Water has set the stage for a remarkable life for Greenwich Gardens resident Don Brooke.
When it comes to boats, there’s not much Don Brooke doesn’t know. The dynamic 83 year old started racing yachts as a child and spent 20 years of his civil engineering career as a highly successful boat designer. He co-designed and built the Spirit of New Zealand – believed to be the world’s busiest youth ship – and was a leading light in New Zealand’s burgeoning super yacht industry.
Although Don doesn’t get out on the water now as often as he used to, he’s not letting age dampen his seafaring spirit. A resident at Metlifecare’s Greenwich Gardens, Don is fondly known as ‘the boatbuilder’, and spends much of his time holed up in the village workshop helping fellow residents build radio-controlled boats.
“We’ve built a couple so far – Greenwich 1 and Greenwich 2 – and three of us try and go out to Onepoto Basin most Wednesdays to sail them. We’ve also built a big display model of an America’s Cup boat,” says Don, whose son David is a professional America’s Cup yachtsman and former winning Whitbread Around the World race crewman (where he was on our CEO Glen Sowry’s watch!)
“The workshop has been open for about 18 months and it’s a great place for the guys to get together. We work on all sorts of stuff, like jeeps and things to put your cup and saucer in, but I mainly look after the boating side.”
Don’s lifelong love of boats is not entirely surprising. In fact, it’s in his DNA. His father John designed the Spirit of New Zealand’s predecessor, the Spirit of Adventure, and while the topsail schooner is now based in Fiji, both vessels have played an integral role in boosting the skills and confidence of generations of New Zealand’s young people.
“Thirty-six kids go out every ten days for 11 months of the year. It’s an amazing adventure for them and a wonderful opportunity.”
And as a fresh group of Kiwi youngsters set sail on their Spirit of New Zealand voyage later this month, there will be one particularly special trainee on board – Don’s granddaughter Brooke Jamison.
“It’s quite fitting that my granddaughter is going out on it, as that’s exactly what my daughter did on the Spirit of Adventure back in 1983!”
When it comes to the Brooke family, boating clearly runs in the blood.