When it’s Time to Say Enough is Enough [10]

By Norman Bull

I decided to write this article after a close encounter in October with a power boat on the Lane Cove River. This was more than a case of someone just casually going past a little too close – which is nerve-wracking enough anyway – and was, in fact deliberate harrassment and verbal abuse. A good enough reason to say “enough is enough”! I thought club members may also be interested in the excellent response I got from the MSB.

The day after the incident occurred I called the MSB and gave a Waterways Officer all the details. The next step was to put the details in writing, addressed to the particular Waterways Officer who has responsibility for the Lane Cove River.

A copy of my letter follows but without the maps which were attached to the original. I hope that the letter will help fellow members understand why I got so steamed up and it may also be a useful example of how to put a complaint in writing.

Mr …….
207 Kent Street
Sydney 2000

Dear Mr ……

The following is an account of some events which I described in a telephone call to Ms ……. on 14 October. The events described took place on the Lane Cove River on Sunday 13 October.

At 12.30 p.m. I was paddling a kayak upstream at location A on the attached map. I was on the right-hand side of the river, approximately 20 metres from the bank. A power boat passed me on my left side from astern at high speed, The power boat was very close – I would estimate the distance at about two metres, but it was hard to judge the distance accurately because by the time I realised what was happening it had gone past. My kayak and I were splashed with water i.e not just fine spray. Some of the occupants of the power boat were looking back and laughing, so I believe the action was a deliberate “prank”.

At this stage I had only a general impression of an open fibreglass power boat with a number of young men and/or boys on board.

At about 1.00 p.m. I saw this power boat pulled up on the right hand bank at location B on the attached map. It was stern-on to the river, so I paddled close to it so that I could get its registration number and some other identification details. Another power boat was anchored roughly mid-stream at this location. Some trees obscured the side of the boat I was watching, however as the occupants were pushing it back into the water I waited until I could read the registration. I was about 10 metres away.

The skipper called out the following to me:

“What’s your problem? F*** off your silly old c*** or I’ll f***ing ram you.”

I did not reply, making a mental note of the registration number and then continuing upstream. The power boat driver did not carry out his threat and turned his boat downstream i.e. away from me.

I would describe the boat as follows:

  • Registration : …..
  • Approximately 15-18 feet long, fibreglass, clinker hull.
  • Blue hull with white trim. The registration number is white, and the name ….. (or something like that) in white cursive script astern of the registration number.

There were about six or seven occupants who I think were all male in their late teens or early twenties. The skipper was slim with short dark hair.

I would be pleased to assist you in any way with your follow-up to this incident. I may be contacted at home on 876 2494 and also during office hours care of 2515622.

Yours sincerely

Norman Bull

The Follow-Up

A couple of days after hand delivering the letter, I called the Waterways Officer as I had been told he would be in the office then. I was impressed with his interest in the case. When I telephoned he already had on hand the details of the owner of the boat and was able to tell me the owner has a son in the right age group, with a speedboat licence.

Calling him into the MSB office for a personal interview would probably not be productive as I had no witnesses and it would be a case of “my word against several of theirs”. Instead, the Waterways Officer explained, the practical course of action was for him to watch the activities of that particular power boat, knowing that another infringement of safety rules was inevitable. He promised to contact me with some feedback as soon as something happened.

Three weeks later he called me with the news that he had found the person who had harassed me, exceeding the speed limit in Darling Harbour with an expired licence. So, although that person will never know why he was getting special attention, the fine he received may at least encourage him to slow down and be more careful in future.

The support I received from the MSB encourages my belief that kayak paddlers do not need to put up with dangerous behaviour from power boat drivers. It seems that the MSB will do whatever it can to help when told about a safety incident. I would encourage all club members to report any such incidents in the interests of safer boating for everyone. Kayaks are small and sometimes difficult to see, but that does not excuse ignorance and irresponsibility on the part of other people.

Some Suggestions

  1. Do your best to avoid collisions. Follow the rules – this includes keeping to the right of the channel and using the correct lights at night Safety depends on all of us doing the right thing.
  2. Don’t think you have to put up with dangerous and anti-social behaviour. Consider carrying a Chinagraph pencil where you can reach it, so that you can write down a registration number and boat description on the deck of your kayak. Hopefully you won’t need to use it!
  3. If you are still mad when you get home after someone has nearly run you down, call the MSB as soon as possible and follow up in writing. Get the names of the people you speak to at the MSB.
  4. When you get the kind of results I did, write a thank you note to the person concerned (or better still – a letter of praise to his or her boss!)