Harbourmaster ready for role

New harbourmaster Steve Rushbrook at the Steamer Basin. Photo: Gerard O'Brien
New harbourmaster Steve Rushbrook at the Steamer Basin. Photo: Gerard O'Brien
He may be a long way from mine hunting off the coast of Kuwait during the Gulf War, but Steve Rushbrook is looking forward to his new role. David Loughrey meets Otago’s new harbourmaster.

Should an unexploded mine wash into the Otago harbour on a spring tide, or should the Olympics be held in Dunedin in the next few years, it seems we have the man for the job.

Steve Rushbrook is the new Otago Regional Council harbourmaster, and he takes on the role after stints with the Royal Navy and the Port of London.

After three weeks in Dunedin, he has discovered going up hills means "you really go uphill", but after being used to an hour-and-a-half commute in London, he says the short travel times are a  bonus.

The 52-year-old from Kent, in southeast England, gained the role after a long search for someone suitable.

He says his employment history has given him experience in both the commercial and recreational uses the harbour offers.

Mr Rushbrook moved to Dunedin late last month with his wife Nicola and daughter Grace (9).

He started his new job last week, after working at the Port of London for 24 years, and before that the Royal Navy for almost 10 years.

Mr Rushbrook said he went straight into the navy from school, where he "worked my way up the ladder", specialising in mine warfare.

"Hopefully, that won’t be required while I’m here," he joked.

It was required during the Gulf War in the early 1990s.

"You train for many years to do the job for real, and I suppose in some respects I was fortunate to get to actually do my job for real.

"The highlight has got to be active service in the Gulf War, right in the front line."

He said there were "a couple of missile situations".

"That really brings up the close reality of what you’re doing."

On one occasion he was with his team mine hunting on a small rubber boat watching missiles "flying at you"  400m off the coast of Kuwait.

Fortunately, none hit their target.

Once mines were discovered by equipment onboard ship, either remote vehicles or divers were used to classify them.

"Most of the mines were found after the conflict, when the navy obtained maps of their whereabouts.

"We found one buoyant mine and one ground mine while we were out there."

Options once they were found were to leave them where they were, or, using a remote-controlled vehicle, a 220lb bomb could be exploded next to the mine, a double explosion he described as "quite spectacular".

Of the politics and ramifications of the war he said: "I tend not to dwell on political arenas."

In 1993, shortly after leaving the navy, Mr Rushbrook began working at the Port of London, again working his way up the chain. He ended up in an onshore role, managing a team of 90 people crewing the port’s boats, before taking another role managing support services from the port’s base.

From there, he became a deputy harbourmaster in central London in 2009.

That role meant having to deal with the busiest waterway in the UK, which carried 12 million passengers a year, 70% of the  UK’s rowing fraternity, and the cruise ships that visited London.

Another role there was event management, in which he managed the maritime safety aspect of the Boat Race, the annual rowing race between the Oxford University Boat Club and the Cambridge University Boat Club, for 10 years.

Then there was involvement with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Pageant  in 2012, and aspects of the 2012 Olympics.

"There was some big stuff there.’’There were other roles as well, but Mr Rushbrook said he kept his eye on job opportunities and noticed the ORC job advertisement.

"This one, when I saw it, particularly jumped out."

The skill set required suited his experience, "and secondly, it’s in New Zealand".

"The attraction of both those things were quite key."

The family arrived in Dunedin after passing through Hong Kong and Auckland.

"The one thing that strikes you, being a newbie, you can do all the research you want to do, and you can look at all the pictures and all the maps, what you can’t get is when they say you go uphill around here, you really go uphill.

"But first impressions? It’s clean, its stunning."

He was also getting to understand Dunedin was "a 10-minute city" in terms of time taken to get from place to place.

"From where I sit now, there’s nothing not to like."

Of his new role, Mr Rushbrook said safety would be a "huge part".

"There’s a navigational safety management system that needs to be put in place at a council level.

"That’s a huge piece of work."

His remit for navigational safety would include Port Otago’s activities, "although they manage a very, very viable  and actively commercial port which is very successful".

He said outside of the port "the whole area needs a bit of an overview on recreational usage, safety, boating safety ... "

He planned to engage with operators and users in Otago to develop "a more robust safety culture".

Asked if he had a vessel in which to ply the harbour waves, he said, "Not yet."

"Watch this space."

He said there was a budget for such a vessel.

"We’re not rushing for it, put it that way, but it is there."

Mr Rushbrook said he had played rugby in the past for Aylesford, in Kent, at club level as a No8.

His wife had always played.

He also sailed recreationally, something he planned to do here socially.


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