A crayfish boat hit by a rogue wave off a notorious Northland harbour took on 10 tonnes of water and almost sank- sparking a dramatic rescue.
The Waitara was heading out across the infamous Hokianga Bar when the 18.3m vessel was hit by what skipper Rob Saunders called "a rogue wave" about 10am yesterday.
The impact shattered five windows at the front of the cabin, ripped off spotlights and demolished a screen around the bridge.
The rush of water through the cabin blew out the rear windows and sent the vessel's radios and even the stove flying onto the deck.
Worse, the boat took on 10,000 litres - that's 10 tonnes - of water.
Worried family members gathered on Signal Station Rd on South Head, where they had a clear view as the drama unfolded.
Northland police Search and Rescue incident controller Spence Penney said the skipper did not make a distress call, but was concerned the boat had more water on board than its pumps could handle.
The Hokianga Coastguard rescue vessel took two portable pumps, three firefighters, an ambulance officer and a policeman out to the stricken fishing boat.
With high tide and swells hitting three metres around midday, it became urgent that the Waitara got back across the bar.
"With the outgoing tide and the wind blowing down the harbour it would have chopped up badly on the bar," Mr Penney said.
With 4000 litres of sea water still on board the skipper made the decision to cross the bar about 11.40am.
The Waitara was shadowed by the Northland Electricity Rescue Helicopter during the eight-minute crossing.
Pilot Steve Couchman said the vessel risked taking on more water, so the team was ready to winch the skipper and two young crewmen from the water.
"We had a winch operator ready and had a guy in a wetsuit just in case the crew had to abandon their boat," he said.
Omapere Fire Brigade senior station officer Graham Morris said without being pumped out first, the boat would not have made it back over the bar.
The forward cabin was filled with water up to the deck and the bow was so low the boat would have "scooped up" the next big wave.
Two firefighters went on board to operate the pumps, while another stayed on the Coastguard boat and Mr Morris parked the fire truck at South Head to run communications.
The crew suffered only minor scrapes, he said.
"The skipper was pretty stoic, pretty calm but the boys were a bit freaked out. There were a lot of hugs all round when they got to Opononi wharf."
Despite the heavy swell, Mr Saunders said the conditions were "just another day at the office".
"It must have been a rogue wave. She's been through much bigger waves than that."
The skipper's brother-in-law, Hokianga Express owner Peter Clark, was one of the first to be alerted. The Waitara's radios were wrecked but Mr Saunders managed to raise him on a cellphone.
Mr Clark said few people knew the bar better than his brother-in-law.
"It's a mean bit of water. You've got to respect it."
Owner Johnny Goodwin did not want to speculate about the accident while a Maritime New Zealand investigation was underway.
The greatest damage was to the vessel's electronics. An insurance assessor was expected to make a estimate of the costs today.
Here's the picture of the boat accompanied the article: