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Tribute To Russel Ginn

Tribute to Russel Ginn - Friend and Kayaker

It is with great sadness that I record the death of Russel Ginn, peacefully at his home in Titahi Bay in January 1996. Russel, a veteran sea kayaker, will have been known to many of you.

Reserved and thoughtful and with a delightful, sly humour and turn of phrase, Russel loved the sea and the mountains, poetry and music. Russel was a family man: his wife Ellinore, as flamboyant as Russel was quiet, died early in 1995, and he is succeeded by their five daughters and their families. Russel also loved solitude, and reading and musing on voyages and exploration: maritime, desert, polar and historic. This obituary focuses on the kayaking side of Russelís long and interesting life, although it can only hint at aspects of it. I write it for Russel, and on behalf of his kayaking friends.

Russel had since the 1950s forged the family dream of building an ocean going yacht, and sailing the family off in it. Ages were spent on detailed plans, and stacks of timber purchased, but the keel was never laid: only some small sailing dinghies eventuated. Russel started kayaking around 1970, initially in long, broad wood and canvas craft that he and some neighbours built and used in the Titahi Bay surf. From then, Russel increasingly marvelled at the elegant simplicity of the kayak, its freedom and versatility. A boat so small that it could be manhandled with ease, so seaworthy that it could ride out gales, and so easily propelled that long tours were possible. Early in his kayaking life, Russel would act as if sailing a ketch, choosing campsites for their anchorage potential, but he soon shrugged off the constraints of sail. Russelís only expressed regret was that he had not discovered the potential of sea kayaking earlier.

In the late 1970s, Russel constructed his first wooden Hereschoff, a five-planked clinker design that he modified to three-planked and flush: at 16í and 80lbs, it was affectionately known as the battleship. He constructed two more, lower and shorter, the final white version so fine-tuned that it fitted him perfectly . For convenience, in the last few years Russel paddled also his lighter fibreglass Puysegur and Arctic Raider, but he took greatest pride in his wooden craft. Russel was a great believer in the skeg rather than the rudder: he fitted his Hereschoffs with adjustable skegs, and was adept in their use.

In 1983 Russel had his first long kayaking trip, transferring his tramping and hunting gear to the Hereschoff, and setting off with David and Jo Banks to Mount Stokes (an unusually high objective for a kayak trip), via Picton and Kenepuru Sound. In the following decade, averaging at least two trips a year, Russel developed a love for and intimate knowledge of New Zealandís beautiful rivers, lakes and coastlines: the Abel Tasman National Park, Lakes Taupo and Waikaremoana, and the Wanganui River, but especially the Marlborough Sounds. He knew practically every bay and camp site, every sound and reach. Russel occasionally travelled solo, but mostly with groups of friends, especially Mike and Kathy Peers, David and Jo Banks, and Hugh MacRae, but many others also.

Despite his companionsí complaints, Russel insisted on paddling in his oldest, most worn cottons, woollens and oilskins. After a dayís paddling he would let them dry on him, before eventually changing into his Paisley pyjamas, keeping the ìgoing home clothesî he always carried for that purpose alone. Russel satisfied his impressive appetite with solid home-made bread, eaten with cheese and dates, and washed down with wine or a whisky and ginger wine mix - sipped from a glass, of course. When the resultant warmth reached his toes, it was time for bed.

Russel enjoyed his sleep on trips, unperturbed by his dogs. One night Mike Peers mistook a tube of poison for toothpaste. With swollen tongue, Mike woke Russel, who slowly put his reading glasses on and examined the tube: ìOne thinks it would take a considerable amount of this to be fatal, Mikeî, he concluded, as he dropped back to sleep. Endless cups of tea were required to coax a grumpy ìMr Gî to strike camp in the morning. A late starter by nature, Russel in any case liked fossicking around, enjoying where he happened to be: windy days off were not wasted on him. For such occasions he carried an umbrella, and always a book of poetry. Only once does anyone recall Russel approaching anger: being woken an hour too early for a dawn start. Otherwise, whether up to his neck in water or shivering in a howling gale, Russel was impeccably polite and composed.

