Ship wrecked – Eliminator on the rocks, Tim Pankhurst in the water and skipper Neil Davis still in the wheelhouse.

It takes as little as 30 seconds to sink a boat.

That was our experience on the Wairarapa coast at new year.

And it may well have been engine failure that was the cause.

The sea was boisterous but not unduly rough as Neil Davis launched his 6.5 metre aluminium boat Eliminator at Sandy Bay at Tora.

He has been out through the narrow channel flanked by breakers on the shallow reefs hundreds, if not a thousand times.

Neil, a former paua and cray diver, is the go-to man when boats are in trouble on the turbulent Pacific Ocean where big southerly rollers and screaming nor’westers are common.

He has retrieved one body out of the sea and assisted police divers with a search for another person lost in wild conditions. He also saved a local and his hypothermic mate when their boat flipped in weather that had kept everyone else at home.

His wife Pam, a legal executive, is just as staunch.

She holds the New Zealand records for a mako shark on 37kg line, a 338kg monster, and a 173kg mako on 10kg line.

Launching at Sandy Bay can be tricky but Neil and Pam have got it down pat.

Neil drives the tractor and boat down to the shore from their nearby bach, always playing Willie Nelson in the cab, where Pam takes over without Willie Nelson.

She backs the boat in, Neil fires it up and backs it off, Pam parks the tractor and runs along the rocks and hops on to the bow like a penguin as Neil noses the boat in.

On this occasion it went horribly wrong.

Neil, with me and a Wellington mate, Ian Peters, aboard, motored into the rocks.

But the tide was high and the surge lifted the bow on to the rocks before Pam could clamber aboard.

Neil threw the outboard motor – a newly fitted 140hp Suzuki that was just eight days old – into reverse and the boat surged clear.

He came in again after watching the swells on the reef but the bow banged on the rocks and the surge lifted it upwards.

The boat hung there and as it balanced a wave came into the stern.

The weight of the water tilted the boat and the next wave filled it.

Just like that, the boat was lost.

I leapt into the sea to avoid being trapped under the boat, Ian was able to scramble along the high side and get on to the rocks and Neil was trapped in the wheelhouse.

He was half tangled in the aerial and anchor rope but was able to get out.

We stood dripping on the rocks, wondering what had happened as the boat turned turtle, the motor cowling was torn off and the electronics flooded.

An observer on the shore, who helped pull us out of the sea, made a startling observation.

A retired police officer, he said he could not understand why the boat was not thrown into reverse when it hung up for the second time.

That was when the suspicion dawned the motor had failed to engage.

Neil had had trouble with his previous Suzuki motor as he came alongside his cray pot floats. On several occasions the reverse failed to engage and the boat sailed on.

Googling “Suzuki outboard motor failure” throws up an interesting, if not disturbing, array of complaints from various users around the world.

Suzuki in this country is represented by the Haines Group.

Its sales and services manager is Graham Kennedy, who has refused to answer a series of questions from Seafood NZ about Suzuki performance and the Davis’s experience in particular.

He has been sent electronic components from the destroyed, uninsured motor but nearly three months on has not responded.

Eliminator, a tough sea boat as ugly as a dump truck, has been repaired and this week Neil fitted a new motor.

A Yamaha.

He is still seeking some sort of redress from Suzuki, even if it is only the courtesy of being responded to.

Whether there is a wider issue about Suzuki outboard performance remains to be seen.