Great Barrier Island - Information for Boaties

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North & South

January 2016

LINSAY WRIGHT

Every summer, marinas disgorge hundreds of pleasure boats into the Hauraki Gulf. And when many of the skippers reach for their radio hand piece, chances are there's only one voice they want to hear.

From her home at Okupu, Great Barrier Island radio operator Emmy Pratt keeps contact with pleasure and commercial boat operators - from Bream Head near Whangarei to Whitianga and up to 150km east - over Channel 01 VHF marine radio, via a repeater station at White Cliffs.

The Great Barrier Island Marine Radio Association has about 600 members and Pratt reckons she talks to more than 200 boaties every season. "They let me know how many people are on board where they plan to spend the night, what their ETA is, or if they need something. One guy was halfway across the gulf when he remembered it was his partner's birthday and he hadn't got her anything. So he asked me to ring Interflora and send her some flowers," she says. "Some get their anchors stuck, so I get a diver in to help, or they lose their dinghies, or drag anchor while they're not aboard. But sometimes they just call to boast that they've caught a marlin."

Included in Pratt's 7am-to-lOpm working day are twice-daily weather forecasts and regular navigation or public service warnings. "It becomes your life. This damn thing goes \ everywhere with me - to the garden, in the kitchen, even to the toilet," she says, ruefully hefting a hand- held radio. "The radio's always on."

Each call is meticulously logged for I later reference and tracking purposes if anything goes amiss. Pratt, 60, has direct lines to the police, search and rescue authorities, DoC and medical services that can be called on to talk skippers through almost any on board emergency. Engineers and electricians are also available to help resolve technical problems.

Pratt describes the radio users as "my boaties", and she can match most boat names with those of their skippers. "Until they sell the boat -that can fool me for a while!" she laughs. Some folk look her up at home with a feed of fish to show their gratitude, or to put a face to the voice they talk to daily.

The radio service was set up about 50 years ago to keep locals in touch with ferry arrival times. Pratt became involved in the mid-1990s while acting as caregiver for founder and long-term operator Constable George Mason. The present VHF setup was established in 1991. "I was a shy little thing back then - the thought of talking on a radio terrified me,” she admits.  “I hadn’t had a lot to do with boats either and that didn’t help.”

Since then she’s become a veritable maritime institution, earning several community awards along the way.

The kind of person who likes to keep herself busy, she also works as a home help, in property management, and as a volunteers at the island’s community garden.  “It’s a busy old life on the Barrier; you’ve got to be able to turn your hand to anything.” LINDSAY WRIGHT