Thursday, December 20, 2007


Belgian treasure dug from sand


The New Zealand Herald
December 20, 2007

About 150 ships have been wrecked on the 100km Ripiro Beach on the Kaipara's west coast but for the first time, one of the shipwrecks has been salvaged.

The Askoy II was tossed on to the sand about 2km south of Baylys Beach on the night of July 7, 1994, as it battled a huge storm.

The solo yachtsman at the helm when the historic Belgian-built boat hit the beach, Lindsay Wright, credits the vessel's steel construction with saving his life.

Mr Wright was one of about 150 people who watched what was left of the Askoy II emerge from the sand that has gripped it for the past 13 years.

It was an emotional day for Mr Wright, who had not stopped thinking about his "dream boat" since that fateful night off the stormy west coast.

He's delighted he won't be "the last owner who took her to her grave" and that the Askoy II will be restored.

The 18m ketch is an icon in Belgium, having been owned by superstar singer and actor Jacques Brel, and another well known Belgian, Hugo Van Kuyk.

And it's thanks to the efforts of two Belgian brothers, Staf and Peter Wittevrongel, that the Askoy II is emerging from the sand.

Staf Wittevrongel, who made new sails for the ketch when Brel owned it, was also there to see the efforts of the body he helped set up - Save The Askoy Foundation - come to fruition.

Mr Wittevrongel said the entire operation to recover the Askoy II and ship it to Belgium for restoration would likely cost more than $1.3 million, but it was money well spent on preserving an important part of Belgian maritime history.

"The idea came together three years ago when we came here to have a look at her. We went home and started the foundation and with the help of people like Noel Hilliam it's now a reality," he said.

A team of heavy diggers moved hundreds of tonnes of sand from around the wreck this week so steel cables could be attached. Two efforts to pull the Askoy II from the sand failed, but Mr Hilliam was confident the ketch would be freed.

A sand wall was built around the freshly dug hole to protect the site from again being covered by the tide. Mr Hilliam said there were 110 recorded wrecks along Ripiro Beach, but his research had uncovered at least 40 more.

The historian was in his element as he oversaw the operation to extract the Askoy II from the sand that had held it for 13 years.

"This is really exciting for me," he said. "There's been a lot of planning and frustration along the way to get to this point.


* The Askoy II ran aground in a storm in 1994.

* The 18m ketch is an icon in Belgium. It was once owned by singer and actor Jacques Brel.

* The operation to recover it and ship it to Belgium for restoration is likely to cost more than $1.3 million.


The Askoy II left New Zealand on 30 March, 2008, aboard a container ship. Due to arrive in Belgium in May! See for details.
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