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Skipper of vessel that capsized on Auckland’s Manukau Harbour describes dramatic rescue

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The skipper of a boat that capsized on the notorious Manukau bar at the weekend, prompting a courageous rescue mission, says he feared for his life but knew he could cling on until help arrived.

Two stricken boaties were plucked to safety on Sunday afternoon after their vessel capsized in Auckland’s Manukau Harbour.

Speaking to the Herald, the skipper, who wished to remain anonymous, said he’s been a boatie for about 16 years and crossed the Manukau bar over 150 times in the past.

He and a friend had been out fishing all day and were making their way back to Little Huia Boat Ramp in West Auckland, where they launched on Sunday morning.

When they approached the bar about 2pm, which was high tide, two other boats were in front of them.

“The first boat filed a bar report, which we obviously heard over the radio and he said the bar was fine, so we followed behind the other boat.”

The skipper said the crossing was “a little more difficult” than he expected it to be and described it as “pretty gnarly”.

“I was probably 200m from being through the bar when I got a little bit sideways and broached. For some reason the wave just outran me a little bit and I couldn’t get enough speed to stay on top of it.

“The wave from behind caught up with us and the boat turned and flipped.”

He said in a matter of seconds, the pair were in the water.

“My mate came flying past me, I think he bumped into me as well. He got out of the boat and climbed on top and I spent a few more seconds down there trying to find the EPIRB before I decided to bail and swim out.”

The Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter attends to the rescue of two men after their boat flipped on the Manukau bar. Photo / Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust
The Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter attends to the rescue of two men after their boat flipped on the Manukau bar. Photo / Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust

The skipper said the pair knew they had to stay with the vessel, as it is easier to spot than a person swimming away.

The pair were standing on the boat’s bow rail for around half an hour, thinking about how to survive.

“My mate and I were talking to each other, asking if each other were okay and saying we would see this through… you feel a bit of camaraderie in a situation like that.”

Just after 2pm, a member of the public contacted Coastguard’s operations centre after spotting the capsized vessel.

Auckland Coastguard Air Patrol and Coastguard Waiuku volunteers were immediately dispatched to the scene.

The Coastguard search aircraft arrived at 2.17pm, sending exact location details to Coastguard’s operations centre.

“They stayed on the scene monitoring the situation until the police Eagle helicopter arrived and took the lead on the rescue efforts,” a coastguard spokesperson said.

A member of the public rushed to the pair’s aid on a jet ski, to which the skipper told his friend to go with them as he was cold and shivering.

“On the first approach from the jet ski, they almost capsized it. They managed to pick up my mate on the second approach and took him to Whatipu Beach,” the skipper said.

A New Zealand Coastguard Waiuku boat negotiates the Manukau Harbour bar, to highlight the dangers of the notoriously challenging Manukau bar. Photo / Brett Phibbs
A New Zealand Coastguard Waiuku boat negotiates the Manukau Harbour bar, to highlight the dangers of the notoriously challenging Manukau bar. Photo / Brett Phibbs

While the skipper was alone on the boat, Westpac Rescue Helicopter joined the effort and managed to winch him to safety.

“I can’t tell you the relief when I saw the Westpac Helicopter appear… My immediate response when I got on the helicopter was to ask if my mate was safe.

“I was more worried for my mate than I was for myself because of the responsibility of being the skipper,” he said.

The skipper, who said he is always very meticulous with his preparation and taking care, has played the situation over and over again in his mind.

“I’m experienced, I’ve had bar crossing training, I prepared well and I’ve been a boatie for the better part of 16 years, but even with all of that, things do go wrong.”

He didn’t believe he could’ve performed better on the crossing itself but has learnt to always have a PLB or EPIRB on him at all times.

In a statement on Sunday, Coastguard said the skipper of the capsized vessel did the right thing by logging a bar crossing trip report with its operations centre at 1.44pm.

“Per our protocols, if we hadn’t heard from them by 2.14 pm, we would have initiated a search-and-rescue response. Luckily, a member of the public called us first.”

The skipper said they were extremely grateful for the efforts of Police, Coastguard, Westpac and the member of the public who called to report the capsized vessel, as well as the courageous jet skier who rescued his friend.

Coastguard praised the person who raised the alarm and the actions of the skipper, as well as staff and volunteers involved in Sunday’s rescue. Their actions led to a quick response and successful outcome.

“Coastguard wants to remind all boaties about the importance of logging a trip report when crossing a bar, carrying two forms of waterproof communication, including an Epirb and/or a PLB, and always wearing a life jacket.”

The skipper said he had received a call from a farmer on Sunday night saying the boat had washed up on the Āwhitu Peninsula.

“The farmer’s words to me were that it looks a bit beaten up… It’s on its side so it’ll be water logged, sand logged and all the electronics will be fried so it’s pretty much scrap metal.

“I haven’t been able to see it yet but I’ll be surprised if anything is left in the boat,” he said.

The skipper said his confidence has definitely taken a knock after the incident but needs to “get back on that horse again”.

Benjamin Plummer is an Auckland-based reporter who covers breaking news. He has worked for the Herald since 2022.



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