“You’re not just getting a boat. You’re getting the whole extra family it comes with.” That’s Sarah Vandekerkhove of British Columbia, citing one of her favorite perks of Sea Ray ownership. When she’s not busy helping run the multiple businesses owned by herself and her family, she’s driving one of the many Sea Rays the clan keeps on hand for business and personal use.
For client entertaining, there is a 420 Sedan Bridge, which she captains for her father’s corporation. “They always think I’m the hostess,” laughs the beautiful, graceful and extremely competent boat captain. “Then they’re shocked when I start to drive the vessel.”
For family fun and water play, Sarah keeps a 220 Sundeck. She says she’d never considering owning a boat outside of the Sea Ray line, and not just because of the quality she’s come to expect, but also because of the network of support and friendship she’s come to love. “When I talk to people who own other types of vessels, they don’t report that same level of dedication and loyalty that Sea Ray owners do. We’re all here to help each other out, we learn from each other and we always have a great time.”
Sarah began her captaining career at 18, when she took a summer job in the South of France working for a yacht charter company. Before she knew it, she had gone from being the “cleaning lady” to yacht valet, moving the various vessels around the marina and to service appointments. The next summer was spent driving the family’s ski boat on Lake Okanagan. “My girlfriend and I went out every single day and in every type of weather,” she says. “It didn’t matter if was storming with 4-foot waves! We were 19; what did we care?”
When it came time to pilot the corporate sport yacht in the unpredictable Pacific, she knew she wanted more extensive training. “My dealer at M&P Mercury in Vancouver, Bob Pappajohn, spent at least 20 hours training me on the Sedan Bridge. I needed to be able to handle it by myself in every type of weather, day and night…to know how and where to anchor safely, how to deal with emergencies. He was such a great teacher.
“From there we just kept adding boats,” she laughs. Next came her personal 370 Sundancer, but in recent years, Sarah can be most often be found at the helm of the family’s prized 60 Sundancer, 4 Play. Accompanying is usually some combination of her family, which includes her sons, her mom and dad, her three sisters and countless cousins.
“It’s my favorite of the boats we own because I never have to check the weather,” she says of 4 Play. “I can use it in any season and we’re always comfortable.”
On being a female captain, Sarah says she doesn’t understand why there aren’t more women at the controls because it’s often women that make calmer captains. “Everyone says I’m so good at driving the boats, but it’s just because I do everything slowly and calmly,” she says. “It’s like dealing with child. If you stay calm, everything will work out just fine.”
Sarah took delivery of the 60 Sundancer straight from the factory in Florida so the family could enjoy a Bahamian vacation. “There was a hurricane just being downgraded to a tropical storm,” she says, “but we decided to go through it anyway. I knew the boat could handle it, and it did. Fantastically.”
Since then, 4 Play has weathered many storms in British Columbia’s famously rough waters, though most weekends it can be found docked at some fabulous location. Key among them is Poet’s Cove on Pender Island, where the Vandekerkhoves like to meet up with other Sea Ray families. You know the expression, “It takes a village to raise a child?” Sarah asks. “Well, this community of Sea Ray owners is that village. And that’s something that’s so hard to find these days.”