Arising from within the warm saline environment of the inner Hauraki Gulf, the evolution of Gavin Yates from sprat to barnacled fisho follows the classic Darwinian pattern of adaptation to the environment.
And although the habitat of the inner Gulf has been substantially degraded by both our predations and the sedimentary consequences of urban civilization, like thousands of other swarming, barnacled fishos, Gavin continues to exploit the Gulf as a prime source of protein.
The first fishy experience that springs to mind is netting piper with his father. Woody Bay on Rakino Island in the Hauraki Gulf was the place, and Gavin thinks he was probably about four to five years old. Like most as yet barnacle-free juvenile fishos, the pre-school Gavin was quite content to prod and poke at the shimmering slivers of silver dusted with sand and dressed in 'sea grass skirts'. An occasional seahorse or three tangled up with the garfish kept the wee lad amused, too.
Uncle Tony Yates used to race ocean yachts and was a member of the Royal Akarana Yacht Squadron for many years - as was Dad Gerrard. Being such a keen yachtsman, Gerrard built several Frostbite class yachts with the help of brother Tony while they were still lads. Then, about thirty years ago, Gerrard was nominated a local marine warden, and even though well into his 80s, remains an active fisher today.
Before Gavin had even learned to walk, his dad had built the first family runabout, a 16-foot (4.9m) plywood Hartley named Karere and powered by a 40hp Evinrude. Subsequent family holidays centered on boating, fishing and exploring the east coast from Auckland to the Bay of Islands.
Dad then took five years to build a 35-foot (10.7m) Pelin in Mum's backyard - next to the plum tree beside the clothesline and an old rocking chair. Of glued and riveted kauri strip-plank construction, the Pelin was powered by an 180hp Ford turbo-diesel which kept her on the plane at about 15 knots and cruising at 11.
Still going today, with a clean bottom, clean water and near-empty water and fuel tanks, Karere II is reputed to max out at well over 20 knots. Fishing trips to Great Barrier are among the best memories of times spent on the Pelin, while a turbocharger explosion and subsequent boat fire is an occasion remembered for all the wrong reasons.
But even before all this, Gavin had his own inflatable yellow thingy. He thinks he was most likely about three years old. Powered by a four-cylinder, two-litre Armstrong through a duo-prop leg, Gavin recalls getting his rubber ducky up onto the plane at times - especially in a following sea.
Having now progressed from sprat to boy, the family runabout and Dad's Pelin furthered Gavin's captivation with the wonders of the nautical world. So enthralled was Gavin, that he eventually developed a classic case of the Kiwi barnacled boatie's addiction to fishing - a disease that has run rampant ever since.
Following the induction permitted by that first rubber ducky and enhanced by Dad's boats, the young fisho began to buy or share a few vessels of his own. First was a 7m Haines Hunter, second was a 30-foot (9.15m) Sea Ray, then a 32-foot (9.8m) Sea Ray, followed by a 7m Billfisher and a 6m Sea Nymph Hustler.
Powered by a pair of two-stroke 140hp Suzukis, Gavin's mates nicknamed the Haines 'Cessna' because she sounded so much like an aeroplane when on the move. Burning 140 litres per hour at 30 knots, Gavin reckons she cornered well in the wet. While a bit short of space in the cockpit for four fishers, a faultless mechanical run was considered fair compensation for the fuel consumption. As far as Gavin is concerned, she was as good as it gets in the sea-keeping department.
As for the pair of Sea Rays, in terms of both seakeeping and quality of build and finish, Gavin views both boats as five-star. Typical of American designs, cockpit space relative to boat volume was poor, but creature comforts when overnighting were very high. Powered by big Chev V8s through Bravo legs, fuel consumption was typically poor - especially when being pushed. However, the power-to-weight ratios of these marinised car motors remain hard to beat, with rebuild costs generally lower than for comparable outboards.
Gavin loved the Billfisher especially. He reckons she possessed phenomenal sea-going qualities, and once he'd cut out the cabin galley, four good keen fishos could sleep in relative comfort. Powered by a 200hp two-stroke Suzuki, Gavin views her economy rate of $2.00 per nautical mile favourably - although that was before fuel prices went skywards. Serviced and maintained to a very high standard, once again the Suzuki engine proved faultless. On the downside, he reckons it was pretty poor to supply a purpose-built fishing boat with a puny two-rod rocket launcher!
