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Sailor takes offense at depiction in article

Dec 21, 2007

To the editor: I was disappointed to read the recent article on a trip from Sydney to Tasmania (“Closing Down Sail,” Issue no. 164, September 2007). I should have thought that a magazine of Ocean Navigator’s standing would avoid publishing articles or stories that blatantly vilify others.
Language such as “bleached by city life…” is pure sensationalistic journalism (i.e., it no more than a snide slur) and has little place in a magazine such as Ocean Navigator. The author uses such language to gain some cheap, ill-founded point scoring, at the expense of the other person and any thoughtful reader can see straight through such poor quality journalism.
The account of the voyage written by Jack is a glossed over, almost romanticized version of the actual sequence of events that occurred. What follows is a more realistic account. I have also added my observations and some lessons to be learned from these experiences.
It all began with an e-mail from a friend telling of a sailor who’d sold his boat but had to deliver it from Sydney to Kettering, Tasmania. He was very keen to find crew as time was marching on. After an initial phone call I arranged to meet Jack outside the Newport Arms Hotel the following day.
We took the inflatable out to the boat as it tugged on the mooring on this overcast, blustery day. During the process of scrambling aboard Jack lectured me excessively on how to climb the ladder — as if I had never done it before. This should have been my first clue to the type of person I had just met. After meeting his wife we settled below to discuss the details of the proposed voyage. During the discussion I asked about going for a daysail to learn more about the boat, how she handled and to see the way it was managed. To this request I was greeted with an answer suggesting that it was too hard to get the boat off the mooring and through the other moored boats just for a daysail. Herein lies further clues and hints of things to come. On boarding the dingy to depart, I was again bombarded with instructions on how to disembark.
Once ashore Jack and I agreed that I would get back to him within a couple of days. At this point I should have listened to my intuition and picked up on the many obvious and subtle signals from Jack. However due to my eagerness to do some more ocean miles, I drowned out these warning messages.
I joined the vessel at the agreed time, followed shortly afterwards by the other crewmember, Peter. Before departing to go ashore, Jack’s wife presented all of us with a cake to be shared throughout the voyage. A thoughtful gesture I thought to myself, but Peter and I saw little of it on the trip. For the first two days Jack handed out small pieces to Peter and me and then the cake mysteriously disappeared.
The following morning we dropped the mooring and motored over to the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club for fuel. Jack spent 20 minutes lecturing both Peter and me on how he was going to come alongside the floating fuel jetty. As we approached it, it was obvious that we had far too much way on and our angle relative to the dock was all wrong. The boat hit the dock with a resounding thud, which prompted the dockmaster to express his discontent. I later learned that this method of docking was far from an isolated incident for Jack. After refueling we motored down the harbor and again Peter and I were lectured to excess on how to raise sail. This patronizing, overbearing approach quickly became the norm for the rest of the voyage and both Peter and I found this very wearing and it quickly took the edge off the enjoyable aspects of the voyage for us. For the entire voyage the weather was far from ideal, but this paled into insignificance when compared to this constant barrage.
We motor sailed down the coast (due to a lack of wind) and in the afternoon, Jack decided to put into Sydney Harbor for the night. We anchored in Spring Cove, just inside North Head. I did my best to politely suggest to Jack that we were anchored inside a clearly buoyed prohibited area, a rookery for a colony of rare penguins. Jack rebuffed my observation with a brash comment suggesting that he was a world cruiser and hence was not subject to, nor did he much care for local laws and regulations.
During the night I reflected on the events that had transpired so far. Again my intuition was telling me to get off the boat, but again I allowed my love of sailing to overrule it. I was later to find that this was my first big mistake.
As we motored out of the harbor early in the morning, after a day at anchor waiting out the weather, I tried to diplomatically suggest to Jack that we were too close to the point as I could clearly see the bottom only a few feet below us. As I had local knowledge I knew the bottom was solid rock. Again Jack rebuffed my comment with a sarcastic remark. Knowing that we probably only had a few inches of draft to spare I moved to the pushpit and braced myself in case we hit the bottom. Luckily, we didn’t ground.
Once outside the heads we set sail and headed south in a 12-knot breeze with eased sheets. During the day the wind backed more easterly and slowly died away. So we motored until the wind started to develop from the northwest and then it veered to the north by northwest also bringing drizzle. I went below to don my wet weather gear, on returning Jack greeted me with a barrage of sarcastic comments about my new wet weather gear. In fact I had had them for many years, I just believe that if you look after it, it will provide better service, in sharp contrast to others I saw.
