When the Enchanter sank in March, five men lost their lives and critics of skipper Lance Goodhew say his bad decision led to the disaster. Video / Mike Scott
A survivor of the Enchanter fishing boat tragedy speaks for the first time as an investigation reveals new information about the skipper, writes Carolyne Meng-Yee.
Kobe O’Neill was in the galley roasting chickens when he heard the wave.
“There was a big thud, that’s what I could hear, and then massive amounts of water.
”I know it was a rogue wave but I can’t tell you how big it was. I didn’t see it, it happened really quickly.”
There was a wall of water. He was, he figured, a dead man.
O’Neill, a senior deckhand on the fishing charter Enchanter, was one of five men who survived the capsize that followed. Five other men perished.
Today marks the first time a survivor has spoken publicly of what happened that day.
The boat, one of three operated by the Enchanter Fishing Charters, was on a five-day trip to the Three Kings Islands north of Cape Reinga, when it overturned on March 20.
Cambridge men Richard Bright, 63, Mike Lovett, 72, Geoffrey Allen,72, Mark Walker, 41, and Mark Sanders, 43, from Te Awamutu, died.
Six months after the tragedy, investigations by Maritime New Zealand and the Transport Accident Investigation Commission are ongoing.
O’Neill says it was just before 8 pm when he heard that massive thud – the large wave that is now understood to have hit the boat near Murimotu Island, taking out the flybridge.
Hours later, O’Neill and four others – including the boat’s skipper, and charter company founder Lance Goodhew – had been pulled from the water in an extraordinary rescue effort.
The deckhand told the Herald on Sunday the weather on their fishing tour had been bad – but, during the return to port, they were “good”.
From his home in Whangarei, O’Neill said he was grateful to be alive – and for the ongoing support of his fiancé Holly Anderson.
“These past few months haven’t been easy but you have to live through it as best as you can,” O’Neill said.
“I thought I was going to die.”
It is understood O’Neill is no longer working for Goodhew.
For the past six months, the Herald on Sunday has interviewed those close to the Enchanter and within the fishing community, it operated in.
Goodhew declined to comment and said he would refer questions to his lawyer.
It has emerged a commercial fisherman’s crew made the call not to go out that fateful day due to rough weather conditions.
Nat Davey has also revealed he made a complaint about Goodhew to Maritime New Zealand two months before the Enchanter sank, claiming he’d taken clients fishing when a cyclone was forecast.
Goodhew has also bought a new boat, Radar Blue, and plans to resume his fishing charters in November, outraging the locals in the Mangonui community who live by and on the water.
The MetService’s most recent weather forecast before the Enchanter flipped was at 4.36 pm and covers the Kaipara and Brett area. It shows the sea was “very rough” with northeast winds at 40 knots. Swells of two metres were developing and there was poor visibility in rain with possible thunderstorms.
At 7.40 pm in a tiny cluttered office from her home in Cable Bay, Annette Hall took a routine call.
“Ok, call me in an hour when you get in.”
Hall, a much-loved local radio operator and familiar voice to Far North fisherman, is speaking to Goodhew.
“He and his other two boats call in religiously, morning and night,” Hall tells the Herald on Sunday.
“And if they’re out in the middle of nowhere, just on the edge of the VHF, I get a text.
”They do that. There’s never been any question that those guys don’t do that – as opposed to the other bloody cowboys out there.”
That night, she recalls, the Enchanter skipper told her the weather was easing off – he was on his way home. She never got another call.
An hour later, she knows the boat has overturned and 10 people are missing.
Her cabin-like room is crammed with VHF radios, binders full of logs, and maps.
“We are message takers. We want people to talk to us when they go out . . . and we want to know when they come home.”
Skippers who work fishing and charter trips from Mangonui to the North Cape tell Hall that, when they’re out at sea, she is the first and last person they call.
It’s Hall who wives and partners contact if loved ones have not returned home.
“Sometimes they get a bit cranky when I start chasing them down if they don’t answer.
”My best friend at any time is the mother or the wife. ‘Is so and so home?’ ‘Why haven’t you rung Annette?”
