Brian Godsiff

The ties that bind

Brian Godsiff has been working on mussel boats for nearly 40 years – and he’s only 47. 

He started helping his father – industry legend Ivan Godsiff – when he was barely 9 years of age.

“I used to go out with him on Sundays. That’s really how I got to know him.”

Back in those days of the early-mid 1980s, Ivan was spending almost all his time at sea, working for Rob Pooley and family relation Chris Godsiff who jointly ran New Zealand Shellfish Holdings.

Chris promised Brian a job when he left Marlborough Boys College, so at age 16 he rocked up to the company, only to be told by Chris that it’d been sold to Sanford.

The promise was honoured however and although most new entrants had to start their days in the processing factory, Brian’s early-learned boat skills got him a job as a deckhand on the San Pelorus.

By 18, he was ready to be tested for his skipper’s ticket. “I sat that before I went to Australia.”

Brian ended up doing four seasons crayfishing in West Australia, returning in the off-season to skipper the Muscat for PBA – Pickering Brownlee Antonovich, which later became PBT when Talley’s bought the Antonovich shareholding in the early 2000s. 

Around this time, he got married to Annie (nee Aston) who’d grown up at French Pass, cementing his Sounds links. When Talley’s bought the remaining PBT shareholdings and created Clearwater Mussels in 2007, Brian started skippering the Sounds Legend.

In 2013, John Young approached him and asked if he’d be prepared to relocate to Golden Bay where Clearwater had developing mussel farm interests.

“I said I’d go for a couple of years – and I’m still here. I’d spent a lot of time in the Sounds and Golden Bay was still fairly new territory.”

While there was already established spat catching in the Bay, there was very limited mussel production.

“I knew there were challenges ahead and that appealed.” Chief among these was operating in the open waters of Golden Bay after the relatively benign conditions of the Marlborough Sounds.

“It’s a tougher environment here. We are still learning how to do and not do things.”

Spat catching is still something he enjoys even if it’s got harder over the years, though the last couple of years have been surprisingly good.

“Mother Nature – she still rules the roost and we have to go along with what she throws at us.”

One of the highlights of recent years was being involved in the design of the Clearwater Resolution launched which Brian now skippers out of its Port Tarakohe base, though it also works in the Sounds.  The 27m craft, launched in 2017, was the first new vessel purpose-built for mussel farming in many years.

At the recent MFA Environment Programme workshop, Brian demonstrated the rope tie-knot which sometimes carries his name. This only requires one cut as opposed to up to a dozen with other tying techniques.

“If anyone deserves to have it named after them it would be Peter Large. It was the way I was shown how to tie and I’ve stuck with it.” After nearly 40 years as a marine farming man and boy, you can be sure Brian Godsiff is a long way off from tying up.