May 24, 2016

How to be a benevolent dictator

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.

Today’s Thought
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.)


Alden Smith said...

Hmmmmm.... such sentiments are the usual noble arguments from within a 'black and white' world view where the few shout "Jump" and the many reply "How high?". In with the mixture is the usual curmudgeon sentiments regarding 'political correctness' etc.

The trouble is the world is more complicated than all of this jaw. I am a very experienced yachtee with coastal and deep water experience and of course I have always respected the position of the skipper with the caveat that he or she actually knows what they are bloody doing. If they endanger my or anyone elses life then I shall promptly tell them - I think it's called mutiny, and is a much needed action when some twat whats to introduce the crew to Davy Jones Locker.

My mate David is on the verge of purchasing his first keel boat. I will be on the delivery trip. He is a sensible man but inexperienced. I will respect him as the skipper and do as I am told and only give advice when I am asked. But if he makes a decision that would endanger his crew I shall politely advise him of a better course of action. If imminent death would be an obvious outcome of one of his inexperienced decisions I may very well tie him to the bloody mast and take the tiller myself.

There is a story about the insistent skipper of an US Aircraft carrier and a Lighthouse (Both the lighthouse keeper and the first mate of the carrier couldn't convince the skipper regarding the solidity of the lighthouse) but maybe I'll leave that for another time LOL.

John Vigor said...

Alden, you should be the skipper. Your friend David should watch and learn.

John V.

Edward said...

Humm.. I think the most interesting part of that 1940 guide was "While the ships sent forth by Congress may and must fight for the principles of human rights and republican freedom, ". In todays USA I would not be surprised to see "Congress" and "republican" replaced with "President" and "Democratic" since WW2 was the last time congress exercised it's prerogative to declare war and scarcely anyone seems to remember this is a republic.