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The Globe and Mail

A boozy cruise gets Aussie tycoon in hot water

Paul McDonald’s 34-metre yacht, Fortrus, left Fort Lauderdale, Fla., last July with a plan to circumvent North America.

Captain Larry Spisak

Australian business tycoon Paul McDonald has been compared to Sir Richard Branson, the high-flying British entrepreneur famous for a variety of stunts including private space flights. So when Mr. McDonald took his 34-metre yacht, Fortrus, through the Northwest Passage recently, there were bound to be eventful moments. And there were – such as jet skiing around icebergs, skinny dipping near Greenland and close encounters with polar bears.

But there was one event Mr. McDonald has been less eager to discuss: a run in with the RCMP in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, a small hamlet of 1,500 where alcohol is restricted. Mr. McDonald and his crew allegedly threw a boozy party on the Fortrus on Sept. 7, involving at least one local teenager who jumped overboard. The crew also allegedly shot off loads of fireworks, despite being told not to do so by the RCMP. And they allegedly chased after some musk ox on some four-wheel drive vehicles.

None of that endeared the crew to some locals, who called in the police. The RCMP raided the boat, which includes 12 cabins, and seized 200 bottles of wine, hard liquor and champagne, along with $15,000 worth of illegal fireworks. The police charged Mr. McDonald with possessing the booze without a permit and serving alcohol to a minor. He was ordered to pay a $10,000 fine.

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Mr. McDonald left without paying, despite promising to wire the money before shipping off. He later vowed to send the cash to local officials before a court appearance on Nov. 15. And he issued a brief statement through his lawyer, denying allegations about the incident, but adding that he "regrets he was not familiar with the local laws or the restriction on fireworks or liquor at the time of the alleged incident."

As news of the incident spread across Canada and Australia, there were rumours Mr. McDonald had sent a cheque that bounced. He denied that and insisted he would pay the fine by the court date.

Last week, Mr. McDonald finally paid up. The RCMP issued a press release confirming full payment, and thanking the public for "their continued support in combatting illegal activities in the North."

The Fortrus's voyage appears to be nearly over. The boat left Fort Lauderdale, Fla., last July and planned to circumvent North America, heading up the East Coast, across the Northwest Passage, down the West Coast, through the Panama Canal and back to Florida. The latest entry on a website tracking the trip was Oct. 25, when the boat had left San Diego and headed for Mexico. There isn't much on the website about the Cambridge Bay stop other than: "We all had a very memorable time in Cambridge Bay."

Mr. McDonald, 51, made his money mainly in the quarry business in Queensland. He now runs several companies involved in reinforced concrete products, seafood, cattle breeding and property development.

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