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Close call on rugged coast

Two men are lucky to be alive, thanks to the heroic rescue efforts of three local fishermen after a yacht was caught in wild weather on Wednesday night.

The 15 metre vessel was stationed just off the coast at Flat Point when it suffered a rudder malfunction just after 9pm. The rough sea conditions meant the anchor was ripped from the deck in the swell when the crew tried to anchor against the storm.

Enveloped in darkness and thick fog, the yacht was pushed by a heavy current towards the rocky coastline.

Wairarapa Police Area Commander Inspector Scott Miller said the severity of the weather conditions meant it was too dangerous to launch a helicopter rescue in the dark.

“Due to the urgency of the situation, the closest vessel to help was a nearby local fishing asset, Tai Kahu,” said Miller.

“Their skipper and crew deployed to the location of the stricken yacht immediately.”

The Tai Kahu rescue crew – skipper Johnny Burkhart, crew member Mark Anderson, and Luke Mckay [a crew member from another commercial vessel] – made it to the yacht at about 11.45pm using boat lights and GPS.

Burkhart believes there could have been deaths or massive injuries if they had arrived
even five minutes later.

“We just gassed it,” said Burkhart.

“It was pitch black and foggy, in three-metre swells and rough sea – it looked like they were about to hit the rocks already.”

Burkhart said the sea was too rough to nose up next to the yacht, and there were huge waves crashing over the roof of their boat.

“I told the boys ‘We’ve got about two minutes to get them off the boat and into the water where we can retrieve them’.”

Once the two yachties were hauled aboard the rescue boat with a rope, they were wrapped in blankets and transported as quickly as possible to the hospital. Burkhart said the pair were physically weakened and in shock, “spewing and hypothermic”.

The yacht had to be left to the mercy of the ocean for the rest of the night, as the sea was becoming wilder.

It was found further up the coast the next day.

“We drove as far up the coast as possible and walked the last three kilometres,” said Burkhart.

“It’s pretty smashed up.”

Burkhart and other Tai Kahu crew have undertaken previous rescue missions along the Flat Point coastline.

“This east coast is rugged. It’s obviously a remote part of the coastline, and we were just in time,” Burkhart said.

Police said a second vessel was on stand-by from Castlepoint but didn’t need to be deployed.

Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age, originally hailing from Wellington. She is interested in social issues and writes about the local arts and culture scene.

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