Missing yachtie speaks out

By Haylee King -
6 comments
Darius DeWet - "missing" yachtie.
Darius DeWet - "missing" yachtie.

Darius DeWet had just one day's sailing experience when he set off for Auckland from Napier in his 6.7m yacht Luna more than a week ago.

Mr DeWet yesterday said he had no idea two searches were mounted for him while he was at sea, or of the trouble he had caused.

The 20-year-old South African said he did not consider himself inexperienced, but he did admit to being a beginner.

Before he set out on September 16, he told a friend in Havelock North he would check in when he anchored each night, but when the battery on his boat died the next day he had no way to communicate with land.

"The sailing has been fine it was just the communication," he said.

On Monday, September 19, while anchored at Anaura Bay, north of Gisborne, he saw an aeroplane fly over him but did not realise it was searching for him.

"I saw the plane ... and I saw someone taking a photo and I waved. I thought it would be a nice picture from up there."

He thought the air force helicopter that found him again on Thursday, September 22, was on a training exercise.

It was only when a Coastguard Opotiki boat met him the first time while he was anchored at Whanarua Bay that he realised what was happening.

"I was like, 'really?' because I have been enjoying myself and just cruising along. It was a bit of a surprise."

Darius DeWet - "missing" yachtie.
Darius DeWet - "missing" yachtie.

Coastguard volunteers made sure he was fine, gave him a hand held radio and told him a crayfish boat would check on him the following morning.

"I didn't want to be a bother because I realised I had bothered a few people already."

He said he was shepherded by the crayfish boat to a bay before Torere and Opotiki, where he anchored again.

"I anchored behind waves there and decided I wanted to go on to land. I missed the land because I had been on the water for about a week."

He gathered clothes in a dry bag and swam to shore.

"Two guys came walking my way and they were local forestry workers. They saw the boat and thought it was the boat on the news. They had a chat with me and before they left I asked where the nearest town was because I wanted a decent meal."

They gave Mr DeWet a ride to Opotiki, where he had sushi.

"They dropped me off and offered a place to stay but I wanted to camp on the beach. Then, the next day the guy checked on me again and I ended up going shooting with him."

The men noticed the wind had picked up and the conditions were good to continue his journey.

Before he left, he was given a raft and a tractor tube to take with him on his boat.

"I motored around the point before Torere, anchored there and slept the night on the boat."

Darius DeWet on his Yacht
Darius DeWet on his Yacht

At this stage, he hadn't kept the hand held radio on and the coastguard came to find him again.

Mr DeWet said he planned to only turn his radio on and check in when he anchored. He thought he was doing the right thing. He didn't want to "be in trouble again".

The next day the coastguard boat came again and "I thought, 'here we go again'," he said.

He had planned to anchor at the last bay near Opotiki because visibility was bad, but according to the coastguard volunteers, Maritime New Zealand said he had to be towed to Whakatane on Sunday.

Because the bar wasn't workable, his boat was anchored at Whale Island and he spent the night in Whakatane.

Now anchored in Whakatane, Mr DeWet has to meet a host of criteria before Maritime New Zealand will allow him to complete his journey.

Maritime New Zealand spokesman Steve Rendle said now that he was in port, he was subject to several conditions from Section 55 of the Maritime Transport Act which prevent him from leaving without approval from authorities.

The conditions meant Mr DeWet had to prove he and his vessel were safe enough to continue his journey to Auckland and had suitable training and experience to handle weather conditions, Mr Rendle said.

- Whakatane Beacon

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