February 16, 2012

Everything in its place

PERHAPS THE GREATEST VIRTUE required of a sailor is tidiness, for it equates directly with safety. Every boat should have ample arrangements for the stowage of all the gear needed to run the ship at any time, in any weather.
The ancient Greeks understood this. You will recall that Xenophon, the historian, once asked his wife Philesia for something in their house, and she couldn't find it. So Xenophon proceeded to lecture her.

He described a visit he had made to a Phoenician ship: "I have never seen gear so well arranged, or so many coils of rope and tackles stowed away so neatly. A ship needs a large number of spars and warps when she enters port or puts to sea; much rigging when under sail, and contrivances to protect her against enemy craft.

"She carries a stand of arms for the crew and each mess needs a set of household utensils. In addition, she carries a cargo which the captain sells for profit. All the gear necessary for these several functions was contained in a small store not more than 15 by 12 feet."

Xenophon continued: "I noticed that each article was so neatly stowed that it was ready to hand; it had not to be searched for and there was nothing to cast off and cause delay when anything was needed in a hurry.

"I found that the bosun knew each particular locker so well that he could, even when on deck, say exactly where anything was stowed and how much there was of it. I saw this man in his off-duty time inspecting all the stores most likely to be needed.  I asked him why he did this.

" 'Sir,' he said, 'I am looking to see that all the gear is properly stowed, nothing foul, nothing missing. For when God sends a storm at sea there is no time for searching for gear or clearing it if foul. God threatens and punishes careless sailors and you are lucky if you escape with your lives. You are fortunate if, even when you show good seamanship, he brings you safe into port.'"

Xenophon then admonished Philesia for not being able to do the same thing in a large house founded on solid earth, furnished with ample storerooms.  I don't know if Philesia was ever able to improve her performance to Xenophon's satisfaction, but I do know it's important for sailboats of all sizes to make every attempt to keep all the gear neat and tidy, which calls for a plentitude of stowage spaces (and preferably a handy diagram showing what's stowed where, if you haven't got the kind of memory displayed by that Phoenician bosun).

Today's Thought
Method is good in all things. Order governs the world. The Devil is the author of confusion.
— Swift, Letters: To Stella

"Excuse me, sir, but this coin you just gave me is counterfeit."
"Well then you may have it, my man. Keep it for your honesty."

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

1 comment:

Aaron Headly said...

Xenophon should, perhaps, have taken care not to annoy his First Mate.