October 12, 2014

Keeping the watch down below

ONE OF THE MOST DIFFICULT TASKS a sailboat skipper faces is persuading the off-watch to get below and stay below. Particularly at the start of a coastal passage, which normally starts during daylight hours, it takes a fair amount of nagging to clear the off-duty crew out of the cockpit. If it’s a warm sunny day, the breeze is fair, and the sea calm, nobody wants to be down below.

But it’s important that the watch due to take over in four hours should be properly rested. The watch system should be started immediately you leave port, and even if the off-watch isn’t yet ready to sleep, they should at least lie on their bunks and start forming the habits that will serve them until they next reach port.

 Thomas Fleming Day, the editor of The Rudder magazine, had a great deal to say about the behavior of off-watch crews, especially  with regard to sailing at night, and he maintained that “the watch whose watch is below should keep it there, and not go on deck. If called on deck for the purpose of shortening or making sail, they should come at once. The skipper should not, unless it is necessary, interfere with the man he places in charge when his own watch is below. By doing so, you teach that man not to depend on his own judgment and knowledge. If he is a man you can trust, trust him, or else don’t let him have charge.”

Thomas Day also had this to say about night sailing: “Remember that it takes about three times as long to make or shorten sail in the dark as it does in the day. Therefore, if you have to get in canvas, give the men plenty of time. Never parley with squalls at night; take in sail until you find just what the blow is going to amount to.”

Day believed that in order to be comfortable and keep your crew in good humor, each watch when it goes on or off duty should be given a bite to eat and a warm drink. “If you don’t carry either a spare hand or a cook, then the watch below should get something ready for themselves, and for those coming off, before going on deck. A big pot of coffee or cocoa that can be warmed up, is the best thing.

“A well-fed and warm crew is a willing and good-tempered crew. If you let your men get cold, wet, and hungry, they will soon degenerate into a set of growlers and spoil your night sail.”

Well, take heed all you skippers. Now you know. You wouldn’t want to be sailing at night with a degenerated set of growlers, would you?

Today’s Thought
The night seemed long. Wilbur's stomach was empty and his mind was full. And when your stomach is empty and your mind is full, it's always hard to sleep.
— E. B. White, Charlotte’s Web


Fascinating fact from the Central Office of Statistics:
Four out of every five woman-haters are women.

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

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