Home' Afloat : AFLOAT June 2014 Contents 34 AFLOAT.com.au June 2014
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NANNI DIESEL AUST
As I travelled around the harbour in yachts and other
vessels, I always envied water taxi skippers and pondered,
“ Wow, that would be a great job!” One day, I decided to
make good use of my Coxswains’s ticket and apply for a job as
a water taxi skipper.
The impression I had then was that it was going to be a breeze,
just cruising around the harbour in a rubber ducky type boat that
was a piece of cake to drive. People would look at how cool I was
driving those boats and I would go home to a nice, ice cold beer.
On my first day working as a water taxi skipper on Sydney
Harbour, I quickly realised that this was no ordinary job. I had
some very quick learnings and drew a few important conclusions
about this job ... just in the initial hours.
The first is that rubber duckies are not a breeze to drive. In
fact, the breeze has much to do with how you drive them. In heavy
winds, they handle like a supermarket trolley with two broken
wheels and move around as if they were balloons on water (well,
that is kind of what they are).
Being a sailing instructor, I soon discovered these handled
quite differently than the Beneteaus I had been used to driving.
If things were interesting on a sunny, windy day, wait until it
started raining! Now, it felt like I just hoisted a suite of sails as
I unrolled the plastic screens on both sides and the back used
to keep the passengers relatively dry. A few days of rain and 30
knot winds and I reckon I got the hang of it.
My second learning was that water taxis are at the bottom of
the pecking order when it comes to commercial vessels. Normal
IRPCS rules no longer applied and vessels approaching from
starboard no longer had right of way when it applied to a water
taxi versus any ferry, Fantasea and Captain Cook vessel.
It’s pretty much down to who is bigger and has the tightest
schedule. Things get really ugly when it comes to who has priority
on wharves. This is when that pecking order comes clearly to
life. It doesn’t matter if you are loading or unloading passengers
(elderly, kids and etc).
The bigger commercial vessels, if they have a time booked in
that particular wharf, they will buzz their horn and keep coming,
sort of like a game of chicken. The result is that you rapidly learn
to anticipate larger vessels’ movement, routes and timings.
My third learning was that water taxi skippers are not perceived
to be ‘cool’ by most passengers, especially Sydney residents. They
don’t see you as any different from a road taxi driver (not that
there is anything wrong with being one). What they don’t realise
is that for every skipper that is taking them around the harbour
there are months of study, thousands of hours of sea time and
a wealth of knowledge not known to the general public such as
IRPCS, buoyage, weather, boat handling and etc. It is interesting
the effect that the word ‘taxi’ has among Sydneysiders.
My final conclusion is how skilled water taxi skippers are.
What an amazing group of mariners. I reckon if you can do this
job in Sydney harbour, you can do most jobs out in the water.
These guys do everything that a crew of three on a larger (but
not much larger) vessel does. They drive, navigate, entertain, and
tie up. They do the job of the skipper, cruise director, deckhand
and still have to manage constant radio calls from the booking
offices often derailing their plans for the day. On Saturday nights,
even the job of security ... as the number of drunken idiots
catching water taxis increases.
So what makes water taxi skippers so remarkable? They are
probably the skippers in best physical shape, as hopping onto
wharves and holding a boat by hand is not for the faint shaped
and hearted. They likely have the best navigational knowledge of
the harbour as they are required to go into every nook and cranny
between the Heads, the Roseville Bridge and Homebush. They
also have remarkable knowledge of Sydney as a city; as one of
the main reasons tourists catch a water taxi is for harbour tours
One cannot overlook the camaraderie between water taxi
skippers. I have always received a salute no matter who the
skipper was and what company he worked for. As we all know, in
the water, you never know when you might need each other’s help.
So next time you hop on a water taxi, salute the skipper, and
appreciate what a skilled mariner you have there driving you. And
now, to my ice cold beer.
Sydney Water Taxi Skipper
with Ivan B. Signorelli
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