Tess Nichol is an NZME. News Service reporter.

Kaipara community in shock following death of seven men in boating tragedy

Flowers on the flag pole at the Kaipara Cruising and Sportfishing Club in Helensville to honour the drowned fishermen. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Flowers on the flag pole at the Kaipara Cruising and Sportfishing Club in Helensville to honour the drowned fishermen. Photo / Jason Oxenham

There's a chill in the air at the Kaipara Cruising and Sportfishing club - strong winds whipping the flag lowered to half mast into a frenzy on the front lawn.

At the flagpole's base there's a small collection of colourful flowers and a rope of Tongan shells next to the bouquets.

As teams search for the eighth and final member of Saturday's fishing group, local boaties are mourning the loss of one of their own.

Flowers at the Kaipara Cruising and Sportfishing Club in Helensville in honour of the victims. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Flowers at the Kaipara Cruising and Sportfishing Club in Helensville in honour of the victims. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Eleven men were thrown into the water when the boat they were on for a chartered fishing trip capsized in rough seas while trying to cross the bar in the Kaipara Harbour.

Three men survived the tragedy but at least seven people died, including the Francie's skipper.

An eighth man is still missing, presumed dead.

Back at the fishing club, a single red rose is knotted into the rope where it winds around the pole, holding the flag in place.

Red, blue and orange flax weavings interspersed between the flower pots at the poles base point to the heritage of the friends on the charter, all of whom were Pacific Islanders.

The cars the group of friends arrived in for their monthly get together have gone, leaving the small boat yard nearly empty. The brightly coloured petals are the only evidence something could be awry.

Two club members sit in their cars quietly, the only sound the flapping of the flag.

Hayden Fletcher, who knew skipper Bill McNatty for ten years, is waiting for the man who mows the lawns to arrive.

Around the bunches of flowers he erects a cardboard wall to keep the tributes safe while the chore is carried out.

Victim Fonua Taufa has been remembered as "the most humble man". Photo / Facebook
Victim Fonua Taufa has been remembered as "the most humble man". Photo / Facebook

Fletcher said he was still coming to terms with losing McNatty, his mate of a decade.

"It's a crazy feeling really, just how quick it happened."

People had gathered at the fishing club last night to pay their respects to McNatty, who was well regarded by his peers.

"Down here we're all family," he said.

"We were just mourning and having beers, sharing stories."

McNattys partner had dropped by yesterday morning but Fletcher said he did not know her very well and was unsure how she was holding up.

Sunia 'Junior' Ungo'unga (L) and Alipate 'Pate' Manumu'a, two of the seven men confirmed dead in the sinking of the Francie at Kaipara Harbour. Photos / Supplied
Sunia 'Junior' Ungo'unga (L) and Alipate 'Pate' Manumu'a, two of the seven men confirmed dead in the sinking of the Francie at Kaipara Harbour. Photos / Supplied

Another fishing club member, who asked not to be named, said he saw McNatty at the docks nearly every day.

He didn't see the skipper, who had a "wealth of knowledge" about boating, on that fateful morning but he noticed the Francie was gone when he arrived.

The mood had been subdued the last few days as people came to grips with the loss of their friend, he said.

"It's certainly a catalyst to bring everyone together."

In the town there was shock at the fatal maritime accident, one of New Zealand's worst in years, but for the most part life has carried on as usual.

The Mitre 10 across the road from the fishing club has its flag flying at half mast, but for most shop owners the mood in Kaipara is mostly unchanged.

The owner of a local craft shop said it was too early to tell how the tragic accident had affected residents.

The Francie charter boat which capsized in the Kaipara Harbour. Photo / Facebook
The Francie charter boat which capsized in the Kaipara Harbour. Photo / Facebook

People had been keeping their thoughts about it to themselves, she told the Herald.

Fruit and vegetable shop owner Abraham Van Dijon works around the corner from the fishing club.

"Everybody's in shock," he said.

"It makes you aware of how dangerous the harbour can be."

- NZ Herald

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