Experience: Nature Tour Skipper, Boater
Interview Location: Dunedin, NZ
Interview Date: 04 December 2015
Post Date: 08 July 2017; Copyright © 2017 Nigel Young and Steve Crawford
1. EXPERIENCE IN AOTEAROA/NZ COASTAL ENVIRONMENTS
CRAWFORD: Let's go back to your early days. What is the first age that you started to spend a significant amount of time around the water?
CRAWFORD: Where about, specifically?
YOUNG: Just here off Barrett’s Reef
CRAWFORD: In Wellington Harbour or outside?
YOUNG: Outside of the harbour. There’s this channel here where the ships go. We’re right on the narrows there of the entrance, opposite Barrett’s Reef - which became well known through the sinking of the Wahine. That’s through the rocks, about half way down the channel. And on the far side of that channel, the ships come and go.
CRAWFORD: So that was home. You were a stone’s throw away from the water all the time. What is your first memory of spending time on the water?
YOUNG: For my childhood, when I was small, my parents used to run a kayaking operation on the Whanganui River which is up the coast, it’s a large river. Used to run kayaking tours up and down. So, when I was tiny, my dad would be taking the passengers, the people, down the river. Mom and us kids would follow and set the camp site up for the people when they arrived for the night. And so we would play in the river a lot. I remember jumping and sliding in the river. But in the ocean, that was mostly boats. Dad had a sailboat, and ran a jet boat in the river. I also remember sailing with my uncle, we used to go sailing with all the family sometimes.
CRAWFORD: What age? Maybe, five or six, your Dad would take you out yachting?
CRAWFORD: Your activities would include yachting, boating, kayaking. Were you swimming as well?
YOUNG: Yes, that was probably the most common thing.
CRAWFORD: Overall, roughly how much would swimming take up? 60%, 90%?
CRAWFORD: With a little bit of the other boating activities in there as well?
CRAWFORD: Would that all have been on a seasonal basis? More summer than winter?
YOUNG: For our climate, more in the summer. Another place that was very influential in my young life was that we had a holiday house right in the Bay of Islands. Right up here, off Cooper’s Beach close to Maunganui. We would go up all the way for our six-week school holidays, and spend the summers there. We would spend the whole time in and around the beach.
CRAWFORD: What kinds of activities?
YOUNG: Line fishing off the wharf, swimming, boating.
CRAWFORD: So, if that’s your six-week holiday, for the rest of the year roughly how much time would you be spending around coastal waters?
YOUNG: Really seasonal. Really summer activities. We would head to the beach when the weather was nice, and on the holidays. We would swim there sometimes, but often, that was in and around the coast. For instance, every day we would walk the dogs around the coast, or we would be looking down across the road across the beach, beach combing, or jumping on the rocks. There were a lovely set of rocks to run across. We would spend time on the beach quite regularly. Almost be a daily activity - maybe not daily, but close.
CRAWFORD: When you think of the next significant change, maybe addition of an activity, or maybe relocation or whatever. What’s the next natural break point in your coastal experience?
YOUNG: I think perhaps in terms of spending on the water, it was probably for me when I started sailing.
CRAWFORD: You had joined a sailing club or yachting club?
YOUNG: No. I just worked as crew for other people. I was never actually a member of a sailing club. I was just crew on yachts. But it became a regular thing on Saturdays or Sundays.
CRAWFORD: How old were you when you started doing that?
YOUNG: That may have been up around early 20s.
CRAWFORD: These are bigger yachts then?
YOUNG: Yes. Keelers, racing yachts.
CRAWFORD: And this is based out of Wellington Harbour?
CRAWFORD: Where did you learn how to crew? Was that something you just picked up?
YOUNG: Yes. Having grown up with my father’s and my uncle’s yachts - we used to go sailing with my uncle and his family sometimes. So it was quite natural for us to know what lines to pull, and what sails did, and how they needed to look. And Wellington, of course, it does blow. So we experienced through that time as a family on the water, an appreciation for the conditions and the mechanics. I went to go sailing just out of interest, as a hobby. Just started to spend time with different captains on their boats, and ended up jumping around boats over the years.
