Queenstown dentist all at sea


Dr Ross Buchanan is taking a voyage into the unknown. The long-time Queenstown dentist fills in Philip Chandler on his plans and explains why he’s leaving a secure job to sail the seven seas.

A Queenstown dentist is sinking his teeth into the challenge of a lifetime.

Realising a 38-year-long dream, Dr Ross Buchanan is retiring from his resort practice from next Thursday to sail the world for possibly the next eight to 10 years.

He and his wife Polly will fly to Brisbane, Australia, on June 4, to unite with their new ‘home’ – a 45-foot [13.7 metres] Outremer catamaran called ‘Vaa Nui’, meaning ‘big canoe’.

Unfortunately, his first mission will be repairing the boat after she was broken into last spring.

He and Polly will then start their voyage by going to New Caledonia, where they originally picked up the boat last August, before heading to Vanuatu.

Come the cyclone season, Ross will probably take a locum dentist’s job in Australia before they resume their cruise.

Now 56, Ross says he first got the bug for sailing around the world when he was a student.

“I remember looking at yachts and planning on building a boat to sail around the world.”

Ross, who’s practised in Queenstown for the past 25 years, says he originally hoped to sail away when he was about 45.

In 2007, he finished second in his class in a solo trans-Tasman race from New Plymouth to Mooloolaba, in Queensland.

After that, he, Polly and their two girls cruised the Queensland coast for a year.

However, he then had to return to his practice, which he still owned.

Eight years ago he sold it to Kiwi dental practice company Lumino and took on a four-year contract, thinking that would see him out.

I wasn’t quite ready to go – the girls were at university and needed my support still but now they don’t really need me.”

Now’s a good time to leave, Ross says.

“Everybody’s healthy, we’re young enough and fit enough, and financially we’re in a position where we can do it, to a point.”

While Ross loves sailing – “it’s the feeling of freedom when you’re sailing, and you make a lot of friends along the way” – he admits that Polly doesn’t have his sea legs.

When they took delivery of the boat in New Caledonia, Polly was seasick on the trip to Brisbane.

“It was just a horrible time for her.

“I think the words she used were, ‘I’d far sooner go through childbirth again’.

“The boat’s really buoyant so it’s a rough ride and it took me three days to get used to that motion.

“Then I started to actually thoroughly enjoy the fact she can go so fast, as well.”

Ross plans on picking up locum jobs at various stops around the world – “we’ve got a few investments but I feel as if I have to work, still, to earn some money”.

They also intend popping home to Queenstown at various times.

Ross says they’ve got no fixed idea on how their adventure will unfold.

“I haven’t said, like, ‘we’ll do 10 years and then we’re going to quit’.

“We’ll carry on till we want to change, and things could change.

“Our health could change, our girls will get married one day and probably have children – that will change where we want to be.

“And the world’s a changing place – there are certain places that are becoming harder and harder to get to.”

On the other hand, Ross says “we could be away one year and go, ‘you know, we’re not enjoying this, let’s come home”‘.

Meantime, with just days left till their lives undergo a sea-change, Ross says he has mixed feelings.

“It still feels like I’m just going to go away on a holiday – it doesn’t feel like it’s a permanent thing.”