Unsung Heroes: Right man for a daring sea rescue or two

By Phoebe Falconer

Tank Barker, a familiar figure in Houhora, says fishing is his life. Photo / Supplied
Tank Barker, a familiar figure in Houhora, says fishing is his life. Photo / Supplied

If ever you are in trouble at sea in the Far North, Tank Barker of Houhora is the man you want.

Mr Barker is a fishing charter boat captain who has spent much of his life on the ocean.

During the past two years he has risked his life three times to rescue people in trouble off the Far North coast.

Mr Barker has been nominated by his friend Peter Zimmerman for the Herald Unsung Heroes series, which recognises the work people do in their communities. Five nominees will be chosen at the end of the series for a P&O cruise.

In one of Mr Barker's rescues, he and son David were setting up camp in a bay near Cape Reinga when a local woman told them of a man in difficulty.

Mr Barker quickly unloaded his 3.6m boat from his truck, and he and David motored a kilometre offshore to pull the man from the water.

"It was pretty hard, because it's only a little tinny, and the man couldn't give us any help, he was barely conscious," said Mr Barker.

"We eventually got him in the boat and back to shore, and a helicopter took him off to Whangarei Hospital."

The man credits Mr Barker with saving his life, and they keep in touch.

In another rescue, a demasted yacht had been drifting off the Northland coast for six to eight weeks, under a jury-rig, before the lone sailor decided he'd had enough.

"He finally turned his EPIRB [emergency position indicating radio beacon] on, and because I had the charter boat I could pick him up," said Mr Barker. "I towed him back to Houhora, where the Customs blokes were waiting for him."

Perhaps the most dramatic rescue was in April 2008, when a chartered fishing boat with seven men on board was driven on to rocks below the North Cape lighthouse.

A rescue helicopter could do nothing in poor visibility and gales, so a boat, with Mr Barker on board, went north from Houhora.

The rescuers sent a small rubber craft to get a line aboard the stranded vessel, pulled it off the rocks and towed it to Houhora.

But it's not only marine rescue which gives Mr Barker his reputation in Houhora. He shares his fishing catch with neighbours and elderly friends, often being repaid in bottled fruit, jam and eggs.

Fishing is his life, and rescues are just part of a living earned at sea.

"If it was me in trouble, I'd like to think someone was trying to save me."

- NZ Herald

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