June 2, 2015

Is there mutiny on your boat?

I SOMETIMES WONDER how many acts of mutiny take place on small sailboats. How many times has a crewmember refused to follow the orders of the skipper? And, dare I say it, how often has a wife or girlfriend declined to do what her man has asked her to? Quite often, I suspect.

The definition of mutiny, among other things, is the refusal to obey the order of a legal authority such as a superior officer. But it is not necessarily restricted to naval and military forces. Mutiny applies to crews of merchant vessels, too, although such cases are heard by a civil court instead of a court martial.

I would like to know, then, that if I ask (order) my wife to varnish the cockpit coamings, or if I simply request her to bring me another beer from the cool box, and if she just laughs and says, “In your dreams, Captain Bligh,” is she guilty of mutiny?

I ask because this is a very serious business. Aboard a boat, there can be only one boss. During the days of the sailing navies, the penalty for mutiny was invariably hanging at the yardarm. Now I don’t have a yardarm; well not exactly, although I suppose I could rig up a spinnaker pole to serve the purpose.

In these enlightened days I suppose it would be frowned upon to hang one’s crew from a spinnaker pole, and I would guess that a case of mutiny would have to be handled by third parties in an admiralty court. I would further suppose that the penalty would consist of a fine and/or a number of years behind bars, rather than death by hanging.

What we all need to know is whether the skipper of a sailboat qualifies under the law as a “legal authority,” whose edicts must be carried out at all costs. And in order to know that, we first have to know what constitutes a skipper, a legal master of a vessel. (Or mistress.) It’s not necessarily the owner, we all know that, so if the skipper has no papers to prove his legality, who is legally in charge?  Can there be a mutiny, in fact, if the skipper can’t legally prove he’s the skipper? (Or she, of course, he or she.)

I have been faced in the past with what must be close to mutiny when my dear wife refused to sail across an ocean with me unless I provided a door to the head compartment. Unfortunately, I had no proof that I was the legal master of the yacht. I was, of course; I just didn’t have the proof. So, rather than confront her before an admiralty court, I bought a sheet of plywood and built her a loo door.

I don’t doubt that many similar acts of mutiny have been dealt with in the same namby-pamby manner since we lost the use of yardarms. I’m not saying that it’s a good thing or a bad thing. Just pointing it out in case you hadn’t noticed. Just sayin’.

Today’s Thought
The ship of democracy, which has weathered all storms, may sink through the mutiny of those on board.
-- Grover Cleveland

Tailpiece
“Why did your algebra teacher confiscate your rubber-band pistol?”
"She said it was a weapon of math disruption."

3 comments:

Edward Jones said...

Never had problems with my wife. I suppose since I may be the Captain of any of our boats, she is the Fleet Admiral who is visiting. Granted I don't raise the Admiral aboard flag, but since the crew is so small word of mouth is sufficient. She views the strategic situation while I'm in charge of the tactical.

biglilwave said...

This is why it's always a good idea to be a single handed sailor...off course then you have to work for an a@#hole.

S/V Ti' Punch said...

My in-laws live on a canal on the Gulf coast of Florida. Many years ago, my father-in-law had a little sailing dinghy he called the Flying Donut. One fine day I decided to take my wife and two year old son for a spin around the canal in the Donut. I had been sailing since I was 14, but my wife was new to the activity. We lowered the dinghy into the canal and climbed aboard, me in the stern with the tiller and she in the bows by the mast with our son sitting between us against the centerboard trunk. The afternoon breeze immediately began to sweep us across the canal towards the neighbor's expensive and highly polished power boat. No problem, I think, just raise the sail love and we'll be off. Except that she wouldn't. She was afraid that raising the sail would lead to an immediate capsize. I spent a few seconds trying to reason with her, but as we got closer to the other side and my options narrowed, I'm afraid that did the un-captain like thing of shouting at her. What I said exactly was, "If you don't raise that sail right now, I'm going to throw your f'ing a** overboard and do it myself!". This outburst put an end to the mutiny. The sail was raised, and we had a brisk, and silent, afternoon sail.

Later, at dinner, my father-in-law asked how the sail went. Without missing a beat, my two year old son told everyone at the table that "Daddy said f'ing a** to Mommy." It has taken me many years to live that down, but I will point out that whatever my methods of suppressing the mutiny, they were effective. As with all things though, careful consideration must be given to long term consequences.

Love your column.