The Peruvian Guano Case – post by John

In the commonwealth countries around the world, the case most often quoted to determine relevance of documents is Compagnie Financier v. Peruvian Guano, known simply as the Peruvian Guano case. This was a dispute between companies over the mining of large reserves of bird guano fertilizer. In this case the court also set out the legal tests to determine when documents are relevant, and therefore must be produced, as opposed to when they are not relevant and need not be produced. The fact that the legal test to determine whether documents are crap or not, happens to come from a case with such a name, has always made lawyers and judges smile.

I had been traveling through the north and south island of New Zealand for three weeks, when my sailing friends arrived. Doug Hawkins, Deb Jandrlich and Mike Sullivan. Janice Lo would join us later. Mike, Deb’s partner, was here to visit nz with us, offer his skills for boat maintenance, then fly back to Vancouver. Myself, Doug, Deb and Janice were to sail Illusion back to Vancouver, taking four months to do this. And the boat should have been in good shape for us.

The owner, Doug, is an electrical engineer. He bought this boat new in San Francisco, in 1995. She is a McGregor 65, a sixty five long monohull. He spent several years sailing her down to the south pacific and throughout the south pacific islands. He eventually landed in New Zealand and worked there as an engineer for seven years. He then flew to Vancouver, Canada. To his surprise, he fell in love with that city and has made Vancouver his home. And that worked out well.

Except that his beloved boat was left behind. It has now been seven years. She was left swinging on a mooring in the Auckland harbour. Four years in, Doug flew back do a check on her, and things were fine. It has been three years since then, so we expected that things would be fine again. And all would have been fine.

Except that after Doug’s four year check in, local marshland in Auckland was developed, was cleared for building houses and apartments.

And that would have been fine too.

Except that this marshland was where the local seagull population nested. So they no longer had their traditional nesting grounds.

And that would have been fine too.

Except that the displaced seagull population moved to nest on the boats moored in the Auckland harbour. And on our sailboat, Illusion.

And that would have been fine too.

Except that over three years, the layers of bird guano built up, completely covering the boat.

And even that would have been fine too.

Except that the thick layer of guano also covered the solar panel. The solar panel that was keeping the batteries charged. The batteries that kept the bilge pump working. And that meant that when the boat’s batteries eventually died, the bilge pump stopped. And therefore the rain that occasionally came down the mast was no longer pumped out. So when we arrived on the boat, and stamped our way through the heavy guano layer above deck, we found that the interior of the boat was flooded. Interior fabrics were
soaked and ruined. Many tins of chemicals had corroded through and had released their powerful contents into the bilge water, which was now a strangely thick, dark, liquid that was everywhere. The dark swamp that the developers had cleared out, had simply moved to the interior of our sailboat. The engine was covered in rust. Electrical systems were dead. Corrosion was common. Absolutely no systems remained in working order. A fair bit of wine would be needed for regaining proper mood.

And what the heck. Even that was ok, as New Zealand makes excellent white wines. So Doug and I engaged in some mood alteration work first. Doug and I got together in the Viaduct in Auckland, the downtown harbour area where the American Cup boats are kept. This place was a change from the rural sheep farming communities I had been visiting. And completely different from the Alps along the west coast of the south island. The Viaduct actually has ferraris parked there. I watched the multihulls practicing for the next America’s Cup. Prada’s multihull was out in the bay, the New Zealand LouisVutton multihull was out there, both of them flying, with crew high up in the air. That night Doug and I sampled the best white wines New Zealand made. The next day we slowly rowed out to start work on the boat.

And I’ll just skip to today, a week later. Doug, Mike and I have been working on the boat every day. The deep layer of bird guano has been scrubbed entirely away. New batteries have been rowed onboard. The engine is now running. Electrical systems are mostly re soldered and are running. Both heads are running. Most systems are running. In a few days we will take her to the marina for a haul out, and then do the rest of the work “on the hard”.

Sometimes a seagull will fly overhead, contemplating landing on our boat, on his old resting place. I want to buy a 22 rifle. Doug tells me the harbour has rules against that.

I would shoot even an Albatross right now. Ancient Mariner and Coleridge be damned. Eight foot wingspans. Beautiful pelagic, majestic seafarers. Shoot them all.

But we now have a functional sailboat. Everything is now relevant and proper, nothing is crap. Finally, we can now pass the legal test in the Peruvian Guano case.

2 thoughts on “The Peruvian Guano Case – post by John”

  1. Although your blog has little or nothing to do with legal matters (at least at a glance) I must say thanks for the first paragraph, as a layman who just heard the term I was wondering what it was about and for whatever reason this was top of google.

    I’d wish you good luck and every happiness doing your sailing thing, but somehow I doubt you’ll need it you lucky bugger!

    1. Ha! Funny 🙂 John, who was on the Illusion crew at the time and wrote this post, is a retired lawyer… Glad his post was useful!!

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