The skipper of a 7.5m yacht which disappeared in Foveaux Strait in April last year with himself and two German tourists aboard had limited sailing experience and said he'd taught himself to sail by watching You Tube clips, his work colleague said.
A coroner's inquest in Invercargill today was told Andre Kinzler, 33, either did not hear or ignored a weather forecast for gale force winds, high seas, rain and poor visibility when he decided to set sail from Bluff on April 16, and did not carry a fixed radio which would have enabled him to call for help when he struck trouble.
After hearing from half a dozen witnesses, Coroner David Crerar said his prelimary view was Mr Kinzler and his passengers Lea Tietz and Veronika Steudler, both 19, died on or about April 16 in Foveaux Strait after the yacht Munetra sank.
The vessel and the bodies have never been found, despite an exhaustive search at the time and ongoing inquiries.
Ms Tietz' mother Anke Tietz was in court, assisted by an interpreter.
Mr Crerar said his formal finding would be given to the families before being released to the media.
Winton dairy farm manager Cody Hunt said Mr Kinzler already owned the Munetra when he went to work on the farm in May, 2013.
Mr Kinzler told his work colleagues he moored the Munetra at Bluff and talked about looking at You Tube clips to pick up sailing techniques, about sailing it once or twice in Bluff Harbour, and about making a successful voyage to Stewart Island. In March last year he told them he had attempted to sail to Preservation Inlet, on the southern tip of Fiordland, with two more experienced sailors but turned back because of bad weather.
Mr Hunt said Ms Tietz spent about a week at the farm with Mr Kinzler in March last year and Mr Kinzler told his colleagues of the plan for himself, Ms Tietz and her friend Ms Stuedler to sail to Preservation Inlet.
"We told him how rough the seas could be in Foveaux Strait and Fiordland and to 'sit it out' if the weather turned bad," Mr Hunt said.
He said Mr Kinzler had mentioned problems with the yacht's auxilliary motor but believed Mr Kinzler had fixed it before the trip in April.
Bluff Fishermen's Radio operator Marie Leask described Mr Kinzler as a "poor communicator" who had not talked to her before he left about his trip, his precise intended destination or the weather forecast.
She said Mr Kinzler texted her about 1pm on April 16 saying he was headed for Preservation Inlet.
"I replied and asked had he checked the forecast as it was bad. In my view, the weather was marginal for a yacht of that size."
She received another text after 7pm from someone saying they were near Centre Island, off Colac Bay, and "all [was] good".
She texted him back asking if the message was from Munetra.
"He said it was and apologised for his poor communications...."
The last message from Mr Kinzler was another text to Mrs Leak about 9.30pm.
Mr Kinzler "didn't seem to understand the importance of communicating where he was going" and didn't understand the fisherman's radio service system, Mrs Leask said.
He also should have had a fitted radio on board rather than just a hand-held radio and a cellphone which were unusable in most parts of Foveaux Strait and Fiordland because of a lack of coverage.
Through her intepreter, Mrs Tietz asked whether Mr Kinzler would have, or should have, been aware of the weather forecast, and whether Mrs Leask had told him about it after his text at 1pm.
Mrs Leask said she had no chance to tell him about it before he left Bluff. Detailed marine forecasts were broadcast twice daily by herself and also available elsewhere including on the internet.
"All he had to do was listen to a forecast, or just ask me if he missed the scheduled broadcast."
Bluff locals also regularly talked about the weather with anyone planning to leave port, she said.
To Mr Crerar, she said unlike many other skippers, Mr Kinzler had never talked to her in person about his trips or his plans since he had owned the Munetra. Neither had they met.
"If I had had a chance to talk to him [on April 16], I would have told him the sea that day was no place for a small boat."
The trio was due back at Bluff on April 22 and had arranged for another German tourist, Julie Islei, to meet them. When they did not turn up
that day or the next, the police were informed.
Search co-ordinator Sergeant David Kennelly said an area of 80,000sq nautical miles was searched over 11 days by air, sea and on land.
A liferaft in bad condition was found washed up on a Stewart Island beach on May 2 and a squab identified as being from the Munetra was found near Monkey Island, Te Waewae Bay, on May 6.
Detective Sergeant John Kean said there was nothing in Mr Kinzler's background to indicate he had any sinister intentions towards his passengers, who it appeared had gone with him "as part of their adventure" in New Zealand.
None of the trio had used their cellphones, bank accounts or passports since April 16 and police believed they had drowned, he said.