets It was clear from the outset this was a whole new ballgame. Mat had a different look and demeanour.  The cruisy salty sea dog was gone, Mat was pumped and in race mode, fully in tune with what was happening with every bit of kit on board, as well as what the conditions were throwing at him! As soon as the sails were up we were literally flying! At times the bow was fully airborne and we’d come crashing back down into the oncoming waves with salt water flying everywhere. It was as close as you’ll come to a rollercoaster ride on the water, and every bit as full on as you see on TV.

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This is an experience everyone who has been fascinated by the foiling cats on TV has to experience for themselves, it is just next level!

So what does the future hold for Mat and Boom Sailing? “Fully Charged is now pumping, we’re often doing three trips a day now, and plenty of private charters as well. This year it is all about Excess and the America’s Cup foiling experience and getting that pumping. We’ve done loads of testing, we now have the boat wired, now it is time to give the public a taste of it! I can’t wait to be sailing this thing as many days of the week as I can!”

We’re looking forward to seeing more of what the Boom team get up to in the future!

If you’re ready to go Boom, get in touch with Mat at

www.boomsailing.co.nz

Facebook @boomsailing

Instagram @boomsailing

Boom Sailing, Whitianga, New Zealand Phone: 022 327 8510