Tough leaving family during expeditions

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In the navy . . . Dunedin-born and raised Lieutenant Brett Fitzgerald returned to his hometown last week aboard HMNZS Canterbury before the ship departed on an operation to the Subantarctic Islands. PHOTO: SHAWN MCAVINUE

A Dunedin naval lieutenant is on a ship floating off a subantarctic island and misses his baby daughter, but the separation is made easier by other sailors aboard “being in the same boat”.

Lieutenant Brett Fitzgerald, who was born and raised in Dunedin, was on HMNZS Canterbury, which departed the T/U sheds in central Dunedin at about 6.30pm on Friday.

The 131m-long ship arrived at the Auckland Islands on Sunday morning and sailed to Campbell Island on Sunday evening.

The ship has been floating off Campbell Island since Monday morning.

He spent about half of the year on the ship, and it was “tough” leaving his wife and four-month-old daughter in Auckland.

Many of the sailors on the ship had children and supported each other to help them cope being away from family.

“Everyone here is in the same boat, excuse the pun,” Lt Fitzgerald said.

After a two-night stay in Dunedin to load supplies, the ship departed for the Subantarctic Islands on Operation Endurance with about 250 people on board.

They were a mix of army, navy and air force personnel and staff from the Department of Conservation (Doc), MetService and the Defence Technology Agency.

Lt Fitzgerald joined the navy about eight years ago, following study at Taieri College, gaining a business degree at University of Otago and teaching English in Asia.

On the ship, he works in the support department, a logistics role which involves managing equipment and finance.

The attraction of the Navy was the opportunity to go on expeditions, he said.

“I’ve been to Antarctica, Samoa, the border between North and South Korea and all around New Zealand.”

He had passed the Subantarctic Islands on a trip to the Antarctic before, but had never gone ashore, something he was hoping to do on this trip.

Lt Fitzgerald planned to return to Dunedin to celebrate Christmas with his family and would return on the ship for the same operation in late March next year.

The ship’s commanding officer, Commander Martin Walker, said the “exciting” operation includes a day at the Auckland Islands and about two weeks at Campbell Island.

The Doc staff were taking dogs to investigate if any pests were on the islands, which could threaten its world heritage site designation.

The MetService staff would be taken to the islands to check the monitoring stations which help MetService forecast storms coming from the Southern Ocean and Antarctic.

On the expedition, Defence Technology Agency staff would replace a wave buoy – equipment to measure waves – in the Southern Ocean.

The largest wave the current buoy in the Southern Ocean had measured was 23m high, he said.

For the first time, an Air Force NH90 helicopter was being taken on the ship to fly people and supplies to the islands.

The ship was one of the hardest-working in the navy fleet, he said.

“We spend a lot of time moving things and people around.

“That’s what we are designed to do and we love doing it.”