March 10, 2015

How to prove you're a skipper

A FRIEND who has been sailing for years tried to charter a yacht recently. He found that the charter company’s requirements were quite strict. They wanted written proof that he could handle a yacht and navigate. And, of course, he didn’t have any written proof.

There was a cabinet full of silver mugs at home, the result of winning a lot of sailboat races over the years, but that didn’t help, of course. In the end he printed a list of his sailing experiences and had it signed and sworn by a notary public. That did the trick.

I had a similar experience when a yachting magazine sent me to Grenada to do a story about chartering in the Caribbean. The charter company asked me to list my sailing accomplishments before they would hand over their nice yacht. I must confess that my experience seemed quite meager on paper until I remembered that at one time in my life (albeit for a very brief period) I was a professional seaman — that is, they actually paid me money. 

It happened when I was young and adventurous. I was looking for a cheap way to get to Britain. I found a Union-Castle liner called the Warwick Castle that was heading that way and hopped aboard. I washed dishes and changed bedclothes all the way to London.

When I say I washed dishes that’s not quite correct. I learned from my fellow crewmembers that the correct thing to do, after fetching meals for the little messroom I served, was to throw the dirty dishes out of the galley porthole. I then picked up fresh clean dishes from the Tourist Class galley dishwashing machines.

I didn’t reveal to the charter company the exact nature of my professional seagoing experience, lest it should confuse them. I didn’t actually mention that I was a member for just three weeks of the British National Union of Seamen (Catering Branch), because that’s like telling a prospective employer that you’ve got a B.A. Calcutta (failed). It doesn’t divulge the full extent of your skill and experience.

No, I merely told the charter company that I had served time at sea as a professional. They were won over immediately. It seemed that not many of their prospective customers could produce such desirable credentials. So they cheerfully handed over their nice yacht, and June and I disappeared northward into the warm blue Caribbean Sea with happy grins on our faces.

Today’s Thought

Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterward.

— Vernon Law, Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher


A pessimist is a person who builds a castle in the air and then locks himself in the dungeon.

An optimist, on the other hand, is a person who fixes your eyes.

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

1 comment:

Don P said...

John, I recently booked my first charter in the Caribbean and the company was satisfied with my submitted outline of sailing history but I understand things have gotten a little tighter if you want to charter in Europe. There they require an "International Certificate of Competency" or ICC. It seems a reasonable idea but, short of signing on for a fairly expensive course, I'm not sure how one can get the certification.
By the way, I screwed up the courage to apply for a charter adter reading a multi part test you posted on "Am I qualified to charter". Thanks for that.