Kaipara boaties raised fears with skipper before tragedy

Skipper of the ill-fated boat The Francie, William 'Bill' McNatty.

Skipper of the ill-fated boat The Francie, William 'Bill' McNatty.

The boat involved in the Kaipara Harbour tragedy, that left seven people dead with another missing, had to be rescued just weeks before.

Coastguard spokeswoman Monique Caddy confirmed on Monday that The Francie, under skipper William "Bill" McNatty, had to be rescued from the Kaipara Harbour on October 30.

She said the Coastguard towed The Francie back to shore as a result of a "mechanical issue".

The Francie capsized on the Kaipara Harbour on Saturday, killing seven people, with an eighth missing and presumed dead.

The Francie capsized on the Kaipara Harbour on Saturday, killing seven people, with an eighth missing and presumed dead.

Local boaties said McNatty had been cleaning up spilled oil with kitty litter and appeared to have dropped a small amount into the engine, leading to a breakdown.

This comes as Kaipara boaties condemn the actions of McNatty in taking the boat out in rough conditions on Saturday.
The Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter crew attends after the Francie capsized in the Kaipara Harbour on November 26.

The Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter crew attends after the Francie capsized in the Kaipara Harbour on November 26.

One described him as a "bloody idiot" for heading out when he should have known better.

Another said it was a nightmare come true, after he previously warned McNatty how dangerous it was to cross the bar at Kaipara Harbour.

Tony Walles from Kaipara Cat Fishing Charters didn't understand the decision to head out across the bar, which is notorious for bad crossings.

He said the weather was shaping up for a rough sea, and other operators stuck to the safety of the inner harbour.

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"Even in the morning when it was better, with the forecast the way it was, you just wouldn't even contemplate doing it," he said.

Another fellow boatie echoed those concerns, and said McNatty knew full well he was attempting a dangerous crossing.

"He told Coastguard he would be 60 minutes, when it should only take 40 minutes [to cross the bar]," he said.

"He made a decision, and it was a very, very bad decision."

The same boatie had earlier warned McNatty he was putting his own life and those of others at risk if he kept up his regular practice of crossing the bar.

"I had words to Bill, we had a really heated argument," he said.

"I said you're going to end up killing someone."

The boatie asked not to be named, for fear of reaction from the small coastal community.

Another boatie, who also did not want to be identified, reflected a similar opinion.

"Bill was a bloody idiot," he said. "I just can't understand what he was thinking."

Both agreed that McNatty should have stayed out at sea where the vessel could ride rolling swell, rather than attempt to cross the bar again in choppy conditions against the outgoing tide.

They agreed that no amount of legislation could protect against bad decisions.

"I had a group of guys out on the same day, and we had a bad day of fishing," said Tony Walles.

"But at the end of the day, one of them came up to me and said 'well, we haven't got a lot of fish, but at least we're alive to eat them.'

"Safety should come before getting a feed."

Stephen Frew, a former colleague of McNatty, said he would be surprised to learn McNatty “put people’s life in jeopardy”.

“Why he went out in those conditions is something we’ll always wonder about, because that wasn’t the Billy I knew.”

“I know plenty of reckless guys - the term ‘mad as a meat axe’ comes to mind - and I wouldn’t go fishing with them. I would go fishing with Bill, however, because he wasn’t like that at all.”

Frew said he felt terrible for the families who had lost loved one when The Francie overturned on Friday.
“I know that as skipper, Bill’s clear in the sights for a lot of criticism,” he said.
“He was a wonderful asset to our community and a wonderful friend - he will be missed.”

 - Stuff

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