The huge storms that have caused mayhem in Australia and, to a lesser extent, here, have left a calling card in Greymouth that four fishermen will never forget.
Two fishing boats – with two men on each boat – were caught in what looked like a giant washing machine at the mouth of the Grey River's notorious bar.
The Grey was in full flood after recent torrential rain and as the flood waters surged out to sea, they ran into the huge, storm-tossed waves from the Tasman Sea.
One crewman was busy taking photos, until he saw what was about to hit his trawler; the enormous waves seem to engulf the boat.
Then the surge spat the boat out and shunted it almost 180 degrees, but it takes a lot to excite a southern fisherman.
“The only thing about that was the big run in the river,” says Ray Haywood. “If you've got 10 knots of water running at you and the boat will only do eight knots you just don't go forward at all.”
They are called pressure waves and are caused buy a flooded river surging out into a disturbed ocean.
The skippers of the two boats have both negotiated the treacherous bar before, but never with so much water.
“They were quite steep at times, you get that flow coming out of the river and the waves coming together you get the up lifts of the waves a bit,” says the boat’s skipper Wayne Corbin.
“It was going sideways a few times coming in, it just seemed to be taking forever to get across,” says crewman David Haywood. “I think we might have been doing like half a knot.”
The Auckland Coastguard says the skippers correctly rode the waves, avoiding being hit side on.
But they were very lucky to have made it safely.
The Grey River bar is one of the most dangerous on the coast, even though it has been 10 years since two Southland fishermen drowned when the Koromiko flipped.
There are no laws, but the Port of Greymouth advises that if a blue light at the breakwater is flashing, conditions are dangerous and only the most skilled skippers should consider crossing.
The light was flashing today.
“We thought, ‘we'll give her a try anyhow and see how it goes’, and once you're committed you more of less got to keep going,” David Haywood says.
Onboard, a crewman captured the action.
“If I had a stubbie in my hand I would have just about busted it,” says Scott Mennell.
The bar is constantly moving and can be found anywhere from half a nautical mile from the breakwaters; both boats had spent a week fishing their way up the coast from Riverton and both skippers say they were eager to get onto dry land so decided to give it a go.
Luckily for them and their crew, that decision wasn't their last.
Skipper in hot water for risky manoeuvre
Last updated 05:00 27/06/2011
Maritime New Zealand has taken action against two Riverton skippers who crossed the Greymouth bar in rough conditions in January.
The skippers have been issued with improvement notices under the Health and Safety in Employment Act, which requires them to develop alternative plans on how to get their catch safely to shore in the future.
The skippers crossed the bar to get into port at Greymouth. The bar is notorious for the danger it poses when the Grey River is in flood.
A blue flashing light at the breakwater warned them the harbour supervisor thought the bar was too dangerous to cross, but there are no regulations to stop boaties crossing the bar in bad conditions if they want to.
MNZ spokesman Ross Henderson said the improvement notices issued acted as a warning.
"Failure to comply with the improvement notice is an offence, which can result in further regulatory action, such as the issuing of an infringement notice or a prosecution."
Skipper David Haywood, who received the improvement notice, said he had to prove to MNZ he would handle the situation differently if the Greymouth bar was in flood.
Possible diversion to Westport and contacting reliable fisherman to check the conditions before crossing, were some of the things he had implemented, he said.
Those changes had also been made to the manual on board their boat, he said.
Conditions were hard to tell when crossing the bar in January and Mr Haywood said he would implement those safety checks before making a decision next time.
He said, MNZ had probably used their case as a warning and example to other fisherman who crossed the bar in flood.
However, Former Westport harbourmaster captain David Barnes said MNZ had not gone far enough and that they should have prosecuted the skippers. He was also critical of the skippers.
Mr Barnes said MNZ had chosen an inappropriate means to take action on the incident, which showed a degradation of their statutory responsibility.
Under the Maritime Safety Act "MNZ had a duty to take a prosecution", he said.
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