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Ray - the last to crew the Lady Jocelyn

Ray – the last to crew the Lady Jocelyn

Ray Bronlund turns 90 this week. He is pictured here celebrating early, with family in Thames, a few days ago. Ray lives in Thames with his wife, Judy, both still living independently and enjoying it.

Ray is the last surviving crew member of The Lady Jocelyn, a little ship that was very popular in Whitianga and that was seen as a vital link to the rest of the country.

Ray was born in 1932 in Whitianga. He left school at 15 and joined the Lady Jocelyn the next year in 1948. The Lady Jocelyn was always backwards and forward to and from Auckland and Ray would go down to the landing and ask for a job and they finally took him on. First, he was the cook and then he became employed as a deck hand. He never did any formal qualifications. In those days it was about arming your keep and getting experience at sea. Ray learned about navigation at night. The ship would need to go up to Auckland with stock and turn around and come back the next day. Sometimes the cargo was sheep and cattle and cars. Other occasions, The Lady Jocelyn carried passengers, anything that was a paying load. The passengers would be dropped of at all the little bays on the Coromandel Peninsula.

Ray remembers crossing bars and going down to Tairua and up the river to Paeroa. In summer, the big job was getting all the kegs of beer for the summer rush. There was a lot of pressure to deliver the beer. The Lady would go all the way up to Portland. Ray remembers the time they had to get some concrete pylons delivered. The load was so heavy that the water was washing across the deck. The Captain said, “If we go down it will be straight to the bottom and very quick.” Ray would sleep on the Lady Jocelyn and sometimes cargo had to be uploaded very quickly to catch the incoming and outgoing tides. Part of ship’s route took her to Te Kauanga Wharf in Whenuakite River to offload farm supplies. The cargo was deemed so important that the first telephone, installed for special emergencies in town, was also used to alert local farmers of the Lady Jocelyn’s arrival. She also held a place of honour as flag ship in the local regattas – ‘proudly dressed up with pennants strung stem to stern’ – each year until her retirement.

Ray worked on the ship until 1953 when he left to go crayfishing with Boy Smith. Eventually Ray brought his own fishing boat and carried on fishing until the early seventies hen his family moved to Thames. At the time Ray had decided that he would go off on his own in business and try his hand at professional fishing, cargo for the Lady Jocelyn had begun to decline, with the development of land transport and with State Highway 25 nearing the first stage of completion. Ray brought himself a boat and his fishing life continued until he and Judy moved to Thames, where he would house paint and Judy would be a physiotherapist. The Lady Jocelyn had her last trip in 1961, about seven years after Ray began his professional fishing life. The little ship had taught him just about all the skills he needed for making his life from the sea.

Ray’s family originally came from Norway. His Dad was a World War One veteran, and he built a little house for his family during the depression out of left-over kauri offcuts. That house, built by his Dad, is still standing in Whitianga township.

Ray met his wife Judy in the 1950’s, when her family came for holidays to Whitianga from Wellington for summer vacations. Judy came from a family of intellectuals and the prospect of Ray and Judy being a romantic match seemed remote. She had studied at university and gained her degree in physiotherapy. Judy rebelled a little taking a fancy to this dashing crew hand. For Ray, it would have been very easy for him to marry a local girl, but they were both strong willed and their love for each other won out. Judy left her Auckland life and physiotherapy practice to marry a fisherman in Whitianga. They married in 1958, settled in Whitianga, and raised four boys. Judy set up her own practice in Whitianga and eventually became the physiotherapist at Thames Hospital. Simon, one of their four sons, says, “Both Ray and Judy swam against the tide of established expectations and made their own life work very well.”

Caption: Ray Bronlundand Don Ross (skipper)  aboard the Lady Jocelyn approx 1950


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