09 December, 2022
Today, Commander Gray took the helm of the RNZN’s dive, hydrographic and salvage vessel HMNZS Manawanui, based at Devonport Naval Base in Auckland. Manawanui is Māori for ‘steadfast’ or ‘big heart’.
It is her first ship command in a naval career that started in the United Kingdom in 1993 as a warfare officer. Her service as a warfare officer ranged from working on aircraft carriers to frigates and mine hunters.
In 2012, Commander Gray and her wife Sharon moved to New Zealand after falling in love with the country during a campervan holiday.
“The most obvious thing to do was join the Royal New Zealand Navy,” she said.
As the Commanding Officer of the RNZN’s Mine Counter Measures Team she participated in activities all over the world, and her role in maritime evaluation has seen her help ‘work up’ ships and crews to peak efficiency.
She said her eyes lit up at the thought of taking command of Manawanui, which entered service with the Royal New Zealand Navy three years ago.
“Sure, for a lot of warfare officers, that’s the pinnacle of their career to get to ‘drive’ a ship. I prefer to think of my career as a ridgeline, sometimes the view is good and sometimes it is better,” said Commander Gray.
When I’ve really enjoyed a job it’s because I’ve made a difference, where things are a little bit better than they were before. With Manawanui, it’s not just about the command. This is an opportunity to take a ship still in its infancy and further the capability of that ship, and influence and help those who carry our Navy into the future.
A former student of Bilton Grange Primary School and Harrogate Granby High School, she obtained a Bachelor of Education (Honours) at the University of Lancaster but teaching jobs were scarce in Yorkshire at the time.
Commander Gray discovered the Navy while spending her university holidays leading outdoor activities at a Sea Cadet facility in the Lake District.
“I worked with a lot of Navy people and there was something about their way which appealed to me.”
She signed up for an eight-year commission with the Royal Navy.
“The idea was at the end of eight years you got £23,000. I was really into cooking at the time and I thought do eight years, get £23,000, open my own restaurant.”
But several years in, she knew the Navy life was for her.
“I was really enjoying myself. I could see it was an organisation where I fitted well."
Her campervan passion is still going strong, but the call of the sea is always there too. Commander Gray returned to the RNZN earlier this year after heading off in late 2019 on a 57,000-kilometre road trip around Australia with Sharon and their dog Dennis.