Family on voyage around the world sails into Singapore to mark Deepavali with friends

The Berns – who have lived in New Zealand for the last nine years – first began embarking on their sailing adventures two years ago.

Vihanya Rakshika

Vihanya Rakshika

The Straits Times


The Berns family will spend 10 days in Singapore before sailing to Brunei, Taiwan, and Japan. PHOTOS: COURTESY OF THE BERNS, SAMINATHAN MATHIALAGAN/THE STRAITS TIMES

November 16, 2023

SINGAPORE – Former engineer Andy Berns and his family set sail from New Zealand on their yacht for a voyage around the Asia-Pacific region but made sure to stop in Singapore to celebrate Deepavali with close friends.

Mr Berns, who is from Germany, worked in Singapore for about three years from 2002 for a multinational firm, and one of his sons was even born here. His Russian wife Ludmila used to run a language school in New Zealand.

On Nov 9, Mr Berns and his wife, both 52, and their sons Paul, 17, George, 15, and Konstantine, 13, docked their 13m yacht Somerset at the Changi Sailing Club. They have four other older sons, aged between 18 and 30, who are living across the world.

Mr Berns said: “It was a new experience celebrating Deepavali in Singapore. We went shopping at the bazaar, tried traditional food, and the boys learnt about Indian culture from this experience.”

They wore traditional Indian outfits and immersed themselves in the Deepavali experience at the home of their friends – tech firm managing director Saminathan Mathialagan, 54, and his wife.

Speaking to The Straits Times at the sailing club on Tuesday, Paul said: “The culture is more homogeneous in many of the other places I’ve visited because people belong to the same ethnicity there. In Singapore, there is a good mix of different cultures and acceptance among the people.”

The Berns – who have lived in New Zealand for the last nine years – first began embarking on their sailing adventures two years ago. Their yacht was bought before the pandemic for the price of a luxury car in Singapore, said Mr Berns, who added that he now has his own small company in New Zealand.

First, they undertook a five-month-long journey around New Zealand. Next up was a seven-day sail to Fiji, and later, the Pacific island of Vanuatu. Then came trips to parts of Australia and Indonesia.

After spending four months in Indonesia, they will now spend 10 days in Singapore before sailing to Brunei, Taiwan, and Japan. They have plans to continue sailing around the world, but have not worked out the details yet.

With their savings to see them through, the family spends 30 per cent of the time sailing and 70 per cent exploring the places they visit. One aim is to expose the boys – who are homeschooled – to different cultures.

The boys have also acquired practical skills like radio communication and first aid by helping to operate the yacht. When there is time, they play musical instruments like the cello and violin.

Mr Berns, who learnt to sail as a young boy from his grandfather, said: “Sailing is not necessarily dangerous… One could get killed faster in traffic than in the sea, but you have to be prepared, especially for extreme weather conditions.”

The family uses traditional sailing methods, using their motor engines only for emergencies. So far, they have navigated straits and channels – sometimes crowded with shipping traffic – without problems and attribute their trouble-free voyages to being well-prepared and skilled in yacht operations.

Mr Berns’ sons, like him, started learning to sail from a very young age and this has helped them operate the vessel confidently.

At sea, the Berns eat freshly cooked meals. Mrs Berns said: “We only consume canned food as a last resort. We stock up on provisions at each dock and even bake our own bread onboard in our kitchen.”

Shifts are part of their routine at sea, with each family member taking turns to keep watch. The first 24 hours back at sea are the most challenging, as they readjust to their fixed routine, Konstantine said.

Have they seen any sharks or crocodiles at sea? Yes, but the encounters have been peaceful.

“Life on the Somerset is a lesson of simplicity and gratitude,” Mr Berns said.

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