"Complete and utter stupidity" is how Westport's harbourmaster describes the behaviour of a local yachtie who crossed the bar while it was closed on New Year's Day.
Mike Graham said not only did the man endanger his own life and that of his female companion but also the lives of three others who went to help.
Greymouth police sergeant Paul Watson said the man was later breath-tested by police and blew over 400mcg. The legal limit for motorists is 250mcg per litre of breath.
Graham said he had closed the Buller River bar at 9am on Sunday due to dangerous conditions after heavy rain overnight.
"The bar was white water right across and there was an incredible run in the river."
He advised the Rescue Co-ordination Centre New Zealand in Wellington and it broadcast messages each hour to say the bar was closed, Graham said.
His biggest concern had been people going out from the new boat ramp at the Westport floating basin, so he put up a sign there saying the bar was closed.
"I monitored the situation during the day making regular visits to the boat ramp and the bar and was pleased to see all appeared quiet."
Then he got a call at 5.15pm from a member of the public asking if he knew there was a small yacht trying to make it into the river.
Graham said he immediately went to the breakwater to see what was happening and realised the man and woman onboard were in grave danger.
"I got one of the local fishermen, as he has a faster boat than me. We went down and the yacht was just about across the bar.
"It was more luck than anything else - at one point his mast hit the top of the wave so that shows how far over he was."
He said the two very experienced fishermen with him could not believe that the yacht got out, nor that it got back in.
"He was so lucky that he didn't turn that boat over."
Graham said they then offered the yachtie a tow to help him make it back up the river more quickly but he refused and instead abused and threatened them.
"It was diabolical really."
Graham said they stayed with the yacht until it was safely in the fishing lagoon. At times their speed was just half a knot which showed how strong the run in the river was, despite it having eased.
"The saddest thing about the whole situation is that not only were the lives of the people onboard the yacht in danger, but the three people who went out to assist.
"At no time did the owner show any remorse - just foul-mouthed abuse directed towards the people that were there to assist."
The rescue party was on the water for about two hours.
Graham said he did not deal with the sailor afterwards because of his abusive attitude and left him to the police.
However, the boatie had clearly breached the Maritime Transport Act. The harbourmaster planned to consult a maritime lawyer in Nelson about further action. Graham said this discussion would include the outcome of the breath test.
The Act included significant penalties for transgressions, including large fines and imprisonment, he said.
"His attitude was just unbelievable - he just couldn't care less. If he'd gone into the water we'd have had to get him out.
"This situation highlights the stupidity of people and their lack of consideration for the safety of not only themselves, but for people that come to their assistance."
The man would have received an information package from Westport Harbour with safety messages, one of which is the national code of practice for bar crossing, Graham said.
"You are required to call me before you leave the harbour anyway and obviously this guy didn't."
The plaques at the Westport breakwater for people who have lost their lives crossing the bar, and the recent Kaipara tragedy when seven men died, should be enough to warn of bar danger.
Graham said he was grateful to local fishermen Curly James and Malcom Brace who responded rapidly to his request for assistance.
- Westport News