Another boat down, more lives lost. The sinking of the Easy Rider shocked the Bluff community, again. Evan Harding reports.
They said it over and over: "I can't believe this is happening again."
When the shocking news began to filter through on March 15 that a boat carrying nine people and supplies heading for the Titi Islands had disappeared in Foveaux Strait, the Bluff community was shocked. Many found it hard to believe.
The Southland Times spoke to more than 40 Bluff residents on the night of the tragedy and nearly all said they couldn't believe it was happening again.
The Easy Rider sinking, which has left four dead and four more missing at sea, follows the capsize of the Kotuku in Foveaux Strait in 2006, when six people died on the return journey from the Titi Islands.
Two more people died in Foveaux Strait in January this year while on a private fishing trip on a catamaran called Extreme One, making it at least 16 who have died in the notorious stretch of water during the past six years.
All three boats appear to have been toppled by either rogue waves or large rolling waves.
A longtime Bluff resident says she noticed a change in people's attitudes after this month's disaster. Previously, there was an outpouring of shock and disbelief when major boating tragedies struck the small town.
"But when something new happens now, it's like, 'not again'."
The Bluff community closed ranks to a large degree after both the Kotuku and the Easy Rider tragedies and the national news media descended on the town.
They were intent on protecting their own people and, with raw grief evident, there were instances of reporters being chased down the street and abused and threatened. That should come as no surprise, given the strong family links in the town.
Bluff Fishermans' radio operator Meri Leask says all three families on the Easy Rider were related, as was most of Bluff, which was why the residents were so closed off.
When the Kotuku went down in 2006, there were about 2600 people living in the community, "and it later came out that 2000 of us were related", Leask says.
"That's the connection. That's why people are so careful about what they say, because they don't know who they might hurt.
"We don't like people speculating. We have seen enough of it over the years and it can be very hurtful."
The Bluff community's reaction is understandable, says Auckland University of Technology School of Psychology head Dr Kerry Gibson.
|They need time to come to terms with it, and the people they need to be with are their own people, not outsiders.|
When a community feels fragile, it wants to protect its own.
"It's a sensible thing for them to want to have space and privacy for themselves. It's very important.
"Obviously, the country feels for them, but this is their people and their very private tragedy.
"They need time to come to terms with it, and the people they need to be with are their own people, not outsiders."
For Bluff to have two tragedies of similar proportions, in similar circumstances, in just six years seems terribly unfair, Dr Gibson says.
"I can imagine that for a community already sensitised to this type of loss, their grief will be pretty difficult to deal with again."
For some people, the Easy Rider tragedy will bring back memories of the Kotuku sinking. It would be like rubbing salt into an old wound.
Others who dealt with the loss of life in the Kotuku sinking would have developed a resilience, and they may be able to rely on some of the things that helped them in the aftermath of the Kotuku's sinking to help them again, she says.
The hurt over lives lost at sea has been endured by Bluff residents for more than 180 years – Greenpoint cemetery near Bluff has a memorial featuring 20 plaques with the names of people lost at sea – but that is just part of the true toll Foveaux Strait has taken on human life.
It is a mean piece of water. A combination of a persistent tidal drift and challenging currents through the narrow and relatively shallow stretch of water and the unpredictable rough weather rising out of the Southern Ocean from the south can make it treacherous. Regular users know to fear and respect it, and to be prepared for things to change quickly.
At least 125 boats have gone down in Bluff Harbour, Foveaux Strait and the waters around Stewart Island since 1831, resulting in the deaths of at least 74 people. The exact toll is higher, but unknown, with entire crews, not recorded, disappearing from boats.
Many townsfolk are struggling to accept the Easy Rider tragedy could happen so soon after the Kotuku sinking.
However, Ngai Tahu kaumatua Sir Tipene O'Regan, who is also upoko runaka of Awarua runanga, says the reality is that boating tragedies in Foveaux Strait are less frequent now than they used to be.
They just have more impact when generations of the same family, including children, die in single disasters.
"Maritime tragedies off our coast typically feature individual fishermen, or fishermen and their crews, but when you are dealing with the Titi Islands you tend to have tragedies involving whole whanau, and that's what makes it so difficult. It's the children," he says.
