Gale-force winds trap Interislander, Bluebridge ferry passengers in 12-hour trip from Wellington to Picton

Hundreds of ferry passengers will have spent more than the equivalent time of a flight to Los Angeles when their ferries finally arrive in Picton thanks to gale-force winds.

The ferry Kaitiaki departed from Wellington at 9am today with 570 passengers aboard, and was due to arrive at 12.30 this afternoon, but as of 8.30pm still hadn’t managed to berth because of high winds.

Meanwhile passengers on the smaller Bluebridge ferry will be in for an even longer haul, with their ferry having departed from the capital at 8am.

It was scheduled to arrive in Picton at 11.30am, but as of 8.30pm was still doing circles around the Marlborough Sounds waiting for the winds to die down.

Interislander general manager Walter Rushbrook said strong southeast gales were causing delays for Cook Strait ferries trying to berth, with winds gusting in excess of 40 knots (74km/h) down Picton harbour.

Part of the Picton terminal has also been damaged by the unusually high winds.

“We are waiting for a lull in the weather to be able to berth safely,” Rushbrook said.

“The weather is forecast to ease later this evening, but exactly when is unpredictable.”

Herald Wellington business editor Hamish Rutherford was on board the Kaitiaki, and said earlier in the day just as the ferry was due to arrive it turned around to cruise around the sounds waiting for the winds to calm down.

Rutherford said they could see the Bluebridge vessel, which departed at 8am, doing the same thing.

“Everything seemed to be going fine. The crossing was rough, but we’ve had much rougher in the past. But just as we went in to dock. the ferry spun around, the captain saying the wind was too strong and we’d do a lap of the harbour, and now we’ve been doing laps the last eight hours.”

Rutherford, travelling with his fiance Aimee Gulliver to the South Island for their wedding on Sunday, said the mood aboard was “surprisingly upbeat”.

They’d been served complementary fish and chips, and offered refreshments.

“Everybody is pretty understanding, I mean the wind is very strong and just hasn’t dropped.

“People are surprisingly upbeat, there are a few school trips aboard, parents with their children heading down to university, people are understandably a bit ratty and tired but the mood has been pretty good. The staff have been very nice.”

Rushbrook said Picton tugs were in position to assist with berthing if necessary.

“Passengers have been kept advised of the delays and passengers have been offered complimentary food and beverages,” he said.

The delays have also affected later sailings, with two return services cancelled due to the weather.

“We are contacting all affected customers, and are targeting to clear the backlog of passengers and vehicles within 24 hours,” Rushbrook said.

“We apologise for the inconvenience, however the safety of our passengers and crew must be our number one priority.”

Bluebridge has been approached for comment.

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