Memories of The Furuno Fishing Tournament

by admin

It was 4am. The Lion Red Furuno Fishing Tournament sponsors and staff party was in full swing, Tom Sharplin and his band had the acoustic instruments cranked up, the Brass Gentry jazz band were rocking along with them and the tournament controller, Mad Dog, was belting away on a makeshift drum kit that comprised pots, pans and rubbish bins.

I looked outside … the marquee stood in the darkness. Four tonnes of recalcitrant canvas that, in just three or four hours, we would be pulling down, pulling apart and rolling up. I shivered at the thought ….. welcome to the Furuno Fishing Tournament.

The Furuno Fishing Tournament is legendary. It’s huge – quite possibly the biggest fishing tournament in the world, it certainly is in our corner of the globe. Every year, 2500 to 3000 fishos would turn up to enjoy it. To fish and to take in the phenomenon that was “the tent.”

The tournament was a masterpiece of organisation. If you want to stage a huge event, and want to make it really complicated, just do in on an island so that everything – from pies to beer to toilet rolls – has to be put on a boat, and taken off at the other end. But the official story of the Furuno Fishing Tournament is for someone else to write – maybe Mike and Marisse Hodson who had the vision for the tournament in the 80s, got it started and ran it every year for almost 17 years. They gave a lot of people a hell of a lot of fun.

This article is about my recollections of being part of the tournament organising team – the hard case memories from those three or four (or was that five?) years. My role was to help with sponsorship and marketing, some of the organisation of things that went inside the tent (from bands to banners) and whatever else Mike and Marisse wanted me to help with.

The three days of the tournament were very hard work and could be gruelling … but the weeks of lead up, the working bees, construction and getting everything ready were incredible fun and made it all worthwhile. That was what the punters never saw – what went on in the background.

The tournament had a great team of people and they all had a sense of humour because you needed one to get through. We powered through the work and partied … we lived hard and played hard.

I’m not going to name everyone in this article because it would serve no useful purpose and if I did, I might have to censor it a bit more, as you will understand. What I can say is that these anecdotes are all true and without embellishment by yours truly. No really, they are….

Metal Downs

The Furuno club was the “gearbox” of the tournament. They were mostly tradesmen, successful business operators who worked with the tournament because they enjoyed it. There was no monetary reward other than having their club HQ stationed at Pah Farm. It was a large tin garage, fitted out as a bunkroom and kitchen, and called “Metal Downs.”

The guys and their wives – and in quite a few cases children were part of the team as well – were as hard a case bunch as you’d ever meet. The parties they threw were legendary and it was not unheard of for a party to just keep going all day. More than once I had to slink off to bed before 10pm in such pain from laughing that I could not take any more.

Like the time the snapper hatchery scientist known as “Number Two” entertained us with the guitar. He could barely play the thing, but did it with such panache and humour that he ended up being incredibly entertaining. And Brent Wray, on form with just enough gins, was the equal of any stand up comic I’ve ever paid $40 to see on stage.

Gin Gin Old Chap
The stainless bucket was an institution. It was part of and responsible for, a lot of the mischief that went on. It was a stainless steel milking bucket, stored reverently in a felt sack. I think there was even an official keeper of the bucket – Claude, I think. To the bucket they’d add a bottle or two of gin, three or four of tonic, some sliced lemons and much ice. Then you drink the gin by the pint handle. It was sensational and in fact, not nearly as inebriating as you’d imagine. It did, however, eventually get the job done, if you get my drift.

MC Hammered

More than one guest MC had to get up on stage and front the 3000 punters at prize giving with slurred speech and barely able to stand up. An afternoon session around the stainless bucket was a little joke the Furuno club guys would play on newcomers and the results could be very entertaining.

The Boy Needs His Head Read

While the Furuno Fishing Tournament club was a real good bunch, there were some guys that you did not want to annoy too much after a few stainless buckets. You had to be pushing it to get hit, but neither was it unheard of. One night a young guy working with one of the other organisations that were part of the tournament was trying it on with one of the Furuno club members, whom I’ll call “B.” The bloke just wouldn’t see sense, despite the size  of the man he was riling and the warnings from those around that it would be very wise to cease and desist.

