“John Lennon sailed to Bermuda a few weeks before his death because his spiritual master told him that the ocean is beneficial for mental health,” says Geoff Hunt. “I’ve had ups and downs like everyone else and now I just want to help. I’ve reached a stage in my life where I want to try and give something back.” And he plans to do that through teaching disadvantaged youths how to sail.
Geoff, a business- and yachtsman, has had some colourful life experiences, including a run-in with the Mongrel Mob which led to him having a gun held to his head. “I’d borrowed some money of this guy in good faith, but his life entered a storm so to speak and he needed the money back early,” Geoff says. “I didn’t have it, and he ended up sending these five gang members round. My wife had just had our baby so I couldn’t let her know what was going on.” Geoff kept a cool head, eventually “wheeling and dealing” his way out of a situation which he describes as being “up to my arse in alligators”. Through a property transaction, he says he even ended up $200,000 better off.
But it was seeing his brother break his neck, then later end up in rehab for drink and drug addiction that really made him take stock. “When he broke his neck the doctor said that he would never walk again,” Geoff says. Their “saintly” mother spent weeks praying over her stricken son at the hospital as Geoff, with copper pan and gas cooker, would fry up some bedside fillets. Fifteen months later, Geoff’s brother was sailing, though his life became anything but as he suffered bouts of drug and alcohol addiction.
“I actually got him into rehab,” Geoff says, “which was a helluva big job because people like in that situation don’t want to go into rehab, they just want to keep killing themselves. I know what it’s like to be left with nothing but a toothbrush and then having to reinvent yourself. Sailing kept me out of jail, gave me something to focus on. With this knowledge, I want to guide others.”
Having a son who suffers from Asperger’s has further emboldened Geoff’s resolve to help those less fortunate. His son’s eccentricities (“he wants his own hobbit and permaculture farm”), Geoff says, have also altered his approach to life, and has taking up yoga and meditation (“it’s good for my mental health and inner peace, I now have a better group of friends and diet!”).
Now Geoff has established a sailing trust to encourage disadvantaged youths to take up the sport. Sailing, believes Geoff, is the best mental medicine: “There are few better ways to enhance your character, to develop leadership skills, than being out on the waves. You can’t argue against the wind, the tide, or a storm. You’re navigating late at night, then you wake up in the morning overlooking paradise. You don’t need a multi-dollar property on an island. Just row ashore, get a fire going and chuck on the piper.”
Adventure is certainly in Geoff’s blood. His Irish great-grandfather escaped the potato famine to work the gold mines, the sole survivor of ten children. Geoff, who has eleven siblings, “hated school”. He learnt to sail on his father’s boat before heading to Europe as a teenager, eventually finding work sailing the sloops of London’s aristocracy. “As a New Zealander, I knew what a jib and a mainsail was,” he says. “I got on the boats to be a service provider. Sailing opened up my world”.
Geoff’s trust is in the process of restoring six yachts (one of which , says Geoff, is the sister ship of Prince Philip’s Flying Fifteen), with the help of boat-builders and the disadvantaged boys.
“It’s a symbolic process,” he says. “It’s about trying to create a positive step forward, but it takes a lot of time. Plus, I’m still trying to earn a living, to make a buck.” We’re all going to die, he adds, and it’s what legacy we leave that counts. Next, he dreams of building a 70-strong fleet of 19-foot double-enders based on 1870s designs.
“I went to a funeral the other day of a friend of mine worth about $150 million. At the service, all’s anyone spoke about was how much money he had, the deals he had made. It wasn’t about him creating some beautiful ship that will keep sailing for another hundred years. That’s what’s important. That’s my philosophy anyway. Maybe it’s the Irish-Catholic madness, who knows.”