Ten years ago, I was having a shave and found a lump on my thyroid. I had a whole agonising month wondering if it was cancerous or not. I was 50.

I started to think even if I have cancer I’d rather head up to the islands and sit on a beach and go snorkelling for my last days rather than work. It came back as a benign cyst.

I bought the boat about a year later. For the first few years I’d go up in the winter and come back in the summer and work my butt off and get ready to go again.

Initially we’d go around the villages and run workshops and teach them how to re-glass their boats with all the tools.

In 2016 Cyclone Winston came through and hit Fiji with the highest winds ever recorded in the Pacific, 190 knot gusts and 155 steady.

We were directed to Koro Island, 35 people had died and just about every house wrecked, no-one had been there for 5 months. 72-year-old Charlie and I rolled our sleeves up with a Fijian carpenter – we helped 6 villages on that island for three winters in a row and it was the most fulfilling thing I’ve done in my life.

Islands like that when you’re over 55 you sit on the bench like the Muppets, but they took one look at Charlie and said he’s older than us and then got stuck in themselves. Other people came up over the years, top architects, they also said it gave them a purpose, rather than buying flash cars.

A friend’s wife barrelled me up at church after the first trip and she said you look so different, I’ve never seen you look so healthy. She said her job at the hospital is to tell people it’s not cholesterol that kills you, its stress. Men need to hear that.

I have got 11 acres up at Waitangi now, a farmhouse and cabins, a lot of people come and go, very informal and lots of fun. We had a gang come and stay and I didn’t realise they were a gang until they’d left. Because I treated them with respect, they did likewise.

I’m about to sail out of here and don’t think I’ll be back in a hurry. I’m sailing up to Barcelona to see my brother who has signed up with Alinghi, after 5 America’s Cups with Team New Zealand. If I get that far I’ll go up to Ireland and then maybe the Caribbean and through the Panama Canal, do the whole around the World thing. If I don’t do it now with good health and a good boat, I might regret it.

There are some lyrics of the song “Oh Lord” by NF– “everybody’s going to die, not everybody lives though”. That one resonates with me. You sacrifice a lot for your kids, but I don’t think it’s wrong to tick things off your bucket list.

I had a big house in Auckland and I’d be awake all night worrying and now I’m in a cabin, and even with a gang staying outside – I’ve never slept better.


DonBoat DonFiji

For more information on Don, his boat and the work they do please follow


Pete Carter is the author of This is Us. Due out in June 2020 it will be published by Exisle and tells the story of more than 200 New Zealanders in words and pictures. The book is really a portrait of the nation and how it is made up. Pete wrote Our Dog Benji a children’s book illustrated by his nephew, published by EK in 2017. He is also the author of two books of poetry. He has had magazine articles published and poetry in anthologies. As a photographer he has had two solo exhibitions and work included in group exhibitions in NZ and overseas and has sold work to and been commissioned by corporate clients.

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