CRAWFORD: How big would these boats be roughly.
YOUNG: Around 30 to 40 ft.
CRAWFORD: And these were racing vessels?
CRAWFORD: I imagine there was a seasonality to this sailing as well?
YOUNG: Yes. There were winter and summer series, so for a couple of years I did both winter and summer series. The races would take maybe three hrs on a Saturday, or maybe just 1.5 hours on a Wednesday. But there would also be an off-shore series that would be a weekend away. So, we hit off across Cook Strait, or we would go around Island Bay, or take over here to the Brother, race out, around, and back. Sometimes we would race to Picton.
CRAWFORD: During the season, this would have been a once or twice a week thing, with the occasional weekend part.
CRAWFORD: Were you working, or going to school, or something else at the same time?
YOUNG: I was working or at University.
CRAWFORD: How long does that go for? From your early 20s to when?
YOUNG: That was probably three to four years total, my sail racing properly. I think something like that.
CRAWFORD: Ok. That takes us up to about 25. What happens then?
YOUNG: I travel.
YOUNG: I spent a couple years in Australia. I was interested in boating. I went across, and was there for six months of the America's Cup. And I spent time working around Australia.
CRAWFORD: Did you spend a significant amount of time on or around the water then?
YOUNG: A bit. We had a flat for the summer by the river in Perth and of course, we swam a lot at Surfer's Paradise, where we were based for six months.
CRAWFORD: That was at Perth?
YOUNG: No, that was over in Brisbane - the Gold Coast on the eastern side. That was beach culture there. Did a little trek around the coast of Australia and ended up in Perth.
CRAWFORD: When did you come back from this overseas experience?
YOUNG: I came back from Australia for a year, worked, saved money, and moved off again. I think I was about 23 when I came back
CRAWFORD: Where did you come back to?
YOUNG: I came back to Wellington. I was working to save money to leave again. For a year or so.
CRAWFORD: Did you spend a lot of time on the water or were you mostly working.
YOUNG: I was living in Breaker Bay again with my family, at the family home. And working in Seatoun, on the coast of Wellington, inside the harbour. I was working and living around the water.
CRAWFORD: Putting money in the bank. And then off again?
YOUNG: Yes. To Canada.
CRAWFORD: How long did this overseas experience take you?
YOUNG: That was over five years. Five and a half years, I was away.
CRAWFORD: Off to Canada. Where else did you go?
YOUNG: Spent some time in Canada, then drove up and spent a year and a half in Alaska. I worked in a ski field. And then worked on the fishing boats. Our fishing boat went out to Kodiak Island. It was contracted by Exxon because it was a reasonably quick salmon seiner, so we helped with the oil clean-up, and I got a good payout. Then I went back down to Vancouver, and bought a van and drove over the Rockies, and hung out for a while there. And ended up making my way across to the East Coast.
CRAWFORD: You drove all across Canada?
YOUNG: Yes. I drove across along the 48th parallel. It was a stop and start. Spent a few months in Toronto, and worked for a guy on the lake there. There were a lot of boats along the way! Went down to New Bedford in Boston, and back to Toronto, and then through the Maritime Provinces and Newfoundland. And then I hopped on a yacht in Prince Edward Island, and we sailed right down the east coast to the US Virgin Islands. We changed yachts in Bermuda though, because ours got damaged in a storm off the coast. Sailed to Saint Thomas USVI. Spent maybe nine months then working on boats around the Caribbean.
CRAWFORD: Ok. So, you are overseas for five or so years. You’re going to be mid- to late-20s when you come back? Where did you come back to when you returned to New Zealand?
CRAWFORD: What did you do, when you got back?
YOUNG: I came back to study. I enrolled in Victoria University, and I started originally in anthropology, and then I moved into zoology.
CRAWFORD: Social sciences, and then natural sciences. That would have been a four-year program?
CRAWFORD: Did you spend any significant time on or around New Zealand coastal waters during that four-year period?
