November 13, 2015

Falling down below

THE ESTEEMED early-20th-century boat designer William Atkin once designed for himself a 29-foot wooden sloop that was remarkable in my eyes for one particular thing — she had no companionway steps.

“If you drop down into the cabin of Ben Bow (and you will have to drop down because there is no companion ladder) you will find the bunks aft, then the galley, then two pipe berths, with a water closet near the foot of the mast,” Atkin wrote in his book Of Yachts and Men.

“As I have just mentioned, in Ben Bow we do not have a companion ladder. Sort of a man’s boat she is. We are not yet so old or stiff as to be unequal to scrambling in or out her cabin.

“Just two steps does it, one being a projection shod with a bit of brass on the bulkhead, the second being a corner of the starboard locker top. And so we are rid of a ladder, a piece of furniture which is always, I feel, too much in the way.

“The ladies? Well, God bless ’em, we might lower them away on the end of a rope. Somehow women generally do not love boats. Think they are a little jealous of them, just a little. Or perhaps their natures are too much alike . . . uncertain sort’a, and feminine, and — well I suppose I shall have to admit it — lovely.

“The cabin has among other features, one wide berth on the port side set high from the floor and with large lockers underneath. Even our old friend Abel Brown, who tells racy tales about berths, cannot quarrel much with the dimensions of this one; ‘big enough for perfect comfort under any situation,’ he might have remarked.”

It was surely a strange aberration that made Atkin omit a companionway ladder on his own boat. It wasn’t something he normally did on the hundreds of other boats he designed. It’s true that the darned ladder does take up precious space on a small boat, but if you’re a man who wants to share the pleasure of sailing with a wife or lady friend it is surely an act of gallantry to provide decent access from the cabin to the cockpit. Sort of like flinging your cloak into a puddle, so Her Majesty can keep her dainty slippers dry. Only more permanent. And a definite investment in marital bliss.

Today’s Thought
The hardest step is that over the threshold.
— James Howell,  Proverbs. No. 7

Groucho Marx once opened a drawer by mistake in a friend’s home. He found a Colt automatic pistol surrounded by several small pearl-handled revolvers.
“My God,” he said, “This gat has had gittens.”

1 comment:

Alden Smith said...

I like companion way steps. I have tried to get down below on a couple of occasions, forgetting that I had omitted to put back the steps because I had been working on the engine and nearly fallen heavily into the cabin - bugger that, there are enough dangers sailing without setting up self inflicting booby traps.