Welcome Wears Thin For Yacht Crew

Sydney Morning Herald

Thursday February 2, 1989

By WANDA JAMROZIK, Ethnic Affairs Reporter

As the old Polish saying goes: guests are like fish - after three days, they begin to smell.

Some people wish that the skipper of the Polish yacht Jan z Kolna would remember this piece of folk wisdom. The yacht and its skipper, Mr Wojtek Wierzbicki, an electronics engineer and master mariner, have been "guests" in Sydney for just over one year.

"In sailing there are plenty of bludgers," said a local yachtsman familiar with the Jan z Kolna saga. "But these blokes seem to want to make it into an art form."

Members of the local Polish community have pronounced themselves "fed up"with the yacht. "In the beginning we were happy to help them," one man said. "But they wanted more and more. Now we just want them to go away."

This week negotiations between Mr Wierzbicki, his creditors, his insurance company and the Polish shipyard which owns the yacht seemed no closer to resolution than they were a month ago. The yacht's eventual departure date appears to be even less certain.

The Jan z Kolna arrived in Australia in January 1988, one of eight Polish boats to take part in the Bicentennial Tall Ships Race.

When the official celebrations drew to a close last February, all the tall ships, including the Polish vessels, set sail. That is, all but one - the Jan z Kolna.

Mr Wierzbicki, who sails the yacht for a government-owned shipyard in Gdynia, Poland, elected to stay on for the Round Australia Yacht Race. The Jan z Kolna won two legs of the race in its class.

Then Mr Wierzbicki decided he might as well compete in the Sydney to Hobart race too. But before the Jan z Kolna could be accepted as a competitor, repairs were needed in December to its bowsprit, engine and sails.

The work cost $24,000. But the skipper's Polish insurance company, Warta, decided that it would not pay because the captain had requested the repairs without the authority of the boat's owner.

The financial problem was compounded when the repairers confiscated the yacht's steering wheel, compass and certain engine parts as protection from possible non-payment.

So the Jan z Kolna was immobilised in Careening Cove, Kirribilli. And there it sits, with its remaining three crew members, to this day.

Yesterday, the Polish consul-general in Sydney, Mr Kazimierz Cias, said his main concern was the yacht and not its captain. "The Jan z Kolna belongs to Poland. We have offered to send it home on a cargo vessel but he refuses to organise it. He can't go on sailing around the world in somebody else's yacht."

Mr Wierzbicki, however, remains unrepentant. "It is a ridiculous situation," he said. "They keep sending me these stupid telexes. One day they tell me to sail home by the safest and shortest route to get there by May. The next day they tell me to sack the crew. What am I supposed to do?"

1989 Sydney Morning Herald