Paul Davis, winch operator and Josh Raravula St John rescue swimmer talk about the Enchanter fishing rescue. Video / Tania Whyte
Brenda Bright’s last message from her husband was happy, fuelled by his desire to catch a marlin.
That was before her worst fear was realised when Richard Bright died after the Enchanter fishing vessel capsized, also killing four others.
Despite the tragedy, Brenda is urging the five people who survived to make use of the second chance given to them.
“I just said, ‘Look, you’ve been given an opportunity here to live your best life,” Brenda said of her conversations with survivors.
Richard, 63, was one of 10 people who were aboard the Enchanter, skippered by Mangōnui’s Lance Goodhew, when it was battered and flipped in heavy weather near North Cape on March 20.
Five people were found alive immediately after the incident, including Goodhew.
It took search and rescue staff about two days to recover the other five men. All had perished.
They were Geoffrey Allen, 72, Mark Sanders, 43, Michael Lovett, 72, Mark Walker, 41, and Richard, all from the Cambridge/Te Awamutu area.
Brenda’s last message from her husband was jovial – a proud picture of the prawns he was having for dinner in Mangōnui before heading out to sea.
The pair met in Ngāruawāhia. A 15-year-old Brenda, born to an army family, was living near the local army base when she met Richard.
Fast forward four decades, and Brenda and Richard had owned the Group One Turf Bar on Commerce St in Cambridge for more than 20 years.
After stints as a hunter, deer farmer and freezing worker, Brenda said her husband had realised his desire to become a publican.
“Richard always wanted to have a bar,” she said.
In addition to his love of hunting, Richard was also passionate about fishing – a marlin being his holy grail.
“The marlin’s been on his list for a while,” Brenda said.
“I think the first time he went out, it must be about 15 years ago, and didn’t get one, then he went a couple of years ago, and then this trip.
“I think he was looking forward to it and hoping he could tick it off his bucket list.”
It wasn’t until 8.30 on Monday morning while working at the bar when Brenda heard through family that something was wrong – a suspicion later confirmed as news reports came rolling in.
“I saw ‘boat capsized, five missing and five survived’.”
While nothing was confirmed, it was believed at the time that Richard wasn’t among those rescued alive.
Nevertheless, there was still hope he would be found safe and sound.
“You were just sort of like, ‘Oh well they’ll find him floating around’,” Brenda said.
At 10.30am, police told Brenda that Richard was one of the missing five. She was asked to supply a photograph with which to identify Richard.
By 3.30pm, she received confirmation her husband had died.
“It was a bit of shock, it was like ‘Wow, okay, this is real’,” Brenda said.
The toll was heavy for their two daughters and Richard’s father, who is in his 90s.
“[The daughters] were pretty cut up, they were pretty close to him.”
Brenda’s focus wasn’t solely on herself, but on the other families who have also lost someone.
The pair knew Mark Sanders’ parents well. Mike Lovett had been a regular customer at the pub over the years. And Mark Walker had done taxidermy work for Richard, likely preparing the same deer heads that still hang in the bar.
It was for that reason Brenda went to all of the funerals – something which has helped her on her own journey.
“It just makes you realise that there are other people suffering as well,” she said.
“I think of others more than I think of myself, so that just gives me something to focus on.”
The three survivors, barring skipper Lance and deckhand Kobe O’Neill, at one point came to Brenda’s bar.
“It was really neat just to give them a hug because they were so sorry and I said to them, ‘Don’t be sorry’.”
Brenda said they took her through what had happened on that Sunday – how their roast chicken dinner was cooking as they were 15 minutes away from where they would anchor before they capsized.
Having not yet spoken with Lance, Brenda sent her best wishes to him in light of the multiple investigations under way into the incident.
“Personally, I just hope that they don’t persecute Lance for something that was a freak accident. I hope it goes okay.”
She was confident the families involved in the tragedy would remain connected to ensure they continued to live their lives.
“The best thing for anybody is to live their best life and be true to themselves. You just don’t know what’s going to happen or what’s around the corner.”
Richard’s funeral was held on Wednesday and attended by scores of people. The function held afterwards was just as Richard had intended, according to Brenda.
“He always said if something ever happened, to drink the bar dry.
“They gave it a good shot, the cabinet needed a bit of restocking the next day so we did him proud, I think.”
But from the sadness of a funeral came celebration. With Richard’s youngest planning to be wed early next year, someone jokingly asked the funeral celebrant if they did weddings too considering most extended family members were in town.
The joke soon became reality – the dress was chosen on Thursday, the marriage licence arranged on Friday and the wedding held on Saturday.
“It was really cool. Everyone pulled together and did what they did,” Brenda said.
While Richard was unable to walk his daughter down the aisle, he was still in attendance – his eldest carrying his ashes.
The ashes were placed alongside pictures of his mother and Brenda’s mother, both of whom have died.
Brenda, now two weeks without her “larger than life” husband, has no plans to leave the bar, over which Richard currently watches in a framed picture on the wall.
She would still take the safari trip in South Africa she and Richard had organised for later this year, now with a daughter instead.
Brenda thanked all those who had given and offered support.
“We will be fine. We are okay and life goes on. It has to.
“It’s going to be a bit of a journey but we’ll get there.”