A bar to London? Whatever floats your boat

Speight's mates: From left, Steve Nichol, Jamie Munro, Mark Wilson, Tim Ellingham, Tim Cleaver, Marty Rendall, James Livingston and Stu McIntosh

Survivors of a voyage from Dunedin to London, conducted under the guise of beer promotion, gathered recently in Queenstown. While here they discussed their memorable experiences over a Speight’s or two with Philip Chandler

Yarns and, appropriately, beers flowed at a recent 10-year reunion staged in Queenstown, Stewart Island and Dunedin.

A bunch of blokes spent four days celebrating their part in the 76-day Great Speight’s Beer Delivery of 2007.

One of New Zealand’s best marketing stunts, it involved hand-picked ambassadors of the beer brand escorting a Speight’s Ale House on a cargo ship from Dunedin to London to slake the thirst of a Kiwi expat.

That expat, Tim Ellingham, responding to an ad from the brewery, had explained how tough it was missing Speight’s while working in a London office – a response that triggered the beer delivery.

“It was the best email I’ve ever sent in my life,” now Hamilton-based Ellingham says, while on Perky’s Floating Bar during the Queenstown leg of their reunion.

“When the pub came up the Thames River, it was like a dream, really.

“It’s one of those stories you’ll tell your grandkids and they won’t believe you.”

He couldn’t believe the interest the trip created back home.

“One of my enduring memories was when the boat arrived I had a call saying ‘you’re going to be on live TV in 15 minutes’, and ringing my grandparents, who were back in NZ, and saying, ‘get a cup of tea and get in front of the telly’.”

Ellingham says he had the easy bit, waiting for the boat.

Special delivery: The Speight’s Ale House aboard the MV Lida

One of the crew was his best mate, now Sydney-based Kiwi James Livingston, who helped recruit the others.

The boat made port in Samoa, Panama, Bahamas and New York, but Livingston enjoyed the first stop the best.

Dressed in leis, the crew hosted a huge function in Apia.

“We poured as many beers as we could until we overheated the beer keg.”

Not being “a hot weather sort of guy”, he says the hardest leg was from Samoa to Panama in 40 degree heat – not helped by sleeping next to the engine room.

“The most memorable part was arriving at the finish line and seeing the banners as we came up the Thames and all our friends on the dock.”

Crew member Jamie Munro, of Dunedin, admits he also didn’t really warm to boat life.

“It was just a very surreal experience,” he says, especially viewing 360 degree horizons on the Pacific Ocean – “you realised you’re basically just a bottle in the ocean”.

A highlight was milking sea cucumbers in the Bahamas – “everyone needs to give it a go”.

All aboard: Enjoying a paddling pool on MV Lida’s deck

Crewman Tim Cleaver, of Tauranga, recalls “sitting around in Panama, talking about going for a swim in the harbour when we saw a three-metre crocodile swim past us”.

Colleague Queenstowner Mark Wilson says if crocodiles were the hazard in Panama, “we were the hazard in the Bahamas”, at the world’s biggest water park.

“Seven or eight NZers dressed in team issue Speight’s speedos caused absolute havoc.

“I remember Jamie Munro went down a hydroslide and his speedos ended up very well lodged in between his butt cheeks – people got a decent show.”

Wilson bemoans that with health and safety legislation and booze advertising restrictions, they were probably the last group who’d have been allowed to do this sort of promotion.

His ancestors, before the age of plane travel, all used to boat across the world, he notes.

“And they probably had a few more beers at sea than we did – not that we shirked away from it.”

Wilson says Speight’s tried to get people who shared the same values as the brand.

“I’d like to think, 10 years on, that we still all do.

“We’re pretty generous, we like having a beer with our mates, and that’s what it was all about, really – if you can’t take your mate to the pub, take the pub to your mate.”