Pleasure police spoiling river fun

A CONFRONTATION on the Clarence River between a small fleet of sailing kayaks and a NSW Maritime official has highlighted the need for better communication between river users and authorities.

One of the sailors said Sunday’s confrontation had a police-state feel about it as the fleet of 22 Hobie kayaks confronted a NSW Maritime boating safety officer.

The sailor, Stephen Roberts, said the officer was in a large boat with twin outboard motors.

“He didn’t even turn the motors off throughout the conversation,” Mr Roberts said.

“The whole thing was done with people shouting over the top of two big outboard motors.”

He said the discussion became heated and the official warned the spokesperson for the sailors he could fine them for holding an event without an aquatic licence.

Mr Roberts said the fleet was made up of owners of a relatively new type of vessel, a Hobie kayak, which could be pedalled, paddled or sailed.

“People from Tweed, Port Macquarie, Taree and around the Valley who owned these style of boats had gathered to share their knowledge and see what they could do,” he said.

“They just turned up on the day for a trip up the river to the Harwood Hotel for lunch and then back again.

“It’s just user pays for everything.

“We’re just average people who try to live frugally.

“We don’t go out to restaurants, we don’t socialise much.

“We’ve bought this yacht for our recreation.

“We couldn’t believe it when we were pulled up by Maritime.”

NSW Maritime spokesperson Neil Patchett said the boating safety officer had come across the fleet as he was returning from the Grafton Bridge to Bridge ski racing event.

“He came around the corner and saw what he thought was about 30 of these vessels and a larger craft trying to navigate its way through them,” he said.

“He went over to have a word to them and there were a few words spoken.”

Mr Patchett said it was likely this event did not need an aquatic licence, but it was on the borderline.

“These are great little craft, but even on a beautiful wide waterway like the Clarence, they could pose a problem when there are 20 to 30 of them spread across the river,” Mr Patchett said.

“From what I understand of it, the event was an ad hoc arrangement set up over the web, where people just turned up on the day, which is great.

“I think it’s a timely reminder that people organising these events, even if they’re not sure exactly how many will turn up, should put a call into us and let us know what could happen.

“Then we can let them know if there’s likely to be a conflict with other events on the river.

“These are exactly the sort of events that NSW Maritime supports. They encourage people to get outdoors and be active, they’re social and non-polluting.”

Clarence Valley Council deputy general manager Des Schroder echoed those sentiments.

He said council was developing its Clarence River Way project to make the river the focal point of the region’s tourism and confrontations of this sort did not help.

“We’ll bring the issue up at the next Clarence River Way committee meeting, which Maritime will attend,” Mr Schroder said.

“We probably need to get more clarity into the rules.

“They seem a bit vague at the moment, but I suppose with these sort of vessels it’s a bit of a grey area.”

He said Sunday’s trip on the river from Yamba to Harwood and back was exactly the event council wanted to see on the river.

“Twenty to 30 people getting together for a day on the river is what the Clarence River Way project is all about,” he said.



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