The Wells family at the Blessing of the Fleet on Saturday. They are from left; Jude Wells, Erinna Sygrove, Grace Tuani, Amanda Cuff, Jonty Tuani and Dennis Wells. Photo: Brittany Spencer.

Family remember lost fisherman

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Amanda Cuff knew something was wrong when she arrived at Duncan Bay and saw that her stepfather was nowhere to be found.

She was just 14-years-old when Barry Wells went missing on Queen’s Birthday Weekend, 1999. Barry was meant to sail out to the bay and meet his family, who were driving, and meet up for the long weekend.

“When we got to Duncan Bay in the evening he wasn’t there, we knew something had happened to him and the boat on the way,” Amanda says.

His boat was found on the Sunday afternoon, in gear, and with the locator beacon, life raft and lifejackets still onboard. But Barry was nowhere to be seen.

As soon as he was reported missing, the whole Nelson fleet went straight out to look for him and continued to do so for weeks.

“The official search finished when they found the boat but all the Nelson fishermen kept searching for him,” Amanda says.

“We don’t know exactly what happened or where, we assume something out of the blue happened but we’re not sure what it was.”

A decorated fishing boat makes it way past the crowds at the Blessing of the Fleet on Saturday. Photo by Brittany Spencer.
A decorated fishing boat makes it way past the crowds at the Blessing of the Fleet on Saturday. Photo by Brittany Spencer.

Barry was one of several lost at sea which prompted the Seafarers’ Memorial Wharf and the Blessing of the Fleet, an event which Amanda says is greatly appreciated by the family each year.

Now every year, Amanda, along with the rest of the family, sits on the same site dedicated to him and remember the husband, father, and brother that he was.

On Saturday, hundreds of people crowded around the Seafarers’ Memorial for the annual Blessing of the Fleet, to send good wishes to those making their way out on the ocean but also to remember those who had succumbed to it.

The 17th blessing was marked with seafood, a boat parade, fish auction, a helicopter boat-rescue demonstration and support for the locals who work from the country’s largest commercial fishing port.

Blessing of the Fleet on Saturday. Photo by Brittany Spencer.
Blessing of the Fleet on Saturday. Photo by Brittany Spencer.

“We have no grave to visit,” says Amanda. “But we have the memorial down at the wharf which is better and so to have everyone show up every single year means a lot to the family.”

“The blessing means different things for me each time, while it was heartbreaking to lose him as a kid, sitting on that seat this year I couldn’t help but be really proud of him, he was my hero and it makes you realise just how precious life is.”

However, with the decline of smaller family fishing businesses and the loss of several of the older generation, this year’s blessing took on a sombre tone for the family.

“This year was a bit more sad, there were less boats on the water, there was only one of our family boats there, The Orca, a lot of the older fishermen are gone and fishing is now more for the bigger boats, you can certainly feel the difference.”

Amanda thanks the Iona Trust II and the Seafarers Memorial Trust on behalf of the family for their continued support and efforts to honour Barry and fishermen like him.