'Catastrophic' event cause of yacht foundering

NEIL RATLEY
Last updated 05:00 15/05/2014

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A yacht missing off the southern coast of New Zealand likely sunk like a stone, a coastguard boss says.

Bluff Coastguard president and muttonbirder Andy Johnson said he believed something catastrophic had probably happened to the Munetra and it had gone straight down.

However, the events leading to the disappearance of the Munetra and the three people on board could have been triggered by one small mistake in unforgiving waters, he said.

Johnson also believed the 7.5-metre Munetra went down in Te Waewae Bay - a stretch of water more treacherous than Foveaux Strait.

"When the weather comes in to Te Waewae Bay, it is unforgiving and one small mistake can be compounded very quickly and everything turn pear shape," he said.

The Munetra, with 33-year-old German skipper Andre Kinzler and German tourists Lea Tietz and Veronika Steudler, both 19, set sail from Bluff for Preservation Inlet in Fiordland on April 16 and was due back in port on April 22.

"A ballasted yacht like the Munetra would sink like a stone if it floundered," he said.

There were many scenarios that could have led to the yacht sinking.

"A stuck rope, a sail staying up and then the weather getting up causing the sea to get worse. A minor problem in these conditions can get compounded and turn deadly in a hurry," Johnson said.

Problems with the beam or mast could have caused the yacht to roll.

"The skipper may have had to go forward to drop the sail and been knocked overboard leaving inexperienced crew members to try and deal with an unstable yacht ready to roll."

Johnson said he and several other members of the yachting fraternity believed the Munetra went down in Te Waewae Bay.

"The discovery of the squab in the bay is more of an indicator where she floundered than the liferaft on Stewart Island," he said.

The liferaft, sitting high in the water would have been blown by the wind but the squab, low on the waves would have been less likely to blow too far away from the area where the yacht struck trouble.

Te Waewae Bay and the water towards Puysegur Point had a nasty reputation, Johnson said.

"You do have to be very careful how you plan your approach. I've sailed into rough weather in the area and had to shelter in Port Craig," he said.

Johnson said the Munetra - listed as a Raven 26 type yacht - was a capable boat with a good track record in the hands of experienced sailors.

Detective Sergeant John Kean, who was investigating the disappearance of the Munetra, said it was believed Kinzler had bought the boat in the past 12 months and been out to sea several times but he might have still "been learning" to sail.

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During the investigation, there was no information to suggest the Munetra was not sea worthy, he said.

- The Southland Times

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