This is a long story but is deserves recounting, because I believe that the in-action and apparent incompetence of NSW Maritime needs exposing.
This last Monday the 12th December I was out sailing on the harbour. As we headed up the Harbour and went past the Sow and Pigs Reef (which for non nautical people is a VERY dangerous reef of rocks right in the middle of the entrance to Sydney Harbour and is just below water most of the time) I noticed that the north cardinal mark post was missing, and a small floating marker was the only visual warning of the rocks below. We came back down the harbour under spinnaker and I looked toward the Sow and Pigs, and found it quite hard to pick out this small marker. The marker itself was one of the small yellow exclusion markers that are used to block off areas of the harbour, such as the Sydney Hobart Start.
This meant that the whole Northern side of the reef was exposed and protected only by a very small nondescript marker, which in nautical terms meant nothing, and in my view was a very dangerous situation. The big boat challenge was on the next day, and what for example would happen if a 100ft Yacht travelling at 20 knots hit the rocks – somebody could quite easily be killed! Even if a small weekend warrior yachty hit the rocks, damage, injury and death is possible. The reef normally has four cardinal posts around it and the danger mark in the middle, and I know from years of sailing on the harbour that you must count the posts and make sure you can see them all, because it can become very misleading.
As we passed the reef I discussed it with a fellow sailor and she immediately explained that she had been on the yacht Ten-Sixty the day before and the had hit the reef. The gossip around the waterfront is that many boats have hit the reef including some large, very expensive hits and people had been injured. All this started back in July when a yacht knocked over the northern cardinal in the CYCA winter race.
I decided to take some action and spur NSW Maritime into action, and explain to them that they were being negligent, and exposing mariners to an extreme danger. Why could a floating cardinal not have been placed, and in fact this was the only solution. Placing a floating cardinal would be a simple and quick, and would have eliminated the extreme danger lurking in the entrance to the harbour, and eliminated all the notifications that had been issued. The Sow and Pigs Reef is very dangerous and right in the middle of a very busy waterway!
On Tuesday morning the 13th December I called NSW Maritime and asked to talk to the person in charge of marks in Sydney Harbour. I was put through to Drew Jones, who said they were aware of the problem, and that the what had happened was the contractor replacing the post had knocked over the post when they were placing it in position and yes they had put a floating marker in the water. He also explained that they had notified all yacht clubs and a warning broad cast was being issued every hour.
I explained to Drew that despite all of this, the situation was very dangerous, and why had a floating cardinal or at least a larger marker been placed there. Drew seemed very un-concerned, and said they had done what they could. I explained that I could fabricate a floating cardinal mark in a matter of hours in my garage and surely they could do better.
I also explained that I knew of a yacht that had hit the reef on the week end. I also explained that many week end warriors use the harbour, and they quite easily would not receive any warning. Further I explained that that the situation could lead to death and injury, and they could be lining themselves up for a big problem. I also explained that the big boat challenge was on in the harbour later that day, and something should be done. Despite all my remonstrations Drew seemed unconcerned.
I then explained to Drew that I was going to immediately contact the media, and I hoped he would get a call from the Sydney Morning Herald or Channel 9. This seemed to change his attitude, but in the process he explained that he in fact was not the person responsible it was Stephen Brown. Drew said he would get back to me.
At 9.15am I got a call from Drew saying a larger marker would be placed on the reef as the north cardinal later that morning. Excellent we had some action!
I decided to call Mr Stephen Brown since he was the man responsible and explain my concerns. I got through immediately and explained in similar terms to him what I had explained to Drew. The discussion became quite heated, and I must say, for an official in charge of the marks in the harbour, I found his attitude quite appalling.
He kept on passing the buck … 'one of you yachties knocked over the mark and did not tell us' … ' the contractor replacing the post had knocked it over last Wednesday when they were painting the new post because a jet cat had come past at full speed despite warnings' ….. ' we have issued warnings etc etc'.
Stephen had it seemd to me a very aggressive and non caring attitude, but did explain to me that a large mark was being placed there that morning, and a floating cardinal would be in place on Wednesday. Excellent, we have some action, but this was 100% caused by a member of the boating community having to get into a slanging match with NSW Maritime.
I explained to Stephen that I was going to contact the media and the situation was un-acceptable, and the ONLY action that should have been in place was that a floating cardinal should have been placed there as soon as possible, and there was NO other solution. I also explained I had knowledge of a number of yachts that had hit the reef in the past few months and the actions of both himself and his department were appalling.