However, once on the water, Russel was off: paddling comfortably and with a full head of steam, he did not want to stop, and would keep going into the evening. Not bad, for an olí fella with one lung: Russel circumnavigated DíUrville Island while in his early 70s.

Russel paddled often around his Titahi Bay base. He enjoyed the tranquillity of the Porirua and Pauatahanui inlets as much as the stark beauty of the coast and Mana Island. Keeping a boat in his shed on Titahi Bay beach, in the luxury of retirement he would often paddle to one of the neighbouring bays for lunch. Mike Peers, who has survived more trips with Russel than anyone, recalls with equal pleasure their chance encounters while separately paddling around the rocks of Titahi Bay, usually resulting in them paddling together into the evening.

For myself, the memories I cherish most of many are of cosy winter evenings at Russelís, chatting with him infront of the fire - armchair kayaking - perhaps with a glass of wine or a book of poetry, always with humour and friendship. I miss him.

Russel had many dreams that will now not be realised: to continue his explorations of the Marlborough Sounds and other coasts, and to paddle across Cook Strait . Neither will the massive timbers in his back yard ever form the keel of his yacht. But his lately developed love of sea kayaking had probably superseded that dream, anyway.

Change was his Mistress, Chance his counsellor,
Love could not hold him, Duty forged no chain:
The wide seas and mountains called him
And grey dawn saw his camp fire in the rain
Anon, from Russelís collection

As an epitaph, what could be more appropriate than that chosen by his family: Russel, the oceans, the mountains and spacious quietude salute you. Your friends do too.

ConradEdwards, March 1996

A list of Russel's kayak trips, no doubt incomplete:

Cape Kahurangi (Russelís favourite spot), Heaphy Track, Wilf Watson, March 1980

Mt Stokes via Picton and Kenpuru, Dave and Jo Banks

Wanaganui River trip (239 rapids), Jan 1983, Forest and Bird Society led Mike Pears, with Dave and Jo Banks and others. Eight days from Taumaranui to Upokongaro.

Picton, Nydia Bay, Jacobd Bay and return, Mike Pears and Dave and Jo Banks, Sep 83

Bruce Tennanat and Dave Banks at Mana Island, 1982

Tennyson Inlet, May 84, Mike Pears, Dave and Jo Banks

Taupo, May 85, Mike Pears

Wanganui River, Mike nad Kathy, Jan 86

Abel Tasman, Cobb Valley, Tennyson Inlet, Mike and Kathy Pears, 17 days Mar/Apr 86

Jacobs Bay area, 4 days solo, May 87

Mahau to Port Ligar with Mike Pears, Aug 87

Whakahoro to Pipiriki, Mike Pears? and others, Dec 87

ATNP, Pruseygur evaluation trip, Mike Pears, Jun 88, boat from Tom Horn?

DíUrville Island circumnavigation (anti-clockwise) with Mike Pears, Dave Banks and Dennis?, Sep 88

Apr 89, Queen Charlotte Sound, Dave & Dennis

Apr 90, Mike and Kathy Pears, Wangapeka track/Broughs Tabernacle. Taupo Hut, leg injury

Dec 90, Wanganui?, Taupo, Mike and Kathy Pears

Mar 92, Hugh McRae, Gale Force SW winds from Ratimera Bay, Gem Resort

Nov 92, Waikaremoana, Mike?, Taupo, Karangahake Ciffs, Dave Yarrow

Mar 93

Dec 92, hot water beach and Tarawera and Ruapehu

93 Taupo, Forum

Mar 93, Hugh McRae, Marlborough Sounds

May 93, Taupo, Mike and Kathy Pears

Page last modified on September 07, 2005, at 07:20 AM