I HAVE ALWAYS maintained that the skipper of a yacht must of necessity be a dictator, preferably a benevolent dictator. In my opinion there is no place on a sailing vessel for a captain who is unable or unwilling to make a decision without the comfort of consulting his crew and passengers, and gaining their approval. There is no time to form a committee and seek consensus about whether to tack or not when you suddenly find yourself on a collision course with a large freighter.
Dictatorship is not a particularly popular stance to adopt these days, when the American citizenry seems obsessed with human rights and the privileges bestowed by a generous Constitution; so you can imagine my delight when I discovered that the U.S. Navy agrees with me. Or, at least, it used to, back in the wartime 1940s when a book named The Naval Officer’s Guide was published. The author was Arthur A. Ageton, then a Commander in the Navy. Here’s what he said:
“A navy is essentially and necessarily aristocratic. True as may be the political principles for which we are now contending, they can never be practically applied or even admitted on board ship, out of port or off soundings. This may seem a hardship, but it is nevertheless the simplest of truths.
“While the ships sent forth by Congress may and must fight for the principles of human rights and republican freedom, the ships themselves must be ruled and commanded at sea under a system of absolute despotism.”
I agree. In fact, these truths are self-evident. And they apply to recreational boats as much as they do to the ships of the navy, except perhaps in minor matters such as the commissary, for which it might be wise, if you have any sense at all, to consult the cook in advance about what stores and menus might best be procured for a long trip.
But how can you tell if you qualify to be a benevolent dictator aboard your own craft, rather than the despot your wife claims you to be? Well, Commander Ageton explains it all under the heading “Attributes of a Naval Officer:”
“An enumeration of the best attributes in character and personality of all the great leaders would include — simplicity, earnestness, self-control, assiduity, common sense, judgment, justice, enthusiasm, perseverance, tact, courage, faith, loyalty, acumen, truthfulness, and honor. These might well be called the sixteen points of leadership.”
Yeah well . . . tall order, hey? Let’s face it, some of us will never qualify. Some of us don’t even know what assiduity is.
Nature has left this tincture in the blood,
That all men would be tyrants if they could.
— Daniel Defoe, The Kentish Petition: Addenda
“Basil, have you been drinking beer again!”
“No my love, not a drop of booze has passed my lips.”
“What have you been up to, then?”
“I was at a French restaurant eating frogs’ legs.”
“Oh, sorry, it must be the hops I can smell.”
(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, for a new Mainly about Boats column.)