If they are going to attack, they come at the quietest time of day, just after sunset when the wind has dropped. You can hear them coming. They squawk as they approach. We sit on our boats uneasily. Will it be our turn tonight? Or will they pass us by? The mob of Australian Sulphur Crested Cockatoos lives in the gums near our berth. These strong, intelligent birds play games with us, their favourites being ‘swing on an anemometer till it breaks’, ‘peck an aerial to pieces’, or ‘shred a furled sail’. Enough to make a sailor’s heart go cold.
The attacks are regular and the cruising fraternity has tried to fight back. There are a variety of lines, spikes or bright objects strung on masts or rigging in the vain attempt to stop them from landing. The disdainful Cockies tend to bypass them or show off their acrobatic skills by swinging by the beak from them. Nets on decks don’t work as their preferred perch and point of attack is the highest point on the yacht. Cockies, unlike other species, do not appear to be scared of fake snakes or owls.
The most successful strategy to date has been invented by a group of children. Thirteen year old Niall leads a multinational contingent, comprising his two North American sisters (Mairen and Siobhan aged 8 and 6 years respectively, off Totem) and two younger girls, Suza and Tamara off a Dutch Halberg Rassy. They have set themselves the task of defending the twenty or so Swedish, Australian, New Zealand, Dutch and British vessels berthed at the marina. The brigade members watch the mob as it approaches and race to warn the owner of any boat targeted by the birds. If the owner is not there the senior brigade members lightly board, deliver a solid thump to mast or rigging. The birds will fly away if their perch wobbles. The girl brigade members have long blond hair which streams out behind as they flit along the finger between the boats. They look like gossamer sprites in the gloaming. Niall is quite and purposeful as he leaps onto the boats, gives the rigging a tug and flies to the next boat. Not many lads are as fascinated by sails, sailing and rigging as he, by virtue of his sail-designer father and the family’s cruising life. Chasing cockies is all part of it. He might grow up to have a feel for rigging that most people will think is uncanny.
Sadly, the cockies usually prevail. Peter from Kitani scored a surprise hit one evening when an agile Cocky landed sideways on his halyard. Peter flicked the halyard vigorously, there was a loud squawk and feathers flew as the dismayed Cocky departed. It was the first and only time humans had a decisive win in the ongoing battle. There were a couple of a victory squawks from us that night!
Moonraker is equipped with a very effective ging (a sling shot) and we have a supply of marbles. As yet, this weapon has not been deployed, as we are in a built up area. The objective is not bloodthirsty: the aim is to get the marble close enough to startle the cockies, but not maim. We’ll see if it works.
There is one consoling feature in this ongoing war. Cockies target the tallest masts. The owner of the biggest yacht in our marina is reputed to be the richest woman in Australia. Her two truly huge masts act as the sacrificial target most evenings. As we watch her genoa being shredded and as the Cockies laugh at us from an inaccessible line strung between her masts, we are grateful that Cockies target the rich, and this protects the (relatively) poor.
Analysing the economic redistributive effects of Cockies might make a good thesis?