Enchanter tragedy: Mangonui in shock as locals learn of sinking and loss of life

It didn’t take long for the sinking of Enchanter to be known at its home port of Mangonui. For about 12 hours, the news broke like a slow-moving wave.

The wave of horror receded with the discovery skipper Lance Goodhew and deckie Kobe O’Neill had survived the sinking.

And then it surged back as rescuers recovered body after body through the course of the day. As it stands, five survived and four died – one remains missing – in a fishing trip that set out from the Northland town to those far-flung islands beyond Cape Reinga, Manawatāwhi/Three Kings.

The cluster of islands is legendary in fishing circles. For many hard-core anglers, it’s an obtainable Everest of fishing and Goodhew one of its most successful guides.

One Mangonui skipper told the Herald first reports filtered through around 8pm, not long after the emergency locator beacon signal sent an alert to the Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Wellington.

That kicked into gear its rescue process which saw calls go out to all those who could help. It meant those in Mangonui knew Enchanter was in serious strife within minutes of the emergency locator beacon activation and long before the boat actually sank.

The Enchanter’s sister vessel the Cova Rose was tied up at Mangonui wharf preparing for its own charter trip with an eager bunch of anglers from Christchurch.

The weather forecast of serious rain and wind had put off departure until Monday. “Then the Cova Rose got rung (about Enchanter),” said the former skipper. “They were all getting ready to go (on the charter).”

The news Goodhew was in strife was a lightning bolt. It spurred the rapid mobilisation of the third sister vessel, the Pacific Intruder, skippered by Goodhew’s mate Rhys Lark.

“Pacific Intruder got up there about midnight,” the Herald was told, suggesting the boat was powering hell-for-leather through a ferocious storm.

Mary Roberts was tucked up in bed by that time but it wasn’t much of a night for sleep. Lastweek, she had served up dinner at the Mangonui Takeaways for the group of men heading off on the charter.

It wasn’t uncommon for Goodhew to bring clients through for a feed before setting off. The fish-and-chip shop over the water might be Mangonui’s best known but it’s the one out the back of the pub that tends to be frequented by locals.

Roberts heard the Royal NZ Air Force’s P3 Orion fly over about 1am. It’s a sound that never bodes well – it means someone, somewhere, is in a world of trouble.

About a half-hour later, her son Nate called. He used to crew with Goodhew and had heard the news. Rain lashing on the roof, wind whipping against the house, Roberts listened to her boy talk of what he knew about the Enchanter.

“He was really upset,” she says.”It’s bloody devastating, especially when you know the men. It’s just like one of your brothers, isn’t it?”

Roberts explained it the way others in Mangonui did – the shock at hearing Goodhew and O’Neill had their boat sink beneath them, the discovery they lived, the fresh shock that others did not.

“You do feel for their families. The whole community will awhi (embrace) them.”

Goodhew and O’Neill were out of the water and in hospital before dawn broke. It wasn’t something Mangonui knew until around midday.

It meant when the town woke, it was to news that Goodhew’s Enchanter had gone down somewhere around North Cape, on its return from Three Kings.

Commercial fisherman Dennis Frear learned by phone call about 8am. Like pretty much everyone else along the Mangonui foreshore, he knows Goodhew and those who work his charter boats.

But the phone call didn’t reveal which vessel had sunk, just that it was local. That identification of Enchanter came later in the day, updates filtering in across the community as the hours passed, word-of-mouth keeping pace with news reports.

Mangonui is not a town unfamiliar with loss at sea, not because of risk-taking or a casual approach, but because it is a town immersed in a maritime world. There will be an inquest and an inquiry, says Frear, and people will keep much of what they have to say until those formal processes have passed.

Frear says it’s not anything particular to that stretch of sea. He’s worked it, chasing crayfish across the top and down the West Coast. On a good day, it’s calm and flat. On a bad day, it can be something else.

“People sink all over the f***ing place. It’s not just there,” says Frear, drinking from an ice-cold pint bottle at the Mangonui Hotel. Like any other part of the sea, it will have its surprises. “The sea – you have to respect it because it ain’t going to give you any. It will take what it wants.”

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