Sabrina and Dierk Meyerheinrich

For Sabrina and Dierk Meyerheinrich, winter means escaping the Melbourne weather and sailing the Mediterranean in their Beneteau Oceanis 45, ‘Stella Mia’.

Why did you choose an Oceanis 45?

Why did you choose an Oceanis 45?

Sabrina: We’d been going to boat shows for a long time and we just had so many questions. We couldn’t make up our minds whether to buy a new one or a second hand one or just to charter.

When we saw the Oceanis 45, I just fell in love with it. Dierk said, ‘Don’t even think about it. It’s way out of our reach and it would never sail any good. Not with that wide stern.’

We kept coming back to it, though. After talking with Michael Coxon, we realized that with the exchange rate at the time, the value of the boat and the warranty that comes with a new yacht, it was actually much better value than any of the other options we had thought about.

We signed up just a couple of days later.

Dierk laughs: And it does sail REALLY well!

What was the inspiration for this life on the ocean?

What was the inspiration for this life on the ocean?

Dierk: For me, sailing, surfing, sailboarding, and fishing were my passion from the time I was a child. Years later I was extremely lucky to marry the love of my life, Sabrina. Man, how lucky! She is not only my best friend but shares an equal passion for the sea.

In 2010, Sabrina and I bareboat chartered a yacht in the Greek Islands and that caused us to reconsider our future. Then with our two boys forging their own lives, the ‘oldies’ were free to escape for a few months every year and go sailing.

Sabrina: I’ve grown up with sailing all my life. My dad came to Australia for the 1956 Olympics for Italy – the Star class of sailing. And he ended up staying here. My dad’s done a lot of catamaran sailing – he was an Australian catamaran champion for a while. We’ve both done a lot of sailing over the years, so it’s not new to us.

How was the Mediterranean handover?

How was the Mediterranean handover?

Sabrina: We picked up Stella Mia in Canet en Rousillon in the south of France, in June 2013. Michael Coxon was there – he was wonderful. He stayed for about two weeks and it was just incredible.

Dierk: It’s one of the things when you’re going overseas and doing what we did, you know nothing. We can sail, but we’ve done nothing over there with regard to the culture, the politics, the rules, regulations. Flagstaff Marine helps you with all of that.

There are some rules that you’ve got to abide by, otherwise, you have to pay VAT on the boat, which is 25% of the purchase price – that’s a lot of money!

Flagstaff also gives ongoing support, which saves a whole lot of heartache. They’ve always been very helpful. If we buy another boat we’d go through them again.

How was Stella Mia’s maiden voyage?

Dierk: During the handover, the Mistral winds blew down from the Pyrenees and they were blowing so hard we couldn’t get Stella Mia out for many days.

When we did take her out on the maiden voyage it was still windy. We started out at 20 knots and it ended up at 35 knots.

I said, ‘If anything’s going to break, it’ll break now.’ So, we thought yeah, that’s good. And of course, nothing broke – it was all good. The boat handled beautifully.

Were there any difficult moments?

Dierk: We did have one disaster – we hit a rock once. In Sardinia, about three years ago. It wasn’t serious; we got it lifted and had her checked … she’d survived remarkably well. In the end, we had just skimmed the rock.

Sabrina: It was a loud thump. It was an uncharted rock. That’s what you’ve got to be careful with, there’s a lot of uncharted rock around.

Dierk: Other than skimming the rock we’ve never had any problems with this boat whatsoever.

Dierk: We tend to stay out at anchor rather than go into a marina – they’re very crowded.

Sabrina: You’re right next door to everyone.

Dierk: With a boat in the Mediterranean they really shoehorn you. And it can be expensive. The most expensive marina was in Port o Sieno about three years ago. We paid €140 a night, but at the other extreme, in the public quays in Greece you’re paying only €8.

If you go to anchor in most cases it’s free, unless it’s Croatia where a bloke comes along to your boat and charges you just for the pleasure of anchoring!

How self-sufficient are you on Stella Mia?

Dierk: The power comes from solar panels and a wind generator. If we run into a bit of a deficit, we use our Honda generator, so we’re self-sufficient for quite a while, so we can stay out for a couple of weeks at a time.

We have a fridge and freezer – they’re the main things, but of course, they take the most power. We have our own power; a wind generator and we installed some bigger batteries. Water’s our only limiting factor, but we can hold about 700 liters of water. At home, we use 400 liters a day. But on the boat, 400 liters would last us five or six days.

Sabrina: We’ve got storage under the floor as well where we put a lot of our drinks and things under there.

We bought two little bikes, so when we go into a port we find out where the supermarket is, and we’ve got a little trolley, so we chug off with our little bikes and our trolley and buy whatever we need.

What’s inside Stella Mia?

Dierk: We have three double cabins, one up forward with an en suite and there’s another toilet and bathroom at the back that’s connected to one of the other double cabins at the back. And there’s another serviced cabin as well.

She sleeps six comfortably, but we’ve had 12 on board – sleeping on decks and all that kind of stuff.

Sabrina: When we had our two sons here visiting, their mates found out they were with us, so they all crashed here. It’s very comfortable.


Sabrina: We do have a lot of family and friends come and visit, so that’s always really special. We’ve had people on the Stella Mia who have had hard times and it’s good to see them having a good time.

A lot of them are very apprehensive when they come on board and they think they’re going to be seasick. But they end up crying when they’re leaving, saying, ‘This is the best holiday we’ve had, ever. Can we come back?’

Dierk: And we almost always have an internet connection, so keeping in touch is never a problem.

How do you cope with being back in Melbourne after the winter escape?

Dierk: We have some other business interests, so we take care of them once we’re home. They’re not overly burdensome, but our house needs a lot of work because we’re renovating at the moment. We do a lot of sailboarding and surfing in the other times. We’ve got a little beach shack and a little boatshed on the beach here in Melbourne.

Then there’s the kids and our parents are getting older, so there’s plenty to do. I look forward to coming home, though.

Sabrina: Dierk gets homesick, but I don’t. I do miss my family a lot, but not to the point where I miss them so much that I need to go home.

I actually cry when I have to leave. I get so upset. I kiss the rudder – it’s got lipstick marks all over it that don’t come off!

What are your plans for the years ahead?

Dierk: In a few years we might sail Stella Mia back to Australia. If we do, it’ll probably stay in the Caribbean for a while before crossing the Pacific in a leisurely way.

And then – probably – we’ll eventually come back to Melbourne. The Whitsundays and Port Stephens are also on the bucket list.

Does it give you a different perspective on life?

Dierk: This has certainly changed our lives. You think Europe’s been around a long time, but there’s a lot of places that don’t have much at all and what the people do with what they have is just incredible.

They’re still cooking in little ovens and they grow their own fruit and vegetables. It’s no wonder they live so long, they just eat really healthy food. And they walk a lot, especially in the islands.

Sabrina: It’s the best thing we’ve ever done.

Last words

Dierk: It’s an unintended consequence of something like this, that while it’s a little bit daunting at the beginning, and you’re sailing in waters you’ve never seen before, it does change how you view things.

Sabrina: You develop a newfound respect for the environment and just looking after our planet. Every time I’m out on a sailboard or a paddleboard I’m always trying to pick up rubbish in the sea. I think it’s really important to get the message out there to really look after our oceans. They’re the only ones we’ve got, and they need to be passed onto the next generation in a state that they can enjoy them as well.

Dierk: I always walk on the pier down here at Mornington, pick up fishing lines that people throw out, so birds don’t get tangled up. I found a young albatross that got caught in a fishing line – it was just terrible.

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