Coastguard Whangārei tows yacht to safety from Great Barrier Island

Coastguard Whangārei tows the yacht from north of Great Barrier Island. Photo / Coastguard NZ

A yachtie in trouble near Great Barrier Island sparked a 14-hour rescue mission that pushed Coastguard Whangārei rescuers to their limit.

A call came in early on Wednesday morning about a 26ft yacht with a lone sailor experiencing mechanical and communication issues in rough waters north of Great Barrier Island.

At 8.30am, six Coastguard Whangārei volunteers had their vessel Circa Rescue in the water at Marsden Cove and were surging toward the boatie in need.

They reached the troubled yacht after three hours of cutting through nearly 100km of choppy swell, 1.5m high.


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Coastguard Whangārei president Cherie Nelson said they could see the relief on the skipper’s face when help arrived.

Once there, two Coastguard volunteers boarded the vessel and the crew worked quickly to set up a tow line.

Then began the sluggish trip home – a tow that would take around 11 hours as Circa Rescue clocked up a humble speed of roughly 4.5 knots.

At one point, the crew sought shelter from the cold wind with a quick afternoon break at the Mokohinau Islands. They used the stop as a chance to assess the yacht, its skipper, and the situation as a whole before firing the engine back up.


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Trouble reared its head halfway home when the yacht began to take on water but fortunately, volunteers were quick to stop the ingress.

At about 8pm – nearly 12 hours after Coastguard Whangārei first left the dock – the rescue vessel and trailing yacht reached the Hen and Chicken Islands. There, seven separate Coastguard volunteers aboard Whangaruru Rescue relieved Circa’s crew and four hours later completed the final leg of the tow.

After more than 14-and-a-half hours, Circua Rescue arrived back at Marsden Cove with the yacht just after 11pm.

Nelson said the tow – one of the longest on record – pushed her crew to their limits.

“Given the sea conditions and issues with the yacht, it was fortunate that we were able to get out to the scene as quickly as possible and prevent what could have been a much more serious situation,” she said.

Nelson said the crew had been warned it would be a long tow so made sure to have two skippers onboard to share the load, as well as enough supplies for the trip.

“When you’re in the moment, time doesn’t seem so long as you’re not clock-watching. We were just happy to be able to bring the skipper and his vessel back safely.”

Nelson invited anyone interested in volunteering with Coastguard Whangārei to contact them via

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