Sophie Thé and Niki Baillie-Jackson aboard Gwenn A Du, their floating weekender! Photo – Sean Fennessy, styling – Sophie Thé, production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.
Gwenn A Du in all her glory! Photo – Sean Fennessy, styling – Sophie Thé, production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.
Interior – looking through the bow into the master cabin (at the front of the boat). Photo – Sean Fennessy, styling – Sophie Thé, production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.
Gwenn A Du interior details. Photo – Sean Fennessy, styling – Sophie Thé, production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.
The stern – looking from kitchen / dining area towards the back deck of the boat. Photo – Sean Fennessy, styling – Sophie Thé, production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.
Alright, clearly, it’s a Wednesday, so you’re expecting to see a house. DON’T PANIC. I do have the sweetest, and dare I say, romantic Sydney weekender to share with you… but it’s not a home in the strictest sense. It’s a beautiful 1960’s sailing boat, or ‘ketch’ – and her name is Gwenn A Du!
Gwenn A Du, or Gwenn as she is affectionately known, is a home-away-from-home for Sydney lad Niki Baillie-Jackson, and his partner, stylist Sophie Thé. Sophie is French and fabulous – you might already know her as the amazing assistant of Megan Morton! Niki is a charmer, and a nomad of sorts – he works as a landscaper, but every spare day he has is spent sailing, and since purchasing Gwenn three and a half years ago, he cares not for spending too much time on dry land! Niki has more or less lived on Gwenn A Du (which is the French Name for the Brittany flag) for the past two and half years.
So how does a Sydney lad end up with a 36ft 1960’s sailing boat instead of an overpriced Bondi apartment?! Sophie will explain!
‘Niki lived in Laos, and before that China’ says Sophie. ‘Upon his return to Sydney he spotted Gwenn a Du for sale online. She was the first boat he looked into buying’. It really was a case of ‘right place / right time’ for Gwenn and Niki. Being a timber boat built in the 60’s, Gwenn really needed an active owner who could keep her well maintained and sail her every day. She’s not the kind of boat you can keep anchored and just take out when the weather is good! Niki was looking for an alternative to the rat race he encountered when moving back to Sydney, and along came Gwenn – it was the perfect match! ‘Having never sailed or spent any time on a boat, it was a steep learning curve, but he had discovered a cure to the constrictions of modern life’ says Sophie. Niki was hooked!
However, truth be told, it’s actually Sophie who has the real nautical credentials here! She moved to Australia in 2001, having worked in private luxury yachts sailing all over Australia, the South Pacific, and the Mediterranean. After seven years at sea, Sophie studied interior design, while renovating a client’s house on Pittwater. Since 2011, she’s worked side by side with stylist Megan Morton. ‘We laugh. A Lot!’ says Sophie of her current, slightly chaotic role as Megan’s right hand woman. Sophie does have a small Sydney apartment, but most evenings and weekends are spent with Niki and Gwenn!
Gwenn was built in Noumea, New Caledonia, which Niki only recently found out by chance, when chatting to a salty old sailor who happened to be in the same shipyard in 1967 when Gwenn was first launched! Not even her previous owner of 20 years was aware exactly where and when she was built. ‘We do know she has sailed to America and back to Hawaii several times across the Pacific, before coming to Australia in 1979’ says Sophie.
Gwenn is a wooden boat, which by nature, means she requires lots of TLC. Her hull is New Caledonian kauri timber, very well built and the only boat of her kind. ‘We have no blue prints or sketches of her original design to refer to, so you really have to spend a lot of time with her to learn all her quirks and oddities’ says Sophie. ‘Most of the work is a pleasure – painting and revarnishing, salting the decks after rain and airing her out when it’s hot’. Gwenn has just about everything a house does – a solar panel on her deck provides all the electricity required for lights and a small fridge, computer and sound system.
‘Everything inside of this boat is framed by the beautiful timber of the hull itself, with the graceful curves and unique corners you can only find in a hand built wooden boat’ says Sophie. ‘The hull expands from the ground up, giving a real feeling of space for a yacht of this size. The main living area has a large table that can be dropped to create an extra double bed, which is lovely when not at sea. All the beautiful port holes are brass, which over time bleed a green colour, the timbers are all hardwoods that age nicely and retain their good looks. Everything has to be designed to work both when at anchor and at sea, meaning that everything has a place and a function’.
It’s clear both Niki and Sophie are pretty taken with ‘boat life’. When asked what she loves most about time spent on Gwenn, Sophie explains it’s really about autonomy. ‘Your boat is your kingdom, and therefore you become chained hand and heart to your boat’s fate, the good and the bad. Waking up on the water is surreal the first time, and never stops being beautiful. Similarly, being rocked to sleep at night has yet to grow old. The freedom to move ones home and all ones possessions to (theoretically) anywhere on the planet accessible by water is incredible – and powered only by the wind and sun no less! Sailing is a magical feeling. And nothing beats having everyday a 360 degree view that changes everyday!’.
Ok we got a bit excited and inquisitive, and thought we’d share a few addition quick questions with Sophie about ‘boat life!’ –
Best thing about living on a boat?
Some nights I cook Bouillabaisse, open a bottle of Cote du Rhone, and we have dinner to the sounds and sights of the sea.
What do you buy a person who lives on a Boat?
A copy of Life Of Pi or a life raft! And bikinis. I can never have enough bikinis!
How can a stylist live on a boat?
Megan and I have full kits that live in our cars, so all stylist situations are dealt with. I keep a small apartment for my magazines, books and larger items but really spend only a few nights a month there.
How do you feel about land lubbers’ current obsession with anchors?
It’s hilarious! It has such a strong meaning for us. We rely on it for the safety of Gwenn every day.
Do you entertain much on the boat?
Always! I am French don’t forget.
What have you learnt from living on boats?
Living on Gwenn reminds me every day how extraordinary simple life is, in absolute connection with nature and the environment. Through work I’ve been lucky enough to see the most beautiful houses around the world, the most expensive atmospheres money can buy, but for me nothing is as beautiful as living on a boat. I feel like a Queen on Gwenn.
I love the way Niki and Sophie refer to Gwenn as an old friend, rather than as a vessel or a vehicle! With her unique hallmarks of age and experience, she really does have a personality all her own. It was a challenge to capture Gwenn’s beauty and charm on camera – I do hope we did her justice!
MASSIVE ENORMOUS THANKYOU to Sophie and Niki for sharing Gwenn with us today, for telling her story so beautifully, and for being the best hosts ever! This was SUCH a fun shoot. Despite the not-very-Sydney weather.