Canterbury Branch committee member Ed Wicken had an idea it might be great to have a classic run on the Waimakariri River. He runs a Jet 44 Invader and had his father Harry on board (The family still owns Harry’s original wooden jet boat complete with Nalder Biddle jet unit form 1960) His brother John was running another Jet 44 and Ed’s son Matthew was in his Jet 30 Mk II. Three generations of jet boaters plying the waters around Canterbury and proving you don’t need the latest and greatest jet boats to enjoy our sport.
Recently co-opted on to the Jet Boat Heritage Trust, Ed, like more and more of us these days is keen to preserve our history so a run on a river considered the spiritual home of jet boating made sense. He roped in Vaughan Ingram with planning and they were off.
Running parallel to this story was Alf Dick. One of our pioneering forefathers who started with Bill as a farm hand at Irishman Creek, long before any of us had even dreamt about boating upstream. (Well maybe with the exception of the Boss!)
He served Hamiltons for the best part of half a century in various roles and was never far form the heart and soul of jet boats… out on the water, be it in a race or pleasure boat.
But Alf’s health was failing and this planned trip up the Waimakariri Gorge seemed destined to a perfect moment to salute a man who had given his life to something most of us probably take for granted.
Plans were made to take Alf on what will likely be his last river run, back up to a place that was very special – Hamilton Hut. After all, he and George and a handful of enthusiasts built it in 1960 and affectionately nicknamed it Top Hut. They already had another hut down at Otarama or Bennett’s Reserve, so the name seemed appropriate.
They came out of the woodwork… the old guard of jet boating, present to recognise their mate and his contribution. George Davison, Duke Dixon, Jock Montgomery, Howard Smith, Peter Phillips… the list goes one. It was a who’s who of pioneers in many ways.
Thirty three boats took to the river, of them almost fifteen classics and amongst them half a dozen Jet 30s representing the earliest era. Some fully and immaculately restored, some still in the original condition of the year, it was a cacophony of jet boats with a common cause.
A presentation of a seat build by Jardin Bramall as a Yr 13 school project was duly named in Alf’s honour and unveiled by David Street, current JBNZ President and Duke Dixon, the man who started the association more than fifty years ago. Mike Hamilton sent his apologies but in his absence asked George Davison to speak on behalf of the company and all of us for that matter.
Alf’s bench seat was duly loaded and transported up river to it’s final resting place on the Hut’s verandah over looking the river. The problem of transporting some of the more frail members of this trip was left in the capable hands of Nick Hamilton. Nick’s no relation to the famous name that adorns so many boats but Nick himself been involved for decades including owning and running commercial jet boat operations in Queenstown. He settled back into a quieter lifestyle around Darfield recently and promptly got snapped up by Paul Vernal for his Alpine Jet tour operation.
Thanks to Paul’s generosity a twin-engine tour boat was laid on and Nick chauffeured the guests in smooth style up through the skinny water with the grateful thanks of those on board. It was a special trip back down memory lane for Duke Dixon – he started the original tour operations on this very river in Whio 3 and later ran the first twin engine jet boat here.
Alf couldn’t make the trek up the hill to the Hut, but George Davison at 84 scrambled up the bank, catching his breath from time to time and recalling the stories of building the hut a long time ago. It was a special moment for us all as George and Alf chatted in Alpine Jet back at river level.
We lunched at the top of the Gorge at Esk Pool the only place where all boats could beach before returning downstream. Considering the very low flow, casualties were remarkably light. Most make it through unscathed, even through the rock garden where Ed and his team had strategically placed red marker buoys to guide the way. Branch Chairman Steve Kirner was on hand to pick up the stragglers, a fuel issue here or there, the worst being Phil Stovell with internal engine issues in a boat once purchased by Sir Edmund Hillary to practice the finer art of driving in readiness for their Ocean to the Sky expedition. It would need a tow home.
Linda Lister didn’t take the trip up river, she and Graeme stayed back and laid on the catering at Alpine Jet Headquarters. We gathered, ate, chatted and accepted prizes for the most obscure reasons and toasted our pioneers, most notably the impact that Alf Dick has made.
We salute you Alf.
In his laconic way Alf summed up what had been a special day that can never be repeated… as he passed by the camera exiting the boat he murmured… “see you later folks”.
Alf slipped away the morning of 23rd April finally succumbing to his battle with cancer.