know thereís a bit of a move afoot to require skippers who are in charge of a
vessel with over 50 passengers or running a trip of a duration more than 45
minutes, to carry a qualified person as crew. And I know that to carry such a
person is going to adversely affect the Ďbottom lineí. From what Iíve
heard, the requirement might be that such a Ďqualified personí would need
perhaps a Boatmasterís certificate. While Iím aware of the argument that
airline cabin attendants are not required to have a private pilotís licence
and be capable of landing a 747, I have often wondered (while sitting in the
back of a six-seater with only one pilot) ďIf he has a heart attack and sucks
the kumera, am I capable of flying the plane?Ē and on the strength of two
hours in a Victor training plane in 1974, after which I ran out of money and
nerves, the answer is an honest Ďnoí. Iíll even admit that I fly Ansett
because there are two of those noisy things on each wing instead of one, simple
arithmetic and the law of averages finishes the argument. Itís not that Iím
a coward - Iím perfectly happy out in a gale as long as Iíve got sea-room
and a sea-worthy vessel. If the boat sinks, there are life jackets and I can
swim. Try as I may, flap my arms as hard as I might, I havenít been able to
fly, and Ansett has so far treated my requests for a parachute with some
disdain. It always amuses me when they say ď.......and the lifejacket is
stowed under your seat.Ē. As we plough into the side of a mountain or a
Tokoroa forest at 500 mph, Iíll be sure to put it on.
the fact remains that there are times in a Skipperís life when you find
yourself with a boat-load of passengers, no deckie, and suddenly, urgently,
nature calls. Especially in the middle of the harbour after a torrid night of
curry, lima beans, pistachio nuts and a bottle of Artillery Port. Iím sure
youíve been there, too. Maybe youíve got sphincter muscles made of steel,
but I havenít. There are times when the call will not be denied, and you head
the vessel to the nearest patch of water where everyone else isnít, take the
way off the boat, and ZOOOOOOOOM.
have heard of one Skipper in Brisbane who solved the front half of the problem
by keeping a plastic container in the little cupboard immediately below the
wheel. In the darkened wheelhouse, passengers were unaware of his furtive
activity. It appears that one such evening, with a bit of a beam sea running,
said skipper was mid-stream with a relieved smile when the container moved
slightly. Immediately behind the container was the main distribution board,
ordinarily not a serious threat at 24 volts, however the freezer decided to
clatter into gear, requiring the inverter, which obligingly delivered a healthy
240 volt ac supply to the same board and, via the stream, to the Skipperís
bladder. According to the story, passengers were treated to the spectacle of the
Master of the vessel, in whom one is supposed to have a degree of faith and
respect, leaping around the wheelhouse clutching the offended member (and other
parts) while yelling naughty words, before sitting down quietly for five minutes
gloomily reflecting on the meaning of Life, the Universe, and everything, while
his vessel lay rolling abeam.
I relate a personal instance, donít be too hard on me - we all make mistakes.
On a particularly rough day I decided to take the channel between Motuihe and
Crusoe, wind against tide, taking a nasty steep chop right on the nose, when one
came along larger than all the rest and the entire foredeck disappeared.
Normally not a problem, if youíve prepared properly. Unfortunately I hadnít,
and in the eye of a twink 100 metres of anchor warp and 30 metres of chain were
swept over the side. The channel is narrow, rocks everywhere, and I had a
choice. Stop the shaft while I got it all in, risking broaching or a rock, or
continue on, risking a fouled propeller. Stopping the shaft was the only option
- and I was lucky - the wheelhouse door was a Ďsliderí, I managed to get a
hold of the rope and pulled it all in through the wheelhouse door before her
head had paid off too much. If Iíd had a deckie, it would have made a
difference - for a start, with two of us itís a fair bet the danger would have
been spotted before the incident occurred.
another instance, coming into Marsden wharf (Auckland) with a boatload of
passengers and no deckie, with 45 knots blowing from right aft, blowing so hard
that 200 metres after putting her in neutral we were still doing 5 knots - as we
closed to about 2 metres off the wharf one of my regular passengers decided to
be helpful, and jumped the gap with a rope in his hand. While I applaud the
sentiment, had he misjudged the jump, itís for sure I would have squashed him.
Passengers donít understand the dynamics of heavy vessels, and are not trained
to understand them. Thatís not going to stop them wanting to help and, in the
process, getting hurt or killed. And donít you just love it when, on a windy
day, twenty or so fizz-boats anchor in your lee and start fishing. When you want
to go, and you break the anchor free, youíve still got a hundred metres of
warp to get in, on a winch thatís as slow as a wet week, and you have to keep
running back to the wheelhouse to give her Ďa tickle aheadí. What happens if
- at that point - I slip on a wet deck and break my leg? So much easier - and
safer - with a deckie. Never mind the fizz-boats - what if itís a lee shore?
to an actual example (no names or identifiers) - it appears that a certain
charter operator, suffering from a bout of influenza, dropped his passengers at
the wharf, then cleared the wharf so that another vessel could come alongside.
He took his vessel out into the Bay, directed the two catering assistants to
clean up the boat as is usual, left the boat to drift (itís a big Bay), and
feeling somewhat unwell, went below to have a quick nap, directing the catering
assistants to keep an eye on things and wake him if they got too close to the
rocks. So far, so good. Time went by, and the vessel drifted across the Bay.
Unfortunately, the catering assistants had no idea that there was a rather nasty
sandspit in the Bay. It seems that at low tide, you can drive over it. After an
hour or so, and on a dropping tide, the catering assistants must have thought it
funny (while they had a cup of tea) that the vessel wasnít rocking or moving
around much. They were directed to watch
the rocks. None of them knew anything about charts..... The skipper awoke,
much refreshed, to find his vessel aground. Nobody hurt, of course, just a bit
of damage to a propeller and the Skipperís reputation. Had the catering
assistants been trained in elementary seamanship, and been given more specific
instructions, the incident might not have happened. I know the Ďbottom lineí
is important. But if every operator was required to provide the same
Ďqualified personí, then cost-wise itís a level playing field, isnít it?
At the end of the day, itís passenger safety that should be paramount. Just
quietly, you might even save your own life too. And just in case you havenít
clicked on to my message, try this:
sitting in your seat on a 747 at 30,000 feet, getting ready to land in Los
Angeles or somewhere, and hearing this cabin announcement ď...Um, we have a
teeny weeny problem, um, as you know this is a cut-price airline and we can only
afford one pilot, er um, well heís actually had a heart attack and is sort of,
actually, but we donít want you to worry, because the Catering Chef reckons
heís a bit of a whizz at computer games, so heís gonna have a go at bringing
us in to LA once he finds the keyboard thingy. He really does amazing things
with omelettes, so relax and enjoy the rest of your flight with Shoestring
grab that life-jacket.
Steve Punter ANZIM,
Dip Bus (PMER), FHRINZ
Staff Training Associates Ltd, Auckland, New Zealand.
© Steve Punter 2001 All rights reserved by the author.