Blokes & Their Boats - September 2012
Pete Ludlow, diver and fisherSTEVE RADICH
The sea was oily calm and Pete could barely see the hand in front of his face. He felt something grab his flipper and give it a jiggle.
Thinking it was his diving buddy, Mike Dowden, he turned in the murky water to acknowledge the joke - but his buddy was nowhere to be seen. Chuckling to himself, Peter Ludlow continued with his scallop search in the murky shallows off Opotiki. Next moment a large 'hand' took hold of his thigh - firm yet soft - like the mouth of a good bird-dog. Turning again to acknowledge the joke, his dive-buddy remained out of sight. The next second his mask and mouthpiece were ripped off by the water pressure as his body was thrust towards the rocks like a rocket-propelled torpedo. Released just before making contact with the reef, Pete then walked on water to the safety of the rocks at an even greater rate of knots, where he sat for a while afterwards in stunned silence. Apart from the distant bobbing of his dive buddy's float, the eerie calm remained unsullied.
Even now, thirty years on, Pete still doesn't have a clue what hit him.
Then there is the shard of aluminium that resides permanently in his right shoulder blade - a permanent reminder of having been run over whilst diving for scallops in Tauranga Harbour.
It was at a time when there was no requirement to carry a dive flag. His boat-girls had done their best to alert the oncoming craft, but it would seem that the blokes in the offending runabout mistook the hollering and waving as some kind of mating frenzy.
Unfortunately, Pete was having trouble with a new dive belt and was surfacing to sort his problem out when hit. The prop severed his weight-belt, chopped into his tank before dislodging it, and then cut grooves up his back. The momentum of the hit spun his body over and over through the water, but after recalling his mentor John McAllister's advice, Pete - now mangled and disoriented - was eventually able to re-orient himself. He reckons if it hadn't been for his tank, he'd have been history. Even so the prop almost punctured a lung.
Back up at the surface, upon feeling the thump and hearing a bang, the errant boaties slowed. Pete surfaced and raised his good arm. There was panic in the eyes of the returning crew as they attempted, vainly at first, to recover Pete's bloodied body. One even jumped in to help. Pete reckons there was blood everywhere.
Luckily for the boaties - and maybe lucky for Pete, too - most of the mess was held together or hidden by his wetsuit. Hundreds of stitches later and three weeks off work, Pete was back in the water. No problem!
But maybe he should have waited just a little longer. On the very first dive after recovering from the powerboat collision, Pete was involved in another life-threatening incident.
At the time, Pete was doing a 'bugs for venison' deal with Captain Skipper from Nelson. It was Pete's job to get the bugs. About halfway down to the 20m target zone, he passed through what he assumed was some kind of thermocline, after which visibility fell off very rapidly. The first sign of crays were the feelers touching his face.
After collecting his share of bugs by feel alone, Pete began his ascent. Within a few seconds he bumped into what he thought was the ceiling of an overhang. A bit later, following several fruitless circuits of the black hole, Pete realised there was no way out. Panic stalked the cave as every diver's worst nightmare increased its grip.
With his black prison quickly turning into a black hell, Pete had to call on all his mental reserves - as well as his mentor's advice once more - to stay calm. For a grim moment, Pete imagined his skeleton being found after the crays had feasted. Wondering what other creatures might be sharing his midnight cavern, Pete was monetarily overwhelmed by the terror of the lost and lonely.
Despite his bleak prospects, Pete remained hopeful that since he got in, there had to be a way out. First, he needed to search the cave roof. The trouble was the total blackness - he couldn't even see which way his bubbles were going. Following an arduous roof crawl and noticing a murky luminosity above, Pete realised he was out. Apparently, he'd managed to pass through a 'manhole' while descending, without touching the sides.
His first nautical memories are much less dramatic, recalling it as a time spent looking after the flounder as his dad and elder sister worked a net in the surf at Waiterere Beach up from the wreck of the Hyderabad. But probably even before that, Pete remembers using a bent pin to fish the gutter at the front of the house after a flood, before graduating to eeling in Palmerston North's Maungaone Stream.
