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Radio volunteer honored by SSCA

Jan 1, 2003

Des Renner is the man behind the Kiwi voice on Russell Radio, talking yachts down to New Zealand through calm or storm. Hundreds of sailors who have made the difficult passage to New Zealand from the Pacific Islands have him to thank for giving selflessly of his time as a volunteer.

Renner tailors weather information to the voyager?s situation, bringing clarity to the often confusing conditions of the unpredictable Tasman Sea. On occasion his timely advice has given skippers and their crew forewarning and precious hours to prepare for the worst. His cheery, no-nonsense voice has soothed fears and helped strained sailors back into rationality. When things really get rough, though, and there is a large-scale emergency, Renner defers situations to the country?s Maritime Services. ?They are the only ones that can authorize a rescue or a helicopter, but we stand by to relay if required,? he said recently from his home in Opua.

The Florida-based Seven Seas Cruising Association (SSCA) honored Des Renner, 74, with the South Bound II Blue Water Sailing Service Award, which is given for ?outstanding and long-term service? to the ocean sailing community. The award was announced at the association?s annual meeting in November and presented in Opua with a large group of SSCA commodores and their friends present.

Renner became involved with Russell Radio in 1994 after the well-known volunteer station Keri Keri radio shut down. He had always had an interest in communications and had set up radios in gliders for air-to-ground communications after the war. He later owned an electrical repair shop and raced yachts. He has competed in the New Zealand to Tahiti Race, the Sydney to Hobart, the Pan Am Series to Hawaii, and several Fiji races. ?I took on Russell Radio because I wanted to put something back in the sport I so enjoyed,? he said.

In association with Richie Blomfield, who since 1946 has kept track of commercial vessels, the tuna fleet, charter yachts, and the coastal cruising fleet, Des Renner took on the unpaid job of handling the regular twice-a-day check-in schedule for the offshore voyagers. Now, with upwards of 600 yachts arriving in New Zealand yearly he fields more than 12,000 contact calls per year. ?I?ve worked boats all the way to Alaska, Japan, Canada, and Cape Horn,? he said. ?But most of my work is with yachts to or from Tonga, Fiji, and New Caledonia.? September to November and April until June are the busiest passagemaking windows. Renner prefers to work regularly with voyagers and demands that they check in regularly.

Richie Blomfield described Des Renner as a ?perfectionist radio man.? ?Des has a wonderful setup. He can talk all the way to the Atlantic because at 85 meters [280.5 feet] of elevation he has a clear view. And, if he thinks it will make a difference, he will take down his antenna and tweak it to within a fraction of an inch.? Des? wife, however, finds holiday making a bit of a trial: ?On the road with ?sked time? coming up, we have to head for the nearest mountain!? There, Renner unfolds his special telescoping antenna and then uses his car battery to power up his radio.