Powered by a 175hp Yamaha, the Sea Nymph Hustler was a bowrider that Gavin and his mates dubbed 'The Champagne Lounge'. To improve her overnighting capacity, Gavin enclosed the bow and modified the cockpit seats so that they folded into beds. The seat bases were insulated and converted into chillers, with live-bait tanks cut into her portofino stern.
His current vessel of note is a Smuggler that's just been rebuilt. It's a hull design that has always turned my head, and though it was lost to Australia for a while, the Smuggler marque has been revived in New Zealand over recent years. With a classic deep-vee hull (27° at the transom) and built according to the classic brick outhouse style of fibreglass boat construction, big Smuggler hulls are true blue-water vessels.
Typically powered by a marinised V8 driving through a leg, I was surprised that one of Gavin's first priorities was to replace the leg with an outboard - hence the 700mm extension to the stern. Built around bearers cantilevered into the original engine bay, it is never easy to extend the often-convoluted curves and inward taper of any stern, so I was impressed to see that Gavin had managed to avoid sticking a box to the back of his hull by assiduously extending her curves and taper.
Although the purpose of the hull extension was primarily to secure additional cockpit space, Gavin's choice also represents a solution to the horrific maintenance problems faced by many operators of high-performance diesel and petrol inboards. More and more boaties, including charter operators, are replacing their high-performance marine diesels with big outboards.
The extra volume produced by the outboard extension provided new under-floor holds for live baits, ice, rubbish etc, as well as enabling Gavin to increase the fuel-tank capacity to 400 litres. This has provided his new 300hp four-stroke Yamaha with a range of 300 nautical miles at between $2 and $3 per nautical mile.
Custom-made seats provide a further 640L of cold storage capacity for essentials such as bait 'n' beer, and all the electric wiring was replaced, too (an absolute essential in my opinion when you consider the corrosive characteristics of the marine environment). Fittings such as deck rails, bollards and fairlead, as well as the hardtop and rocket launcher, were all replaced with customised stainless components. Gavin also got a car painter to do a total hull re-paint, choosing epoxy rather than polyester for compatibility with the original construction material. And the teak deck and cockpit flooring were replaced, too, leaving only the original belting and windscreen intact.
Memorable fishing moments feature a meatball out of Whakatane about 20 years back, at the height of the Bay of Plenty yellowfin bonanza. The 20 best fish taken out of this boil-up weighed over 45kg.
On the day in question, meatballs of anchovies seemed to be popping up everywhere, so when Gavin and his mates got to work on one, it wasn't long before another half dozen boats joined the fray. He reckons it was all on for young and old, with no boat yielding to the other, resulting in more gear being lost to each other than to the fish.
On this occasion the anchovies were so thick that they could be scooped up by the bucketful, with a handful skewered onto a hook being the standard presentation. So intense was the boil-up that frenzied 'fin regularly crashed into their hull, and when a huge tiger shark burst through one of the meatballs, the guys were left with eyeballs hanging even further out.
Then there was the big trevally that turned out to be a national record. Gavin had been in bed at the Barrier with the flu, but was cajoled into joining a bout of fishing before returning to his preferred horizontal position.
This resulted in a massive trevally ending up on board, and after being encouraged by his mates to get the fish officially weighed, Gavin was pleasantly surprised to discover that the 7.89kg specimen was a national 10kg line-weight record.
A boating highlight worthy of note was the time he and three mates took the Billfisher to Cape Maria Van Diemen and the Three Kings for four days. Launching out of Houhora, they set off into a daunting, near-30-knot northeasterly, bashed their way up the coast, and spent their first night in the lee of Tom Bowling Bay. Next day was a balmy variable five knots, so a return trip to the Kings was made that day, sheltering in Spirits Bay once back on the mainland. On top of the pure adventure of it all, Maria Van Diemen produced a 34kg kingfish that remains a personal best.
As for any sage advice for fellow fishers, Gavin seems pretty confident that you can't catch fish whilst seated in the lounge at home - and it's even less likely from under the clothesline out the back or sitting in an old rocking chair.
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