Memories of a family tragedy
In a single day, three brothers left three widows and 12 children. In October 1967, Jim, Bob and Bill Sinclair, all in their 30s, died when their boat, The Dolphin, vanished off Waikanae Beach.
They left friends and family and people who considered them to be father figures. They left memories, but now even those are vanishing.
Jim has been immortalised in a record which the family found, allowing his daughter, Carolyn Gill, to hear his voice for the first time since she was 8. She heard the three-part harmonies, recorded half a century ago, and cried.
Jim Sinclair’s voice was in there. It was hidden a little by the crackle, but it was sweet, tuneful – the voice of her father. ‘‘That was my dad singing, the only thing I have of his.’’
On the 50th anniversary of the tragedy that shook the town, the family is holding a remembrance with a difference – an open day to awaken memories, before they vanish forever. The brothers will be remembered at the Otaihanga Boating Club in an event open to the community.
Gill said the family spent 50 years ‘‘remembering what we lost, now we want to remember what we had’’.
‘‘We’re trying to find people from the community back then, who would be willing to come.’’
She was eight when her father died, and had blocked out the day it happened. ‘‘We never talked about it. We never talked about our dads, so it’s been quite emotional.’’
Jocelyn Sinclair, who was married to Jim, said the three brothers left about 9am and headed out to sea in the runabout they spent the previous summer working on.
They never returned in the afternoon as planned – their truck and trailer was left on the beach. Police launched a search but eventually the wives were sent home that night.
The next morning, Phil Tuohy, then 25, woke early to the sound of waves crashing on the beach and a growing sense of panic. The wind had come up overnight and
‘‘We never talked about it. We never talked about our dads, so it’s been quite emotional.’’
he knew the brothers were missing.
Bill and Jim Sinclair had been his bosses when he was an apprentice. He was their only staff member.
‘‘I used to idolise Bill. They taught me how to do all the evil things in life, like smoke and drink beer. If I ever had a replacement father, it would have been Bill, I used to think he was the cat’s whiskers.’’
That morning Tuohy found two of the Sinclairs on Waikanae Beach. One was in a sand spit in the middle of a stream, the other just a little to the north.
Both were in life jackets. One was Bob, the brother who ran his own building company, and the other was Tuohy’s old boss, Jim.
Bill Sinclair’s body was never found.
There were no witnesses to what happened to the Sinclairs, but police said their deaths were likely the result of an explosion, fire or sudden sinking.
The morning after the men vanished, Jocelyn Sinclair brought clothes to the beach for them. If they ever struck problems they would set up on Ka¯piti Island and they might be cold when they returned.
She saw Tuohy walking up from the beach and knew instantly from the look on his face that the worst had happened.
The police sergeant in charge sent her home. ‘‘I don’t know where the day went after that.’’
Only Bob Sinclair’s wife, Eileen McIntosh, remarried. Jocelyn and Cynthia Sinclair remain single.
The brothers were good family men and jokers, Jocelyn Sinclair said. ‘‘They weren’t pure, but they were reliable and hard working’’.
The remembrance will be held at Otaihanga Boating Club on October 22. The family will be there from 11am till 10pm.
Carolyn Gill, Jim Sinclair’s daughter The three women left as widows after the Sinclair brothers drowned, from left, Cynthia Sinclair, Eileen McIntosh, and Jocelyn Sinclair.