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Home » Cruising » A sailor’s tale – Pissed Off Parrots

A sailor’s tale – Pissed Off Parrots

  • Unknown (Photo by parrot)

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Some experts claim rosellas were first bought to New Zealand from Australia by ship in 1910. Not so says Don (not his real name), the one surviving member of a four-man crew that sailed across the Tasman in 1967 with a boatload of birds.

Sitting around a table at the local pub in southern Sydney, four cruising sailors, down on their luck and looking to make an easy buck, took the advice of a nearby pub dweller and decided to ship some parrots to New Zealand. Don remembers the wise pub mate told them since Australia wouldn’t allow the birds to be exported legally the birds would be worth fortune; just buy the birds for a few dollars and then sell them in New Zealand for up to $50 each.

Considering this a brilliant idea an all-out effort was made to find the money to buy a boat. Some $4,000 later and the four sailors owned a boat; a 33-foot trimaran built of quarter-inch ply. Next came the task of finding the birds; as the gun clubs were using native birds for live shoots, it was a matter of finding a club’s bird supplier and exchanging a few quid for a few birds.

Loading the birds quietly was thought to be a problem so Don and his mates chose Port Stephens where there was a mental institute located right near the beach. Using creative thinking and possibly a certain amount of wit, Don said the sailors figured the birds would squawk a lot while being loaded even at night, but if the inmates started bellowing about hearing the birds noise, the sailors hoped they would never be believed by their carers.

How this group of rag tag sailors safely got to New Zealand is still a mystery even to Don.

“It was 10 days of hell. The boat was full with what seemed like a countless number of birds; cockatoos, rosellas, finches and at least one Major Mitchell, all crammed into cardboard boxes. It had no inboard engine, no head, no sink, really nothing down below,” Don reminisces.

“We had no idea about the destructive nature of the birds. They gradually ate through the boxes and then started eating the boat. Then the birds, hundreds of them, on the deck and on the spreaders, sat there staring at us as we stared back at them. Several times I yelled at them ‘I hate those f**g birds’. Generally the response from my mates was ‘they probably f** hate you’.

Then with the help of the birds and the weather the boat started to seriously break up. As it flexed through the gale force winds, the rugged, pissed-off birds hung on tight to the deck and rigging while the crew looked on in horror.

At some point food became an issue for the birds and the sailors. When the bird-food ran out the crew feed them left-over muesli.

Then there was the Charlie who refused to stay on the yacht. “He decided early on in the trip that he couldn’t stand the smell of the birds so he took to the dinghy and stayed there all the way across the Tasman, waves crashing over him. The problem was; he was the cook.”

Arriving into Doubtless Bay on the north island, the sun came up and the boat was becalmed. The remaining 300 or so birds all started squawking, yelling and chewing through their cages. Those lucky enough to have already got free of their cages, on sighting land from their perches along the spreaders, took off. The others just kept yelling.

From Doubtless Bay the sailors sailed the boat down to Auckland where they tried to sell the remaining birds. Armed only with a copy of Gould’s book on birds, they tried to outsmart the local dealers by holding an auction. Finally all the birds sold off including the Major Mitchell which just avoided being strangled by one of the sailors in response to the bird bitting him on the nose.

And the trimaran ? “It was by then totally trashed. There were big holes where the birds had eaten through it.” So the sailors decided on one more bright idea. Using too much petrol in the oil and with the mast taking off, they blew the boat up and claimed on the insurance.

On returning to Australia Don remembers starting to like birds, eventually buying a parrot for company.

So the tale ends.

The movie rights to this story would be worth a fortune.

By Tracey Johnstone