Taking the family on one trip and supplies on another is not a realistic option because of the extra cost and time involved, Sir Tipene says.
Bluff Coastguard president Andy Johnson agrees, saying Easy Rider skipper Rewai Karetai was one of the more conscientious skippers around, but like all commercial fishermen, he had bills to pay.
The boat wasn't big enough to make the trip pay by just taking passengers and a bit of gear, Johnson says.
Accusations that the boat was overloaded and the weather was too rough have been made, with investigations ongoing. Johnson says when the Easy Rider left Bluff, the forecast was for the weather to be abating.
Mr Karetai intended to go fishing after dropping off his Titi Islands passengers, so had two tonnes of ice below decks.
The ice would have helped to balance the boat, which also had the Titi Islands provisions above deck, Johnson says.
Several investigations into the tragedy are expected to take months to complete.
While families and friends of the four dead men farewelled them on Thursday in a combined funeral service, there remains no solace for those waiting for news of the four missing at sea.
- The 38ft (11.6m) fishing boat Easy Rider sank in Foveaux Strait while travelling to the Titi Islands to prepare for the annual mutton-birding season.
- Nine people were on the Easy Rider when a rogue wave struck off Saddle Point on the northern tip of Stewart Island at midnight on Wednesday.
- Foveaux Strait is considered one of the most unpredictable stretches of water in the world and conditions on the night the Easy Rider sank were thought to be rough.
- Only one of the nine people on the boat, Dallas Reedy, 44, was found alive, clinging to a plastic petrol can 18 hours after the boat went over.
- Four bodies have been found: Shane Topi, 29, Boe Pikia-Gillies, 28, John Karetai, 58, and Peter Pekamu-Bloxham, 53. Their funerals were held on Thursday at Rugby Park.
- Still missing are the boat's skipper, Rewai Karetai, 47, Paul Fowler-Karetai, 40, David Fowler, 50, and Odin Karetai, 7.
- The tragedy followed the 2006 Kotuku disaster in Foveaux Strait.
- Six people died when the 15m boat Kotuku capsized. It was returning after the annual mutton-bird hunt on the Titi Islands.
- Hunting mutton-birds on the Titi Islands, near Stewart Island, is a family right available only to the Ngai Tahu and Ngatimamoe tribes, also known as Rakiura Maori.
- Mutton-bird seasons traditionally begin on April 1 and run until May 31, but from the start of March, many families cross the strait to do maintenance work on their huts or tracks.
Shipwrecks in Bluff: At least three dead from 29 shipwrecks.
Shipwrecks around Stewart Island: At least 41 dead from 59 wrecks.
Shipwrecks in Foveaux Strait: At least 20 dead from 35 wrecks.
Total: At least 73 dead from 125 shipwrecks.
1845: Success (schooner)
1852: Amazon (schooner)
1861: Oberon (iron screw steamer)
1862: Ocean Chief (Black Ball clipper ship), Flying Mist (full-rigged ship), Prince Albert (brig)
1863: Time and Truth (barque)
1864: Scotia (barque-rigged steamer)
1869: Dorcas (cutter)
1874: Carl (brig)
1875: Lerwick (cutter)
1878: Ann Gambles (iron barque)
1880: Anna (ketch) (three dead)
1881: England's Glory (barque)
1886: Pelham (iron screw steamer), Maid of Otago (schooner)
1889: Elizabeth and Ulvaria Cameron (schooner)
1901: Clyde (schooner), Madeline (ketch)
1903: Brothers (auxiliary schooner)
1913: Okta (iron barque)
1919: Dolly Varden (auxiliary schooner)
1924: Konini (steamer)
1925: Loyalty (wooden screw steamer)
1933: Lily (auxiliary ketch)
1939: Waikouaiti (steel steamer)
1952: Stella Maris (fishing launch)
