Old salt a mountain man too

Last updated 09:28 23/12/2013
Donald Mackay
MAN OF THE SEA: Donald Mackay mans the wheel while cruising in Fiordland. His life was celebrated in Mapua this week.

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Old salts and seasoned mariners gathered at Mapua this week to farewell an old friend and man of the mountains and sea.

Donald Mackay, 82, had his last hurrah at a favoured sailing spot before he died alongside his beloved yacht Nokomis, which he had sailed throughout the top of the South Island for the past couple of decades.

His body was found floating by neighbouring yachties in Mill Arm, in d'Urville Island's inner Greville Harbour a week ago.

The Mapua Boat Club was packed to the gunwales on Thursday afternoon as friends, family and colleagues of the former Outward Bound leader, mountaineer and sailor gathered to share stories and fond memories of the man who once told his wife Marian, "My actions show my feelings".

Testament to her strength of character when pushed to extremes was revealed when Mrs Mackay was delivering her heartfelt eulogy and the elastic broke on her trousers which dropped to the floor. She never missed a beat and made light of the moment as her family quickly came to the rescue.

Mr Mackay was a member of the Mapua Boat Club and moored Nokomis nearby, from where he would launch his frequent expeditions in and around Tasman Bay and the Marlborough Sounds, his son Jim Mackay said.

Don Mackay explained in an earlier article about his yacht that he had bought it from a Nelson man "who loved her dearly, but his wife didn't".

His sojourns around the cruising grounds of Golden Bay, Tasman Bay and the Sounds sometimes extended to occasional sorties across Cook Strait.

He was particularly fond of d'Urville Island with its "mighty cliffs, safe harbours and good fishing".

Jim Mackay said his father was born in New Plymouth and trained as a soil conservator. His love for adventure might have been seeded by their upbringing, his sister Margaret Collins said.

"As children we knew great freedom, and were allowed to wander far and wide. Our parents believed we should be exposed to calculated risks," she said.

The family moved to Anakiwa in 1967 when he took up the post with Outward Bound, where he remained for six years. Former warden and top of the south iwi representative John Mitchell credited him for changing the culture at the school and bringing it into a more modern era. Mr Mitchell said Mr Mackay wanted no distinction between staff and students.

He diluted the competitive element within the school.

"His mantra became, ‘I can better my own previous performance than that of the next person'," Mr Mitchell said.

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Mr Mackay's love of sailing followed on from his love of the mountains, which had taken him on climbing and volunteer expeditions to Nepal in the early 1960s.

John McKinnon of Nelson, who has had strong connections with Nepal for decades, said that before Mr Mackay was an old man of the sea, he was a young man of the mountains.

"He was such a strong climber. He did some very extreme climbing in Nepal," Mr McKinnon said.

He recalled an expedition to Nepal they went on together in 1964, to help build schools and bridges.

The family moved to Christchurch when the Outward Bound tenure ended, and Mr Mackay took a job driving trucks.

His love of freedom was never far from anything he did, including family holidays, said Mrs Mackay, who met him in Lima, Peru, when she taught English and he was heading on a climbing adventure in the Andes.

The couple's three adult children, Jim, who lives in Nelson, and Rory and Rachel Mackay, who live in Canterbury, each spoke at the service, where gratitude was revealed for yachties who retrieved Mr Mackay's body.

Jim Mackay said after the service that it was believed his father had sailed that day from Ship Cove in Queen Charlotte Sound to d'Urville Island. He had moored the yacht in Mill Arm and was scrubbing the hull from the dinghy when another yacht arrived.

"They went past and waved, got on to the other mooring close by when they thought they may have heard a splash."

Mr Mackay said his father had apparently moved around to the other side of the yacht. The neighbouring yachties then saw the dinghy floating away, so went to retrieve it and saw Mr Mackay in the water.

"We are so grateful they were there. He was only in the water a short time, but the fact they recovered his body was so great," Jim Mackay said.

Ms Mackay said in her eulogy the family's tears were not for him, but for them. She described her father as her safe haven.

"When I needed time out we would sail away. When I need to smile I think of Nokomis and Queen Charlotte Sound."

Son Rory offered his condolences to New Zealand's recycling community, because it has lost one of its greatest supporters. He thanked his father for teaching him to be amazed by nature, to think logically and to silently contemplate.

Nephew Mike Collins said his uncle had forced him to consider what it was that made a life significant.

"One that influences others is a life well lived," he concluded.

Former Outward Bound colleague Terry Easthope said Mr Mackay was a solitary man, but he also saw him as the soul of the party at times.

"He loved trees but he was a real chainsaw man too," he said of his gardening tactics.

The fact he died where he wanted to be did not go unnoticed, but Mr Easthope was upset the dinghy was not tied on to the yacht.

"When I see him on the other side I'll be sorting that out."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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