A family history blog

Wreck of the Nordic

This recount of the wreck of the Nordic was compiled from recollections from locals, including Murray and Rose Aitken, Colin Burrell, Lyn Sissons and Ron Keith as well as newspaper articles about the salvage operation.

In the weekend before Easter 1962 the 26-foot keeler “Nordic” was at sea, motoring through a bad storm off the coast of Leigh. On board were a couple with their two young children asleep in the cabin below. The mother went to check on the children and discovered her little girl had died from carbon monoxide poisoning from the fumes from the motor leaking into the cabin. The boy was in a bad way. They turned and headed for Leigh but in the confusion of the pohutukawa branches moving about in the storm they mistook the lights from the township as harbour lights and were driven onto the rocks in a tiny bay just south of the harbour. Despite the treacherous sea and high winds many locals from the town came down to help, braving the pounding surf to bring back the occupants, carrying children up the cliffs to the waiting ambulance, and securing the yacht. Leigh residents Lewis Aitken, Peter Burrell and Fred Franich earned Humane Society bravery awards for their efforts that night. Another man, who is believed to have been a visitor to the area, was also given an award. The bay is still referred to as Nordic Bay by locals in memory of the tragedy.

In the days afterwards the yacht was salvaged by Claude Greenwood, who purchased it from the insurance company for £80. The lead keel was removed and the yacht was towed round to the Whangateau slip supported by oil drums. Claude and his son Howard along with several friends rebuilt the yacht, and 17 months later 300 locals came to watch it being relaunched into the Whangateau harbour before being moored at Ti Point. It had many good years cruising round the Hauraki Gulf and Coromandel Peninsula.

These photos were taken by Vern Smith of the recovery effort the next morning and of the repair work at Whangateau boat yard.

Local residents Claude Greenwood, Jim Aitken and Howard Greenwood secure the yacht.

The general scene the morning after.

Locals working on the yacht the morning after.

The large easterly swell threatened to further damage the hull by rolling the yacht around on the rocks. Boulders were placed in the cockpit to minimise the movement against the rocks.

At the Whangateau boat yard. The damage was considered as possibly too big a job to repair, but the yacht was strongly constructed so was worth fixing.

One thought on "Wreck of the Nordic"

  • Roger Peek says:

    Purely as a matter of subsequent interest, I encountered the owner of “Nordic” in January 1975 – 13 years after the salvage. He was a pilot for Air New Zealand (for whom I also worked) and was about to sail her from her home port of Lyttelton up to the Marlborough Sounds. We met quite by chance and the “Nordic” just came up in a conversation we were having.

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