1978: Golden Prion (wooden oyster fishing vessel)
1979: Ollivia (fishing vessel)
Foveaux Strait shipwrecks
1836: Unidentified wreck
1864: Cutter No 2 (lighter), Jack Frost (barque)
1870: Laughing Water (three masted barque)
1877: Halcyon (wooden twin screw steamer)
1879: Helen and Jane (schooner)
1881: Arrow (cutter)
1883: Lillie Denham (ketch-rigged screw steamer)
1884: Marie Ange (iron barque) (all crew died, unknown number)
1885: Champion (cutter) (all crew died, unknown number)
1888: Nellie (fishing schooner) (one dead)
1892: Camille (brigantine)
1898: Philadelphia (steel full-rigged ship) (all died, unknown number)
1899: Aparima (schooner)
1913: Iris (auxiliary cutter) (four dead)
1923: Moana (fishing launch)
1930: Mararoa (fishing launch) (two dead)
1937: Black Cat (steamer)
1942: Horouta (auxiliary scow)
1954: Sea Mew (fishing vessel) (one dead)
1955: Te Konini (fishing vessel)
1959: Reo Moana (motor trawler) (three dead)
1960: Madge (fishing vessel)
1967: Cascade (fishing vessel)
1971: Seabird (Fishing vessel)
1973: Waimanu (wooden fishing vessel)
1974: Malibu (fishing vessel)
1977: Zephus (fishing vessel)
1978: Capri (fishing vessel), Aoteama (wooden fishing vessel) (two dead)
1980: Venus (fishing vessel)
1981: Manaroa (wooden fishing vessel)
1985: Cygnet (fishing vessel (three dead)
1987: Rangi (wooden fishing vessel) (two dead)
1988: Linda Marie (fishing vessel (two dead)
Stewart Island shipwrecks
1831: Industry (brig) (17 dead)
1857: Workington (brig)
1863: Lochinvar (brig)
1864: Pacific (full rigged ship)
1866: Calypso (brig) (one dead), Zephyr (unknown)
1890: Emilie (barque) (nine dead)
1894: Eclipse (cutter)
1901: Cavalier (ketch)
1903: Thistle (racing cutter)
1907: Heather Bell (cutter)
1910: Ruahine (auxiliary cutter)
1911: Nautilus (cutter)
1931: Kotare (wooden steamer)
1951: Valmai (ketch rigged fishing vessel)
1952: Inga (fishing launch)
1953: Ngaitahu (fishing vessel) (one dead)
1956: Radium (fishing launch)
1957: Skylark (fishing vessel)
1960: Maranui (fishing vessel), Little Glory (fishing vessel) (two dead)
1963: Lena (fishing vessel), Marlborough (fishing vessel), Chance (wooden fishing vessel), Scout (fishing vessel)
1964: Britannia (fishing vessel)
1965: Marie (fishing vessel)
1966: Sea Hawk (fishing vessel)
1968: Hananui (fishing vessel), Westward Ho (fishing vessel)
1970: Coral (fishing vessel), Awarua (fishing vessel), Mistral (fishing vessel)
1971: Evening Star (fishing vessel)
1972: Andrea (fishing vessel)
1973: Olga (fishing vessel) (two dead)
1974: Waikaremoana (wooden fishing vessel)
1975: San Marie (fishing vessel), Sou West (fishing vessel)
1977: Sharon (fishing vessel), Iona (fishing vessel)
1978: Harbinger (fishing vessel), Kowhai (fishing vessel), Mapua (fishing vessel) (three dead), Peraki (wooden fishing vessel)
1980: Wyoming (fishing vessel), Muritai (fishing vessel), Nederburg (fishing vessel)
1981: Linda Carol (fishing vessel), Spray (fishing vessel), Barend Jan (fishing vessel), Komuri (fishing vessel)
1983: Annie (wooden fishing vessel)
1987: Sea Star (wooden fishing vessel)
1998: Dong Won 529 (fishing vessel)
2000: Marine Maid (cargo vessel), M N Subritzky (unknown)
2003: Bargara (fishing vessel)
2006: Kotuku (fishing vessel) (six dead)
Source: New Zealand Shipwrecks. Over 200 years of disasters at sea.
Not in book
January 2012: Extreme One (aluminium catamaran) (two dead)
March 2012: Easy Rider (fishing vessel) (four dead and another four missing)
Note: The number of dead is a minimum. Some shipwrecks in the book do not indicate loss of life, even though entire crews disappeared.
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