Monday, 19 August 2019

WHITIANGA WEATHER

Fond farwell for Fishing Club stalwart

The family of Mercury Bay fishing and boating legend, Don Ross, made the journey from Katikati to Whitianga, to give him a true “hometown and home club” send off at the Mercury Bay Game Fishing Club on Tuesday last week.

Don passed away in April this year and the gathering was celebration of his life in Whitianga and in particular his love and passion for fishing and the sea.

Don’s daughter and son-in-law, Lyn and Merv Stockley, along with younger sister, Merle, and sister-in-law, Maureen, were joined by a substantial crowd of locals who shared many stories about Don and his contemporaries.

The Mercury Bay Game Fishing Club provided the perfect setting and the atmosphere was warm and relaxed. The family shared a collection of photos along with a table of memorabilia celebrating Don’s 96 years.

Don was born in Rotorua in 1923 and arrived at Opito Bay as a youngster with his family who settled on what now is the Edens Farm. Don, along with his sister, rode his horse to school in Kuaotunu each morning. It was at Opito that Don developed his love for boating and the sea. This passion was inspired by his Scottish grandfather who was a sailor for many years, and regaled the young boy with his stories of “Rounding the Horn.” 

Don built his first “boat” at Opito, which was a stable bent log to which he fixed a nail box. His boating in those days consisted of exploring the creek on the farm in his hand-crafted vessel. At Opito, Don also met Harry Carey, captain and owner of the first and second “Lady Jocelyn,” the latter of which Don went on to skipper in later years.

Don and his family moved to Auckland in 1936. After finishing school, he worked as a cycle mechanic, where he learned many of his engineering skills, building himself a racing cycle on which he successfully competed in road races. He earned prizes and enough money to take his soon to be wife, Joan, to the movies. Don also served as an apprentice coppersmith and eventually saved up to buy his first keeler, “Elvine.” Using his considerable skills, he modified the craft significantly, taking Joan along on many of his adventures around the Waitemata Harbour.

After a stint in the military, honing his mechanical and sailing skills, Don upgraded the Elvine to “Venture,” a keeler able to take Don’s sailing much further to sea.  After a number of years with Venture, Don swapped her for the “Ngaroma,” which later became Don’s first game fishing boat. It was aboard the Ngaroma that Don brought his wife and very young daughter, Lyn, to live in Whitianga in 1949. The young family initially moved into a small bach at 3 Mill Road.

Don ran a fishing charter business in Whitianga from 1950 until 1981, doing casual work at various jobs in the off-season. In the 1950’s, Don was the only certified welder in town and he was required to do all steam pipe welding at the Mercury Bay dairy factory. During this time, he also served as a relief skipper on the second Lady Jocelyn.

In 1963, he upgraded Ngaroma, purchasing “Miss Lidgard,” an ex-whale chaser from Great Barrier Island and adapting her for game fishing.

One of Don’s most memorable catches was on Ngaroma on 27 February 1961, when a Catholic priest, Father MJ Lavelle, landed a 769lbs black marlin. Don’s first broadbill landing was by Ken Collier at 462lbs on Miss Lidgard on 13 February 1967, the first recorded broadbill weighed in Whitianga.

As their physical needs increased, Don and Joan relocated to Katikati in 2012 to live with Lyn and Merv on their orchard. Joan sadly passed away later that year. Don lived with the couple for the next few years, staying active and contributing information to “Waitemata Woodies,” a website dedicated to classic wooden boats. He spent his final six weeks in Athenree Lifecare and slipped his mooring one last time on 2 April this year.

Don was a life member, one-time president and a mentor to many members of the Mercury Bay Game Fishing Club. To commemorate his service to the club, a trophy given to Don for skippering the boat that caught the first broadbill weighed in Whitianga, was donated to the club by Don’s family. The recently refurbished trophy will be a perpetual award for future skippers of boats who bring in the largest broadbills and lasting tribute to a great club stalwart.

Pictured: The trophy given to Don Ross for skippering the boat that caught the first broadbill weighed in Whitianga was on Tuesday last week donated to the Mercury Bay Game Fishing Club by the family of the late Don Ross. Pictured is Club President, John Neighbours  (on the left), accepting the trophy from Don’s daughter and son-in-law, Lyn and Merv Stockley.

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The Mercury Bay Informer is a highly popular community newspaper, based in Whitianga. The paper is distributed throughout the Coromandel Peninsula, coast to coast from Thames to north of Colville.