Boat sinks as wild weather continues

LAUREN HAYES AND ALANA DIXON
Last updated 05:00 29/06/2012

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Wintry conditions have taken their toll on a century-old boat on Stewart Island, leaving the vessel irreparable and its owner shellshocked.

The problems didn't stop there. A man was taken to hospital after a campervan was blown over near Balclutha, and there had been power cuts throughout the region.

Stewart Island ketch The Secret ended up in pieces after it was blown on to a reef near Horseshoe Bay on Wednesday night.

Owner Trevor Johnson said he woke up and discovered his boat was missing yesterday morning.

He believed strong winds had caused The Secret to break its moorings and drift on to the reef, although exactly how that happened was a mystery.

"The chain we've got back is good as gold. There's something gone wrong somewhere so we'll have to wait until we get a diver down to find out what's happened."

The boat had survived worse weather during the week, so he thought it was strange it broke loose when it did.

A few locals pulled the wreckage on to the beach with the help of a digger yesterday.

"She looked all right but when we got her on [dry land] most of the bottom was gone."

The boat was not insured and was too damaged to repair, he said.

A friend of Mr Johnson, Sandra Whipp, said he was "absolutely shellshocked" by the incident, because Mr Johnson had thought of the boat as a retirement project.

Ms Whipp believed The Secret was built in 1898 by his great-grandfather Ned Johnson and had strong connections to Stewart Island.

"She was built in Horseshoe Bay and she sank in Horseshoe Bay."

The boat was not the only casualty of the bad weather.

A St John communications spokesman said a 30-year-old man was taken by ambulance to Dunedin Hospital with a sore neck after the campervan he was in rolled about 10am on State Highway 1 near Balclutha.

The vehicle was extensively damaged after heavy winds forced it off the road.

Southland's coastline also come in for a hammering from the wind.

But Constable Kelvin Templeton, of Riverton, said there had been no weather-related incidents in the town yesterday.

PowerNet network operations general manager Gary Pritchard said staff worked in difficult conditions to identify weather-related damage and restore power both yesterday and on Wednesday.

A total of 5600 customers experienced periods without power because of the weather sweeping across the south, he said.

During the two days, bad weather affected 1600 customers in Southland, with the worst-affected areas being Makarewa, Riverton, Seaward Bush, Mataura and Kelso.

In Otago, 4000 customers were affected by weather-related problems, with the worst-affected areas being Balclutha, Clinton, Ranfurly, Owaka, Merton, Waihola and Elderlee, Mr Pritchard said.

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By 11am yesterday, most customers had their power restored but repair work across the network would continue, he said.

Yesterday, the NZ Transport Agency said extreme care was required for motorists in Southland and Otago because of the widespread wintry blast.

Caution was still advised for those travelling on State Highway 94 from Te Anau to Milford Sound, which was affected by ice, SH90 from Raes Junction to Gore because of snow and strong winds, and SH1 from Milton to Gore because of high winds.

Some roads in the Clutha district also remained impassable yesterday afternoon, including Athenaeum Rd in Tuapeka West, roads in the Waipori-Mahinerangi area and Hazeldale Rd in the Slopedown-Owaka Valley area. Graders cleared large snowdrifts yesterday, but most of the roads were now passable with care.

Hillend-Mt Stuart Rd was also passable with care, with four-wheel-drives recommended for Mitchells Flat Rd at Waitahuna.

- The Southland Times

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