Nicholas Jones

Nicholas Jones is the New Zealand Herald’s education reporter.

Sailor feared for life before horror harbour smash

Classic yacht Gypsy was sunk in a collision with another boat. Photo / Supplied.
Classic yacht Gypsy was sunk in a collision with another boat. Photo / Supplied.

The sailor of a yacht involved in a smash on Auckland's Waitemata Harbour said he feared for his life right before the moment of impact.

Kawau Island resident John Pryor spent five years and $100,000 restoring his 71-year-old classic yacht Gypsy, only to see her smashed to pieces and sunk in a collision.

Mr Pryor and his partner Jill Hetherington were racing the K Class classic yacht in the Anniversary Day Regatta on Monday when it was involved in a horrific smash with the 18m sailboat Antaeus.

"I remember being aware of that particular boat heading towards us, and thinking it would turn away," Mr Pryor recalled.

"Then suddenly looking back and realising that it hadn't turned away and was about to hit ... scared sh**less I think is the best way to describe it."

Both he and Ms Hetherington were thrown into the water when the collision split their boat in two, sinking it in less than a minute.

Ms Hetherington was dragged under Antaeus' bow and was taken to Auckland Hospital with serious injuries. She remains in a stable condition.

"It's nothing life threatening, she'll be in hospital for another week," said Mr Pryor. "But all those injuries to her just didn't need to happen."

Mr Pryor said he and Ms Hetherington had raced the 1939-designed Gypsy - the last full-size design by Arch Logan - with success in several regattas this season.

"We thought we were the cat's pyjamas and then suddenly it's destroyed in an instant ... [Gypsy] was extremely special to me and something that can never be replaced."

The realisation that a piece of New Zealand's maritime history had been lost before his eyes took some time to sink in, he said.

"My main concern was for Jill because I was busy trying to save her. I didn't really start to think about the boat until afterwards - it sort of makes you want to cry, really."

Mr Pryor said he would soon hold a "Gypsy wake": "all the people who have been involved with her will get together and drown our sorrows".

The Antaeus was travelling back to Westhaven Marina with its skipper Charles St Clair Brown when the accident happened. He threw a life ring to Ms Hetherington, and helped to pull her and Mr Pryor on board his boat.

Mr St Clair Brown said yesterday he had been in touch with Mr Pryor and wished Ms Hetherington all the best. He reiterated that he was unable to see the Gypsy and the accident was "very unfortunate".

He has since given an account of the accident to Maritime New Zealand.

A Maritime NZ spokesman said the accident investigations department was making inquiries into the crash.

Auckland harbourmaster Andrew Hayton said they were determining whether the wreck of the Gypsy was a navigational hazard and would need to be recovered.


THE RULES:

- A boat powered by a motor must always give way to a sail- powered vessel.
- Rule applies when a yacht is motoring, even if it has its sails up.
- Boats always give way to vessels on their starboard - or right-hand - side.
- The cardinal rule is for both skippers to give themselves enough time to avoid collisions.

- NZ Herald

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