Eventually, in a move that can only be compared with poking a hungry lion with a pointy stick, he pulled the chair out when B sat down. B stood up and took a mighty swing … unfortunately, someone else got in the way and B laid out the wrong person. Next morning Mike Hodson had to let it be known that this sort of behaviour could not be condoned. He strode up to Metal Downs and shouted .. “Able Seaman B….. front and centre.” A few of the Furuno Fishing Tournament club boys had served together with Mike on the Waikato and the navy training snapped immediately back into B’s mind. He fronted and centred pronto.

His sentence was latrine duty. That meant pumping out the portaloos into the sewage truck and taking up to the sewage plant the doings of 3000 pissed fishermen who were existing mostly on Lion Red, Coruba rum, pies, chips and hot dogs. Let me tell you, if the courts had this sentence available to them, there’d be a heck of a lot less violence on our streets.

Do you want to see my spa pool?

We’d signed up Lion Red as the new tournament sponsors. It was a good sponsorship and everyone was both excited to be working with Lion and also apprehensive that we did all the right things. Everyone wanted the thing to work well.

The sponsorship was celebrated with a trip to Pah Farm for the Lion team aboard Radar Blue, Mike Hodson’s new 62ft purpose built game fishing boat. It all went well at first – and the female members of the Lion team even took it in good humour when we handed them each a frozen pilchard, which they had to hold in their hand.

As we left Pah Farm for Auckland it was decided to fire up the spa pool, which lived under the cockpit of Radar Blue. This was achieved by opening the stern doors and backing the boat up until a couple of decent sized waves roared over the back and, hey presto, full pool.

But it had never been done with 15 people in the cockpit before and the skipper was probably a little bit heavy handed with the throttles in an attempt to impress the Lion team. Before you knew it, Radar had buried her stern and we were all standing in the cockpit up to our goolies in seawater, with backpacks, bags, chilly bins and other gear floating around us. It gave us a hell of a surprise, but we managed to rescue all the gear before it flowed out the back … and the spa pool was full. I’m pretty sure the pool was filled with the boat’s big-volume fire pump after that.

Lion were good sponsors and their team always turned up full of enthusiasm and mucked in to get things done. Even the female members seemed to be good blokes. Pah Farm Olympics goes off with a bang It was decided to hold an event called the Pah Farm Olympics. The competitors were mostly from the Furuno Fishing Tournament club and there were various activities. It was not quite as upmarket as the real Olympics but was probably more fun. A huge hangi was part of the day and the hangied sweetcorn went down a treat. The corn cobs were all thrown in an incinerator for disposal and petrol was added in an attempt to make them burn. Nothing happened, so interest was lost in burning the cobs and the team turned their attention to something else.

A while later there was an earth shattering explosion. Wowee everyone said, chuckling among themselves … that was impressive. About 20 seconds later, they were ducking for cover as a hail of corncobs rained down from the sky … 10 minutes later the ranger from Smokehouse Bay turned up in his boat to ask what the hell was going on … he’d heard the big bang from several miles up the harbour.

Bugger … it’s got no brakes

One of Mr. Toyota’s original Landcruisers was living in retirement at Pah Farm, its bodywork slowly returning to its constituent parts. Mechanically it was OK but it was well past getting a fresh warrant of fitness. I was using it as a movable winch to haul the marquee belltops up to the top of the poles via a couple of blocks and tackle. Problem was, when I got the belltops to the top of the pole, I could not hold the cruiser in place.

“It’s got no brakes Mike,” I explained. “Nah, you just have to pump them a bit,” he shouted back. We got the tent up …. and not long after, Mike took a sight-seeing trip up to the water tanks, high on a hill overlooking Bon Accord harbour. In the cruiser. Up a steep hill, back down the steep hill. He was a bit white when he got back … bloody thing’s got no brakes, he said. Yes Mike. It ain’t bloody is!

We needed something spectacular. We needed something different and looked to technology to provide it. We threw ideas around over a meal and more than one bottle of wine at Westhaven’s Swashbucklers restaurant – we spent many hours there in “strategy sessions” during the winter months.

To their credit, both Mike and Marisse constantly challenged what they were doing and looked to improve it. We’d spend night after night worrying away at something quite small until a better way was found to do it. Mike was a font of ideas … they poured out of him and he had endless and boundless enthusiasm and energy for getting things done.

We decided on a big screen to show videos replays of the MC, rugby games if something important was happening and other entertainment. The screen was made up of cubes – nine high and nine wide – and driven by computer, so we got one huge image. It was stunning .. but also very heavy. Each cube weighed 250 kilos. The shipping container on which it sat – the same one we stored the prizes in, creaked and groaned under the weight. We shored it up with a couple of 6 x 4 inch tent poles, but if you banged the poles, they’d hum like a guitar string they were under so much compression.

