October 25, 2012

This ship is a dictatorship

THERE HAVE BEEN OCCASIONS in the past when my authority as skipper has been questioned by my nearest and dearest.  Or, if not authority, then the way my authority has manifested itself. The words Captain Bligh have been mentioned.

I have always tried with utmost patience to convince my crews that there can be only one skipper on a boat, only one person who can  make instant decisions regarding the safety of the vessel and the crew. Unfortunately, my seeds of wisdom have not always fallen on fertile ground. For example, my nearest and dearest believes decisions should be shared in a democratic fashion. I have a feeling Emily Pankhurst is to blame for this somehow. There can be no democracy on a boat.

At about the time when Pankhurst and her cohorts were chaining themselves to railings, there was a fellow called Tyrrell E. Biddle who was valiantly standing up for the rights of men, and skippers in particular.  Mr. Biddle wrote books in the 1870s and 80s that must have been very pleasing to the male skippers and yacht owners of the day, and indeed are still helpful, as well as pleasing, to people like me today.

Let me quote Mr. Biddle, so you can see what I mean:

“Never allow any approach to undue familiarity upon the part of the hands: always insist upon the observance of those little points of etiquette without which a good servant always degenerates into a bad master.

“The men themselves have a far greater respect for the owner who keeps his place and makes them keep theirs. There are certain times when a little relaxation of discipline is allowable, but it should be the exception and not the rule, and any attempts to presume upon it must be stopped at once, but firmly.

“At the same time, encourage your hands, by every means in your power, to place confidence in you, not only as master but friend and adviser. This advice may appear a little contradictory, but strict discipline is no bar to a good understanding between owner and crew.”

We don’t have “hands” these days, of course. We have wives and sweethearts. We accept that they are our equals. Ms. Pankhurst won that battle eventually. But even so, the sea has not changed and nor has the way ships are run. Ships are dictatorships, as they always have been and always must be. Sorry Ms. P. but that’s how things stand, and my wife has been informed that her search for some railings to chain herself to is not going to change one whit the attitude of her personal Captain Bligh.

Today’s Thought
Authority intoxicates,
And makes mere sots of magistrates;
The fumes of it invade the brain,
And make men giddy, proud and vain.
— Samuel Butler, Miscellaneous Thoughts

“I hear old Fred made a fortune.”
“That’s right.  He invented a dog food that tastes like a postman’s leg.”

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

No comments: