The 18-metre catamaran set sail at dawn, casting off from Tauranga Bridge Marina in search of what those at the helm like to call “Magic Moments”.
It was the second day of the 2022 Stoney Creek One Base Tournament and, as the $2.5m boat named Wish4Fish cruised towards Mauao and out of the harbour, there was only one thing on the minds of the men on board.
Or one fish, rather.
Keen angler Tony Christiansen took the wheelchair access lift to the fly bridge and joined the others in assessing the outlook.
Framed by a lilac sky, he put words to what everyone was thinking.
“I think the goal for everybody is to catch a marlin, that’s the premier fish of the sea for the tournament.”
He then quickly added with a laugh: “But, you know, I think on the boat we’ll take anything that we can get basically.”
While the primary target that day was as clear as the blue sky overhead, the ultimate objective was a little more subtle.
The Wish4Fish charity is all about giving people with physical disabilities, mental illnesses, and financial hardship a chance to get out on the ocean.
The boat making that possible is an alloy high displacement catamaran, powered by twin marine diesel engines.
It has a specifically designed loading system to allow for wheelchair access from a wide variety of berths, and a full-loop gantry crane to allow bathroom access for all levels of wheelchair users.
“To have this boat here is just absolutely incredible,” Tony said.
“Many of the people that use this boat and this facility obviously are wheelchair bound and they don’t have the opportunity, or the financial wherewithal, or ability to be able to afford to come out on a boat like this.”
Wish4Fish skipper Kelvin Johnson has been involved with the charity for about a decade.
He witnessed firsthand the dream come true – after years of fundraising, a boat custom-made for people with disabilities.
“To be out on the water is just great for them,” Kelvin said.
“The smiles tell a story.”
That is what motivates him and the Wish4Fish crew. That is the ultimate objective each time the boat goes out. Time spent at sea. Sun. Salt air. Smiles.
“A lot of people don’t get the opportunity to do it. With this New Zealand boat, Wish4Fish, we can get them out, put them on the water, do any marine activities, and give them a great day.”
It all costs money, of course, and Mount Maunganui-based fertiliser company Fertco stepped up to sponsor the Wish4Fish team for day two of the One Base Tournament.
Fertco chief executive Warwick Voyce was also on board to lend a hand, and plenty of fish were pulled in – snapper, albacore, skipjack tuna.
“Not the big one, though, not the one we were after,” Warwick said, now back at the marina at the end of the day, the sun beginning to set.
“But there’s tomorrow, always tomorrow, that’s why they call it fishing and not catching.
“I keep getting told that,” he added with a smile.
Another smile. There were a lot of those as the fishermen got off the boat that evening, many having had their full dose of sun and salt air.
“We had some good laughs, met some good people, made some new friends, and had a beer at the end of the day – can’t ask for much more,” Warwick said. “It was awesome.”
He said the Wish4Fish sponsorship was a great opportunity for Fertco to give something back to the community, to support an inspiring local charity and the Kiwis they are empowering.
“They’ve just thought this boat out so well, it’s really incredible. They’ve just thought through every little detail, to make these guys comfortable in their wheelchairs.”
Tony was one of the last to leave.
“It was just a good fun day,” he said.
“Without the support, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to be on the boat. It just makes a huge difference to be able to get out and experience something that I wouldn’t normally do.
“To come out and be part of this particular tournament, it’s pretty special.”
For Wish4Fish, lifelong memories like that are called magic moments.