The New Zealand Herald
Skipper died saving others
Inquiry finding that boatie’s actions saved lives of three crew ‘just so true’
TIt’s just tragic and desperately upsetting that we couldn’t do the same for him.
Pamela Pedersen Stuart Pedersen’s widow
he widow of the skipper who died when their yacht sank in wild seas off Northland is backing a change to safety regulations which could prevent a similar tragedy in future.
Pamela Pedersen also described a Maritime NZ finding, that her husband Stuart Pedersen’s actions as skipper of Essence after it foundered were instrumental in saving the lives of his three crew, as “just so true”.
“It’s just tragic and desperately upsetting that we couldn’t do the same for him,” said Pedersen, one of the three survivors.
An investigation into the October 14, 2019 sinking of the 14.3m Ocean series Bavaria centre cockpit yacht revealed storm covers — fitted to protect cabin windows — could have prevented loss of life.
Safety regulations have now been updated to prevent similar incidents in the future, Maritime NZ said yesterday in its report into the sinking.
Vessels sailing from New Zealand at the time weren’t required to have storm covers fitted, Maritime NZ’s northern compliance manager Neil Rowarth said.
“Following the recommendations of the report, Maritime NZ has worked in collaboration with Yachting NZ to amend the safety regulations to require storm covers to be positioned on windows over a certain size on sailing vessels.”
Pedersen said she “fully supports” the move.
They had storm covers on board, but it wasn’t common practice at the time to fit them until needed, she said.
The Mt Maunganui couple were sailing home from Fiji with Pamela’s brother-in-law Steve Newman and Bruce Goodwin, a member of the Tauranga Yacht and Power Boat Club, when they got into trouble in wild seas 37km off Northland’s Cape Brett.
All four were plucked from the water by air rescuers, but Stuart Pedersen died just before reaching safety.
The three survivors spoke to the Herald last year about their rescue by the Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter, supported by the Royal New Zealand Air Force, who dropped a liferaft from an Orion aircraft.
When the rescue helicopter crew winched down a paramedic, Newman and Goodwin were in the raft holding the Pedersens, who were still in the water, tangled in ropes.
Pamela Pedersen’s eyes were open, but the mother of two was greyblue in the face and non-responsive, Goodwin said last year of his efforts keeping her head above water.
Speaking to the Herald last year, Goodwin described the moment Essence was fatally damaged, and lost its emergency position indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) and liferaft at the same time.
He was on deck with Stuart Pedersen, while Pamela Pedersen and Newman were in the cabin.
“We started to rise up a wave ... [then] rolled over, and I went into free fall. I remember snapping up on to the end of my harnesses in mid-air, and then all of a sudden I was pushed under water — the boat went right over, and it dragged along at quite a speed because the boat was travelling between 7.5 and 8.5 knots.”
Essence righted, but the cabin had been breached, said Pedersen. “All of a sudden Stevie and I were on the saloon floor, water over our heads, with stuff on top of us, like the table and the stairs. I had a blow to my head and ankle, and I didn’t even know which way was up. All I knew was I was under water.”
When she got back on her feet, she saw “incredible amounts of water just gush through big gaping windows”.
She put out a mayday call over the VHF marine radio.
Later, Stuart Pedersen rallied his crew as they waited, tethered together, for rescue, she said. “He took charge and was encouraging us.”
The four crew were all experienced and had prepared for the forecast heavy weather, said Rowarth, the Maritime NZ manager.
The yacht, which was maintained to a high standard, had all hatches checked and loose gear secured.
Storm sails were prepared and a storm drogue had been deployed to help make the vessel easier to control in heavy weather, Rowarth said.
But storm covers weren’t fitted to cabin windows — prompting the new rule changes. “The tragic story of the Essence should prompt others venturing offshore to take notice, read the report and make changes to their vessels and procedures.”
As conditions worsened, the crew described a series of semi-knockdowns during which waves broke on to the cockpit.
“During the final severe knockdown crew saw the starboard windows explode, followed by an inundation of water below deck.”
There was “considerable damage” and by now the vessel was sinking.
“A distress message was sent, a personal locator beacon [PLB] activated and the decision taken to abandon ship.
“The liferaft had been washed off deck so the crew had to abandon into the water,” Rowarth said.
After about two hours, the crew were spotted by the Orion crew.
Rescue helicopter paramedic Karl Taylor described the rescue as the most complex of his career.
The 20-year veteran was winched into the water and had to duck below the surface in 10m-high seas to cut the Pedersens — still holding hands — free from a tangle of ropes, lines and drogues, he told the Herald.
“I felt like I was doing a 400m sprint while holding my breath and being beaten around by the waves.”