YOUNG: Yes, I was working on a ferry that goes across Wellington Harbour. This was my main job really, outside studies - part time job. The ferry takes people from Wellington Queen's Wharf across the harbour sometimes stopping at Matiu/Somes Island. I worked mostly weekends, which included doing interpreting for visitors to the island.
CRAWFORD: This is not just a commuter's ferry, it’s a tour ferry?
YOUNG: Indeed. It’s the only ferry really working on the harbour. And this island is lovely in the middle of the harbour. We would do regularly scheduled commuter trips in the morning and evening, and in the middle of the day to the Island.
CRAWFORD: How long did you do this?
YOUNG: Yeah, oh maybe two or three years.
CRAWFORD: Just during the summers, or throughout the year?
YOUNG: Throughout the year.
CRAWFORD: Anything else in terms of significant amount of time on the water while in school?
YOUNG: I might well have been sailing then too. But not in a regular capacity as a regular crew. Kayaking then also.
CRAWFORD: You may have gone out of the harbour, but still pretty much in the general vicinity?
YOUNG: Quite similar to the sailing before, but not quite as often.
CRAWFORD: And all of this extends to the end of your university days?
CRAWFORD: And then what happened?
YOUNG: A bit more travel. Over to Scandinavia, and then Asia. We came back to New Zealand and I enrolled in a University of Otago post-graduate course. That was 2003, approximately.
CRAWFORD: A post-graduate degree in what program?
YOUNG: One year diploma in tourism.
CRAWFORD: While you were doing that, were you spending any significant amount of time on the water?
YOUNG: Not so much, no.
CRAWFORD: After you get the diploma, then where do you go?
YOUNG: Back to Wellington. Took my dissertation there, and I start working. While I was doing the diploma in Dunedin, I bought a house and that was across the road from the water. That’s where I’m living now - still by Otago Harbour. That’s as far as it goes really. After my diploma, I went to Wellington and started working in tourism taking nation-wide tourists on land-based eco-tour trips.
CRAWFORD: What regions of coastal New Zealand would be part of these tours then?
YOUNG: This would be taking people down from Auckland around Coromandel then down around over Taranaki. So, we were camping as we worked our way down the coast around Taranaki, and a bit around King country. Most of the coastal work we did really was over there.
CRAWFORD: How long did that job run?
YOUNG: Three seasons
CRAWFORD: Summer seasons?
YOUNG: Summer seasons, and a little bit of winter stuff.
CRAWFORD: Ok. That brings us up to 2008. Then what happened?
YOUNG: Yeah, I started my business, Eco Tours Wellington.
CRAWFORD: Were those tours terrestrial and aquatic?
YOUNG: A combination of tours. One of the tours was based on Kapiti Island I would pick people up in Wellington, drive them up there. This Island is a special place, a nature reserve and the local Māori, Ngati Toa, run an operation there, and do guided walks and things. I worked in conjunction with John Barrett who knows the area very well. Of course, his family has a lot of history there. So, we became concessioners to run the Department of Conservation guided walks there. These were day trips, and to get there you have to catch the ferry across. So I would pick people up, drive them out, catch a ferry across. Kapiti Island is a reserve, I should say, where there’s a lot of marine life, a marine reserve between the island and the mainland. The island itself is predator-free. so there are proper things there to see in terms of native species. So yeah, take them there for the day, take them back on the ferry and drive them home. This was my day, and often my night would be up at Zealandia, that’s another conservation island which is within the city - a fenced, mammal-free habitat. So, I did that for about six years.
CRAWFORD: That takes you to about 2007? What happened then?
YOUNG: I came to Dunedin.
CRAWFORD: How many years have you been here?
YOUNG: That would probably be around the eight year mark.
CRAWFORD: When you moved here, did you start spending time on or around the water significantly from the very beginning?
YOUNG: Yes, pretty much.
CRAWFORD: Did you come for the job with Monarch Tours?
YOUNG: It wasn’t long after. I was here to fix up my old house which was quite dilapidated at the time. I saw the Monarch sail past, I think in my first week. So I rung them up, and said “Do you need anyone?” I started on the Monarch in a limited capacity, I was skippering say a day and a half a week. Then I started another job too, running people over to Milford Sound. It was a driving job on a bus, but every day as a part of that I would go for two hours out on the boat, at Milford.
