Stuart Pedersen had almost made it home.
The well-known Tauranga sailor and local Act Party candidate was travelling back from a trip around the Pacific Islands with wife Pamela, her brother-in-law, and fellow Tauranga sailor Bruce Goodwin.
The group was travelling in Pedersen's 47-foot yacht; a yacht he had planned to sell after this last trip.
The sailors had nearly reached Cape Brett in Northland when the yacht began filling with water in turbulent seas about 1pm on Monday.
When the group went to activate the liferaft, it blew away in 40- to 50-knot winds.
As the yacht sank around them, Goodwin activated his personal locator beacon, sparking a dramatic rescue.
But Pedersen did not survive.
The death of the seasoned sailor, who had previously successfully sailed his family around the world, was confirmed by the Tauranga Power Boat and Yacht Club hours later.
As shock hit the Tauranga community, tributes began to flow.
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Outgoing Tauranga Mayor Greg Brownless almost joined Pedersen on his island voyage.
Brownless was grief-stricken when he spoke with the Bay of Plenty Times yesterday, saying the death of his friend was "quite unbelievable".
"It's a dreadful thing. Stuart was a great guy involved in the [Bay of Plenty Sailing Academy Trust], taking kids from underprivileged backgrounds and giving them an experience they otherwise would not have gotten," Brownless said.
"He's a very compassionate person. I've always admired him for the years I've known him."
Brownless and Pedersen met through their mutual involvement with Rotary Club of Tauranga Sunrise. The two members shared a love for sailing and every Friday, they would have breakfast together.
"That was before he went off on his island journey."
Pedersen was coming back from Fiji on Monday. He invited Brownless to join him in sailing around the islands but Brownless had other commitments, such as the local body elections. Brownless last heard from Pedersen in an email last week.
"To think of his sailing around the world and to be taken just off the coast of New Zealand, nearly at home, it's horrendous. You can't believe it. It's like a very, very bad dream."
In addition to the academy, Pedersen was also known for his role as the Tauranga candidate for the Act Party, plus his involvement in the rotary club and business mentor group Enterprise Angels.
Yacht club commodore Andy Knowles said the tragedy of Pedersen's death has been hard to take.
Knowles recalled with fond laughter how he and Pedersen competed in, and won, the 2011 Coastal Challenge sailing race from Auckland to Russell.
"We only sailed [the yacht] for half an hour before setting off in the race, so that was a spectacular success."
Pedersen's involvement with the sailing academy highlighted his generous nature, Knowles said.
"Stuart was basically the guy who ran it. He put a lot of money into it as well. He had an extremely generous nature and if someone donated some money to it, he would match it every time.
"He would organise sailing days for schools and supply boats to kids, kids who weren't well off. He was pretty generous and pretty open, but he didn't suffer fools in the political sense."
Former club commodore Nick Wrinch said Pedersen's death was a "big loss" to the club.
"It's just tragic. We are just gutted. It's just horrible news. We all knew Stuart. He was a guy we all wanted a lot to do with. He was always there. The stuff he did for the kids was fantastic. He had huge energy and vision. He was just great."
Leader David Seymour said Pedersen was an "incredibly kind and hospitable man", who had the most "giving heart".
Bay of Plenty Act candidate Bruce Carley said he and Pedersen had been "very good friends".
Carley's voice cracked as he said: "He would have died making sure he saved the lives of his wife Pamela and loved ones."
At 2.47pm Monday, the Orion helicopter found Pedersen's travelling party floating in 5 to 6m swells and dropped a raft. A Westpac Rescue Helicopter then winched each of them up.
Pamela Petersen was taken to Whangarei Hospital in a critical condition. Yesterday, she was moved from the hospital's intensive care unit to a ward.
Goodwin and the brother-in-law were moderately hurt but discharged yesterday.
Pedersen's two adult sons Theo and Sven are flying back to New Zealand from overseas.
Investigations on what caused the yacht to sink and where the sailors were heading to are ongoing.
- additional reporting Caroline Fleming