Long-lining with Dad off Waiterere Beach also features, with his father's long-line designs especially worthy of mention. Manufactured on site, the early kontikis tended to be cobbled together from pieces of driftwood, while plastic bags were used as sails. Pete reckons big sharks would often smash the kontikis up by dragging the set through or across the powerful west coast surf. Later on there was his father's own creeper design (his dad was an engineer). An ingenious non-return-valve flap was used to minimise resistance: the onshore break opened the valve whilst the under-tow closed the hinged flap and gradually pulled the kontiki out into the Tasman.
Most ingenious of all was the deployment of a large angled vane of neutral buoyancy that was towed down the beach by a car with long-line attached. With the vane set at about 45° to the shoreline, the device crabbed the long-line out through the breakers. The only problem was swimmers; if and when encountered, the set had to be recovered and a fresh start made.
Corrugated roofing-iron canoes started Pete's boat-owning history. Built during middle and late high school after the family moved from Palmy to Paraparaumu, the four-by-two bow stems were sealed with adhesive tapes of various kinds. And yes, with a wooden seat athwart the beam, some actually floated.
While based at Paraparaumu, Pete learned to scuba dive under the always watchful and wise eyes of John McAllister, and also completed his first 33m free-dive at Kapiti. Pete attributes much of his diving abilities and progress to the advice of John - still a revered mentor and trainer - who also literally saved his life during numerous underwater challenges and misadventures, including those described earlier.
As a young adult, a 12-foot (3.6m) Parkercraft, the classic Kiwi 'tinnie', became Pete's pride and joy, and was probably his most successful fish and dive boat. Pete even targeted yellowfin tuna out of the Bay of Plenty when the weather was right, sometimes almost losing sight of land. Pete loved the alloy boat's lightness and ease in handling, as well as its amazing 8hp Daihatsu Sea Pigeon - a revelation in outboard-motor reliability at the time.
Next off the block was a 16-foot (4.9m) Marlborough Rapier powered by a 110hp vro Johnson. Built to the 'brick outhouse' standard of fibreglass boatbuilding, Pete remained extremely impressed by its sea-going characteristics and reliability for 13 years. Indeed, as offshore islands were frequently visited, she was even used for the occasional overnight venture, with the engine finally tossing in the towel only very recently.
Consequently, with the Marlborough now in the shed and an engine re-build being considered, Pete has taken on a new boating project - a locally-purchased 26-foot (7.8m) Pelin Empress. Having owned one myself, I can vouch for the outstanding sea-keeping qualities of this gull-winged hull and appreciate the appeal of a medium-sized planing launch that can be towed about the place. Powered by a Nissan ld28 through an old Volvo leg, she can reportedly plane with relative ease.
Glassed below the chines, the Pelin is set up with a galley and head that sleeps two. The duckboard helps with access from a dinghy, as well as swimming and diving, and also makes a useful fishing platform. An electric winch helps get the hull back onto the trailer.
Further memorable moments feature both fishing and diving. A trip to the Ranfurly Banks stands out, with a 37kg kingfish and a 37kg puka landed on the same day. Another, involving free-diving the western Coromandel, saw Pete shoot a kingfish that was bigger than him. The fish ended up emptying his 150m gun spool and then towing him about until the 8mm stainless shaft finally broke.
A past president of the nzaca (NZ Angling and Casting Association), Pete Ludlow has also represented the interests of recreational fishers on the Recreational Fishing Council. As a son and father, the experience of our generational way of teaching and sharing the fishing experience has instilled the need for sustainable fisheries in Pete.
A believer in the effectiveness of the Quota Management System, Pete thinks the flexible conservation measures developed by Maori are totally admirable, but he has a pretty dim view of the rush to establish marine reserves in sheltered waters. Pete is particularly cynical of the way marine reserves, initially set up for scientific research, are now being promoted as the ideal tool to sustain at-risk fisheries. He wonders where fish have learned to read the sign 'Spawn here'. He is especially contemptuous of the attempts made by self-interested dive companies to create marine reserves for the benefits of their businesses.
A soft-plastics enthusiast, these days Pete finds his greatest fishing success by deploying strip baits on soft-plastic lead-head hooks.
Only recently retired, Pete is looking forward to his boat-building project and the overnight fishing trips the Empress will allow.
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