Crew making too much merry

A Yachting Monthly reader sent us this tale of woe asking us for our thoughts:

‘We write out of frustration and fed up with like many other persons of ‘just letting things go’ and not taking any action when events occur.

We are sorry that this is such a long letter but we would very much appreciate that it is read in full.

Last month we were cruising with our family in France and Channel Islands. We sailed into the French port of St.Vaast on the north coast.

On the fishing side of the port across from the marina there was a sailing barge. St. Vaast is a lovely peaceful French port and was full of visitors and many cruising boats, lots with families and from various countries. It was a glorious sunny afternoon which was enjoyed by all.

Onboard the sailing barge the crew appeared to be at least 10 men varying from probably late teens to mid twenties. All were drinking cans of beer/lager but at this stage fairly quiet. A comment was made by some English passer by that they looked like trouble.

We are not sure what they got up to from that point on but by midnight all hell was let loose. We were in bed and woken by lots of noise – caused by the group of men on the barge screaming and shouting all sorts of obscenities across and around the harbour, kicking beer cans, bins etc and causing general chaos. There were all clearly very drunk and behaved appallingly, and were in no doubt a destructive mood.

This continued well past 4.30am in the morning. These people were hovering around near the marina causing mayhem and using foul language at the top of their voices – there were quite a lot of people looking out from their cockpit/hatches but nobody wanted to confront them, as they were very intimidating.

We have cruised all our lives since children and are only in our early forties now with our own children and have sailed professionally around various parts of the world for either a living or pleasure and now run our own marine business. For the first time ever, we closed every hatch on our boat for fear of these yobs – this sounds silly now but was very alarming at the time.

At approximately 2.30am we heard a large engine together with lots of revving by an outboard engine and much laughing and swearing. The noise was getting closer to our hull so we opened our deck hatch. To our’s and other yachtsmen’s alarm we watched in horror as the barge was approaching the docked boats in reverse with much noise and at much speed – there were shop alarms sounding off nearby where they had been docked – and then as she was reversing across the harbour, past the lock gates – she was blocking the gates, a huge fishing boat came thru the lock and just narrowly missing a collision with the barge (which has a black hull and had no navigation lights on) – the fishing boat swerved violently and must have scraped down the harbour wall. IT WAS CHAOS! Our immediate thoughts that the barge was being driven on the loose by these yobs (there is no other word for them) – we appreciate manoeuvring a Thames barge is not easy. Eventually we realised that she was trying to dock onto the nearby fuel pontoon – her dinghy and outboard soon arrived and helped push her into place.

We then thought that everything would calm down, how wrong we were. They then proceeded to have a violent fight onboard, with much shouting and obscenities and they decided to go swimming and muck around on deck and rigging and things did not to quiet until nearly 5am. They were totally out of control; we cannot understand why no police arrived. The skipper at no time appeared to exercise any restraint over them.

Many people did not sleep much that night and were lots of extremely angry and fed up people the next morning complaining about the bargee’s behaviour. We felt very ashamed to be British. At 9am the Skipper was clearing up bin bags full of his crew’s debris and looked exhausted. However, at no point did he have the grace to come up to any of the neighbouring yachts to apologise for this outrageous and disrespectful behaviour. It was left to the Port Office to do that – when we went to pay our dues they apologised profusely for all the commotion. Hardly their fault! Upon talking with them, it seems that they were kicked of the harbour wall by the local fisherman as they would not tolerate them.

We put it to you that this is simply not acceptable behaviour which should be looked into. This sort of thing seems be coming far too commonplace, notably by many charter boats – we cruised the Solent last summer which we noticed late night drinking and unruliness seemed to occur every night.

Such charters seem very much to promote drinking and having a good time rather perhaps learn boring things like basic seamanship, responsibility etc. It is doubtful that these yobs will ever learn these things and let’s hope they never set foot on a boat again. Reading through their safety policy it seems many of these rules were totally flouted and the Skipper and we presume mate (who seemed to be amongst the mob) did not care to uphold them. Indeed the following morning when they eventually got up at least one of them was still drinking beer and they all seemed very amused.

A few days later in St Peter Port a small cruising yacht moored across from us with four British men onboard – the beers came out as soon as they docked, they went ashore and came back very late loud, drunk and disturbing many people (they too went swimming!) – they were told to pipe down (not by us) which they eventually did and were gone by 7am the following day.

We are all for having a few drinks onboard in an evening but it is beyond acceptable when it becomes a nusciance to other persons. What ever happened to the decent days of old within the boating fraternity. We are absolutely certain that we are not the only boat owners who think this.

We are sorry that this is a long waffly and possibly hysterical letter, we are still very cross about this and feel strongly that something has to be done. Charter companies have to accept some responsibility and we would welcome if there were anyway that this could be looked into.

We shall be writing similar letters to CHIRP, RYA , MCA, Dept of Transport and any other marine body we have contacts with.’

While we sympathise with these yachtsmen, surely the correct procedure would have been to contact the harbour master on the night concerned – especially if the barge was being moved at night without lights. Leaving an official complaint to a letter blitz a month later will not help those in authority who may wish to gather evidence for a successful prosecution.