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When it comes to volunteers rolling their sleeves up in the New Zealand rowing community, they don't come much more willing than Tony Hurt.

You might remember him - Hurt was stroke of the 1972 men's rowing eight, the only time New Zealand has won gold at an Olympic Games in the sport's premier event. The 64-year-old builder has been camping out on the shores of Lake Karapiro, putting the finishing touches to the venue for its second hosting of a world championships.

The last time was in 1978. Hurt was involved then too. He retired after an eights bronze at the Montreal Olympics but returned to Karapiro to help his West End clubmate John White compete in the double sculls with Grant McAuley.

He was co-opted as the boat driver because the coach of the time couldn't coach and steer at the same time. Later he was appointed the crew's "assistant coach" by team manager, and 1968 Olympic coxed four gold medallist, Warren Cole.

Call it cronyism, but it got him a free ticket to the event.

"That worked wonders," Hurt says. "I knew most of the guys who were racing [in the world championships of 1978]. They were all part of my era."

This time Hurt has a bunk with a number of other volunteers at Flynn Cove, just beyond the promontory on the early part of the course. No five star hotels for them. The building has been moved around the domain since being donated by the industrialist, the late Sir William Stevenson, once a champion single sculler.

The makeshift barracks are just above a workshop where countless buoys have been painted, beers drunk and plans reproduced from sketches on paper tablecloths. It's been a refreshing step back into a bygone volunteer era.

"Sitting around at night having a beer, that's where all the issues get resolved," Hurt says. "Plans get drawn on the tablecloth and the next day we go out and do them. Parts of the tablecloth are cut out and stored just in case."

The irony is that, in the fledgling stages of preparation, it was seen as a joke when someone suggested getting the local army in to help like last time. But 32 years on, a voluntary army has banded together instead.

"We've been there on and off since March," Hurt says. "I'd come down [from Auckland] on Friday and stay the weekend. Some guys have been here on a full-time basis."

Fortunately Hurt's building business is ticking along.

"I have a guy who works for me and a couple of other guys giving me a hand. It's not interfering with my rowing duties."

One difficulty remains hard to solve with racing starting this morning. Hurt will be on edge driving one of the 16-metre catamarans that take the world governing body's broadcasting team up and down the course.

"There are only six minutes between heats and it is taking us too long to turn around, even though we've got three boats to cover the distance. It's just a matter of physics. Once there are 15 minutes between races we should be fine but it'll be a nightmare until then."