Francie skipper Bill McNatty a 'happy-go-lucky sort of chap'

By Bernard Orsman

Bill McNatty , skipper of the charter boat The Francie, that capsized on the Kaipara bar killing McNatty and seven others. Photo / Supplied
Bill McNatty , skipper of the charter boat The Francie, that capsized on the Kaipara bar killing McNatty and seven others. Photo / Supplied

Francie skipper Bill McNatty was a "happy-go-lucky sort of chap".

The 68-year-old was familiar with the water, worked hard to pay off his boat and spent a good chunk of the past three years taking people out fishing.

He would have been aware of the risks of heading out over the bar in far than ideal conditions on Saturday; having just done the same thing just the day before.

Sadly, his experience and passion for the water weren't enough to bring the 12-metre charter boat back home safely yesterday afternoon.

McNatty is one of seven confirmed dead after the Francie failed to make it back across the bar of the Kaipara Harbour. One person is still missing.

The entrance of the Kaipara Harbour that charter fishing vessel Francie couldn't cross, sinking on Saturday 26 November with 11 people on board. Photo / Greg Bowker
The entrance of the Kaipara Harbour that charter fishing vessel Francie couldn't cross, sinking on Saturday 26 November with 11 people on board. Photo / Greg Bowker

Three men were plucked to safety and taken to hospital during a massive search and rescue operation.

Today, friends and family of all the men are in mourning.

Long-time friend Graham Jackson said McNatty lived at Shelly Beach, a popular recreational area with a wharf where he picked up yesterday's party for the fateful voyage.

He lived there in a brick-and-tile house with a new girlfriend, Wendy Marshall. A woman at the property said Marshall did not want to speak to the media.

Before moving to Shelly Beach, McNatty lived in a small unit on the industrial edge of Helensville owned by Jackson.

Jackson described McNatty as his right-hand man, employing him on and off over the years in a number of construction rolls, including building a new wharf at Devonport in the 1980s.

The Francie charter boat. Photo / Supplied
The Francie charter boat. Photo / Supplied

"He was a mate of mine. He was a qualified welder and very knowledgeable."

Jackson said McNatty got his skipper's license about three years ago after working on sand barges and as a welder for Mt Rex Shipping in Helensville.

He said McNatty had made about 100 charter trips in three years, usually doing three a week, depending on the weather.

"He was a good guy. It's very sad. I know he worked hard to pay off his boat.

"It's a dangerous game going out there. That's why they call it the graveyard," Jackson said.

McNatty owns a pleasure boat, Caitlin, sitting on wooden blocks at his industrial park.

The boat has been there for nearly two years after encountering motor problems.

McNatty was a member of the Kaipara Cruising and Sports Fishing Club. He was club commodore in 2008 and on the committee up until his death.

The Muriwai coast line was dotted with debris from the charter fishing vessel Francie that sank. Photo / Greg Bowker
The Muriwai coast line was dotted with debris from the charter fishing vessel Francie that sank. Photo / Greg Bowker

Yesterday morning, club members arrived to pay their respects. Several bunches of flowers were left at the base of the club flagpole and alongside an old anchor. The New Zealand flag flew at half-mast.

Commodore Steve McGregor said McNatty was a valued member of the club.

"It is quite devastating for all of us. It's a sad day.

"He was a happy-go-lucky sort of chap. He lived to do things on his boat. He did lots of maintenance on the boat and had just finished putting in a new diesel tank.

"He is a great asset to the club and is going to be missed," McGregor said.

Bill ''Butcher'' Reid, an old friend who had driven up from Hamilton to pay his respects, said McNatty had found his niche in Helensville with his boat.

He was a fussy person, very particular and a good seaman, Reid said.

The Francie charter boat. Photo / Supplied
The Francie charter boat. Photo / Supplied

"Bill had a brilliant personality and a happy, dry sense of humour. He was a happy man and kept to himself," said Reid.

Susan Strassnick, who was McNatty's landlady in Helensville for 18 months before he moved to Jackson's unit, across the road from the cruising club, described the skipper as an environmentalist and "a very lateral thinking man".

"He is into alternative things and takes a very holistic approach to the world."

- NZ Herald

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