How a solo kayaker conquered the Tasman guided from Rotorua-based command centre and the ex-cop whose skills brought him safely home
When you're considering kayaking the Tasman solo who do you call on to be your team leader?
It's the man with the tactical skills and analytical mindset to ensure your goal's achieved, however daunting what may lie ahead.
For former Rotorua swim coach, Scott Donaldson, there was no contest, that man would be Nigel Escott.
If anyone has the ability to plan for and oversee tense operations it's Nigel who, for seven years, led the Rotorua Armed Offenders Squad (AOS).
Add to that he's a numbers man, an essential when plotting courses that can change within seconds on the unpredictable stretch of water separating Australia from New Zealand.
It was that 2200km waterway Donaldson successfully kayaked last year after 62 days at sea, Nigel guiding him 24 hours a day from the three computer command centre set up at his Rotorua home.
If he had to be out of range his son took over, every plan had a contingency plan, some had two, this was a mission without room for error.
To precis, it was Nigel who called the paddler's shots.
When Donaldson failed to make landfall the previous year agonisingly close to his New Plymouth destination, he downed his paddle because Nigel ordered him to.
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For his 'boss man,' the decision was a no-brainer.
"We didn't fail because Scotty couldn't do it, we were beaten by nature [the weather]. I wasn't disappointed, I was very proud we made the right decision, any other could have claimed his life, leaving a widow and young child to mourn him ... it took us into his second attempt with a completely different mindset."
That neither man held a grudge for that 'stop now' decision is a testament to the trust each has in the other.
In the acknowledgements section of Donaldson's book, 'Relentless', released this week, there's a tribute that reads: "Nigel, one of the humans I most admire."
Tell that to the man it's directed at and he's non-committal, but we sense deep down he's pretty darn chuffed.
This isn't a bloke who does things for self-aggrandisement, he's the type who tackles challenges because, like mountains and mountaineers, they're there for the conquering.
Our People is feeling pretty darn chuffed ourselves to be talking exclusively with Nigel Escott, until now he's declined all attempts from journalists, national and international, to interview him; this is one of those times having the home town advantage pays dividends.
The reason for his mass media resistance is Nigel's belief the successful trans-Tasman paddle was Donaldson's, that the glory goes to him.
He sees himself as one of the two 'backroom boys' whose mission it was to keep his man afloat and on course through the roughest weather.
Backroom boy number two was weather guru Bob McDavitt. He provided the paddler with daily forecasts and set his coordinates.
"Then I'd run the calculations and say 'let's look at doing 80km today. That meant going to the coordinate Bob set and past it.
He would be a realist, I'd be looking at pushing that with Scotty doing half as much again. I only had one cock-up when he went around in circles because we just missed the current."
He's a hard taskmaster this Nigel Escott – or is he? That's our job to find out. As we dig we discover Nigel never wanted to be anything but a copper.
Too young when he left school at 17, he drove truck and trailer units throughout the North Island until he was 20, the police college entry age. He topped his wing – a sign, surely, of things to come?
For the next 16 years, Nigel was based in Wellington and Lower Hutt.
"The first six months were spent walking the beat, like any industry you start sweeping the floor, later in my career, I'd say to my young fellows 'don't be scared to pick up the broom'."
Another axiom he adopted was respected. "If you talk to people with respect most of the time it works. The first weapon in the police is talking, that hasn't changed."
Nigel's never been an all-work-and-no-play type, in Wellington his passion for fitness conjoined with the bagpipes, playing in the city's highland pipe band - regular national championship winners.
One band practice shaped his future, a team of marching girls arrived.
"I looked across the room and saw this girl and said to myself 'I'm going to marry her'." He discovered her name was Susan, they wed the following year.
"She was in charge of printing the 'Turf Digest', she'd come home and see the races on TV and say 'that horse is going to win', or 'that one has too much weight' but we never bet."
In 1989 Nigel was promoted to sergeant and transferred to Rotorua.
"Suddenly I had 140 people to play with. I was keen on my fitness training, mountain biking, joined the Lake City Athletic Club."
He hadn't been here long when he was shoulder-tapped to join the AOS.
"It was something I'd always aspired to do so it didn't take long for me to say yes, I knew it would be a huge, huge job, scary. I found out when I was o/c that recruits are selected because they're the guys around the station who're under the radar, you don't want show ponies on the team."
The AOS was where he learnt the art of tactics and teamwork. "In the squad, you have to have a lot of skill sets."
Over his dozen AOS years, Nigel notched up 400 operational missions (callouts). Two involved the fatal shooting of fellow officers, Mangakino's Murray Stretch and Flaxmere constable Glenn McKibbin.
"I remember saying to my team 'they may be one of our own but this is just another job we do professionally, they just looked at me and said 'yeah, boss'."
He quit the police as a senior sergeant but still likes to talk of the AOS' cardinal rule - safety.
"The safety of the public, the safety of us [the squad], the safety of the offender.'"
It was that emphasis on safety that set the seal on Donaldson's choice of team leader.
Nigel never doubted their mission would be accomplished.
"Beyond marrying Susan and the birth of our two sons when Scotty walked up that beach on July 2 last year it was one of my greatest days ... my last logbook entry's 'job done'."
Family: Wife Susan, sons Sam (Auckland), Blair (Hamilton)
Interests: Family, health, fitness, nutrition, mountain biking, road cycling, distance running, has completed 11 marathons and biked the Pyrenees; shortly off for month's cycling in France. The bagpipes, plays in a Hamilton pipe band
Present employment: He works "for a cobber in his aluminium joinery business 15 hours a week, invoicing, vacuuming, keeping the kitchen clean, it really suits me."
On Donaldson's feat: "It has meant so much to help him achieve that dream, tick that box."
On his life: "I had a wonderful police career, I'm extremely proud of my boys' achievements. Susan's been the most amazing wife and mum."
Personal philosophy: "Don't waste your time with oxygen thieves."
* FOR REVIEW OF DONALDSON'S BOOK, 'RELENTLESS', AND Q&A WITH HIM GO TO BOOKS SECTION OF OUR 48 HOUR LIFTOUT