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David Leslie Clark - a man of the sea

Obituary by Dorothy Preece.

The funeral for David Clark was held at St Andrew’s Church, Whitianga on Wednesday, 22 March. Mr Clark died at Waikato Hospital on Sunday, 18 March. He is survived by his daughter Linda and son Garry, with two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

A large crowd attended the funeral, and many seafaring tales were told.

Mr Clark (‘Dave’, or ‘Clarky’ to his mates) was born in Epsom on 24 April 1934, the first son of Howard and Bertha Clark. The family moved to Whitianga where his parents were acclaimed for their foresight in bringing the first electric power to Whitianga.

Dave was enrolled as ‘pupil number 30’ at the old primary school in School Road, after which he attended Wesley College. In 1952, aged 17, Dave came home and began his seagoing experience as crew on various crayfishing boats.

In a search of adventure at sea, Dave moved to Australia and worked on ships carrying coal and wheat offshore. He joined the Australian Merchant Navy and thereby saw much of the world from the deck of a ship. One voyage stuck in his mind. It was a 97-day passage to Dublin on a coal-burning ship that only travelled at 5 knots and had to stop for coal on the way. The family remembered Dave’s accounts of the celebration party on arrival in Dublin.

Back in Whitianga, Dave worked with his mate Bert Chaney, crayfishing with the Ronomore.

In 1957, Dave married the love of his life, Margaret Crawford. They moved to Taupo where Dave undertook a boat-building apprenticeship and constructed the first of many wooden boats, 37-foot La Vega, was launched in Taupo the day that President Kennedy was assassinated.

After seven years, the couple returned to Whitianga with three children, Shirley, Linda and Garry.

In 1973 while Dave was at sea, Margaret put in a bid for the house on the Esplanade, and they never moved again. Dave ran La Vega for snapper-fishing charters out of Whitianga.

Next, he built Challenger, a 44-foot kauri vessel which took him only two and a half years to build, ably helped by Margaret. After seven years of commercial fishing, they built a second, very similar boat, Defender. With the help of John Calder, it was completed in six months - a mammoth achievement, and launched in 1978. Dave worked pair-trawling with the two boats until, frustrated by the fishing quota system, he sold Challenger in Tasmania.

Still with itchy feet, Dave set about converting Defender into a live-aboard cruiser, including a wine cellar. In 1989 he pointed the ship towards Fiji, thus beginning many happy years cruising around the Pacific with Margaret. Together they visited everywhere from the Solomon Islands to Pago Pago.

They continued to live aboard in Australia until Margaret’s ill-health forced the sale of Defender. Margaret died in 2009, just a few months after they moved ashore.

In the years before he died, Dave spent many happy hours watching the sea from his own deck on the Esplanade, and yarning with his mates.

At the funeral Dave’s seamanship skills and timber boatbuilding skills were highly applauded, including the many beautiful clinker dinghies, built in his basement workshop on the Esplanade. He taught his grandchildren to sail, and is remembered as a generous-hearted man who always found time to teach others, giving help and advice wherever he could.


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