One of my pursuits outside of the never-ending task of compiling this history of the Stanaway family is as a volunteer crew member with the Coastguard, in fact the Kaipara Coastguard based out of Helensville.
The area covered is on the West Coast from as far north as Hokianga down to Manukau Heads plus 12 miles out to sea. This means travelling over the Captain’s old stamping ground of the Kaipara Bar.
The Bar is nice on a good day and very nasty on a bad one. With apt names such as “the graveyard” laying testament to a time when entering and exiting the Kaipara was more about good navigation, the right tide and wind and a good dollop of luck.
We know John James improved his luck by placing bearing buoys but this was only after some years already operating as the pilot, shortly after the buoys were washed away in the first big storm.
Crossing the bar takes skill and knowledge, we offer courses and practical experience in safely navigating your way in through the harbour entrance, but back in the 1850’s the responsibility lay with one man Captain John James Stanaway.
Perhaps it was by chance or good fortune that John James did not meet an untimely end on one of his many crossing. I would suggest it was more to do with his skill and local knowledge. To think he also had the lives of at least three of his children in his hands who were members of his crew, shows a great deal of confidence in his ability.
We know that in 1855 he did loose “The Star of the East”. The vessel had waited a full month for the right conditions to exit the harbour, on three separate occasions they tried but conditions changed and they returned. On the fourth and final attempt they were half way out when the wind dropped John tried to head for another channel but they were washed into the breakers. John and 21 crew were lucky to escape with their lives, the vessel soon disappeared under the breakers.
Over 150 years later we have aluminium boats, with twin 225 outboard motors, radar, GPS, safety suits, life jackets, radios, cell phones, beacons and helicopters to assist in both navigating and staying alive in the worst possible conditions. Even with all this equipment it is still four men in a boat taking on a bar crossing with upto 12m waves and a blustery south-wester.
Finally a plug for the Coastguard, if you are a boatie become a member, and/or if you see volunteers out selling raffle tickets buy a bunch of them.