September 27, 2011

Quizzing your skipper

SOMETIMES PEOPLE NEW TO SAILING ask me: “How can I tell if the skipper I sail with knows his stuff? Is it safe to be with him? Will he teach me the right way to do things?”

Well, it’s not always easy to tell. Skippers are, by necessity, dictators. There can be no democracy on a sailboat, or very little anyhow. And dictators are very hard to read. But all the same, you may gather some clues about your skipper’s competence if you keep your eyes and ears open. Here are six ways for a neophyte crew to evaluate a skipper:

1. The spinnaker won’t come down. There’s a sandbar ahead. The foredeck hand just fell overboard. What does your skipper do?

► Give incomprehensible orders in short, sharp screams.[3]

► Shout “Hang on tight. We’re going aground!”[0]

► Panic and faint.[3]

2. You point out politely to the skipper that he’s passing the wrong side of a channel buoy. Does he:

► Ignore you?[3]

► Laugh hysterically?[2]

► Check the depth sounder?[0]

3. The engine turns over but won’t start. Does the skipper:

► Mouth foul oaths about his diesel mechanic?[2]

► Fall on his knees and pray?[3]

► Check if the engine stop knob is still out?[0]

4. Someone anchors too close. Does your skipper:

► Shrug and pour himself another rum?[2]

► Scream at them to go away?[3]

► Move quietly away and anchor somewhere else?[0]

5. You’re caught in stays while tacking in a narrow channel. A container ship approaches from ahead at 15 knots. Does your skipper:

► Call for engine power?[2]

► Back the jib?[0]

► Stand paralyzed with his mouth open?[3]

6. You’re caught in sudden heavy fog while nearing a busy harbor entrance. Does your skipper:

► Reverse course and go back the way you came at top speed?[3]

► Reduce speed and call all ships on Channel 16 giving his position and course?[0]

► Put out a Mayday call on Channel 16?[3]

7. The galley is on fire, the holding tank is overflowing, the cockpit crew has just jammed her finger in a winch and . . . but enough is enough.

Add up the points at the end of the answers you chose, and if they come to more than 5, find yourself a new skipper. This one’s going to do you no good at all.

Today’s Thought
We learn from experience that men never learn anything from experience.
— George Bernard Shaw

I hear the circus had to drop the human cannon-ball act because their ammunition ran away with the trapeze artist and they couldn’t find another performer of his caliber.

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

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