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Solo sailor fined $770 for 'taking 15 minute catnaps'

by Sail-World Cruising round-up on 14 Feb 2014
Ex-racing yacht Apollo 3 - her solo skipper admitted to taking naps SW
Solo sailors anywhere near Queensland beware. According to the Whitsunday Times, a solo sailor in the Whitsunday Islands has been fined for 'not keeping a proper watch' as he admitted taking 15-minute 'catnaps' while sailing a famous ex-racing yacht, the 16m Apollo 3.

Traditional sailors may also want to be aware, because the same sailor was also cited by police for 'not having electronic equipment, no radar and no depth sounder'. According to the report, Police said he claimed he was sailing by chart and dead reckoning, but they 'couldn't find his course marked on the chart'.

Then, looking further, they found that the safety equipment on Apollo 3 to be out of date.

However, because he was solo-sailing, the magistrate ruled that it was only his own life he was endangering, and fined him $770.00 for these transgressions.

But that wasn't the only trouble this sailor found himself in.

Conrad Charles Ross-Smith did plead guilty to failing to register two vessels (his yacht and its dinghy) and operating a ship while it was unregistered, but he also claimed that that situation had been remedied.

Police prosecutor Elizabeth Cassells said Ross-Smith had set out from Airlie Beach on Apollo 3 on January 14, bound for either Townsville or Cairns. He described the weather and sea conditions as 'quite heavy', but said the vessel was easily able to cope.

Ms Cassells said over the course of the voyage he damaged his headsails, was unable to raise the main and had no means of propulsion as the auxiliary engine was also inoperable.

She said he was drifting in this state for about a day and became exhausted. He then spotted a navy ship and let off an orange flare. Ross-Smith said crew from the navy ship came to his assistance and helped him to jury rig the boat. He said he believed he could have made it to shore.

However, at 7pm on January 16, Townsville Water Police were advised by the Australian Rescue Co-ordination Centre that Apollo 3 was drifting 15 nautical miles east of Magnetic Island and Ross-Smith was eventually towed into Townsville by the volunteer coastguard.

When police caught up with Ross-Smith, they ascertained he had not been keeping a proper watch in accordance with collision prevention regulations. He admitted leaving the vessel unattended while he took 15-minute cat naps.

He also had no electronic navigation equipment, no radar and no depth sounder. He said he had been navigating with a marine chart and by dead-reckoning, however police noticed there was no course marked on the chart.

When the vessel's safety equipment was checked, the emergency flares were all found to be out of date.

On the one hand, Ross-Smith described himself as a 'seasoned sailor' saying Apollo 3, a former contender in Fastnet and Hobart races, was his third yacht. On the other hand, he said it had been 'pretty tough' living on the boat and he put his mistakes down to 'a learning experience'.

Magistrate Haydn Stjernqvist said the maximum penalty for unsafely operating a vessel was a $55,000 fine.

Nonetheless he ruled that with no passengers aboard, Ross-Smith was 'the only one that could have perished on this boat' and he imposed the $770 fine.

Nothing was mentioned during the hearing about the time wasted by the Navy personnel and rescue volunteers, but the moral of the story is clear: if you go solo sailing, don't whatever you do, admit to sleeping.
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