Nat Davey, 44, who owns the Florence Nightingale and Manakia said the tragedy was the “perfect storm”.
Hours before the Enchanter sunk, the winds in Cape Reinga were gusting 58 knots.
Two days earlier, he had been worried about his crew on the Florence Nightingale, who were fishing for crays at the Three Kings.
Matt Gentry, 28, skipper of the Florence Nightingale, made the call not to go out fishing on March 20.
He says the weather was wild and it was too dangerous to work.
“I had a chat with the boys and deemed the conditions were too shitty, it wasn’t safe for us to work. We did a quick loop of the island and went back and anchored at Cascade Bay.
”That was around 11 am and I noticed the Enchanter had gone. I thought it was silly to go anywhere that day.”
Twelve hours later the Enchanter had gone down.
Gentry woke up with lights shining in his eyes and the skipper of a long line vessel alerting him about the distress call from Maritime New Zealand, seeking volunteers to help with the rescue.
About 11.30 pm when the weather had settled, Gentry and his crew set off on a five-hour trip to North Cape.
The father-of-two says he and his crew felt anxious and “panicked” about their first sinking rescue.
He was also mindful of his youngest fisherman who was 16 years old.
“We were pissed off the Enchanter had gone in the first place and also confused about not knowing what we were getting ourselves into,” Gentry said.
As they sailed towards the wreckage the adrenalin kicked in.
Helicopters were dropping flares, an EPIRB (emergency position indicating radio beacon) was still “pinging” on the roof of the boat and Gentry says he saw a “s**t load” of alcohol (bottles and cans of beer and rum) floating amongst the debris.
About 6am Gentry says they located the upturned hull of the boat.
He and his crew were shaken when they saw seagulls swooping around a body and a shark’s fin circling in the water.
“I had nightmares for a while, none of us needed to see that. Seeing a dead body sticks in the back of my head, and it doesn’t go away.
”You try and push it out of your head but it’s always there. You think ‘is this going to happen to me?”
Te Awamutu builder Mark Sanders didn’t make it home. It was a trip of a lifetime for the 43-year-old builder who had planned the fishing charter with mates for more than a year.
His mother, Gael is “bloody angry” about the tragedy and is anchored in grief.
“I miss my son every day, the loss is huge for us. I am thinking about those families in Kaikoura who have lost loved ones and what they are going through.
”I know what it is like. I haven’t heard from Lance Goodhew and I don’t know if I can forgive him.”
“IT WAS AN INCIDENT NOT AN ACCIDENT”
According to Nat Davey, the Enchanter tragedy was an “incident”, not an accident.
Davey has been a commercial fisherman for 26 years, and believes Goodhew shouldn’t have left the Three King’s Islands when he did or waited till the weather subsided.
“The weather was atrocious and for some unknown reason, he went past two perfectly good anchorages at Spirits Bay and Tom Bowling Bay and cut the corner into North Cape.
The Enchanter was on a shallow reef; they were too close to shore and in the firing line of huge seas. A huge wave broke and ripped out the wheelhouse. I believe he should have been a couple of miles off the coast, that area is notorious for big swells.”
Davey is annoyed his crew was not only physically and mentally drained by the ordeal but lost a quarter of a million dollars through the rescue and the rahui placed at North Cape.
Davey claims Goodhew has not thanked his crew for risking their lives during the traumatising rescue or compensated them for the loss of income.
Goodhew, who established Enchanter Fishing Charters in 1995, has bought a new boat Radar Blue which is currently being surveyed in Whangarei.
The Herald on Sunday understands he is planning fishing charters in November which has upset Davey.
“Where is the man’s empathy? Five people died under his watch, isn’t it human decency to wait till the investigation is over?
”I’ve done so many searches, rescues, and body recoveries- no one wants to go through that. I want to make sure we try to minimise the chance of this happening again.”
Two months before the charter boat sunk, Davey says he had complained to Maritime New Zealand after discovering the Enchanter had taken customers out fishing in what he described as “horrendous” weather and a cyclone was forecast.
Davey says he notified a man at Maritime New Zealand but never heard back from him.
