Not on our watch

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    Public scrutiny of a proposal which would (among other worrying changes) increase the speed limit on Auckland’s inner harbour from 12 to 18 knots closes this Friday.

    The city’s appalled yachting fraternity is belatedly gathering to fight a review of the Auckland Harbour Speed Limit bylaw. It comes after a summer on the water where exponentially larger and more numerous high-end powerboats with owners displaying little knowledge of maritime rules and no sign that they have ever glanced astern to witness the carnage inflected on smaller vessels – including, last weekend, a hapless waka that was swamped by the displacement waves that heave back and forth across the harbour.

    One doesn’t need to cross the Indian Ocean in a yacht, running before boisterous trade winds from the south-east with waves from the monsoon season piling in from the north and all of it heaving over vast swells from the Southern Ocean, to understand wave action.

    Sixth form physics will tell you that when waves encounter rival waves moving in a different direction, the height of each piles on top of the others and all that rogue energy eventually succumbs to gravity and curls over and lands on whatever is under it at the time.

    The Sunday afternoon washing machine on Auckland’s inner harbour is just such a maelstrom and my own yachting career was seldom in such jeopardy as the afternoon off Orakei when, having unwisely agreed to crew aboard a becalmed navy whaler, we were left rolling to the gunwhales by a freak wave from a passing Waiheke ferry.

    Fullers initially welcomed Auckland Council’s proposed speed increase, saying it would enable ferries to make up time in order to keep to the company’s timetables. It was a statement that confirmed my belief that successive Waiheke ferry operators have a lamentable lack of understanding of the causes and effects of the displacement waves (generated at an exponential increase in fuel consumption) that batter the harbour’s foreshore every half hour.

    City councillor and spokesperson Linda Cooper also welcomed the higher speed when it was put out for public consultation, neatly parcelled (of course) between mid-November and early February.

    Nation-wide legislation sets a limit of five knots on vessels 200m from the shore and in proximity to swimmers and other craft. That still applies, but in the inner harbour from North Head to the Harbour Bridge, an overall limit was increased to 12 knots in 2007, to the dismay of boaties at the time.

    It was a bad call all round. Power vessels, at that speed, are still inexorably pushing their own weight of water out of the way.

    But the corridors of power are funny things and moving through the water for 10 minutes aboard a few million dollars-worth of vessel at so derisory a speed as 12 knots is no doubt deeply frustrating in some circles. Probably, someone sidled up to an official and proposed that a higher speed would have power boats on the plane and making less wake.

    Which may be true but at five knots their wake is almost negligible. Surely better if you consider what we are all out there for.

    And this bylaw would make intercept speeds on the water 36 knots – that’s 67kmh.

    That’s insanely dangerous in the confines of an inner harbour where tides are running faster and that has been dramatically narrowed by port company reclamations and the rust-bucket freighters now berthed there.

    And it’s a jungle out there. No road markings. No lanes. No limitations on the random behaviours of kayaks or anchored fishermen or dinghy sailors. You can climb aboard something the size of a house and be out there without a single qualification to say you know what the rules of engagement or even which way you turn to avoid hitting something hurtling towards you at well over the speed of the 28-knot Quickcat at full throttle.

    Rather than letting bureaucracy up the speed on the most spurious of justifications, we need to demand the harbour limit be dropped back to the standard five knots, a speed at which everyone can get home in good order and no-one makes waves at all. • Liz Waters

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