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Gisborne harbourmaster Peter Buell

Wednesday 14 December, 2022

This month Peter Buell celebrates two anniversaries – 37 years of being married to Ginny and a year in his new job as Gisborne Harbourmaster.

Gisborne is his third post as a harbourmaster in New Zealand with previous roles in Canterbury (2006) and Bay of Plenty (2014- 2021) which covered the aftermath of the Rena disaster.

He loves his work, “it’s interesting”.

Plus, he’s passionate about making good information available to everyone so they are safe on the water.

In a nutshell, his job is navigation safety but there’s no normal day.

Peter reviews documents on every vessel entering the harbour, liaises with the pilots as needed in special circumstances and works closely with Eastland Port.

“They have a vested interest from a reputational risk and a financial risk point of view.

“Which makes them great to work with because they’re so keen on the safety side of things.

“That’s been the same for all of the ports I’ve worked with.”

Peter brings a realistic and educational approach to everything safety through conversations, which increase awareness.

For example, a common community bugbear is young kids swimming at the boat ramp at the Inner Harbour.

“I know the boating community would love to have kids not be permitted to swim there.

“You’re never going to stop that.

“So, the question becomes – what can we do to make sure it happens safely?”

Last summer he visited the boat ramp nearly every day.

“We need to make sure the kids are well out of the way when boats come in and out.

“We have to do as much as we can to make sure it happens safely.

”There’s signage, daily conversations and the continued presence of the Māori Wardens.

“Beyond that, we will go down there again this summer and have more conversations.”

He and Ginny feel quite settled in their new home of Gisborne.

NZ definitely feels like home, although they both grew up in Niagara Falls, Canada – coincidentally next door to each other in a city of 60,000 people.

Niagara Falls spans the border between Canada and America, (the Canadian side is nicer, adds Peter).

Every summer the city swells with hundreds of thousands of tourists.

“Just about everybody had a summer job in high school – the place was so busy that everyone had a role to play somewhere.”

Peter had two – he umpired softball games and drove a truck that delivered linen to restaurants and hotels.

“It was kinda cool because we lived just over an hour away from Buffalo and Toronto.”

This meant he and his mates could travel easily to see every major concert there was, and they did. It was the 70s so Peter saw live shows like Supertramp and Electric Light Orchestra. Major sports events were equally in reach and regularly attended.

Peter and Ginny were friends since they were 10 and 12 and once had a double date with their respective partners in their teenage years.

It wasn’t until a Christmas holiday home from the Navy they fell in love with each other.

Today after 37 years of being married, they have two children and two grandchildren – one of whom was even born in Gisborne.

Peter went into the Navy at 20  and travel became a way of life. He has travelled all over the world.

When he first joined, the Cold War was going on – tension between NATO and Russia that never became combative.

“When we exercised our ships, the Russians would come and watch us.

“I spent time chasing Russian intelligence-gathering vessels in the ocean, but then everyone did that back then.

“Was good to see that melt away.”

His role was “not unlike battleships” as an officer of a ship he’d coordinate adjoining ships alongside his one, and all the weapons between them.

He became a senior warfare officer who could run an operations room, direct fighter aircraft and spent time in NATO as an anti-submarine warfare commander.

At the same time, Peter got his Master Foreign Going certificate.

With this practical ticket now on his resume, Peter, Ginny and their two kids moved to NZ in 1999.

Ironically his new job – was in the NZ Navy. His Operations Room Officer training was a highly sought-after qualification and he served here for seven years.

The Navy enabled him to go on two humanitarian missions – Haiti in 1993/94 and Banda Aceh after the 2004 tsunami.

“It’s very rewarding – helping people.”

After 24 years in the Navy it was the soft skills he’d picked up - leadership, management, and problem-solving — that helped him jump ship into a different career.

The family moved to Christchurch in 2006 so Peter could take up the role of harbourmaster.

A year in, Ginny was offered a really good job managing a large call centre in the Philippines.

Peter says after years of the family putting his career first, it was Ginny’s turn. However, six months after they moved to the Philippines the company was sold.

They returned to Canada at that point because you couldn’t bring dogs from the Philippines to NZ. And they love their dogs – three Cavalier King Charles Spaniels at the moment. He spent two years as Assistant Director of Marine Services for the Government of the Northwest Territories then five as Director of Marine Training at Georgian College.

In 2014, a job as the harbourmaster at Bay of Plenty brought the family back to NZ. Work there was always interesting including the aftermath of the Rena, establishing exclusion zones, a ship fire, a large ship grounding, and several small vessel groundings above and beyond the normal daily work.

Peter and Ginny are hoping for lots of visits from family and friends now that they are settled here.

Habourmaster Peter Buell

Gisborne Harbourmaster Peter Buell at home with the family’s three Cavalier King Charles Spaniels who all “get along famously” – they’re named Rolleston, Quilla and Griffon.