Sailing voyage lands man in court
A WHITSUNDAY sailor found himself in the Proserpine Magistrate’s Court on Monday, charged with a raft of offences relating to his conduct at sea.
Conrad Charles Ross-Smith initially pleaded guilty to charges of breaching a bail condition, failing to register two vessels and operating a ship while it was unregistered.
The court heard that when police caught up with Ross-Smith aboard his private yacht Apollo 3 on December 26, they discovered the boat and its tender, a 3.5-metre aluminium dinghy with a 15HP outboard motor attached, were both unregistered.
Ross-Smith said in court on Monday that this had now been rectified.
For the breach of bail he was fined $110 and for the registration offences he received a $660 fine.
Mere minutes after these were dealt with, the 44-year-old was brought back to court in police custody, to answer a further charge of unsafely operating his 15metre yacht.
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.
Ross-Smith was single-handing the boat and sailing under headsail alone.
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 RossSmith was eventually towed into Townsville by the volunteer coastguard.
When police caught up with RossSmith, 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 the famous Fastnet race, 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 a $770 fine.