It is said that when you have a trade behind you, it will unlock many opportunities. Grant Dixon meets a plumber whose work has taken him around the world…

When he was unblocking drains and digging ditches on Auckland’s North Shore, young plumbing apprentice Dan Airey never imagined where his trade would lead him.

Dan learned his trade from Reece Fox – Foxies’ Plumbing Ltd – and it was a career path that provided many interesting twists and turns, leading to the captain’s seat on a 27-metre luxury motor cruiser currently berthed in Auckland’s Viaduct Basin.

A keen angler and hunter from a young age, a passion shared with his dad Mark, Dan loved the outdoors. Sport played a big part in his life during his younger years.

From the age of four he played rugby and proved to be good at it. Although a little on the light side, he played flanker and was known for his aggressive defence and speed on attack. He played club rugby for Silverdale, and while attending Rangitoto College, he worked his way up through the grades and made the First XV.

He developed a taste for travel after the First XV successfully fund-raised for a trip to play in South Africa. It was a portent of things to come.

“It opened my eyes to the big, wide world out there, and while working through my apprenticeship, I always knew I would travel,” Dan says.

While completing his apprenticeship, Dan played rugby for Silverdale and North Harbour Maoris. The pinnacle of his career was making the NZ Barbarians – a middleweight team – that earned him a place on the Barbarians’ wall at Eden Park.

His apprenticeship completed and with a good trade qualification, Dan set off for England on his OE. His rugby prowess stood him in good stead and he played semi-professionally for Beckingham Club in Kent, SE London, taking employment as a maintenance plumber in the off-season.
“I was living my dream: playing a sport I was passionate about and then earning good money on the tools during their summer,” he explains.

He says many Kiwis travel and get low-paying jobs, but the good wage he could earn by combining his trade with rugby enabled him to travel.

While undertaking his apprenticeship Dan might never have imagined the doors it would open for him.
While undertaking his apprenticeship Dan might never have imagined the doors it would open for him.

It also meant when he came back to New Zealand for our summer, there was plenty of time for fishing and surfing.

But back to his OE… One trip he remembers well was walking through Europe, taking in Sweden, Denmark and Germany. He did this in true backpacker style, quite often sleeping in a tent on the side of the road.

Unfortunately his adventures were curtailed by a diving accident in Egypt, after which expensive medical bills soaked up his money.

He returned home and took up the tools, quickly earning enough to travel again, a scenario he was to repeat several times over the years. His next adventure took the form of a van trip through Europe, taking in tourist favourites like Pamplona and the running of the bulls and Oktoberfest in Munich.

Back home again, he built up his bank balance once more, thanks to his trade, before returning to Europe.

In Norway some Kiwi fellow travellers talked him into crewing on luxury yachts and motor boats. He went to England where, using his trade as a starting point, he earned enough qualifications to serve as a deck engineer before heading across the Channel and walking the docks in Antibes. There he was taken on for a three-week stint, which quickly led to a more permanent deck engineer’s job. If he thought playing rugby and travelling was living the dream, crewing on a luxury motoryacht let Dan enjoy a fantastic lifestyle: travelling and being paid for it. It was heaven!

Rugby was the initial catalyst for Dan’s first trip overseas where he played semi-professionally in England.
Rugby was the initial catalyst for Dan’s first trip overseas where he played semi-professionally in England.

One gig was on a 32-metre motoryacht, which did charter work through France, Italy, Corsica and Sardinia. In the off-season Dan returned home to surf, fish and hunt before heading back to Europe and more charter work.

Over the next couple of years Dan rose through the ranks, gaining various qualifications and filling different positions, ending up as First Mate and then Engineer on a 26-metre Wally motoryacht.

This vessel was in full-time charter cruising the Caribbean and Mediterranean and Dan stayed aboard her for three years, continuing to upgrade his seagoing qualifications.

This led to his current command, the 27-metre world cruiser/explorer Little Blue. He’s been the vessel’s captain for the last two-and-a-half years.

The list of ports he has called at with Little Blue is impressive, including much of USA’s eastern seaboard, from Chesapeake Bay down to Florida’s Fort Lauderdale. He’s called in at Washington DC, New York and Boston.

Little Blue also made landfall in the Bahamas and Cuba, before heading through the Panama Canal – an interesting experience for a young captain – and visiting Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Mexico. She then headed to New Zealand.

Little Blue is owned by an Englishman who spends a couple of months a year aboard her, mainly with his family. Dan says he is great to work for and treats him and his crew of five with respect.

In command – Dan Airey at the helm of Little Blue.
In command – Dan Airey at the helm of Little Blue.

Just after this interview, Dan was heading into the bush with his father for the roar. After that, the boat was being prepared to head into the Pacific for the winter months, sailing initially for Fiji.

“Our owner loved New Zealand and I am hopeful we will return here next summer,” said Dan.
Dan says she doesn’t have any great ambition to run a larger vessel. He is quite comfortable aboard Little Blue.
“I enjoy the job and the owner looks after me.”
He says, that while crewing on the boats can appear to be glamorous, it is not always what it is cracked up to be.
“When you have guests on board the work is 24/7 and some people can be hard to please, especially during charters,” he says, “but I love the travel opportunities, meeting interesting people and experiencing other cultures.

The down side is that you are often working in close quarters with others, but without the opportunity to develop long-term, solid relationships.”

Dan’s long-term goal is to own his own blue water sailing boat and travel the world, but in the meantime this 31-year-old will continue to live the dream.