I went past the reef at about noon on that day, and observed a large marker had been placed in as a cardinal warning. This was completely non-descript being a floating mark with a sign board on it saying ' Warning – no vessels permitted in the buoyed area – penalties apply' – a mark but what does it mean? Further it appeared that the mark was well out of position, being so far from the reef that it did not relate to the other three cardinals.
I called Drew and explained that I thought the mark was in the wrong position and he assured me it was not and was where the previous temporary mark had been. We headed back past the reef after the Big Boat Challenge and guess what, the large mark was not there and could be seen floating off middle head. I called Drew and he sent a boat to sort it out.
On Wednesday the 14th I went past the reef, and observed a floating cardinal mark. Hooray we have a mark, however it appeared well out of position, so far that it did not relate to the other marks on the reef. Further the temporary large mark that was placed the day before still floating – obviously grounded near middle head. Why?
Back at the yacht club I explained the saga to Ian Green who was the skipper of Ten-Sixty that hit the reef on the week end, and his immediate comment was the same as mine – that the floating cardinal is well out of position, and in fact exposes further danger, because yachties will not see it in context of the reef.
This is the situation as I write (Thursday 15th 10am) – a floating cardinal is in position, but it appears to be in the wrong place – not where people expect it, and yet again this exposes a danger to mariners. We all know that the marks on the piggies are quite close together and they are read as a group, however now we have a mark floating well away from its correct position and people could quite easily misinterpret the situation.
This whole saga of the Sow and Pigs mark has much more history, and I will briefly recount. Back in July a yacht in the CYCA winter race knocked over the north cardinal. In that same race shortly after, an number of boats hit the reef. What happened from then until late October I am unsure. In late October early Nov an email was circulated presumably from NSW Maritime saying that the new post placed on the reef was in the incorrect position, and be aware a buoy had been placed in the correct position.
Apparently a large boat had a big hit. This was one of the small buoys described above. This situation continued for a number if weeks. I went past a few times in the period and was amazed that such a silly marker was used for such a critical situation. In discussions I had with Stephen Jones apparently on Wednesday the 7th December the post was placed in the correct position, and during this process it was knocked over, and yet again a small floating marker was placed in position and nothing else, leaving the whole northern end of the reef protected by a silly small marker. This situation must have existed from Wednesday thru to the Tuesday morning.
I believe NSW Maritime have some have been negligent and for an organisation as large as they are surely they could have done better.
Questions come to mind -
1. Why was a floating cardinal not put in position (and the correct position) immediately after the winter race in July? This would have eliminated the necessity for any warnings and re-established a safe situation.
2. Why was the new cardinal post placed in the incorrect position. In the days of GPS etc this should be easy. If not did a diver not check the situation?
3. When the new post was found to be in the incorrect position, why was a floating cardinal not immediately established, and the incorrect cardinal post removed with urgency. Why was such a silly small nondescript marker placed in the correct position for a few weeks, leaving a very misleading situation?
4. When the new post was knocked over on the 7th December, why was the whole northern end of the reef left unprotected except for a 6 days. On five of those 6 days a very small floating marker that meant nothing was all that was there!
5. Is the new floating cardinal in the correct position. It seems that the mark is in the wrong position, and so far away that it does not read in the context of the reef!
6. Who is liable for all the damage to boats and injury to crew that has happened over the past few months!
7. Why do the operating guidelines of NSW Maritime not require the fastest possible re-establishment of a correct (ie cardinal in this case) mark when it is lost?
8. Why did the temporary large marker placed on Tuesday the 13th float away, and why have NSW Maritime not even bothered to recover this marker which is grounded off middle head? Do they have the guidelines and skills to place temporary markers. Since it appears that this mark was still where it was when it floated away the day before, what protection if any was put in place on the Sow and Pigs on Tuesday afternoon and evening?
9. I sailed in the Baltic earlier this year, and they have thousands of markers that are put in an removed every season since the water freezes. These are very simple but very effective markers that look like they are made from plastic tube, and have a brush type material used for the cones. Why cant NSW Maritime have simple light weight markers like these to establish immediately in an emergency?
For months and months there have been warnings, notifications, many keels damaged, injuries and a rolling saga, which could have been simply sorted out very quickly by placing a floating cardinal in the correct position – why was this not done. Possibly our Minister in Macquarie Street or Stephen Brown would like to explain?