Catherine Gaffaney is a general reporter based in Auckland.

Kaipara fishing charter tragedy: Not everyone wearing lifejackets during 'scary' bar crossing day before

The charter boat which is believed to have capsized near the treacherous Kaipara Harbour bar killing at least seven people yesterday crossed the bar in "scary" conditions the day before.

The skipper and some fishermen on board the charter boat Francie on Friday weren't wearing lifejackets, despite the rough conditions.

Seven people have died and one person is missing after the Francie went missing near the harbour's bar crossing at 3.30pm yesterday.

Police have been told there were lifejackets on board, but it was not yet known if they were being worn.

Three survivors were yesterday plucked to safety by Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter. Two of them had been discharged from North Shore Hospital this morning, while the third was in stable condition.

It is not yet known if the owner and skipper, Bill McNatty, survived.

The Francie charter boat which is believed to have capsized near the treacherous Kaipara Harbour bar crossing yesterday.
The Francie charter boat which is believed to have capsized near the treacherous Kaipara Harbour bar crossing yesterday.

The search for the missing has resumed this morning, but strong winds were making for choppy conditions.

Experienced fisherman James Jackson was on the Francie on Friday. McNatty was also the skipper then.

"The sea was quite rough," Jackson said. "When I've been there before, there's been other boats going over the bar but we were the only boat.

"It was scary. I had that feeling of doubt in my stomach as we were going over the bar... that what if? What if there's big swells all of a sudden?

"I had my lifejacket on, but Bill didn't and a few of the guys didn't."

Skipper of the Francie charter boat Bill McNatty. Photo / Facebook
Skipper of the Francie charter boat Bill McNatty. Photo / Facebook

The South Auckland father-of-three talked about how rough the sea was with his brother and friends as they crossed the bar.

"I didn't say anything to Bill but we were talking amongst ourselves. My friend was on the Francie a year ago when it almost capsized going across the bar so it was a bit scary...

"I had that uncomfortable feeling as we were watching the waves."

Jackson wanted to talk about the conditions on Friday to encourage people to be safe in the future and always wear their lifejackets.

"You can catch good fish over the bar but it's not worth it when the sea is rough."

Jackson had planned to go fishing again next weekend but didn't think he would now.

The former skipper of the Francie, Rod Bridge, last night described it as an "excellent little boat", but said it should not have been attempting to cross the bar yesterday.

"It shouldn't have been out there. It was too rough ... it's a terrible thing."

There were reported swells of more than 1.5m and strong winds yesterday.

The Francie is a 12m charter that can carry a maximum 20 passengers and two crew, with daily boat hire costs from $700 to $800.

An online booking service for the Francie states: "Enjoy a day's fishing for any of the predominant Kaipara fish species - kahawai, snapper and gurnard and in season trevally, maomao and kingfish".

- NZ Herald

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