Mem­o­ries of a fam­ily tragedy

The Horowhenua Mail - - FRONT PAGE - JOEL MAXWELL

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.

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