A convicted thief with little sailing experience left a trail of destruction after stealing a $95,000 yacht and taking it on a pleasure cruise through the Marlborough Sounds. Jared Nicoll investigates how it happened and the people left devastated in its wake.
Ray Dunick was on his boat in Waikawa Bay on Wednesday, poking around the cabin, still finding items left behind by the thief who had taken it for a jaunt in the Marlborough Sounds.
"We thought he had taken it to Australia or Auckland, it was devastating to hear it was missing."
The $95,000 Inchwood had been taken from Ngakuta Bay last Friday and ended up in Port Underwood, where police caught up with Christchurch labourer Norman Douglas King.
King's boat conversion finished with damage to the boat, him in jail and Mr Dunick working out an insurance claim.
"Most damage will be to the engine. It used to run perfectly and now it's had to be towed back [from Port Underwood]."
The yacht interior was not badly vandalised, but the steps leading down to the cabin were broken, cleats were smashed and an $800 anchor had disappeared.
Mr Dunick and police found four 5-litre bottles of water, stolen electrical goods such as a laptop and CDs, and three large plastic containers full of food, including a 10kg sack of potatoes, in the cabin.
"Maybe he didn't know most boats have water tanks on board. This one had more than 100 litres in it.
"He left an AA Road Atlas sitting on the chart table."
An underwater-cable monitoring company told police it had spotted the yacht moving slowly toward Port Underwood about 4am on Sunday after staff heard an alert on the marine radio.
"He had gone about 1 kilometre in five hours. I'm not sure if he's ever sailed a yacht in his life."
King's crime spree started on August 28 when he stole a $2500 Subaru Legacy in Christchurch and headed north to Shakespeare Bay, near Picton. A Subaru car key was found on the Inchwood. He hitchhiked to Ngakuta Bay, about a 15-minute ride along Queen Charlotte Drive.
About 4am on August 31 he quietly made his way past a small row of houses along the water's edge, untied an inflatable dinghy from the jetty and rowed past about 30 other boats to the Inchwood, moored about 180 metres from the coast on the other side of the bay.
It was one of the biggest yachts and there were fewer properties close to its mooring.
King cut the 30-horsepower Yamaha motor from the dinghy because he did not have the key and was forced to row it - despite its lack of rings to position the oars.
After breaking a padlocked door to its cabin, King sailed the Inchwood yacht out of Queen Charlotte Sound's northern entrance, then south to Port Underwood where he was found by police two days later.
Upon sentencing in the Blenheim District Court on Monday, Judge Richard Russell said King had tried to "sail away from his problems" but that was no excuse for his actions.
King had told police he felt depressed after the loss of his business and felt he had nothing left to lose.
Dinghy owner and Little Ngakuta Bay resident David Bendell said he felt "bloody gutted" and his family were "devastated" by the damage done to their $9000 dinghy.
"The electrics and the fuel lines have all been cut and the motor's been thrown over the side - the whole thing is covered in oil. It's like looking at a car crash. That was our pride and joy.
Mr Bendell's wife Vicki said her husband woke up and noticed the dinghy was missing about 7am last Friday, which prompted him to alert the Ngakuta Boating Club.
"We all enjoyed going out in whether it was to see dolphins, go for a scenic ride or nip to Momorangi [Bay] Camp for an ice cream before it was wrecked," Mrs Bendell said.
"We are truly gutted and upset."
Both Mr Dunick and the Bendell family praised the Ngakuta community's quick efforts to piece together what had happened and alert police. Boating club secretary and treasurer John Aldridge said the recovery of the yacht was an excellent example of the vigilance of Ngakuta Bay residents.
He sent out an email alert to residents, through his other role as secretary of the Ngakuta Bay Community Association, after Mr Bendell told him his dinghy was missing last Friday morning.
That led to Mr Dunick being told his yacht, too, was missing.
"I suppose his $20 membership fee must seem like pretty good value," Mr Aldridge joked.
- The Marlborough Express