Then there was getting the thing down on the Sunday morning, in the blazingly hot marquee, with a hangover of similar dimensions to a medium sized African nation. It had to come down before the marquee did. It was a huge relief, when we moved to three smaller, lighter screens powered by digital projectors.

My Suit! My Shoes!

The media were my responsibility. We had to get them to the island and ferry them around in boats. If we were lucky, Helitranz would have a spare chopper and would generously help us by ferrying the media around. The Furuno Fishing Tournament from the air was a spectacular sight. You’d feel sorry for the reporters, particularly those from TV. They would have fronted for work in Auckland that morning wearing their best formal clothing and by mid afternoon they’d be on the dusty island or crashing around in a boat in the middle of a fishing contest. We had Gideon Porter in a suit and tie once and Sarah Bradley ruined a perfectly good pair of shoes on Pah Farm’s rocky pathways.

One female TV reporter wanted to focus her story on women fishing the contest. “There’s a woman fishing on that launch over there,” she said, and sure enough there was … so we motored over and pulled up alongside. We told the woman what we were up to, she was OK with it, so the cameras rolled. The reporter leaned over and asked, “how’s the fishing, have you caught any?” At this point an unshaven bloke, clad in a grubby old T-shirt and the obligatory “stubbies” lurched out of the cabin scratching the sides of his voluminous stomach and called out “nah but she got a big one last night hur hur hur…”

I groaned. Take two for the TV reporter…. I could go on forever really. I could tell you about my first Furuno Fishing Tournament where I lost a box containing all the Saturday night prizes. Getting them to the Island, labelled, and out there on stage, so you got the right prize for the right fish when the MC called it was an exercise in tedious, detailed planning. And that afternoon I’d lost about 30 grand’s worth. Emotions ranged from running away (couldn’t get off the Island and I’d still have to deal with Marisse eventually) or makeup some lie. Panicking seemed a good option, so I helped myself to a good measure.

Eventually, I just figured out that I would lay out all the prizes I had. It seemed like a productive thing to do and kept my mind off the looming catastrophe. Eventually, I looked in the tea chest I that I had been carefully walking around all afternoon, and that was in my way behind the prize container. You guessed it… the tea chest was full… of prizes. I could tell you about the time I took a load of aluminium scaffolding up there in my 17 ft tinny. I launched from Manly beach on my own with the boat loaded to the gunwales with alloy poles and me perched on top of them. It was the only time I’ve been on the water in that boat, in five years, without a fishing rod. Off Motuketekete Island, I came across a meatball. Solid pilchards. Huge kingfish beneath circling and holding the fish in their workup. With utter frustration and gritted teeth I pushed the throttle forwards and left the fish soup alone.

Or the time that Mike and Marisse hosted a whole bunch of computer guys at Pah Farm as a thank you for their incredible efforts in creating, every year, the network of scales and PCs that ran the weigh in for the tournament. It was two weeks’ work for them. Mike took us all for an invigorating walk to the Maori Pah site at the top of the hill … but his shortcut back home got steeper and steeper until we were climbing down a sheer cliff. With Hodson exhorting everyone to go faster, pretending that this, all along, had been part of the gameplan – we were all fat, pasty and spotty and needed the exercise. (Manual: Navy Training, Leadership 101)

I could tell you about the time I took my eldest son to the tournament when he was just 15. Some friends were holding a party on the back deck of a big launch and my son took a real liking to the bin filled with ice and bottles of premixed rum and coke.

He listened to the ribald jokes of the prize giving, leaned across and said “I do not think Mum would like these.” There were two lots of pouring went on that night – some down his throat and later, me having to pour him into bed. It was the first time he’d been drunk and before you get into me about being a bad father, I was not aware how much of a liking he had taken to the blue plastic drinks bin until it was too late.

There was much suspicion by my wife the next day – especially when she found the polaroid photo of him at the prize giving, happily sandwiched between the delightful pneumatic charms of the two “Black Heart” rum girls.

Ah, yes the Furuno Fishing Tournament. It’s gone now, of course. Pah Farm has a new owner and the tournament is not part of his game plan. I loved being involved with it for those few years and the memories I have shared with you here will remain with me, part of the enjoyment I’ve had from fishing, forever.

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