Drowned skipper 'put others first'
BLAIR ENSOR, CAROLINE KING, DEIDRE MUSSEN AND ASHLEIGH STEWART
A drowned fishing skipper always put others ahead of himself, his grieving partner says.
Nicholas Brett Eklund, 36, of Greymouth, died yesterday after the 15-metre wooden trawler Lady Anna, which he was skippering for the first time, capsized as it made its way into the West Coast town's port.
Melissa Clark said Elkund was a caring person.
"He was a loving dad to his son Cameron and stepdaughter Kelsie. He had lots of interests in life, including music, his cat and gold panning,'' she said.
"He was just a real good, kind guy who you could rely on."
Clark said Eklund would always put other people ahead of himself.
She did not want to comment further until a coroner's report into the tragedy was completed.
Eklund and the other two crewmen survived the capsize and clambered on to the hull, but waves washed them into the rough sea.
The other two managed to make it to safety after they grabbed flotation devices thrown to them by onlookers, but Eklund was unconscious when pulled from the water and efforts to revive him failed.
Eklund's colleagues were taken to Grey Base Hospital with grazes (a 27-year-old) and hypothermia (a 42-year-old Christchurch man).
Both were discharged by noon yesterday.
A Talley's spokesman said today the fishing company did not give any instructions or advice to Lady Anna's skipper about bar conditions or the safety of the bar.
Its Westport manager spoke to the skipper yesterday before the crossing but that was only about the unloading of his catch, the spokesman said.
''Talley's never ever gives directions about safety or navigation issues. That is a matter for the master of the vessel,'' he said.
Eklund said he did not blame anyone for the loss of his son.
"If you know Greymouth and you know the bar, it can be right one minute and between waves it can just change automatically, and you can get a side freak wave that will just come and tip the boat over,'' he said.
''It was just a freak thing that happened.''
Inspector John Canning said today that police were investigating who the boat's skipper communicated with before crossing the bar.
However, he said it was premature to comment on what those communications involved.
Maritime New Zealand is also investigating the incident.
After the sinking, a Greymouth fisherman allegedly attacked a Talley's building at the Port of Greymouth.
He was arrested on charges related to the incident, Canning said.
Eklund said he heard on the news that someone had drowned yesterday, but he did not think it would be his son.
''I've always said to him it's the most dangerous bloody bar around ... and he said it's the older people that think they know it too well that get caught. He said he won't cross it if it's too rough,'' he said.
''Then when I seen it on the telly, I said, 'It won't be Nick, he's too cunning - he wouldn't cross a rough bar like that'. He was very safety-conscious.''
Police later told him the boat was hit by a ''freak wave'' before it rolled, he said.
His son, who grew up in Dunedin and had fished off the West Coast, Timaru and Nelson, had worked on boats in the area for about 20 years, but he had only recently taken the helm on the boat.
It was smaller than boats he had skippered in the past, Eklund said.
The loss of his son is the second tragedy he has had to deal with after his daughter was killed in a head-on car crash near Geraldine.
Eklund described his son as ''a bloody lovely man'' who loved fishing.
He had a partner and a teenage son.
''He loved being out on that boat, out in the sea fishing. It wasn't only a job for him - he lived it,'' Eklund said.
''I just can't believe he's not here. He was just such a lovely, caring guy - just so thoughtful of everybody else.''
The funeral for Eklund will be held in Greymouth on Saturday.
Amateur photographer Bob McAuliffe, 70, saw the tragedy unfold.
At first, McAuliffe said, the boat "looked pretty ordinary" and the sea seemed "pretty calm". But in a matter of seconds, that all changed.
"It was surreal. A big wave came up behind it and lifted it up and threw it nose down into the water. It came to a grinding halt and tipped over,'' he said.
"It wasn't until it actually tipped over that I realised there was actually a problem. It seemed so unreal."
The three men disappeared "for some time" but managed to struggle back on to the boat, which was floating on its side.
McAuliffe said the men looked relieved as they waited to be rescued, but large waves continued to batter the boat and swept them back out to sea.
McAuliffe grabbed his binoculars to locate the men.
"I saw one was separated out a bit further than the other two. They [the two] looked like they may've been clinging to each other,'' he said.
''It must've been those two who managed to reach the shore. Someone got out into the surf to give them a hand."
Neighbour John Bromley, who lived opposite Eklund, said the deceased was a "real gentleman" and a talented fisherman.
"I couldn't believe it when I heard it. He's such a careful fisherman. He'd been doing it all his life as far as I'm aware."
Bromley said Eklund was a "quietly spoken guy", who was family-oriented.
He said Eklund often dropped what he was doing to help out.
"He used to drop a feed of fish off for me because I'm getting on a bit. He wouldn't ask if you wanted a feed, he'd just drop it off,'' he said.
"If I needed a hand he'd always help. He'd just drop the tools; didn't matter what he was doing. He'd say, 'Give me five minutes and I'll be with you'. You wouldn't have to ask him.
''He was a real good guy. He's going to be missed."
Sergeant Russell Glue, of Greymouth, said police were alerted to the incident about 7.30am. They were told the Lady Anna had capsized at the river mouth while returning to port.
Another witness, who declined to be named, said three men were clinging to the capsized boat at the mouth of the Grey River when he arrived at the Greymouth tiphead about 7.35am.
Within minutes, the men had let go of the boat and were floating in the water.
Two swiftly drifted around to the Cobden side of the mouth, but a third seemed to be in trouble.
"He was bobbing around in the water. I could see him going under. He would disappear, then come back," the witness said.
The man slowly drifted around to the Cobden side of the river.
People on the Cobden side were trying to throw life-preserving rings to the man, but the witness was unsure if the man managed to grab one.
BAR 'ONE OF NZ'S MOST DANGEROUS'
The Grey River's infamous sandbar is a hot spot for boating tragedies, locals say.
The treacherous sandbar has claimed the lives of at least eight others and destroyed many craft during the town's history.
"You only have to go down to the Blaketown tiphead and look at the memorial there to see how many fatalities we have had on the bar over the years," Sergeant Russell Glue said.
The incidents include the deaths of skipper Peter Richard Squires, 54, of Te Anau, and crewman Roy Matthew Conner, 26, of Nelson, when their Te Anau fishing boat Koromiko rolled in 2000.
In 1993, a deckhand was lost when his vessel foundered trying to cross the bar.
The Grey District Council installed a blue safety light after the accident to inform skippers when the bar was considered unsafe, but it was not turned on the night before Eklund's death.
Greymouth Coastguard spokesman Doug Griffin said the Grey River bar was well-known for boating tragedies.
There was no single reason, but it was generally a combination of skill level, sea conditions and the boat.
"All the bars [in New Zealand] are dangerous. You've got to approach them with due care and know what you're doing," he said.
Council general manager Paul Pretorius said the bar was "one of the most dangerous" in the country.
"Even very experienced fishermen get caught out," he said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
Which do you think is the quote of the year?Related story: Best quotes? Cats, sweat and Aaron Gilmore