When the sea gives back – a story of luck and decency

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NIWA puts a lot of things in the ocean—instruments tied to moorings, floats that dive up and down measuring what’s going on in the water, and video cameras that monitor fish.

But this is a story about something that accidentally ended up in the sea and thanks to the wind, ocean currents, good luck and good people, came back.

NIWA marine ecologist Mike Townsend is a diabetic. He takes insulin four times a day and carries his medication with him wherever he goes—including boats. He is on boats a lot.

On Sunday, April 9, just before 5pm, Mike and his workmates were on the Kaipara Harbour finishing up routine ecological monitoring for Auckland Council. They headed back to shore from remote Tapora Bank, and while it was a bit choppy and the boat was bouncing around a little, the conditions were nothing unusual.

Lost at sea

But when Mike got to shore it dawned on him that his Pelican waterproof security box was missing. In that box were his phone, his wallet, his house keys, his motel key, but most importantly his insulin.

“It was really my life in that box and it was gone. I knew it had been sitting on the bench of the boat and I soon realised it must have gone overboard on our way in.”

The team headed back out trying to retrace their trip using GPS but everything conspired against them.

“The sun was setting, my box was a dull grey and virtually camouflaged in the water. So we had to come back without it. I got the bus back home to Hamilton to get medication and never expected to see my box again which was lost in a remote part of the second biggest harbour in the Southern Hemisphere.”

Enter John Sellers.

A week ago, Mike listened to a voice mail on his work laptop. It was John, explaining he had been walking his dogs at a beach about 15km from Waiuku, when he found the case, opened it and discovered Mike’s contact details. It had spent a month at sea, survived two large storms, including the tail end of a cyclone, and travelled 130km south.

Mike was stunned. The box had gone past Muriwai and Piha, past the Manukau Harbour entrance before washing up on the west coast of the Awhitu Peninsula between Hamilton’s Gap and Cochranes Gap.

“Very few people live in this area—it’s remote and gets more remote the further south you head. The chances of someone even finding something like this are extremely small. Hardly anyone lives between Port Waikato and Raglan so this is pretty phenomenal.”

John had more good news. While the box was slightly damp inside, his phone still worked. The money in Mike’s wallet was more than enough to pay for it to be couriered back to Mike and the rest was used to buy John a beer.

Mike, ever the marine ecologist, notes that goose barnacles have colonised the box which indicates it’s been floating with the seal below the waterline for most of its time at sea.

“I’m chuffed. I was very lucky that it was picked up by someone like John and lucky it stayed dry. “

Contact

For more information contact:
Mike Townsend
Ph 07 856-1789

Related information

Mike Townsend's mighty Pelican case picked up some passengers but stayed waterproof through its whole journey at sea. [Photo NIWA]