Danny Boulton, 2 June 1951 – 23 June 2014

A tribute to Danny Boulton, the best fishing guide I ever knew, plus a whole lot more!

Even when we think we know someone, we usually glimpse only a small part of their life.  I was at a funeral this morning when that was brought home to me yet again.  Danny Boulton, of French Pass, died on 23 June. He had survived for more than a decade after being operated on for prostate cancer.

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Danny’s son Jason and daughter Amy both spoke bravely and well about their Dad. Many others shared their thoughts at this time, helping to fill in our picture of the man and his life. One of the speakers who made a big impact on me was Andy Barber, founder of the Seido Karate school here in Nelson.   “ Danny always referred to me as his teacher” said Andy.  But Danny was the teacher during these last few weeks, as Andy watched him face his end with courage and dignity.

I knew Danny as a fishing guide and tourism operator. He and his wife Lyn ran French Pass Sea Safaris.  I used to go out with him about three times a year, probably for more than 15 years. He was the best guide by far that I’ve ever been out with. Danny was the person who taught my wife how to enjoy fishing. He showed her how to catch snapper (I mean, to actually catch snapper when you’re trying to, not some other fish.) She hated killing the fish after it was landed so he showed her how to return it, unharmed, after admiring its beautiful colours. Danny was also one of the few guides at that time who looked after the fish when they came on board, killing them quickly and pulling them on ice to keep them in good condition.

Most of my Wellington family have been out with Danny. For some of my young nephews, I’m sure those trips had a profound effect, giving a real appreciation of the marine environment. A day which included sightings of rare King Shags, acrobatic Dusky Dolphins, fur seals, blue penguins, albatross and masses of working gannets, not to mention hauling up a 15 kg grouper from 150 metres or so, is bound to have an impact on a teenager (not to mention an eight-year-old!)

I remember visiting an important research contact in Japan, a professor at the University of Shizuoka. In pride of place, taking up a whole wall of his crowded office, was a framed photograph of him standing at the stern of Danny’s boat holding a 7.5 kg snapper.  “ Like a dream” was his reply when I commented on it.

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The most successful trip II ever had with Danny didn’t start that way. For several years we had been trying to persuade a very important contact in Japan to visit New Zealand to view our joint research programme. Finally he came, a director of the dominant producer of herbal medicines in Japan. This short visit had a very full itinerary, with one day allocated for R&R.  The 2 1/2 hour drive out to French Pass was too much for a day trip so, even though money was tight at Cawthron, we took the plunge and hired a helicopter for the trap. We took off before dawn on a clear midwinter morning and watched the sun come up over the hills as we landed 20 minutes later on Danny’s front lawn. A real New Zealand breakfast was followed by a short walk down to the wharf where we loaded our fishing gear onto the boat and took off. We were heading for the north end D’Urville Island, the weather and tide looked good for Stephens Passage.

But there was a problem, the boat couldn’t do more than 7 kn. We returned to the wharf, the engine cover came off the big Volvo diesel stern drive and Danny spent  the next two hours head down in the engine bay or on the phone to the Volvo mechanic. Finally we had to give up. Luckily Bill Webber’s boat was available at short notice so we could use that. But it was slow and time was short, so the best we could manage was to steam round the corner to Deep Bay and fish there. Luckily we caught some good fish and, as a bonus, on the short return trip we were joined by a few dozen dolphins. The helicopter trip back at sunset was also rather spectacular, but I was disappointed and Danny was devastated.

The following night we had a formal dinner with the directors of the company set up to grow medicinal herbs for the Japan market, to farewell our important guest. After the mains, he tapped his glass and, with the help of an interpreter, started to tell everyone about the previous day. The story began well enough, with a description of the flight out and the beautiful scenery at the Pass.  “But then we had big problem” he said, “motor was broken and we were almost 2 hours on wharf”.  No one looked at me and I just wished the ground would open up and swallow me.  “ And I am looking carefully” he continued. “I see Mr Danny Boulton, fishing guide, working very hard on motor. I see Mr Peter Smale, research scientist, working.  Mr Graeme Robertson, he is ‘shacho’ (boss) and he also has hands dirty. I am thinking ‘ this is New Zealand Way’. All working, no fighting. Never in Japan. I’m so sorry.”

It took a moment for this meaning to sink in. His smiling face did the trick.  Suddenly people were looking at me again, even congratulating me.  No wonder these words are etched in my memory. I rang Danny early the next morning to thank him for the wonderful impression that he had helped to create, explaining how he had helped New Zealand by enhancing relations between an exporter and a major customer.  He was just relieved that it turned out well.

I have lots more stories about those fishing trips, but they can wait. In the meantime: thank you Danny Boulton for all of the good times and for what you’ve taught us.  Rest in peace.

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