“we can afford for my wife to stay at home with our baby, and give our little girl the best possible start ”
Max Couper, Crewman on the Muscat, aged 43
I come from Gisborne originally, my whakapapa is Ngāi Tūhoe, and I lived in Opotiki too. But I came through to Nelson about 10 years ago to work in the fishing industry. My wife and I live in Nelson, and we have two boys and a four month old daughter … she’s my baby girl … and that’s a big part of why I work at Clearwater now. When I was working on the fishing boats it wasn’t just a six-weeks-on, six-week- off job—it was three months away or more. It wasn’t good for my family. The wife was struggling at home on her own all the time, and every time I saw my kids they’d changed so much. I was missing everything.
And even though the money was good… there was less and less time that it could go to sea. So I stopped working at sea, and instead I started looking for work on land. That was really hard for me. I love working at sea, love the ocean, and I like to be outdoors—I don’t like to be indoors.
And it was hard to find work in the pay bracket that I needed. My wife was working too, but when you’ve gone from bringing in $1,000 a week, to bringing in $300 a week that’s a big drop. The level of income made things very hard.
Then I was talking to an old army friend, Ian, and telling him that I’d given up working in the fishing industry, and how hard it was to get a good income on land; how much I missed the ocean. Ian and I were in the army together, we served in East Timor, so he knew me well. He suggested I talk to John Young and think about coming to work for Clearwater. He said I could work week on week off, and that the money is good; and he knew how much I wanted to get back to working on the sea. So that’s how I ended up here. I didn’t know much, to be honest, about Clearwater or about mussel farming but I was trusting the instincts of a mate.
Turns out that he was bang on the money, in fact, it felt like it was the only thing that went right at that particular time in my life. I work with Ian on the Muscat now—he’s the Skipper. There’s just the two of us on board. It’s a three berth but we seem to get everything done that we need to at the moment with just two on board. Our job is to prepare the mussel lines for the feeder boat, change floats, take floats that aren’t needed any more and put them in other farms where they are needed. We do seeding as well sometimes, when we need to. Most of the time I’m working on the Muscat but I did work on the Pelorus Image, the harvester, for a little while to help out.
The work the Image does is very demanding, it’s a harvesting boat. There’s a lot of different jobs on the harvester like operating the hauler or the scraper, cleaning the lines, bagging the mussels, driving the hijab. There’s probably a bigger range of jobs on the harvester than the other boats and it is very physically demanding; you get around the Sounds a lot though. It can be hot physical work too, out on a boat on a sunny day. It’s totally different from working on the Muscat. I enjoyed working on the Image with Kelvin, but I love the Muscat. The Muscat does all the caretaking.
Living on the boat works really well. To be honest you make the boat your home, you keep it clean and you make sure everything is just right. Remember Ian and I were in the army so we’re not slobs. Our boat is always clean, and there’s just the right amount of space. We’ve got a shower on board, and a proper flushing toilet, everything we need. It’s our home on the water, and we keep it real tidy. We get on real well too. It’s bloody good.
I really enjoy just being out on the ocean. I’ve got such a passion for it. It’s just so interesting—especially working the farms, seeing how everything grows. They go from tiny spat to mussels in about eighteen months and during that time you look after it. It’d be good to own a line one day, or to have some shared lines for the crew, I’ll have to talk to John about that (laughs). It is a really good job, and Clearwater is looking at getting bigger so it seems stable, sustained, the mussels are going to be there so the work will be there. There’s good job stability.
My wife and I bought a house in Tahuna, Nelson. It’s a two story so we’ve got the upstairs for us and the kids, and downstairs is a self-contained flat. Our oldest son is at Tahuna Primary, and the youngest son goes to Tahuna Kindergarten; it’s just a five to seven minute walk down the road for them which is really good. I’d like to buy a boat in the future, and we want to save for some holidays overseas when the kids are bigger; when they’re old enough to understand and remember the experiences.
If we’re going to do these things we have to have a good level of income, and it has to be a stable income coming in. At the moment we’re planning some renovations to our house. It’s my job to do the outside renovations, like putting in a new sliding door, and the wife is doing the inside. In about ten years, we want to turn the two levels back into one house so there’s room to hide from the teenagers. And with all that we can afford for my wife to stay at home with our baby, and give our little girl the best possible start. I can be home and do stuff with my boys because I’m not gone long, and my job’s not far away. Actually, it’s worked out bloody brilliant.
John had mentioned to me that Ian and Max are a great team, and this was obvious as soon as I met them both. They work well together. They’re both proud of their army background, and of the Muscat. The Muscat was—as Max said—a really tidy, comfortable space with everything they’d need. Their pride in her, and in their work, was evident. Max is also justifiably proud of his beautiful family.