A popular cruise boat captain whose passion for Akaroa Harbour brought its famous wildlife to life for more than 100,000 people will be “dearly missed” after he was killed in a road accident.
Julian Yates was the lead skipper on the nature cruises run by Banks Peninsula tourism company Black Cat Cruises.
“He just had a genuine enjoyment for what he was doing, and that came across every day,” Black Cat chief executive Paul Milligan told Stuff.
“Ten years of doing multiple trips a day, and every time he went out he gave it 100 per cent.
“I think it was just through his enjoyment of being out on the harbour, seeing the dolphins and being able to share that with other people.
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“He will be dearly missed and will leave a big hole in the team.
“It’s a small community in Akaroa and a small team at Black Cat over there, so there’s a lot of people feeling a great deal of sadness at the moment. It will take some time to fully comprehend.”
Yates, who had a partner and two children, died in a crash on Friday, the company said in a statement on Facebook.
“His passion for the harbour and its marine life was second to none and over 100,000 guests have been lucky enough to experience one of his trips,” it said.
“His genuinely positive outlook and colourful personality means his loss will not only be felt by the Black Cat family, but also the wider Akaroa community with which he was heavily involved.”
Yates grew up in the Methven area, where his father developed Pudding Hill Lodge at the foot of Mt Hutt.
In an interview for Avenues magazine in 2018, Yates said his love of the sea came from family holidays in the Marlborough Sounds, where days were spent exploring bays in a little dinghy.
He took to fishing trawlers for 11 years as a way of funding his dream of training as a pilot, before a stint driving water taxis in Abel Tasman National Park.
A desire for less seasonal work led him to a job driving the Diamond Harbour ferry, and after the February 2011 earthquake took up skippering for Black Cat in Akaroa.
Yates was a “fantastic” member of the team, Milligan said, leading “exceptional” cruises day after day, one enjoyed by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, who the skipper briefly allowed to take the wheel.
“He did provide an absolutely outstanding trip out there and was very passionate about being on the water and both about the Akaroa Harbour and the marine life that we’re lucky enough to have out there.
“He had a lot of close connections in Lyttelton as well as in Akaroa, so he was well known and well liked right across the whole peninsula.”
Yates gave himself the nickname “Capitano Juliano” – despite having no Italian heritage, Milligan said – and played in a band and flew gliders outside of work, as well as enjoying nature and the outdoors at every opportunity.
But it was his work in Akaroa Harbour, bringing the wonders of its volcanic cliffs, coves and waterfalls, its Hector’s dolphins, seals and white-flippered penguins, to thousands of visitors that gave him an enduring joy and led him to rate his job as the best he ever had.
He told Avenues: “I’m fascinated by what I’m showing people and I find the more I know, the more I have to draw on …
“When I get home from work today, I will go across to the beach for a swim. I live and work in such a beautiful place.”
Some of Black Cat Cruises’ trips from Akaroa will be affected this week as the team takes time to celebrate Yates’ life, the company said.