Boy racers in powerboats flouting local speed limits, commercial skippers failing to ensure a proper watch, sailors going the wrong way up a channel, RIBs moored across the middle of a space that could easily take a couple of eight-metre or so yachts… anyone who has sailed in the south of England might have encountered similar frustrations. But how to tackle anti-social (and sometimes illegal) behaviour on the water? One harbourmaster in Devon is considering just such a problem.
Grahame Forshaw was appointed harbourmaster for Exeter in July this year. His authority extends from the heart of the city, all the way to the Exe estuary at Exmouth, and it is there that he immediately identified a problem – kite-surfing.
The ex-Navy man and former harbourmaster for Lyme Regis has some experience of the sport, so understands very well the limitations that kite-surfers face in choosing precisely the direction in which they will travel. Nevertheless, he is concerned about what he calls “dopes on ropes flying in front of boats” in an estuary that is already notoriously tricky to navigate.
Speaking to East Devon News, Mr Forshaw said: “I have done a kite-surfing course. The problem with kite-surfers is they can only go in certain directions in relation to the wind. They can’t sail directly into the wind. They can’t sail away from it. They can only sail straight across it.
“I am quite worried about how we are going to manage that. Myself and my team have been talking about that already. It is going to be an area of huge concern”.
It’s not the only challenge that the new harbourmaster faces. He wants to up the standard of surveys to ensure that charts and buoyage for the main channel into Exmouth are constantly updated to take into account the shifting sands in the Exe estuary. And he’s looking closely at enforcing speed limits too – but with a light touch.
Mr Forshaw said: “We are trying to educate rather than legislate, and try to draw people’s attention to the fact there is a speed limit and the speed limit is there for the good of all. As we come across a boat that is going a little bit too quickly, or in an area where it ought not to be, we would explain what it is that they might be doing wrong and point out what they should be doing, how they should be behaving, and where they could be doing it”.
He hasn’t, though, ruled out tougher measures where necessary, adding: “We are trying to be pragmatic and make people understand, rather than hit people with a big stick. But we will have that big stick if we need it”.
Of course, beyond the limits of COLREGs and with the exception of local bye-laws (for example, where commercial vessels automatically have right of way), nobody really has more privileges on the water than anyone else – whether they are kite-surfers, sailors or powerboaters. So Mr Forshaw’s goal is to ensure that the Exe estuary is a “well-run and happy environment for everybody to enjoy”.
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