October 31, 2010

Trusting your crew

A FRIEND OF A FRIEND is dreaming of crossing the Pacific under sail. He normally holds down a highly technical and well-paid job, but he’s out of work right now and not likely to be hired again until the economy improves.

However, he is a frugal man and has husbanded his resources. So now he’s thinking that this might not a bad time to turn his dream into reality.

His loyal wife, who crews for him on their 32-foot cruising sloop, is happy to go along with him, but he is worried about his two daughters, aged 16 and 14.

“If they were boys I wouldn’t have a moment’s hesitation,” he says, “but I’m not sure girls will be able to handle the hardships.”

Well, I don’t know these daughters of his, of course, but I can’t help thinking it’s a bit old-fashioned to regard girls as lacking in the ability to handle crew duties aboard yachts. What they might lack in brute strength they surely make up for in ingenuity. You only have to be able to read to know that girls of 15 and 16 are sailing bigger yachts than his around the world on their own these days.

Besides, boys don’t always make ideal crews anyway. The last time I crossed an ocean with a son, who was then 17 years old, I lost a lot of sleep worrying about him.

As we were the only two watchkeepers, he had specific orders to call me if he spotted another vessel at night. He had specific orders to call me if he thought a sail change was necessary. He had specific orders to wear a harness and tether when he was alone in the cockpit at night.

But he was 17. He was becoming a man. He couldn’t help himself. Nature was pumping testosterone through his tissues. He didn’t obey any of those orders. Although he was color blind, he guided us through a fleet of fishing boats one dark night way out in the South Atlantic while my wife and I slept below. I nearly had a fit when I found out.

And when we were running fast in the southeast trades I was woken up one night by the thud of footsteps running forward along the cabintop. My untethered son was jibing the foresail singlehanded, shifting the pole from one side to the other. I lay awake, staring into the darkness, listening to the noises, waiting for the thuds that would indicate he was returning to the safety of the cockpit. But they never came. Had he gone overboard? I reasoned — I hoped — that he had returned along the side deck. I wanted to get up and peek out of the companionway hatch, but I didn’t want him to know that I had caught him in an act of disobedience because that would have forced me to impose disciplinary punishment or else lose my power of authority over him, such as it was. So I lay there fretting for another half hour until it was time to go on watch and I could decently make an appearance. And there he was, sitting in the cockpit, neatly buckled up and looking the picture of innocence in the moonlight. I could have bitten him. But I didn’t ask him why the jib pole was suddenly on the other side.

I don’t think a girl would have disobeyed her father/skipper like that. Girls don’t have the same impulse to prove they’re macho.

Or do they? Maybe now I’m the one who’s acting old-fashioned. Well, if I am, I can’t help it. Old-fashioned is what I am. Like it or lump it. But my advice to the friend of a friend is simple: Go for it. Invest some trust in those daughters of yours. I’m sure it will be amply repaid.

Today’s Thought
A man who trusts nobody is apt to be the kind of man nobody trusts.
— Harold Macmillan

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #114
Size of keel bolts. If your keel is held in place by bronze bolts, those bolts should have a cross-sectional area of not less than 1 square inch in total for every 1,500 pounds of outside ballast. This is valid for bolt material with a tensile strength of at least 60,000 pounds per square inch. Bolts made of stronger metal such as Monel or stainless steel can be correspondingly smaller.

Did you hear about the short-sighted moth who blundered into a 2-year-old’s birthday party? He burned his end at both candles.


Verena said...

I'm a female and I sailed across the Atlantic with my parents when I was 14 in the late 1980's. I loved it! I've never heard any (serious) complaints from my dad. I love what a tight-knit family our year long journey from Germany to California has made us. My parents are about to retire and go cruising again. I can't wait to join them on long crossings.

John Vigor said...

Great to hear from you, Captain V. And congratulations on a wonderful website and blog. I urge all readers to click on the name Verena in your comment. Happy cruising to your parents, and I hope you'll be able to show them once more how capable women are as deep-sea crews.


John V.