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Boaties' heartbreak as storm rages

By Peter de Graaf

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A yacht beached at Opua due to this week's strong winds. Photo / Peter de Graaf
A yacht beached at Opua due to this week's strong winds. Photo / Peter de Graaf

At least 30 boats have sunk, run aground or been damaged in the violent storm still lashing Northland.

The saddest story is that of the 52ft (16m) ketch Spirit of Nyaminyami, which had been moored near Pine Island in the Kawakawa River mouth but broke free in Tuesday evening's 50-knot (92km/h) winds.

Its owner, understood to be an international sailor who had lived on his boat in the Bay of Islands for several years, was on board at the time but could do nothing to save the vessel as it was blown against the Opua Marina breakwater.

He managed to jump to safety on to the breakwater, from where he was rescued by regional council and marina staff, but his boat sank with all his possessions. All he saved was his passport and cellphone.

The ketch, as well as a 32ft (10m) locally owned yacht which sank under similar circumstances, will be salvaged once the storm subsides. All that can be seen of the vessels are three masts protruding from the water.

Harbourmaster Jim Lyle said locals had offered the sailor accommodation and bought him essentials such as socks and undies. Throughout Northland, 30 vessels were known to have sunk, beached or been damaged, but that number would grow as people checked their boats.

Yachts had been blown ashore at Opua, in the Kawakawa River, Whangaruru, Mangawhai and Tutukaka, with at least three beached at Houhora.

A commercial fishing boat sank in Mangonui Harbour, while firefighters had to secure another to the wharf after it broke free late yesterday and started taking on water.

A yacht was blown over at Doug's Boatyard and three boats that dragged their moorings down the Veronica Channel were recovered yesterday.

Many more were damaged after being struck by boats which had shifted or dragged. An oyster barge had caused significant damage to Houhora wharf and another broke free in Russell, eventually washing up at Waitangi.

Mr Lyle said it was the first time he had seen 4-tonne concrete mooring blocks dragged.

He was disappointed that some boaties did not have working motors or rudders, "which makes it pretty hard to help them".

Opua Marina manager Chris Galbraith said the breakwater had done its job, with only minor breakages inside the marina.

More bad weather to test tired firefighters

Weary firefighters in the Far North are bracing themselves for fresh weather-related mayhem with more wind and heavy rain expected before the storm recedes on Saturday.

Yesterday brought some respite for most volunteers but not for Mangonui Fire Brigade, which was called out for a fallen tree, a blown-out window, a lifting roof and two fishing boats in trouble.

A Fire Service generator and lighting rig normally based on the North Shore was dispatched to Kohukohu, which was without power until 4pm yesterday.

Far North area commander Allan Kerrisk said volunteer support officers had also been sent to isolated North Hokianga settlements such as Pawarenga, Panguru and Mitimiti to check people's health and welfare needs. With the phone network down they would also bring a satellite phone for emergency communications.

An Omapere fire engine damaged in extreme winds on Tuesday night had been replaced by a relief appliance from Whangarei. A Kaitaia fire truck ended up in a ditch the same night when the driver was forced to swerve to avoid a falling tree near Waiharara.

Many roads across the Far North remained closed yesterday. State Highway 11 at Taumarere, just north of Kawakawa, remained impassable, while State Highway 1 at the bottom of Moerewa's Turntable Hill was flooded but passable to four-wheel-drive vehicles. State Highway 12 was down to one lane at Taheke, west of Kaikohe.

Meanwhile, Otiria Marae was surrounded by floodwaters yesterday afternoon but Moerewa Civil Defence co-ordinator Jason King said there was no need for alarm as yet. Water was only ankle deep in the carpark and had not reached the first step to the wharenui. If it reached the second step Civil Defence would put down sandbags, he said.

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE

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