Queenstown harbourmaster warns boaties

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Queenstown’s harbourmaster is warning boaties to be vigilant about their boat moorings after two craft sank last week. 

Two private boats near Kelvin Heights went under on Friday after high winds that veteran harbourmaster Marty Black called the “strongest easterlies we’ve had for a few years”.

Black helped coordinate the retrieval – one was hanging off the side of a jetty and completely submerged while the other was on the bottom of the lake but still visible and not in deep water.

It’s understood the boats sank after gradually taking on water in the choppy conditions, Black says.

“It’s unusual to get an easterly that strong but we’ve had a bit of it lately. It just shows even with a good boat, it pays to check them and to keep an eye on them.

“It can be quite an expensive exercise [retrieving them] once you get divers and airbags. It does cost to do these jobs,” Black says.

“There’s a message – check your boats on their mooring, make sure you keep a good eye on it and ideally you should have an automatic bilge hooked up.”

Black is yet to pin down exact costs but estimates retrieval for each boat cost $1000 to $2000.

Work on rescuing them couldn’t begin till Sunday when divers and others with airbag experience to refloat the boats were available, he says, adding: “The main thing is not to put anyone at risk.

“When you do these jobs you’ve got to have trained people and not put anyone at risk or do any further damage to the boat.

“You’ve just got to be careful – you’re dealing with a lot of weight and water and if you get it wrong and one of them goes, you can really do yourself or anyone major damage. You can always get another boat.”

Black says three airbags were used to bring the first boat hanging off the jetty back to the surface.

A shortage of air meant using just one to lift the second off the bottom of the lake and drag it slowly close to shore to tip it up.

Black says wind was so strong it even prevented Queenstown’s famed steamship the TSS Earnslaw from making it to Walter Peak.

Real Journeys communications boss Lenska Papich confirms it cancelled two Earnslaw trips after a veteran skipper and operations manager decided wind conditions were too strong to get customers safely “alongside” at Walter Peak.

“This doesn’t happen very often – maybe once a year – but we take the conditions on the lake and the safety of our passengers and crew very seriously and will therefore cancel sailings in such situations,” Papich says.