Sailor's death stuns mates

Father of four who was swept overboard by a wave in the Marlborough Sounds lived for yachting, his wife says.

Charlie Gallagher has been hailed as a hard competitor and a good guy by members of the Nelson sailing community.
Charlie Gallagher has been hailed as a hard competitor and a good guy by members of the Nelson sailing community.

The wife of a man who died after being swept off his yacht at the weekend says sailing was his life.

And Charlie Gallagher's friends are shocked that such a careful yachtsman came to grief at sea.

The 52-year-old was knocked off his racing yacht by a large wave in the outer Marlborough Sounds while sailing from Nelson to Picton in bad weather on Saturday.

His sailing companion dropped the sail and tried desperately to save him using a rope, but was unable to haul him back on board, despite multiple attempts.

She made a mayday call and the Westpac rescue helicopter from Wellington was able to winch Mr Gallagher from the water and into the aircraft. But he could not be revived.

His wife, Sue, from whom he had recently separated, said last night that he was a very keen yachtsman. "I mean, that was his life."

They were married for 30 years and have two sons and two daughters aged from 18 to 24.

Mrs Gallagher said the family would often sail together as the children were growing up.

Mr Gallagher, who had been working as a crane driver in Blenheim, had competed in numerous sailing events around New Zealand.

Police said he was wearing full wet-weather gear - but not a lifejacket - when he went overboard about 2pm near Cape Jackson.

Yachtsman Frank Carter, a friend, said Mr Gallagher first sailed on his beloved Mrs Jones - an 11m Elliott racing yacht - about five years ago.

"He got really quite competitive. He had a boat built for racing. That's the boat he's come to grief on."

Mr Carter said members of the Nelson sailing community were shocked by their friend's death.

"Charlie's quite a careful man when it comes to sailing."

He had been sailing for about 25 years and was familiar with the Marlborough Sounds.

It must have been quite a big wave to wash him over the side, Mr Carter said.

Mr Gallagher's love of sailing meant his family had also spent plenty of time on the water. "He was a home dad for a long time. When he wasn't racing he was cruising. He used to take the boys across the [Abel Tasman National] Park on his boat."

Mr Carter was unsure why Mr Gallagher was not wearing his lifejacket.

"In a lot of cases, when you're sailing, you're harnessed on to the boat with a lifeline around your waist.

"The lifejacket is a bit of a hindrance sometimes, so you take your jacket off so you can get around with your line on ... [because] you're already attached to the boat."

Nelson Harbour tug master Kevin Skelton said he regularly competed against Mr Gallagher on the water.

"He was a good adversary. He was well known in yachting circles."

Mr Gallagher was with his flatmate on his boat when he went overboard, Mr Skelton said.

"It was just a routine weekend delivery."

"He was certainly a good club member and a lot of fun, and we raced against him a lot in the last seven years. He was a good hard competitor and good guy."

Mr Carter and Mr Skelton said Mr Gallagher had competed in many races around the Nelson, Wellington and Bay of Islands areas. He had also sailed from Nelson to Vanuatu.

Police said Mr Gallagher's death had been referred to the coroner.


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