That evening we put into Jervis Bay and tethered the boat to a courtesy mooring to save deploying an anchor into the grassy bottom, renowned for its poor holding. Due to the poor visibility, drizzly rain and with nothing more than a zephyr we stayed put the following day. During the day Peter noticed that the fresh water was full of particles and did not look the best, Jack’s comment was to just ignore it. Part of the day was also spent doing some little jobs on the boat, one job required me to retrieve something from the aft lazarette. I was concerned with what I had seen, so on returning the items to the lazarette I took some time to have a good look around. The steel construction was in need of maintenance and the steering system, while still serviceable, was far from what I would consider to be in the best of condition.
Later that day I sounded Jack out about putting me ashore as I now held some serious concerns. He commented that there was nowhere to put me ashore and if I wanted out I would have to wait until we got to Eden, if we put in there. Of course there are places to land in Jervis Bay and I should have been more insistent, a mistake on my part!
The following day we dropped the tether line to the mooring buoy and motored out through the heads of Jervis Bay. These heads are quite close together, compared to the volume in the bay and consequently they can generate accelerated winds and short steep seas, this was certainly one of those days. With only a heavily reefed mainsail hoisted, the boat rolled from gunwale to gunwale, making it very difficult to do anything except find something strong and hold on tight. This motion verified many of my assessments of the boat’s design characteristics. Her heavily round sectional shape, very small keel and shallow draft did little to arrest her motion.
As we continued to sail south for the next two days Peter and I noticed the water getting steadily browner and more heavily laden with large particles which concerned us both. In a slowing dying breeze from the northerly quarter we were now well offshore and abreast of Eden. Jack then set about listening to no less than five weather forecasts and after deliberating for more than an hour finally decided we should put into Eden.
As we motored up Two Fold Bay I was again assaulted by a further barrage of offensive comments from Jack, that was the final straw for me. After anchoring and securing the boat I politely told Jack that I wanted out. He did not understand my request at first, so I re-phrased it for him. Once he understood, his immediate response was that he did not want any nastiness, to which I readily agreed, as I see no need for such conduct. Jack was visibly upset and shaken by my decision to leave the boat. I later learnt why, I was by no means the first person to jump ship during a voyage. Having caught the next flight to Sydney I walked in my front door less than three hours later, glad to be home.
I later heard that the rest of the voyage contained many of the same characteristics that I had experienced. What are the main lessons to be learned from such an experience? Here is a summary of my thoughts:
1. Above all else, always listen to your intuition and if you have any doubts or find it hard to make a decision then decline the offer, no matter how attractive it may seem from the outside. Your natural intuition is usually correct.
2. If the skipper has an obsessive disposition and/or is overbearing, then the voyage will most probably be memorable for all of the wrong reasons.
3. If the skipper makes very rude ill-founded comments about you behind your back (thinking that others cannot hear him) and does things like put both crewmembers on deck (while he locks himself below deck to sneak a meal), you can be sure the person has little respect or concern for his crew.
4. It’s not wise go on a long voyage with someone that you have never sailed with before, as it is often hard to get off the vessel if you need to.
5. Actions such as rebuffing local knowledge and ignoring local regulations signal serious issues that should not be overlooked.
6. Refusing to go on a daysail suggests the person may be hiding something.
7. Poor maintenance is a sure sign that the boat has not been well prepared for the voyage, so declining the opportunity may well save your life!
8. A serious lack of some basic equipment (such as a speed log), a compass not suitable for a steel vessel (that had never been swung, by Jack’s own admission) and a heavy reliance on GPS should signal scant regard for good navigation practices.
9. Equipment and gear that is worn or damaged is far more apt to failure, which could lead to an accident with serious consequences.

-Christopher is a naval architect and marine surveyor.

Jack Gush responds: Referring to my article entitled “Closing Down Sail,” published in the September issue of Ocean Navigator magazine, I wish to apologize unreservedly for my offensive and derogatory comments pertaining to Christopher. I also wish to apologize unreservedly for the implied slur to his character and for any damage this may cause to his reputation as a professional.