It is the second day of winter and Welcome Aboard’s Punting on the Avon Operations Manager, Jamie Storie, is propelling me gently upstream. A one-time Londoner with a degree in philosophy, he remarks on the near perfect day, devoid of a breath of wind. Some autumn colours, still clinging to trees, are beautifully backlit in the lowering afternoon sun. Other trees display a stark winter beauty. A thin haze drifts above the river. I quickly warm to Jamie’s camaraderie. Pauses in conservation are brief. As with his predecessor, Wesley Golledge, Jamie says punting starts out as a job but becomes a hobby as well. He is keen to re-establish the association of Christchurch punters, discovering where former punting devotees have gone.
He was on the river after last winter’s snowfalls. “It was gorgeous, so white, so peaceful.” The best of it is despite the seismic disasters wrecking much of the city, little has changed on the river flowing between the Botanic Gardens and Hagley Park.
He enjoys the easy banter he can strike up with customers. Even local people tell him they have experienced more than a ride on the river. “It’s a genuine interaction rather than listening to a typical tour operator’s script.” He cheerfully greets those we pass in hire boats. Most are inexperienced and likely to create an obstacle path along the waterway.
“One can hand over $10 and become an instant kayaker,” Jamie says. “To be a punter takes about three weeks of training and three more months to become proficient.”
I get the idea of different levels of skills on the river.
Jamie arrived in Christchurch in 2008. Staying at a backpackers, he realised he needed a job. The Antigua Boat Sheds took his curiosity and he came to look at the boats, got chatting to the right person, and was fitted out for the role. He became Head Punter and, following the earthquakes, Operations Manager.
“Every day is different and the changing seasons are wonderful. The views and wildlife continually change. In spring a million daffodils bloom in Hagley Park.”
In winter punting customers are offered hot water bottles to keep them snug. “It’s hard to tear them off them at the end of the ride,” laughs Jamie.
He can comment on the changing antics of Paradise Shelducks and he loves meaningful conservations.
“When people ask what I did previously and discover my degree in philosophy, we can end up discussing Aristotle or Plato. It’s sometimes quite amusing.”
Compared with being in other parts of the city he finds it comfortable being on the river. And he reckons its great being able to offer genuine customer service, something that is frequently lost sight of these days when people work with computers rather than interacting with real people. He is disappointed some earthquake reporting has been sufficiently sensational to keep tourists away from Christchurch. He says they should be arriving to see Christchurch, “as it is right now.” In some places they will see little that is different. It’s all much as always on Jamie’s stretch of river.