Westlake Boys’ High School teacher killed during Coastal Classic yacht race

9:01 pm on 23 October 2023

By Rachel Maher of NZ Herald

Simon Smith had taught at Westlake Boys' High School for 35 years and was just weeks away from retirement when he died during the Coastal Classic.

Simon Smith had taught at Westlake Boys' High School for 35 years and was just weeks away from retirement when he died during the Coastal Classic. Photo: Supplied / NZME

The man who died during a major New Zealand yacht race was just weeks from retiring after teaching at a top Auckland high school for more than three decades.

Westlake Boys' High principal David Ferguson today wrote to the school community telling them history teacher and avid sailor Simon Smith died in the Coastal Classic yacht race on Friday.

Smith was fatally injured when the boom - a horizontal spar at the bottom of the mast - swung around and struck him during the race. Two other sailors on board the yacht were also injured in the late-night incident.

He described him as an "avid sailor" and a "Westlake legend".

An email sent to parents and students this afternoon said Smith was "hugely popular with the hundreds of boys who he taught, mentored and coached".

"He was also a much-loved colleague with a great sense of humour and an incredible knowledge of New Zealand history," Ferguson wrote.

"Simon was a loyal Westlake 1st XV rugby supporter and was always present at Westlakers events where he was often surrounded by large groups of Westlakers as he told stories.

"Simon was a really proud Westlaker who gave nearly 35 years of service to his old school. He told me only last week that he was going to finally retire in December this year.

"We are so sad to hear this news about Simon. Simon is a Westlake legend and the school won't be the same without him."

Three kiwi were killed by dogs on the track to Cape Brett, near Rāwhiti in the Bay of Islands.

The fatal incident occurred in the Bay of Islands. Photo: RNZ / Peter de Graaf

Ferguson said Smith's wife also worked at the school. They have three children together.

The principal said since beginning at Westlake in 1989, Smith had acted as a history teacher, head of department, dean, and a hugely successful sailing coach.

He had been keen on sailing for a long time, competing in the first Whitbread Round The World Ocean Race.

The school will hold a special assembly tomorrow in honour of Smith.

Ferguson did not want to comment further.

The Coastal Classic, hosted by the New Zealand Multihull Yacht Club (NZMYC), is a 119-nautical-mile race from Auckland to Russell. The fatal accident occurred in the Bay of Islands.

"As many of you now know, last night [Friday] we were informed by Maritime Police of a serious incident aboard one of our entrant boats. Sadly, a person has died," Adrian Percival, NZMYC Commodore, said in a statement on Saturday.

"Our thoughts and love are with the crew, and the family and friends of this person.

"We cannot tell you any more at the moment, only that words cannot express our sorrow. We are working to support those involved, and working with police, Coastguard and Yachting NZ to assist with their inquiries."

Police say they are making inquiries into the accident on behalf of the Coroner.

At the time of the accident, the Kokako Rescue boat from the Coastguard Bay of Islands service was nearby and rushed to help the crew.

"Upon reaching the yacht shortly after 0100 hours, one of our crew boarded with a medical kit, including a defibrillator," said Ayden Armitage, a member of the Kokako's volunteer Coastguard crew.

"Sadly, the individual passed away."

- This story was first published in the NZ Herald.