'Lucky' trio in midnight rescue

23:55, Jan 31 2012
The yacht Okiana on the rocks off Pitt Head reef at the entrance to Torrent Bay and Anchorage.
SERIOUS DAMAGE: The yacht Okiana on the rocks off Pitt Head reef at the entrance to Torrent Bay and Anchorage.

Three men from Wellington who were forced to abandon their stricken yacht in Abel Tasman National Park in the middle of the night are lucky rescuers were at hand, says a Torrent Bay man who helped them ashore.

The trio on board the 12-metre Okiana were rescued at midnight on Sunday, after their yacht hit rocks at Pitt Head near Torrent Bay and sank.

Okiana owner Hugh McCrae, his son and a friend were unharmed and managed to get into inflatable boats before Torrent Bay residents came to their rescue.

Aquapackers owner Chris Waide was watching the Australian Open tennis at a friend's place in Torrent Bay when he heard about the Okiana's mayday call. He used his work boat to get to the three men at Pitt Head.

"They were fairly distressed and quite disorientated. It was pitch black. There wasn't much of a moon. They would have wondered what the bloody hell happened," he said.

Mr Waide said the men had grab-bags, a VHF radio and two inflatable boats.

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"They had all the gear. They were definitely very well prepared. I picked up two, and another boat picked up one. We took them back to Torrent Bay and the local residents looked after them for the night."

Mr Waide said the Okiana was lying on the reef and badly damaged. He said other boats had been written off after hitting rocks in the same place.

Mr Waide said Mr McCrae and his crew left Mana in Wellington a few days ago and were making their way to Fiordland.

Torrent Bay was supposed to be a planned stopover, "but they never quite made it".

Mr Waide said they were "three fairly unhappy boys", but it was lucky no-one was hurt.

"They're very lucky that it was this time of year and that there are a lot of people around. It could have been a lot worse."

Torrent Bay bach owner Darryl Thomas also helped with the rescue.

"We were just sitting outside at about midnight, having a wee party, and we heard this bang. It was the flare going off," he said.

Mr Thomas went inside, turned on his maritime radio, heard the Okiana's mayday call and went to help.

"By the time we got to them, they had two rubber boats and the captain, Hugh, was in one. His son and friend were in another one. They were probably bloody relieved to have us there."

Mr Thomas said it was a "clockwork rescue". Back in Torrent Bay, he gave the men some dry clothes and "a few drinks" and put them up in a bach next door.

"We had them on shore pretty quick. I think they were really appreciative."

Mr Thomas said Mr McCrae was an experienced yachtie, who had bought the Okiana in July last year.

"Their aim was to go around Farewell Spit and carry on down the West Coast."

He said they were using a GPS and thought they were in the middle of the bay, "but unfortunately, they were not, and they hit the rocks. It was very dark and quite rough".

Abel Tasman Sea Shuttle was contracted to salvage the damaged Okiana. Co-owner Greg Knapp said it managed to refloat the yacht last night.

Mr Knapp was this morning using the company's Abel Dominator boat to slowly tow the wreckage to shore. He was looking for a suitable place to land it.

"We're heading through to Motueka at this stage, but we could be heading through to Nelson. It is very, very difficult to tow; basically, the whole boat is submerged and there is no real hull left," he said.

Tasman District Council harbourmaster Steve Hainstock said the stricken boat was first thought to be a 15-metre launch. This was because Mr McCrae used an emergency beacon registered to that boat, which he also owned, rather than the Okiana. Mr McCrae was carrying both on board.

Maritime New Zealand spokesman Ross Henderson said carrying two emergency beacons was better than carrying no emergency communications at all.

He said boat owners needed to ensure that their beacons were registered with the Rescue Co-ordination Centre New Zealand and that their emergency contact details were kept up to date.

They should also let their contacts know where they were going and what their trip plans were, he said.

The Nelson Mail