Max Darroch

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YOB: 1952
Experience: Commercial Fisherman, Cruise Crew, Cruise Skipper
Regions: Canterbury, Cook Strait, Northland, Chathams, Fiordland, Stewart Island
Interview Location: Milford Sound, NZ
Interview Date: 07 February 2016
Post Date: 01 December 2017; Copyright © 2017 Max Darroch and Steve Crawford

1. EXPERIENCE IN AOTEAROA/NZ COASTAL ENVIRONMENTS

CRAWFORD: Where were you born, Max. And when? 

DARROCH: I was born in Dunedin, in 1952. 

CRAWFORD: What was the age at which you first recall spending a big chunk of time around the water? 

DARROCH: I left school when I was 15, and went straight to work on a fishing boat in Timaru.

CRAWFORD: Prior to the age of 15, were you hanging around the beaches, or touring on dinghies? 

DARROCH: Oh, yeah.

CRAWFORD: Prior to the age of being on your own - if you were with adults or family or whatever, where would you be spending time?

DARROCH: Timaru.

CRAWFORD: In Timaru, were you swimming on the beach, playing with dinghies, fishing? 

DARROCH: Yeah. All of that really. We lived pretty close to the beach. I was swimming on the beach, and we were fishing off the wharfs.

CRAWFORD: What kind of fishing did you do? 

DARROCH: Originally, when I was a kid, just lines off the wharf. Just line fishing, yeah. 

CRAWFORD: Did you ever have access to a dinghy or a boat or anything? 

DARROCH: Yeah, yeah. My Father had a boat, yes. 

CRAWFORD: What did your Dad do? 

DARROCH: He was a draper. He had a drapery shop in Timaru. 

CRAWFORD: At what age did you start to get a little bit more independence - where you could go off with your mates, on your own? 

DARROCH: Oh well, fairly early. I grew up in Timaru. Both my parents worked, so I was on me own most of the time. Probably early teens. 

CRAWFORD: When you got to your teens, when you or your mates had the ability to drive, did that expand your operations? Did you go further afield to spend time around the water? 

DARROCH: Yeah, we went up to Malborough Sounds. Places like that. 

CRAWFORD: What were you doing up there? 

DARROCH: Just holidaying with a boat. 

CRAWFORD: When you were holidaying, what kinds of activities would you be doing while you were there? 

DARROCH: Mostly boating on the Sounds. 

CRAWFORD: Any degree of fishing? 

DARROCH: Fishing, yeah. 

CRAWFORD: Did you ever get into any surfing, or anything like that? 

DARROCH: No. 

CRAWFORD: So, boating and fishing. Did you ever do any harvesting, like freediving for Pāua or anything like that? 

DARROCH: No, I can’t swim. [laughs]

CRAWFORD: So, I guess swimming was out of the question. That’s something that has come up in several of these interviews. There are people who spend their lives on the water - and they can’t swim. Was it the case that in your early education, you had swimming lessons? 

DARROCH: Well, I did. But during my primary school years, I was a sick kid. I wasn’t at school very much. So, I spent a lot of time in hospitals, and I missed out on all the learning. 

CRAWFORD: You were comfortable on the water, just not comfortable in the water.

DARROCH: Yes. [laughs]

CRAWFORD: Where were we? Right - Marborough Sounds. You were boating, and you were in your late teens, early 20s? 

DARROCH: Late teens, yeah.

CRAWFORD: Boating, Fishing. Roughly how much time would you be spending on the water in Marlborough Sounds, during those years? 

DARROCH: Oh, we tried to get out there every day, if we could. The weather was dependent, obviously. We did a bit of water-skiing. I could float with a life jacket. So, I could do a bit of water-skiing in the early days. 

CRAWFORD: When you said that you were up there, were you living in Marlborough Sounds? 

DARROCH:  No, we were just holidaying. 

CRAWFORD: Roughly, how many weeks of the year might you be up there? 

DARROCH: Oh, maybe four. 

CRAWFORD: And still spending time on or around the water at Timaru? 

DARROCH: Yeah. That was just before I started working, I would have been 14-15. I started fishing in Timaru when I was 15. 

CRAWFORD: What kind of fishing do you mean? 

DARROCH: Trawling. 

CRAWFORD: You crewed on somebody’s vessel, and it was based out of Timaru. Roughly, what was the size of the vessel? 

DARROCH: That one would have been about 60-foot. 

CRAWFORD: It was a trawler - what were the target species? 

DARROCH: Elephant fish, obviously in the summer time. That’s when there’s the big money in it. But we used to go out the deeper water for [Terakihi].

