Hugh Treharne - Mooring Minder

Afloat readers will be well aware that Hugh Treharne is one of Australia’s most distinguished sailors. America’s Cup, Admiral’s Cup, Sydney-Hobart: you name it and Hugh has done it. But there is another aspect to Hugh’s life and although it could not be further removed from the glamour of international yachting, it is, in a very real sense, every bit as important.

Hugh’s bread and butter job involves laying and maintaining Sydney Harbour moorings. It’s a task that’s given him a disturbing insight into the neglect and indifference that many boat-owners visit upon their boats and their moorings. Bruce Stannard reports.

Hugh TreharnePick a bay, any bay and look closely at the swing moorings that tether its boats to the Harbour bed. Most will be well cared for, but a significant number will be overgrown with mussels and weed and perhaps frayed to the point where the ropes are likely to part in the first hard blow. Mooring failure sets off a chain-reaction as the wayward boat, driven by wind and waves, smashes other vessels in its path and often ends up on the rocks. It is a disastrous scenario with which Hugh Treharne is all too familiar.
When Hugh and his crew came to service my own mooring recently I was embarrassed by the amount of marine growth that had built up on the line. But that, he reassured me, was not the problem. The real issue lay deep-down on the Harbour bed at the point where the heavy iron chain was joined to the concrete mooring itself.
When the whole dripping mess was hauled aboard his lighter he pointed out the tell-tale signs of wear that had probably reduced the strength of the chain by about 30 per cent. After a deft piece of cutting with an oxy acetylene torch, the worn link was removed and the chain was securely refastened. In a neat piece of marlin spike seamanship, the polypropylene line was quickly re-spliced as good as new.
It was a relief to know the job had not only been done, but done well.
At the end of that little operation Hugh’s eagle eye went straight to a miserable little yacht that was wallowing like a weed-fringed, half-tide rock on a nearby mooring. She was full of water and looked as if she might come adrift at any moment. Although he said he had told the Maritime about it months ago, nothing had been done.
Hugh (left with blue cap) aboard his 40ft lighter Simmo.“In the first decent southerly blow,” Hugh said ominously, “she’ll be gone. Mark my words.”
I did indeed mark his words. A telephone call to Maritime headquarters revealed the extraordinary extent of the problem that bedevils authorities in every part of the state.
There are 16,000 private moorings in New South Wales as well as 5,000 commercial moorings. The most common recurring problem involves the failure of license holders to properly service their mooring apparatus and in neglecting their vessels to the point where they become unseaworthy.
Many boat-owners seem to be blissfully unaware that this sort of long-term neglect can render their marine insurance policies invalid. In the event of a catastrophe they can therefore be rendered liable not only for the costs associated with recovering and repairing their own vessel, but also the multiple costs of repairing all the other boats damaged in the runaway’s flight.
To make matters infinitely worse, they can be prosecuted, fined and may even be obliged to forfeit their boats.
I asked NSW Maritime what steps they took when their patrol officers spotted a neglected boat on a dodgy mooring. The initial response is to make contact by phone and by post informing the owner of his/her responsibilities. If a reasonable response is not forthcoming a “Notice to Remove” sticker might be attached to the vessel. And if those requests were ignored?
“If this is ignored,” Maritime spokesman Neil Patchett told me, “a notice to Show Cause as to why the mooring license should not be cancelled is sent. This needs to be replied to in writing. If a reasonable response is not received then a Notice of Cancellation and a Notice to Remove the Vessel and its apparatus from the water is sent.”
I wondered under what circumstances Maritime might remove a vessel from a mooring. The answer: if there’s no response to Show Cause and Notice to Remove; unable to identify or locate the owner; unseaworthy vessel or illegal vessel or apparatus.
In Sydney, if a vessel is taken into Maritime custody it could end up at Rozelle Bay where it may be destroyed at the owner’s expense.
In the case of the grubby little yacht, Hugh said the owner did nothing for a month or more and eventually slipped a plastic sleeve over the line without replacing it. Inevitably the line broke and while the boat stayed on the water police mooring Hugh was called in to retrieve the mooring from the Harbour bottom.
“When we hauled it up,” he said. “There was nothing on the mooring worth keeping. It had literally fallen to pieces. We had to replace it with a brand new line. The point is that by neglecting their moorings, people make a rod for their own backs. When things go badly wrong they can be up for big bucks. And yet time and again people postpone the inevitable. They wait and wait until the moorings just break. Then they’ve got to drop everything and attend to it because they’ve got nowhere to put the boat.”
Hugh Treharne’s late father, David, started laying and maintaining the old all-chain moorings in Sydney Harbour over 50 years ago. He died at the helm of his 40ft lighter Simmo on his way back to Manly after a long day’s work in 1986. He was 76.
“Simmo was already 45 years old when my father bought her,” Hugh said, “but my brother Ian and I took her to Groom Brothers in Berry’s Bay and put a new bottom in her, replaced her topsides and her bow and stern, then we put a stainless steel deck on her. She’s virtually a new boat. She’s a bit like George Washington’s axe: four new heads and five new handles but still going strong.”
Hugh and his close-knit crew, Craig Ragan and Rob Piper work as one. I stood well back amid the cheerful mess on deck and watched them go about their respective tasks like carefully choreographed performers. Although scarcely a word passed between them, they raised, repaired and repositioned my mooring in under half an hour.
“We don’t muck around,” Hugh said with masterful understatement. “We know exactly what has to be done and we get on with it. The work is done quickly but it’s also done thoroughly. The result is that when I hear a hard southerly blow coming in at night, I can rest easy. I just roll over and go back to sleep.”
Although most marine insurance companies explicitly require mooring apparatus to be checked every 12 months, Hugh points out that the rate of wear and tear varies throughout the Harbour.
In some of the quieter bays in the Parramatta and Lane Cove rivers, he says, there will be minimal wear on chains on the muddy bottom, whereas in sandy bays like Manly and many of the shallow North Harbour coves, the bottom can be quite abrasive on metal. It is a situation which is greatly exacerbated, he says, in bays where there is a great deal of wash from passing traffic like ferries.
“Manly is the worst,” he said. “It’s shallow and of course the jet cats and other ferries come roaring into the wharf to keep to their tight schedules. On their approach they make a hell of a wave. All the boats roll all over the place in the few minutes when the ferries are berthing.”
Hugh is critical of some of the modern fabricated stainless steel bow fittings whose sharp-edged cheeks can easily chafe mooring lines, especially when the mooring cleat is offset behind.
“In the old days they used cast bronze fairleads that had lovely rounded edges, so there was no chafe,” Hugh said. “When you spend your life sailing as I have, these are the little details that you attend to straight away. If you see a problem, fix it. Don’t wait for disaster to strike before doing something about it.”
Hugh Treharne has a simple but serious admonition for every boat owner.
“Keep an eye on your mooring,” he says. “It’s a lot less expensive to maintain a mooring than it is to replace the boat.”
People can be told, Hugh, but will they listen? I doubt it.