Collision And Sinking

Collision And Sinking

To put the events of 30 January 2012 into context, it may be helpful to back-track to the previous spring and the beginning of the 2011/2012 Classic racing season.

Photo of Gypsy taken 1 hour before sinking

We started that season with high hopes for Gypsy. By October, she was back in the water with that year’s restoration work completed, fresh antifouling and all ready to make her mark. We hoped that this would be Gypsy’s Season.

Our warm-up race was the 60th anniversary regatta of the Kawau Island Yacht Club. We were competing in the classic division with a number of other CYA boats plus some modern classics

For crew, we had long time crewmen John Sinclair and Graham Russell, plus two other very experienced old salts with over 300 years of experience between us. We had a great race, a great day out and a wonderful start to the season.

Early December was the much loved Patio Bay race run by the Classic Yacht Association which ends up at beautiful Patio Bay on Waiheke Island. It is a Mark Foy race and being the smallest boat, we were meant to start first. In fact, we were late to the start line and started third. (I blamed the crew). After a very challenging sail, we crossed the finish line ahead of everybody else and won the race.

Our next classic outing was the Mahurangi Classic Regatta in beautiful Mahurangi Harbour. This is a real mixed bag of an event with large numbers of classic craft ranging in size from 22 ft to 72 ft all racing together around a harbour course. We didn’t come first, but we did win the Dawdle trophy for the 20th boat over the finish line. Not bad for a 34 ft boat.

The next day (January 29) was the annual Mahurangi to Auckland race organised by the CYA. Again we started late  and encountered some of the most challenging conditions I have ever raced in (30-35 knot winds and big seas). Gypsy was in her element. We had a reef in the main plus 150% Genoa and she really flew. At the finish we were first on handicap and first over the line. We were wet, cold, elated, and looking forward to the return race the next day. Most of the classic yachts involved in the race, berthed in The Viaduct that night ready for the Anniversary Regatta races the following day.

Auckland Anniversary day dawned bright & clear with much calmer conditions than on the previous day. We were asked to vacate The Viaduct early as our berths were required for other vessels and thus we motored out shortly after 9 a.m. with time to fill in until the start of our race at 11.a.m.

We motored around the harbour for an hour or so, taking in the sights as we went. Around 10:45 we raised sail preparatory to being at the start line at 11:00. With an incoming tide and initially no wind, we drifted further and further away from the start line for a frustrating hour or too, but eventually, a light north easterly breeze came up and we started to make progress toward and, finally over the start line.

Tacking back and forth across the harbour, we had gone about on the southern side and were heading at a very slow speed back toward Stanley Point, when I noticed a vessel under power approaching from down the harbour.

As we were under sail and the other boat was motoring. We were clearly the stand- on vessel and there appeared to be ample time for the other vessel to alter course to starboard to avoid us. At that stage, the recommended action for Gypsy to alter course to starboard, to avoid a collision was clearly not viable, given our very slow speed and the fact that to do so would have hastened the collision rather than prevented it. Thus we continued on, waiting for the other vessel to change their course.

Unfortunately, that failed to happen

Gypsy was hit just forward of amidships by the bow of the other vessel which then rode part way up and over the cabin and decks severely injuring Jill in the process. I was fortunate enough to be able to jump clear just before the impact.

As I surfaced, I looked back and could see Jill helpless and injured in Gypsy’s cockpit, which at that stage, was full of water. As I swam toward her, she disappeared below the surface at the same time as Gypsy sank from sight. By the time I reached the spot, she had resurfaced but was unable to swim or help herself in any way. Fortunately, I remembered my life saving training from High School and was able to swim with her over to the other vessel. The other skipper jumped into the water with a life ring and between us we were able to get her aboard the other vessel. At this time it was obvious that Jill’s injuries were somewhere around her spine, she was in terrible pain and the initial worry was vertebrae damage and possible paralysis.

It was one of the most worrying times of my life.

Post Script

Following Gypsy’s sinking and retrieval from the Bottom of Auckland Harbour, we began to think of some way of keeping her memory alive. We came up with the idea of having a Gypsy trophy made, which could be presented to the winner of the annual Easter race run by the Mahurangi Cruising Club at Kawau Island. (This is a race that we have won a number of times in the past, but for which there has never been a trophy).

Shipwright Colin Brown created a rather striking trophy for us.

As you will see from the photos, it features one of the twisted bronze window surrounds from Gypsy’s cabin mounted on a scale model of Gypsy’s hull, crafted from recycled timbers from various old vessels.

The inaugural winner of the trophy was very fittingly, Gypsy crewmate John Sinclair in his yacht “John”.