Saturday, August 23, 2014

The 3 day July Storm

 24th August


Salvaging "The Spirit of Nyami Nyami" a week after the storm
An unusual High was positioned to the East of NZ, and formed a ridge which stalled the normal westerly flow of lows passing over the country. Two such lows merged and combined to produce a storm which many Kiwis regard as the worst they have seen in 50 years.

Day 2......the worst was over
 It produced very high winds (50-90knots), heavy rainfalls and flooding, and road wash aways. About 40 boats dragged on their mooring blocks. Two yachts dragged their blocks, and ended up being pounded, and sunk on the Marina Breakwater. Numerous other boats were damaged, as they thrashed around on blocks with inadequate swing room between them. Given the extreme tidal currents, keelboats swung one way, while cats and power boats reacted more to the high winds.


Sala and Nyami Nyami sank on the breakwater 

Blown over in a nearby boatyard
Sala being raised and towed to the yard
 It also produced a degree of ducking and diving by  Marina, club, Provincial, and Insurance officials, of truly  Olympic proportions, as everybody tried to pass the buck, and pass everything off as “an act of God”. All I can say is that the bad taste left in my mouth, when all is said and done, had nothing to do with “an act of God”! Don Walker, had rented a 4 ton block from the Opua Cruising Club, and believed that his boat would be safe. 

Divers operating in zero viz.......note spotlight and video
camera on helmet
Stern damage
Nyami Nyami finally reaches the yard after 9 days
on the seabed

 At about 5pm on the 8th July, when the wind was gusting 50-60knots, Don called the Harbour Master for assistance, as he became aware of a power boat caught  between his mooring line and bow. In fact “Spirit of Nyami Nyami” was dragging its 4 ton block, and had collected the power boat in its path. It also took the yacht ” Salo” and before too long, they were all being smashed up on the breakwater, with “Spirit” still connected to his 4 ton mooring block.
Don was eventually rescued from the breakwater by Nick, the South African Ashbys Boatyard manager, with only his briefcase, and the clothes he was wearing. He was uninsured. He was made to sign over his boat to offset salvage costs. He lost everything. The club took no responsibility for the block dragging, and in fact sent him a letter asking him when and how he was going to put their block back in place!

What a sad sight!



Every mooring block is privately owned, but the exact positioning, and the size  (weight/length) of boat permitted, and the maintenance , is all controlled by the Northland Council. They too, take no responsibility for the failure of any block to ensure the safety of boats moored to them.

They do however have a public liability insurance cover, which was utilized to proceed with the removal of the “wrecks”, which now posed a navigational hazard.  The Insurance company involved are trying to pressure Don to make good their costs!

I helped Don, together with his daughter and other local friends try to salvage some of his personal effects from the mud filled boat, when it was finally lifted, and it was a very sad affair. The costs being charged by all concerned parties far exceed the salvage value. Don is walking away with nothing.

Don with the carving of Nyami Nyami
 rescued from the yacht
“Sheer Tenacity” was also moored on a 4 ton block, rented from the OCC. During the fiercest first night, our block never budged. Our Air X Marine windgen blew itself to pieces as the resistors popped and the blades delaminated, making a frightening noise all the while. In the early hours, the sound of waves bashing our sides changed to the extent that Mary looked out the cockpit, and discovered that we were being attacked  on our stern, by the big wooden barge “Glyn Bird”, which was lying 180degrees to ourselves. We started the engine, and spent the next few hours trying to power our way clear of “Glyn Bird’s” movements, mostly with success. We damaged our drogue chain plates, stern rails, the braai, and some paintwork.

Glyn Bird with our vacated mooring ball in
 the foreground in the calm after the storm
At first light we abandoned the mooring block, and moored up on the inside of the breakwater, beam on to the wind and waves, but at least safe from the barge which could easily have sunk us. We have a transom hung rudder which was extremely vulnerable. Fortunately, it had a few scrapes but was intact.

Safe but very uncomfortable
        As the tide changed we would trap debris
 between the breakwater and the hull
........From dead cows to trees, snails, spiders etc


We advised the OCC that there was insufficient swing room on buoy 470, and that we would not be returning to it. They refused to refund the months mooring rental, saying it was not club policy.
It now transpires that the Northland council have knowingly allowed a 20% overlap of swing areas, in an effort to fit in more mooring blocks, to meet demand. They believe all boats swing together! Ask any keelboat skipper that question, and he will tell you all about Cats and Power boats behaving very differently!

A couple of questions beg to be asked. Where does the buck stop?
1)    Has a boat owner the right to expect his rented, “hurricane” class mooring block to keep him secure in a storm?

2)    When Mooring authorities deliberately position blocks with an overlapped swing room, is any damage really “an act of God”, or, rather, someone’s stupidity?

3)    When nearly 40 4 ton blocks drag, should not the design of the blocks be questioned?

Given the number of meetings and debates that are ongoing, Opua has clearly not seen the final outcome of this “wake up call”. One can only hope that sensible lessons have been learnt, and policy changes implemented.
E.G. Any boat wishing to rent a berth in the Marina must have insurance. If they do not have insurance, they are required to take out inexpensive short term daily insurance, mainly to protect 3rd parties. Why then does the same not apply when renting a buoy?


On a more positive note, it should be noted that every mooring block is lifted from the seabed, and inspected every 3 years, by one of 3 certified operators. Any worn tackle, chain, shackles, anti-chafe protection, is replaced. To the best of my knowledge, no mooring tackle actually broke during the storm.  

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