They didn't come from a sailing boat, but the alleged illegal behaviour, wild partying, harassment of wildlife and bounced cheques** by a group of Australians on a powerboat in the Northwest Passage has the potential to affect all Australian cruising sailors in the future who try to transit the great Passage.
Fortrus in the Northwest Passage
After jet-skiing on the ice in the Northwest Passage, a boatload of wild Australian party-makers arrived in Cambridge Bay early in September on the Fortrus, a 34-metre luxury motor yacht from Australia, which sleeps 12 in cabins with ensuite bathrooms and entertainment systems.
The land along the coastlines of northern Canada is home to widely separated Inuit communities, many of which are dry communities, or else the distribution of liquor is controlled. Cruising sailors from Australia are generally careful to observe local customs and laws wherever they sail, but it is alleged this was not the case with the passengers and crew of the Fortrus.
While in Cambridge Bay, the Fortrus ended up being the subject of a police investigation under the Nunavut Liquor Act. This has now been widely reported in the local press, specifically the http://www.nunatsiaqonline.ca/stories/article/65674private_yacht_visitors_to_nunavut_create_mixed_impression_in_cambridge/!Nunatsiaq, who, in their article, specifically praised other visitors for their law abidance and observance of local customs.
Police seized 200 bottles of alcohol and $15,000 worth of illegal fireworks during September from the Fortrus.
On board the yacht they nabbed dozens of bottles of wine, hard liquor and even top-of-the-line champagne, along with fireworks from the United States that are not allowed in Canada.
Some of the crew on the boat were of other nationalities - Canadian, British and Ukranian. The owner of the yacht, Paul McDonald, 51, of Noosaville, Australia, now faces two liquor act charges: one count of providing liquor to a minor and one count of being in unauthorized possession of liquor.
But that’s just the bare bones of a sordid story whose details continue to circulate around Cambridge Bay.
These include mounting community concern after an underage girl from Cambridge Bay dived off the side of the yacht during a wild party where men overwhelmingly outnumbered women.
Locals also say that, after being told by the Royal Canada Mounted Police (RCMP) not to set off fireworks, the Aussies on board ignored the warning.
And that’s not all. The passengers from the Fortrus also appeared to have harassed muskox on nearby Mt. Pelly.
Fortrus with animals
'We wrangled them up and brought them back to the rest of the group,' says their website.
'Steve got some amazing video of the herd running strait [sic] down at him. The muskox were tired by the time we got them back to the group. We were able to get some great pictures right up close to the animals. Amazing…'
Fortress animals and man
The yacht left the day after everyone on board was detained on the liquor act offenses and lost their stock of alcohol. None of this is mentioned on their website.
From the Fortrus passengers’ perspective, despite the seizures, 'the people of Cambridge Bay have been very helpful and Fortrus is now fully provisioned for the next leg of its journey. We tried to fuel while we were here but due to ice the town’s delivery of winter fuel is late and they can’t afford to deplete their supplies any more.'
As the yacht headed to Tuktoyaktok, they were overheard asking by radio if anyone with a float plane would be willing to bring them a new supply of alcohol.
McDonald is scheduled to appear before a justice of the peace in Cambridge Bay Nov. 15. He has until then to pay two $5,000 fines. A cheque for $10,000 left with the hamlet bounced.
If he doesn’t return to Cambridge Bay, an arrest warrant will be issued, says RCMP Sgt. Kristine Wood.
Because the offenses are summary offenses, any outstanding fines are unlikely to prevent McDonald from coming back to Canada. However, giving alcohol to minors is 'a serious matter' for the police and people in Cambridge Bay, said Sgt. Wood.
The RCMP recently produced a bilingual sheet asking people in Nunavut communities to report any 'groups or individuals who appear out of place,' and to remain on the lookout for unusual activities, such as ships without navigation or running lights or ships that follow an unusual route.
Wood said, apart from the Fortrus and a Norwegian sailing boat, the Beserk II, which was later dramatically lost in the Antarctic, crew and passengers on board other sailing boats, yachts and cruise ships generally observed all laws.
**Mr McDonald has since said, through his lawyers, that he 'regrets' the behaviour of he and his crew in Cambridge Bay, and will pay the necessary fine before the November 15th deadline. Sail-World has confirmed with local sources in Cambridge Bay that his denial of bouncing a cheque is true. He apparently promised to remit the money electronically, but it had not been done, so there was doubt that it would be done by authorities in Cambridge Bay.