Burnt boat sinks in Sounds

Aqualuna : 55 Discovery
Aqualuna : 55 Discovery

A couple travelling around the world on their 16 metre yacht woke to the sound of fire crackling through their luxury boat while they were moored in the Marlborough Sounds, a firefighter says.

Picton chief fire officer Wayne Wytenburg said the husband and wife from the United Kingdom, in their early 60s, had been at sea for six months.

The blaze started about 1.30am today on their yacht, Aqualuna, at the Bay of Many Coves.

It was too dangerous to get to the radio so the woman jumped onto the inflatable boat while her husband grabbed their emergency bag with passports.

But the bag got stuck on the bow of the burning boat and he couldn't reach it, Mr Wytenburg said.

He jumped onto the inflatable boat and after a brief struggle trying to start the motor, they made it to the Bay of Many Coves resort and raised the alarm.

When six firefighters from Picton Volunteer Fire Brigade arrived on a Marlborough Coastguard rescue boat, the yacht was well ablaze, with flames shooting out of vents on the waterline.

The couple had re-fuelled in Nelson a few days earlier and up to 1000 litres of diesel had been on board as well as three gas cylinders. By the time firefighters arrived the cylinders had already vented.

"They popped, rather than exploded," Mr Wytenburg said.

"You do get a lot of flames though," he said.

The yacht was a shell of a boat after firefighters battled the flames for almost two hours.

But the emergency bag with the couple's passports escaped the flames after it caught on the bow of the yacht, he said.

The couple lost everything apart from that bag and the clothes they were wearing.

With the help of the four Coastguard crew, the yacht was filled with water and sunk at Chaucer Bay because of the risk of it floating ashore and setting fire to the hill, Mr Wytenburg said.

"It's the eeriest thing, seeing a big boat sink. Especially at night."

The couple were pretty shaken but had done everything right, Mr Wytenburg said.

They had sailed from Fiji to Nelson and had just arrived in the Sounds yesterday.

He credits the gas and smoke detectors they replaced in October as saving their lives.

"That's the reason they're alive today," he said.

A St John paramedic on board the Coastguard boat treated the man for smoke inhalation. He was taken back to Picton by Coastguard and was transferred to Wairau Hospital in Blenheim in a stable condition.

A Southern fire communications spokesman said the fire was not thought to be suspicious.


The Marlborough Express