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Enchanter Trial: Expert witnesses give evidence on rogue waves and weather

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The pivotal question is, should the skipper have left the Three Kings Islands? Photo / NZME

  • The court is hearing expert evidence from specialists in weather and sea navigation.
  • Lance Goodhew faces a single charge of breaching his duties as a worker on the vessel and in doing so, allegedly exposing individuals to a risk of death or serious injury.
  • The Enchanter was hired by a group of friends for a game fishing trip to the Three Kings Islands in March 2022.
  • The fishing boat capsized at North Cape, killing Geoffrey James Allen, 72, Michael Patrick Lovett, 72, Richard Eldon Bright, 63, Mark Keith Walker, 41 and Mark Kenneth Sanders, 43.

Conflicting guidance from two separate weather forecasting services has shed light on a skipper’s decision to trek a rough sea passage as the court unravels a haunting question.

Should Lance Goodhew have put the Enchanter to sea from the Three Kings Islands that ill-fated day?

During the trial of Goodhew, owner of charter boat Enchanter, at the Whangārei District Court, specialists in maritime patterns and navigation have testified, offering pivotal evidence.

Goodhew faces allegations of violating his responsibilities as a skipper, a charge directly connected to the tragic deaths of five men who were aboard his vessel.

The men spent three days fishing at the Three Kings Islands before heading south to North Cape, where they were scheduled to anchor on March 20, 2022, when a wave capsized them.

A significant front of bad weather had passed overnight, leaving behind a wake of sea patterns Maritime New Zealand alleged was too dangerous for Goodhew to operate in.

Over the last week, witnesses educated in weather and boating have given evidence about the forecast from MetService on March 20, 2022, for the Three Kings and North Cape areas.

The forecast provided by MetService for that day showed a steady escalation in weather severity, with winds and wave heights on the rise from Kaipara and Cape Brett.

Goodhew’s primary source of weather information was the PredictWind app, for which he held a paid subscription.

At 12.37 pm, just before departure, MetService issued a gale warning, predicting swells reaching up to two metres and the possibility of thunderstorms from Kaipara.

From Cape Brett, they reported 40-knot northeast winds, rough seas and poor visibility.

Despite the MetService forecast, Goodhew departed from the Three Kings with his clients around 1.30pm.

The trial so far has heard conflicting testimonies from survivors, local fishermen and weather experts on the weather at the time.

MetService weather reports on March 20, 2022.  Photo / Datawrapper
MetService weather reports on March 20, 2022. Photo / Datawrapper

PredictWind does not retain historical data, which has created a challenge for counsel to ascertain the precise weather information available to Goodhew at the time they left.

Director of Project Yachting and head of training at Coastguard Boating Education, Jason Rowledge testified that a prudent mariner would have exercised caution in such conditions and considered a longer stay at Three Kings.

“I’d be asking myself the question, do we need to leave to traverse across?” Rowledge said.

“On a passage plane with a forecast that’s marginal, you would always consider a place of safe refuge, if something goes wrong where am I going to pitfall?”

“Once I’m in the middle of nowhere, I’m in a fairly vulnerable position if something went wrong.”

Rowledge said, in his opinion, he would have only left the islands if the sea had calmed.

“What appears to be weather described by survivors and others as ‘scruffy, gnarly, lumpy and confused’, I’d hold concern as to whether my passage was going to play out in the hope it expected to be.

A locator map for The Enchanter fishing trip in March 2022. Photo / Datawrapper
A locator map for The Enchanter fishing trip in March 2022. Photo / Datawrapper

“I’m going to place my decision in that of the cautious mariner and I think there would be enough conflicting information in the forecast to suggest that staying put for longer was the more prudent decision to make,” Rowledge said.

He also believed Goodhew, who has said he was in a 50-metre depth of water at the time of capsize, was too close to the shoreline at North Cape and should have taken a wider berth.

“Given the sea state, the strength of wind, the preceding forecast and while 50 metres sounds like a significant depth of water, the proximity to the shoreline would concern me. It is too fine for my liking.”

However, Fletcher Pilditch, KC, representing Goodhew, challenged Rowledge’s testimony, citing data from the PredictWind model which suggested Goodhew’s decision to depart was not unreasonable.

The PredictWind model put winds at 20 knots, a swell of 2.5m at the time of leaving Three Kings and significant wave heights that were tracking down.

“You’re not suggesting that it would be unreasonable for the mariner to depart, given the conditions that seem to be detected and predicted here?” Pilditch asked.

“It would require investigation of possibly more data. I wasn’t there on the day and I appreciate the wind speed I heard was 35 knots at about that time. So clearly, it would appear, gusts were still gusting.” Rowledge said.

The trial continues.

Shannon Pitman is a Whangārei-based reporter for Open Justice covering courts in the Te Tai Tōkerau region. She is of Ngāpuhi/ Ngāti Pūkenga descent and has worked in digital media for the past five years. She joined NZME in 2023.

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