January 27, 2013

A sailboat is not a democracy

PEOPLE AROUND HERE have gotten quite spoiled by democracy. Women no longer have to chain themselves to railings in order to vote for their political leaders. Kids no longer have to be silent at the dinner table. They’re allowed to speak now, for goodness’ sake, without even having been spoken to first. And modern guests on yachts, well, they seem to think they have the right to sit anywhere they like, even on the top step of the companionway. They also talk, nay chatter, without permission, and even use the head without asking. Such extraordinary liberties.

There can be only one boss on a sailboat. By the very nature of things, a skipper must be a dictator — a benevolent dictator if you’re lucky. There can be no democratic committee meeting about whether or not to take in a reef, in the face of an approaching line squall. There can be no split vote on the question of whether or not to put the engine in reverse with the dock fast approaching.

Call me Captain Bligh if you must. I don’t mind. Bligh, in fact, has often been unfairly characterized. He was a very skilled navigator who chose to apply the shipboard rules quite strictly. But he applied them fairly, and he safely delivered to their destinations those who spoke only when spoken to.

One of the persistent fantasies of democracy is to imagine you can be the boss and everybody’s friend at the same time. Forget it. Just be the boss.

Today’s Thought
In some circles, Stalin has in fact been making a comeback. ... His portrait hangs above the dashboard of trucks, a symbol of blue-collar nostalgia for a tough leader.
— Serge Schmemann, NY Times, 31 Oct 86

“What is your age, madam?”
“Officer, I’m approaching 50.”
“Yes, but from which direction, madam?”

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


dylan winter said...


but some people do seem to be drunk on the power they exert over their shipmates on their 30 feet of plastic

one of the reasons I sail alone - no bullies on board

Tillerman said...

Ummm. If I need to use the head and I'm not allowed to speak unless I'm spoken to or talk without permission, how am I supposed to ask you if I can use the head?

I'm with the previous commenter. I sail alone. No bullies on board.

John Vigor said...

Good grief, Tillerman, you're supposed to use the potty before you leave home. Didn't your mother teach you ANYTHING? And if you really can't master this simple rule, you may quietly hold up a hand to indicate that you want to speak, just like you did in kindergarten.

-- John V.