CRAWFORD: How many days a week would you be out on the water at Milford Sound?
YOUNG: I would be out three or four days a week.
CRAWFORD: How long were you doing that?
YOUNG: One year. But during that time, I would come back and work on the Monarch. Yeah, that was about a day and a half skippering, probably another day crewing a week, as well.
CRAWFORD: More like three days a week total on the Monarch then?
YOUNG: Yeah, a lot of work during that time.
CRAWFORD: But in that first year, when you’re not on the Monarch, you’re doing trips to Milford Sound, and you’re spending a couple of hours on the boat on the water in Milford Sound. Then what happened?
YOUNG: My wife and I head back up to Wellington, just for a while. We had a few months there, maybe for a year I think, and then we came back down. While I was up there they brought me down a couple of times to work on the Monarch to help relieve when a skipper was sick, or having babies. So, I covered during several holiday and wasn’t that far removed. I came back because they offered me the head skipper’s role.
CRAWFORD: When was that?
YOUNG: That was about four years ago.
CRAWFORD: When you decided to accept the head skipper position, that meant the bulk of your time was going to be on the Monarch. For the past four years, was there a seasonality for the time when you were on the water with the Monarch?
YOUNG: No. But there’s a lot more time on the water in the summer, than in the winter. We have about five hours a day on the water in the winter and double that in the summer.
CRAWFORD: Every day that the weather allows?
YOUNG: It’s not really weather-dependent. We can go whenever, pretty much. It’s pretty rare that we won’t go because of the weather.
CRAWFORD: Ok. About five hours a day, for maybe four or five or five days a week?
YOUNG: Maybe three or four days a week.
CRAWFORD: Does the Monarch always depart from the Dunedin Wharf or sometimes start out at Otakou?
YOUNG: No, we always depart from Dunedin. We leave here in the morning, and spend our day based at that wharf doing 60 or 90 minute tours from Otakou or Wellers Rock Wharf out around the heads of the peninsula.
CRAWFORD: I see. The trip from Dunedin Wharf is not so much for taking people …
YOUNG: Yeah, it’s just to get out there. But we do take people as well. We have buses, and they can hop on in Dunedin, drive out and see Otago Harbour, go to Port Chalmers. There’s a lot of action in the harbour for people. It’s a very shallow harbour and the wading birds are a big part of the show. We see Penguins quite regularly in the harbour, but other unusual species like Bar-Tailed Godwitts and Royal Spoonbills and Stilts as we head out. There’s also the opportunity to see big things, sometimes. We see Whales and Dolphins, but really the birds are the main show going out of the harbour. It’s a lovely harbour, so it takes us an hour and a half to get from Dunedin to Wellers Rock Wharf. And then we pop in there, pick up more people, and then head out for an hour and a half around the Taiaroa Heads, and maybe a little further out offshore, which we spend half an hour beyond.
CRAWFORD: And when you are past the Heads, do you go mostly to the south? Or sometimes to the north?
YOUNG: Not often to the north. We follow the shore, and we follow the waves. We try to keep people comfortable and dry, so we try to head into the swell. We are restricted a little bit by the extent of the swell, as to how far out we can get, and the angle of our heading out will be dependent on the angle of the swell.
CRAWFORD: Ok. That’s really been the last four years, with you as head skipper on the Monarch. Is there anything else in addition to your responsibilities for the Monarch over the last four years? Any other significant amount of time on or around the coastal waters of New Zealand?
YOUNG: No, not so much. I swim you know, so I’m out there swimming. I swim from the beach sometimes in Otago Harbour, or out from St. Clair, St. Kilda - depending on the weather, if the weather is nice.
CRAWFORD: Swimming a day a week, maybe?
YOUNG: I’ll swim out in the ocean maybe … just in the summer, a total of half a dozen times, perhaps maybe 10 times. So, not that much.
Copyright © 2017 Nigel Young and Steve Crawford