CRAWFORD: Those were bottom-trawls, or midwater-trawls? 

DARROCH: Bottom, yeah. 

CRAWFORD: So, at the age of 15 were you were working full-time fishing? 

DARROCH: Yeah.

CRAWFORD: Was there seasonality to the fishing, more in the summer than the winter? 

DARROCH: Yeah, summer was the time. 

CRAWFORD: Did you alternate to another kind of fishing in the winter or ...

DARROCH: Yeah. We went out to the deeper water in the winter to the continental shelf. 

CRAWFORD: And what were you fishing there?

DARROCH: Another funny fish, we used to call Ghost Sharks that were similar to an Elephant Fish. They were a little bit different in the head. We used to catch them out there in the deeper water. 

CRAWFORD: Ok. How long did that job go till? 

DARROCH: I crewed on the boat till I was about 21, when I bought my own boat, and I worked that until I sold it about four years later. And then I just went back working for the companies again. 

CRAWFORD: What size was the vessel you bought? 

DARROCH: 50-foot.

CRAWFORD: Was it a trawler as well? 

DARROCH: Yes.

CRAWFORD: Pretty much the same kind of activities, same kind of places?

DARROCH: Yeah, yeah.

CRAWFORD: At the end of four years running your own boat, you started running company trawlers? 

DARROCH: I went to Nelson, actually. To work for Sealord’s in Nelson. 

CRAWFORD: How old were you then when you moved to Nelson? 

DARROCH: I would have been about 23-24. 

CRAWFORD: What kind of boat did you end up working on then? 

DARROCH: Trawling, again. Scalloping as well. 

CRAWFORD: With the trawlers, what regions were you fishing? 

DARROCH: Well, these were bigger boats. We went away for a long time. We worked around the Kaikoura coast, around the west coast, up through Cook Strait, in that area.

CRAWFORD: So, you were based out of Nelson, but you were off for weeks at a time?

DARROCH: Yeah. 

CRAWFORD: And your fishing range - on the eastern side of South Island, you came down as far as Kaikoura?

DARROCH: Yeah. About as far as Kaikoura.

CRAWFORD: And then, throughout Cook Strait. And then on the Tasman side - how far did you go there? 

DARROCH: Down as far as Greymouth

CRAWFORD: Ok. So, pretty much all of northern South Island. Did you do any fishing off North Island? 

DARROCH: No, I didn’t. But there were a lot of boats that did do that, yeah. 

CRAWFORD: I forgot to ask - roughly what size were these company trawlers? 

DARROCH: Those ones were about 80-odd feet. 

CRAWFORD: Gone for weeks at a time, full-time fishing, through winter and summer? 

DARROCH: Yeah. 

CRAWFORD: I think you said there were some scalloping going on there too? 

DARROCH: Yeah, I did a bit of scalloping inshore for a while.

CRAWFORD: That was independent of the work you were doing with the trawling? 

DARROCH: Yeah. 

CRAWFORD: What kind of boat were you using when you were scalloping? 

DARROCH: A little ex-Crayfish boat. They just put scalloping gear on it. It was about 40 foot - a steel boat. 

CRAWFORD: Where would you go scalloping? 

DARROCH: A lot on Tasman Bay, right in the bay itself.

CRAWFORD: That was a summer thing or a winter thing? 

DARROCH: That was a summer thing, yeah. There was a season for it. 

CRAWFORD: Ok. How long did you fish like that, trawling and scalloping? 

DARROCH: Scalloping, I only did for one season. And then I went back to trawling, well went onto a bigger trawler after that. Still based out of Nelson. But We used to go out for six or seven weeks at a time, out past the Chathams. I wasn’t the Skipper, I was just a mate on it. 

CRAWFORD: But it was offshore, deepwater trawling?

DARROCH: Orange Roughy, we were chasing. 

CRAWFORD: That went on for a few years? 

DARROCH: Yeah. 

CRAWFORD: What was the next change, in terms of your time on the water? 

DARROCH: Oh, the boat broke down, actually. And I was sitting in a bar in Nelson reading the paper on Saturday morning. We were Juniors, we were [overtiding] for Skippers, and doing these things for the summer season. So a fella I might get a free trip to Milford Sound for a job interviews. [laughs] Fill in a couple days and that was 21 years ago, and I’m still here. [laughs]

CRAWFORD: That’s a fairly distinctive break. Roughly what year was that? 

DARROCH: Well, I came here 1995. 

CRAWFORD: Have you Skippered cruises in Milford Sound, through the past 20 years? 

