Lost yacht Nina an unsafe 'lead mine'

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 05:00 07/07/2013

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Nina, the 85-year-old American schooner presumed sunk in the Tasman with seven aboard, was unseaworthy and sailed by a traditionalist skipper who refused to have "gadgets" aboard, experts familiar with the boat say.

It had no long-range (SSB) radio and it appears its emergency locator beacon (Epirb) was not switched on.

The 21-metre Nina had not been out of the water for three years and, while it was moored in Whangarei, experts had noted that its hull had warped. It would have failed the standard "Cat-1" inspection Maritime New Zealand imposes on all locally flagged vessels leaving, lifelong blue-water sailor Russ Rimmington said.

He said it was known in sailing circles that while Nina looked good above the waterline, it had become hogged, meaning the hull of the boat bends upward. "It is a tragedy. People should learn from this. The vessel was not seaworthy," he said.

If Nina had been overturned it would not have floated because it had about 10 tonnes of metal weight on its keel, said Rimmington, a former Hamilton mayor. "Nina was a lead mine - it would have gone straight down."

The Rescue Co-ordination Centre (RCC) formally ended the search for the boat yesterday.

Nina, built in 1928, left Opua on May 29 with skipper David Dyche III, 58, his wife, Rosemary, 60, son David Dyche IV, 17, Evi Nemeth, 73, Kyle Jackson, 27, and Danielle Wright, 18, all Americans. Also aboard was Matthew Wootton, 35. A leader of the British Greens, he refused, on environmental grounds, to fly.

It was last heard from on June 4 when 685km west-north-west of Cape Reinga, bound for Newcastle, Australia. The area was being hit by winds of 80kmh gusting to 110kmh, with swells up to 8m.

Eight days later the skipper's sister, Cherie Martinez, posted on a popular Pacific sailing blog, Cruisersforum.com, asking "when should I start to worry". She was told to wait between 12 and 28 days. On June 14, RCC broadcast alerts to vessels to watch out for Nina. On June 25 an air force P3 Orion did a radar sweep and searches continued over the Tasman until last Thursday.

RCC said a customs declaration by Dyche said Nina had a satellite phone, a Spot satellite personal tracking device and an Epirb. Had the Epirb been working, its signal would have been picked up by satellite and passing planes.

One sailor on Cruiserforum said the Nina was "low on technology" with no long-range radio, automatic identification system or position indication systems.

"David explained me that it was his choice to not get all the gadgets, and he was well aware of the possible consequences. I can respect that," the poster said.

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Martinez agreed with the posting: "Yes, my brother insisted on keeping tradition on the Nina."

She urged other sailors to be proactive about their safety and leave a sealed envelope for emergencies including satphone numbers, account information and passwords. "That would be a good legacy for Nina to leave."

- Sunday Star Times

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