“If you sell your house and I sell my boat, we could buy the Furneaux Lodge lease,” Ros Benson’s partner said, after seeing an ad in the newspaper. It was the year 1995.
Benson was a receptionist-turned-firearms officer who worked two nights a week at the Kāpiti Boating Club as a waitress, trying to earn a little more for her son.
He had only been to the centennial Marlborough Sounds lodge once, during a sudden weekend trip with friends. Benson spent the sail clinging to a rope in the dead of night after the launch he was on hit a storm.
But she was the “adventurous type”, so it was no wonder that she turned to her partner, when he suggested buying Furneaux, and said, “Okay then.”
Thus began Benson’s life in Marlborough, which, for more than three decades, saw her leap from the owner of an isolated hostel to a revolutionary water taxi, and then from a winter events planner to the manager of a hospital operations center. emergency.
His partner at the time, “Partner Number Four”, was in the Coast Guard and was the former bodyguard of New Zealand Prime Minister Robert Muldoon. The couple cashed in on their house and boat, and moved into the then “very, very run-down cabin.”
They gave it a makeover, came up with a way to make things work, and hardened it over time. Benson spent the first few hours preparing the restaurant for the morning rush of boats. Then, he worked until 11 p.m. M. Or 1 a. M. (Changing with her partner every night), for clients to see a face they knew. Looking back, she joked that she was “probably the grumpiest owner of Furneaux Lodge.”
“In a deserted place like that … a rule for one is a rule for all. You can’t deviate from it because otherwise it won’t work.
“We had a rule that you couldn’t bring boots inside Furneaux Lodge. You had to take them off and add them to the line, outside. There was a couple who used to come to the lodge with their dog. His name was Boots, so he had to sit down. outside “.
His life took a turn in mid-1997, when a “very, very rich fisherman” sailed up to Endeavor Inlet, anchored and walked to the bar. The freehold of the hostel was for sale and he said he wanted it.
“We couldn’t fight him because he was a millionaire. We were nobody. We just couldn’t afford to buy freehold.”
Five months after leaving, Ben Smart and Olivia Hope disappeared after spending the New Year at Furneaux Lodge.
Benson and his partner retired to Picton, a small transportation hub connecting the north and south islands, where a water taxi business seemed like a natural step forward.
It was dubbed ‘West Bay Water Transport’ as a nod to Endeavor Inlet, which was called West Bay in the days of Captain James Cook, but which was renamed several decades later.
His first ship was a Naiad, a make of workhorse favored by Coast Guard crews in New Zealand because they could travel quickly, even in bad weather.
His name was West Bay. I had two outboards in the back and everyone was saying, ‘that’s not going to go very fast. But we put her in the water and she went to the room. “
It traveled three times faster than the boats used by the three West Bay Water Transport competitors, reducing the once-long sail between Picton and Torea Bay to 15 minutes.
“Basically, we revolutionized water taxis in Picton because no one was traveling at those speeds before,” Benson said.
One ship quickly became two. But, before the business could get too big for his boots, it was bought by a rival. West Bay was shipped north to Whakaari / White Island, while the company’s second ship, STB, went to Queenstown.
Benson could only guess what happened in West Bay, “they probably wouldn’t have used it to rescue people during the White Island eruption”, but he knew that STB had been painted “bright orange” and put to work as a tourist boat. . The ship was renamed Tina in honor of Tina Turner, singer of the pop hit Simply The Best, abbreviated STB.
Benson took over as a waitress at Toot N Whistle (later Cockles Kitchen And Bar, which closed) and her friends used to visit her. She was speaking to a larger than usual group one night when someone said residents had little to do during the quieter winter months.
“So I said, ‘why don’t we have a winter dance?'”
She already knew where to organize it: in the “great, huge room” on the top floor of the Picton Yacht Club hotel, overlooking the Marlborough Sounds. Her friend, the owner of the hotel, agreed and on June 19, 2004, the city had its first ‘Christmas Ball’.
A year later, he had his second, this time “costumes”.
By then, its organizers, including Benson, had raised several thousand dollars and weren’t sure what to do with it.
They realized that the only ambulance in town never left a storage shed on Market St because its battery was often dead from disuse. Meanwhile, the Coast Guard had two years to leave the portable building that had its headquarters.
The two components came together in one idea: “Let’s build a joint area for the Marlborough and St John Coast Guards.”
The friends established the Picton Emergency Operations Center Trust, with Benson sworn in as secretary. Five years later, at the opening of the Ogilvie-Lee Emergency Operations Center, he would see his dream come true.
But he remained in the trust for another decade, through a separation, two house moves and his retirement from the workforce, before finally hanging up his hat in late August.
“I have always strived to be charitable and do my best,” she said, tracing the cause back to her upbringing in Sussex, a large county in the south-east of England.
His mother, a pub owner, was a decorated Captain in the Girl Guides, who encouraged young women to improve the world.
“Charity was something I grew up with.”
Benson followed in his mother’s footsteps and eventually earned his own collection of badges: first Brownie, then Guide, First Class Guide, and finally Captain Guide. He pasted the insignia on a hat, along with his other achievements.
Her favourite? A small silver medal, speckled with age.
“I got it in second place by running 100 yards against Gordon Perry’s wife. He was the second man to run the ‘four minute mile’ … I was probably about 14 and she was 18.”
Local Democracy Reporting is a public interest news service supported by RNZ, the Association of News Publishers, and NZ On Air.