DARROCH: Yeah. Here and we did a bit down on Stewart Island, around the southern fiords during the winter time on the Wanderer. It was the overnight boat that was here just a few minutes ago. I worked that one when I first started. 

CRAWFORD: Down around Stewart Island during winters - how many seasons for that? 

DARROCH: It was probably six or seven years that I was on that. 

CRAWFORD: Would you leave from Milford Sound on those Stewart Island trips?

DARROCH: Leave from Doubtful

CRAWFORD: Then head down to Stewart Island from there. Have a complement or about 50 people on board? 

DARROCH: Yeah, about that. When we were doing the Stewart Island trips, we’d actually sail from Bluff.  Do Doubtful, around Dusky, Preservation - that trip. Then we used to go to Bluff, and then do four or five days on Stewart Island. 

CRAWFORD: Whereabouts on Stewart Island were you? 

DARROCH: We worked down on the eastern side of Stewart Island. I wasn’t Skippering, I was just chief dishwasher and toilet cleaner. 

CRAWFORD: Did you spend any time in Halfmoon Bay

DARROCH: Yeah. 

CRAWFORD: Did you fish, or do anything like that when you were there? 

DARROCH: No. 

CRAWFORD: Or was it just a port-of-call? 

DARROCH: Yeah, that’s all. We’d get water in.

CRAWFORD: You did those trips for a few years anyways?

DARROCH: Yeah, for the winter time. In the summertime I came up here to Milford.

CRAWFORD: You mentioned the other sounds, south of here. While you were running the cruises here, did you ever spend any significant amount of time outside Milford Sound? 

DARROCH: Every year we had to take the boats down to Bluff for survey. 

CRAWFORD: The coastals? 

DARROCH: Yeah. So, I did them. I took them down to Bluff and back. Oh, did that for about ten-odd years, backwards and forwards. 

CRAWFORD: That’s about a 20-hour run? 

DARROCH: Yeah, about 24 hours. 

CRAWFORD: Did you stop at a couple of places, along the way? 

DARROCH: No. If the weather was right, we just kept going. And the Red Boats, when I used to work for them, we used to take them around to Dunedin.

CRAWFORD: In general, did you have seasonality in your cruises? Was there a greater number of cruises in the summer, than in the winter? 

DARROCH: Yes. Summer’s a busy time, yeah. 

CRAWFORD: In the summers, what would a typical day look like? Two or three cruises? 

DARROCH: On these things, yeah three cruises a day.

CRAWFORD: Was it a 7 days on, 4 off? Something like that? 

DARROCH: 7 and 7, with that company. 

CRAWFORD: 'That company' being Southern Discoveries?

DARROCH: No, that was Real Journeys. I worked for Southern Discoveries after that. It was 10 days on and 4 off. 

CRAWFORD: How many years did you work here for Real Journeys? 

DARROCH: 11 years.

CRAWFORD: And then how many years for Southern Discoveries? 

DARROCH: I think it's about 8. 

CRAWFORD: And then how many years have you been working for Mitre Peak Cruises?

DARROCH: Oh, I’m just doing this part-time now. I’ve sort of semi-retired.

CRAWFORD: That’s important. When did you semi-retire? 

DARROCH: About a year ago. 

CRAWFORD: And the winter season - how many cruises a day? 

DARROCH: Winter time is a lot quieter, sometimes we only get in two cruises a day in here. 

CRAWFORD: The cruises that I’ve experienced for the last couple of days doing interviews - it's typically out to the Tasman, then back again?

DARROCH: That’s it. All pretty much the same. Some are a wee bit longer, some are shorter. 

CRAWFORD: But you’re talking about pretty much you doing the same transect - from a scientific point of view - that gets sampled three times a day, pretty much every day, with appropriate breaks. And that happens season-in, season-out for 20 years. You know Milford Sound pretty damn well. 

DARROCH: I’ve got a feeling I’ve seen it before! [laughs]

CRAWFORD: Yes, I bet. Ok. Other than the southern winter cruises, and the coastal runs, would you have spent any other significant time along the Fiordland coastline? 

DARROCH: Not really, no. I did a bit of Crayfishing many, many years ago. I come down with an old guy from Timaru, and we worked from George Sound and Bligh Sound, Crayfishing. He dropped dead on me on the deck, so I spent most of my time here. But that was the only other time I’ve been here.

CRAWFORD: Ok. Did we miss anything important, where you would have been spending time on the water doing other things? Or maybe you were elsewhere? Or does this pretty well summarize your experience on the water in New Zealand? 

DARROCH: I think so, yeah. 

Copyright © 2017 Max Darroch and Steve Crawford