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Trevor Lloyd Hawke (70), a founding member of the Wanaka Yacht Club, had been sailing with a friend shortly after 6pm on Thursday when the yacht he was in lurched unexpectedly and Mr Hawke fell into the water. His sailing partner rounded the yacht several times to try to pick Mr Hawke up but he could not make it back on to the vessel and disappeared.
Coastguard Wanaka Lakes, Wanaka Yacht Club, police and LandSAR members, along with a search helicopter, combed the waters and eastern shoreline of Roys Bay until nightfall.
Coastguard Wanaka Lakes president and marine adviser Jim Talboys said the water was very cold - 12.6degC on Thursday and down to 10.5degC yesterday morning.
The search continued from 7.30am to 10.30am yesterday, with about eight people in three boats using sonar equipment on the water, while Mr Hawke's friends and family searched the beaches.
Police divers from Wellington took over the search at about 5pm in an "area of probability" identified by Mr Hawke's sailing partner, about 200m off Eely Point where the accident occurred. They were stood down about 8pm because of limited visibility. The search is to resume this morning.
Mr Hawke was recently made a life member of the Wanaka Yacht Club and in 2009 he was acknowledged in the Yachting New Zealand honour awards for his more than 40 years' involvement at the club, including as commodore from 1976-79.
Club commodore Geoff Dickey said losing Mr Hawke was a huge blow to the sailing fraternity.
"He was a great instructor, of all ages. Anybody who wanted to learn ... you didn't have to have a special session. If you wanted to go for a spin on Trev's yacht he was more than happy to take you," Mr Dickey said.
Mr Hawke was known as the club's "fix it man". Whenever anything needed doing, such as boat maintenance or course realignment, "the first name you'd think of was Trev... that's the sort of man he was; he never said no". He was an extremely accomplished and competitive sailor and had a great passion for the sport.
Mr Talboys praised the actions and "excellent seamanship" of Mr Hawke's sailing companion, in his repeated attempts to manoeuvre the yacht to rescue Mr Hawke.
"He did a fantastic job... I give him accolades. He did everything possible. And to go out there [yesterday] and identify where he lost his friend was a huge thing."
The name of the companion, who had more than 20 years sailing experience, has not been released.
A debriefing session for club members last night, held at the Wanaka Yacht Club, attracted a full house.
"A lot of members have a lot of questions and they want to know what happened. We just want them to get the correct story," Mr Dickey said.
"In the fullness of time it will all come out and . . . there will be lessons to be learned, and rest assured the club will be making sure we take those on board."
The session was also "a time to reflect on Trev".