The Port is a dynamic and ever-changing scene but for Rob Austin it’s what happens under the water that he finds the most interesting.
“It’s a different world down there, you feel different,” says Rob. “Your instincts need to adjust. It’s easier diving at night when there’s no visibility because you learn to feel your way around. Daytime dives can be disorientating because you don’t know which way is up and which way is down – it can make you feel quite vulnerable.”
Rob is one of two divers at Lyttelton Port, who work in a pair to ensure the safety of one another.
“When you’re on a dive job, you dive with another person, for me that is my diving partner Tony Wornall, the other diver at LPC. Tony has a wealth of experience and together we can do almost any job at the Port. We rely on each other to complete all jobs underwater. Communication and trust are crucial and knowing we have each other’s back.
“Over the years we’ve done some challenging jobs, including search and recovery, wharf inspection and repairs, the use of underwater pneumatic (inflatable) and hydraulic power tools, underwater water blasting, vessel surveying, vessel salvaging, pile cutting and diving at the reclamation site. As well, every vessel in the Dry Dock requires a diver to place blocks underneath it to secure it – so we’re always pretty busy there.”
The father of two has completed over 1,000 dives at Lyttelton Port since he started over five years ago. A carpenter by trade, Rob is able to combine his diving and building skills. “Some days I’m under the wharf with an underwater chainsaw to remove piles away from a jetty. It sounds odd, but at the Port it just seems like a natural task that needs doing. Sometimes I get asked by yachties to recover something they’ve dropped in the water, like a watch or a cellphone. I don’t mind helping people out.”
Helping people is something that comes naturally to Rob. At six foot six, Rob puts his skills to good use. He served in the New Zealand Army for six years and is currently a volunteer Rescue Diver at Garden City Helicopters. “The diving itself is not recreational, it’s a job and I get the information that I need to do it. But if I haven’t put the wetsuit on for a couple of days, I start to miss it, even in winter.
“My gear keeps me warm and dry – even when I’m in the water. My wetsuit is an ‘exposure suit’ which means I can wear a tuxedo under my wetsuit and I don’t get a drop of water on my skin -just like James Bond.”