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Keen fisherwoman puts paid to stereotypes

Okete’s Petra Yorke is right at home wearing mismatched coloured gumboots and pink lipstick around her 50-acre farm. The lipstick, the 47-year-old says, gives her that touch of femininity in what’s become a bit of a boys’ world of fishing and farming.

Petra applies the lipstick even at 4am if she’s off to help the neighbour milk his cows. The mother of two teenage boys she’s taught to dive and fish since they could walk, Swiss-born Petra is very comfortable with the lifestyle she’s forged here in Raglan over the past 11 years.

And fishing has always been a top priority in that life. “I’m probably passionate about it,” she admits. “And the boys just suck it up.”

Petra’s been game enough in the past to take Joshua and Lukas over the bar and out to sea on her own, but a freak wave they encountered when the lads were still youngsters means she now opts to launch at Manu Bay when the weather’s right for a spot of open-water fishing.

“I’m not scared but I respect the ocean,” she insists, knowing it only takes one wave to court a tragedy.

Petra and her boys first fished in Raglan from the wharf. She then progressed to a four-metre tinny, powered by only an 8hp outboard, that had to be pushed off the trailer and pulled back on again — a mission in itself for a woman boating on her own with a couple of kids.

The boat leaked like a sieve too, she reckons, so taking a bucket to bail out was a must.
But it got them around the harbour, fishing for kahawai and snapper, and across to the northern side where Petra also taught the boys to scuba-dive. One of them is now a qualified diver, having achieved his junior ticket at the age of 11.

“There’s so many opportunities here, it’s amazing,” Petra says. She cites getting oysters over the other side of the harbour when it’s too rough to go further afield. Oysters have been part of her world for a long time now: she and her ex-husband, the boys’ father, used to farm oysters at Ohope where she also picked up some mean filleting skills.

Tiki-touring the harbour — chilly bin aboard — carried on for Petra and her lads once she got rid of the leaky boat and invested in Jem Jam, a more dependable three-metre tinny powered by the same 8hp motor.

But when she sets her sights on the open sea Petra uses partner Vaughan McClure’s 6.3-metre, 175hp boat Salsa which she can handle on her own if need be, with a bit of help from the boys.

The bigger boat’s more intimidating and much heavier to manage of course, she concedes, but it is really just a matter of learning by trial and error. With less muscle-power than a man, she has to think her way around any difficulties.

Together she and her sons find the “cool spots”, says Petra — entering them into the GPS — and it’s just become a way of life. “It’s all adventures.”

They eat everything they catch from eels and crabs to “lovely little sharks”, and experiment with smoking and barbecuing.

The boys are here only on the weekends now, having headed back Ohope way for high school. Besides working fulltime with Vaughan in the flooring business, Petra’s picked up another interest in their absence — horseriding — but boating and fishing remain her abiding passion.

Edith Symes

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