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 Alan Lucas

The Enemy Within

By Alan Lucas, SY Soleares

The old saying 'cruising sailors get the wind free and expect everything else at the same price' is demeaning to our great majority, but it is regrettably true of a small minority who ruin our reputation with their selfish behaviour. Their attitudes seem to be all about personal rights and nothing about group responsibility, a classic case of which I witnessed recently in a NSW port.

An obviously wealthy young lone-hander sailed into port aboard his very expensive, latest model Bendytoy and illegally anchored mid-channel smack bang in front of the marina. He then dinghied over to the nearest berth and wandered ashore where the manager politely told him that there was no public access through the marina. At that the lone-hander went ballistic, loudly declaring his right to go ashore wherever and whenever he so pleases. He was so incensed that on returning to his vessel he fired off a vitriolic email to the manager reasserting his rights and adding a threat that the marina would be hearing from his solicitor. Regrettably - like police officers who are never there when you need them - the local maritime officer was not around to fine him for obstructing a navigable channel.

In another port there was a catamaran owner playing cat and mouse with the local authority for nearly a year, using a 24-hour courtesy mooring for days at a time, then anchoring for a night or two before returning to the same mooring for another lengthy stay. The owner constantly challenged the local officer with his 'right' to act that way, not once considering the many other boaties wanting to use the courtesy mooring.

Then there was the free seven-day berth provided by one of those very rare councils that understands the monetary value of sailors when they enter port. Sadly, abuse of the time-limit by a minority of visitors soon reduced the seven days to three days then, after a few of them made it their home-away-from-home for weeks on end, the time was further reduced to just one day with regular policing by a ranger.

Reduction or total elimination of special services is the inevitable aftermath of these people's actions who, in playing out their cruising dreams, destroy the very things they presume to be their right to have. They don't understand that successful cruising depends on consideration for others, not personal rights that are really not rights at all. We are all judged by their culturally dirty wake, which includes ever-tightening rules and regs that impact on everyone.

Irresponsible sailors are often new to the game, convinced that they have at last found freedom where, in fact, they have entered a culture that demands more responsibility and mutual respect than anything they have ever experienced ashore. But if their behaviour can be described as thoughtless, the behaviour of a mercifully smaller group is even more worrying for the way it crosses into criminality.

Kevin Lane, in his book Cruising West cites a disgraceful case of a cruising yacht reaching port where her crew proudly showed-off pearls they had taken from a cultured pearl raft and boasted that they had drunk two cartons of the manager's beer in his absence. Similarly, I know of thefts from oyster leases and lobster pots so brazen that I actually believe the culprits were too stupid to realise they were stealing. Thank goodness these incidents are extremely rare, but they are nevertheless a disgrace to the name of boating.

Whilst thoughtless cruising sailors ruin our lifestyle from within, there are holiday sailors who wreck it from without. I refer to those bare-boaters whose sole aim is to have a holiday of unbridled fun regardless of how it impacts on others. Unfortunately, in the public eye their extreme behaviour is invariably linked to boating in general rather than tourists on floating holidays. I witnessed an early case of this at Hayman Island in 1978 when bare boating had just started in the Whitsunday Islands.

Saying hello to Hayman Island's long-serving manager, Andre, to catch up on the latest news, I sensed he was not his usual welcoming self. After a few niceties, he said "Did you see what your mob's doing? - they're taking over the place: yachts tying up to our jetty without permission and obstructing our workboats. Some were abusive when we asked them to move".

While rowing ashore I had noticed the yachts in question, but knew they definitely did not belong to 'my mob': they were bare-boaters with not a true-blue cruising vessel amongst them. When I pointed this out to the Andre I don't think he fully understood the difference, but we nevertheless parted in good humour and it was not long before the Hayman Island jetty, with its iconic Hayman Rocket, was pulled down in favour of a helipad and exclusive marina.

Having worked my yacht in charter fifteen years earlier, this was a situation for which I felt a little sympathy for the charter companies whose customers don't always behave correctly. Most of my guests were darned nice people, but their periodic irresponsible behaviour always caught me by surprise. A classic example happened at another Whitsunday island resort.

My guests were three intern doctors out for a week's fun and a more good-natured bunch of blokes you couldn't hope to meet. Yet somehow the connection between 'holiday' and 'normal' behaviour escaped them for I spent most of my time covering their tracks. A typical evening saw me putting them ashore, clearing them with the resort's reception, then returning aboard until called.

Towards dawn, I rowed over to find them all wearing bathers and holding their clothes with towels around their shoulders. It wasn't until I poured them aboard that I realised the bathers and towels had been stolen from a guest's clothesline. In fear of my reputation, I rushed ashore, dashed from one donga to another searching for the most likely clothesline and re-pegged their spoils before slinking back to my yacht hoping the victim would not be too confused as to how their clobber got wet.

Whether chartering or just lifestyle cruising, we're often perceived as pleasure-bent holidaymakers rather than individuals pursuing a responsible lifestyle. And whilst it is bad enough that we are often seen in this light, it is far worse that we are judged by the lowest elements in our ranks. Not that the lowest element is necessarily bad, often they are decent folk who simply haven't thought their actions through. Look at the single most common example of thoughtlessness: namely, the dinghy-dock syndrome.

Dinghy-dock-syndrome is when people go ashore to a dedicated landing and tie their tenders fore and aft alongside where it not only occupies a huge area but it denies access for all others trying to get ashore. The answer is simple: leave your tender on a single, long painter so that other dinghies can work their way up to the dock for embarkation.

Getting on with each other is really that simple.