According to Davey, he told customers of Goodhew in January at the Mangonui Wharf that he wouldn’t go fishing in rough conditions.
“I said the weather was going to be ‘s**t’ and asked why they were going. They told me they couldn’t get a refund.
”So, clients catch their dream fish but it’s unsafe, I wouldn’t have laid complaints against him if I didn’t think it was valid.”
He said that in his opinion, “Lance was a cowboy. He has pushed the limit over the years and this tragedy has come to bite him in the arse.”
Maritime New Zealand would not comment on Davey’s complaint.
In 2020, Gordon Kirkham, a retiree from Te Awamutu had booked a trip to the Enchanter with a group of friends but they cancelled when they found out a tropical cyclone with 3-metre swells and 70-knot winds was forecast.
According to Kirkham, the group was happy to forfeit their deposit but Goodhew refused to pay them back and insisted they go coastal fishing.
“We didn’t want to pay all that money to go coastal fishing and Lance said, ‘that’s the way it is’.”
Kirkham said he and members of the group were planning to take Goodhew to the Disputes Tribunal but he says the case was delayed after the Enchanter sank.
A week before the hearing on June 1, Kirkham said Goodhew emailed the group and refunded the money.
A skipper who didn’t want to be named complained to Maritime New Zealand about Goodhew allegedly ramming his boat at the Three Kings in 2017.
The man, who has video footage of the incident, says Goodhew threatened to “knock his block off’.”
In response to an OIA request from the Herald on Sunday, Maritime New Zealand revealed a complaint was made about the Enchanter over a near-miss in March 2017.
However, the incident did not result in a formal investigation.
In 2019, a complaint was made about the consumption of alcohol aboard the Enchanter while it was operating around the northern area of the North Island.
A Health and safety inspection was carried out according to Maritime New Zealand but “no concerns were identified” and no further action was taken.
In 2009, Lance Goodhew was fined for operating outside of safe operating limits.
Recently, an assessment of Goodhew’s vessels, Enchanter and Pacific Invader showed there were no serious issues with the operations of the vessels.
Steve Angus was a skipper on the Gladiator for six years and says he frequently locked horns with Goodhew.
He alleged Goodhew was territorial about fishing spots around the Northland area.
Angus claims he was a constant target of Goodhew’s aggression.
“We were all licensed to operate in the same area but in my opinion, he felt he had exclusive rights. He would lean out his flybridge yelling, ‘Get back to dock and get off this effing fishing ground. You’re not allowed to fish here’.”
Angus believes Goodhew’s license should be revoked.
“I believe Maritime New Zealand have failed their duty to follow up previous complaints against Lance. In my opinion, Lance is the most incompetent, worse-behaved skipper I have come across. Five people have lost their lives, in my opinion he should be in jail.”
A Maritime New Zealand spokesman said the investigation was ongoing and had to be completed within the statutory timeframe of 12 months after the incident.
Businessman Jason Jack says he wouldn’t hesitate to go fishing again with Lance Goodhew on his new boat Radar Blue.
Jack, a keen fisherman had always dreamed of catching kingfish at the Three King’s.
“I loved every moment; it was good fishing apart from sore muscles at the end of the day.
”It’s a long way out but you come to this group of islands sticking out of the water and it’s quite majestic looking. It’s awesome, untouched and you get to fish in some great spots.”
Jack said Goodhew was environmentally conscious, took care of his vessel and runs a “tight ship’.”
“He gave us good safety briefings before we left and a good rundown of the weather conditions – that’s what you expect from a skipper and he delivered, he was totally responsible.”
Drinking on board is a given on a charter but Jack said Goodhew didn’t join in.
“He went to bed early so we were pretty respectful because Lance was underneath us. If things got out of hand, I’m sure he would be up in a flash. He really cares about his boat.”
Jack says his thoughts go out to the families of the five men who died.
“I feel totally lucky but it makes you think it could’ve been me.
”I was gutted for those families. I thought to myself they probably didn’t have a lot of time and died straight away.
”They probably didn’t see it coming and they were probably exhausted from fishing that’s what runs through my head.”