Nelson man Fletcher Slierendrecht is the Royal New Zealand Navy’s newest ship’s captain for 2021, taking command of HMNZS Taupo.
Lieutenant Slierendrecht, 26, assumed command of the 55-metre Inshore Patrol Vessel in a ceremony at Devonport Naval Base on 29 January.
He was asked if he would like to have his name put forward for the job, and it was a question that made him stop and think, he said.
“You picture yourself as a Commanding Officer. You ask: are you ready for it? I wasn’t expecting a nomination for another year or two. But it’s very pleasing to find out you’ve been chosen.”
He joined the Navy after finishing at Nayland College in 2013.
“I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. A career roadshow came to Nelson, and the Defence Force had their recruitment bus. It sparked my attention and it sounded pretty cool.
“I’m from a very outdoor-oriented family and I’ve grown up with boats. My parents said, why don’t you apply, give it a shot?”
He joined the Navy in 2014, aged 18, and started his Junior Officer training on his first ever visit to Auckland.
“It’s a big adjustment, and you do question yourself. That’s when you stop, look around, see the people around you. You can see everyone’s similar, all doing it together, so you think, let’s get it done.
“The hardest part about training is the cutting off of support. You’ve got plenty of support from your peers, but think about it — you’re an 18-year-old in your first job, you’re with a bunch of strangers in the military, and you don’t have a cellphone or the ability to talk to family. You find out if you’ve got what it takes.”
As a Warfare Officer, he started his training on sister ships to HMNZS Taupo, spending time in HMNZS Rotoiti, Hawea, then on frigates and Offshore Patrol Vessels.
He was deployed in HMNZS Taupo as Navigating Officer during that vessel’s fisheries patrol mission to Fiji in 2018.
“That’s my highlight… It was my first navigator job and it was an awesome professional challenge to take an IPV out of its usual routine and into a coral environment internationally.”
Other highlights include a South East Asia tour in frigate HMNZS Te Kaha in 2017 and an exchange with the US Navy, serving on an aircraft carrier and a destroyer.
He would tell today’s Year 13 students there are a lot of options in the Navy: “It’s actually a pretty good lifestyle, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing when you finish school. The Navy will put you through study if you want to go to university later. It pays well, and the work is pretty engaging. It’s a cool job.”
His work with HMNZS Taupo this year will be teaching Junior Warfare Officers their trade, interspersed with fisheries and customs patrols around New Zealand.