Anarchist at Anchor; Autocrat Afloat
I'm an anarchist. Don't like hierarchies and reject authority.
Which is why it pains me to admit that, shipboard, all this goes out the porthole. Handling a vessel requires prompt, decisive and coordinated action. A bunch of anarchists have trouble pulling together on short notice. Democracy is a day late and a dollar short.
Nothing but autocracy has stood the test of time and the sea.
With the Captain lies the burden of decision. It is the Cap'n who issues the orders, coordinating crew actions; to whom the crew reports. For good or ill, when the Cap'n says jump, the only question is how high? No argument; no discussion. Not because father knows best, but because there ain't no time.
But that's only urgent in the very few times that events are coming thick and fast.
Most often, there is time for the Cap'n to gather opinions, expertise and wishes from the crew. Consensus can, in most cases, be reached. Humor and grace and tolerance... these are not just magnanimities, but contribute significantly to working the vessel. Disrespect toward the crew has lost many's the otherwise tight ship.
On SLACKTIDE, as a crew of lovers; maltreatment and disrespect aren't options.
We trade off the captaincy, because, like any skill, it takes practice. When we need that skill, we want it well worn and familiar in the hand. We don't want to be thinking about the process when our minds are full of wind and rocks.
Most times it's easy going... falling into the rhythms of drop anchor and pull, set sail and reef. We talk over our wishes and the realities that beset them, and come to an accord. But when push comes to shove, and Cap'n Anke's on deck, when she says jump, I ask how high!
It isn't necessary that the most experienced person be captain. That can help, sure. But, so long as captains draw on the experience of their crew, and can depend on crew to execute their commands, the ability to be decisive trumps experience.
On a warship, for example, the captain is unlikely to be most qualified to maintain the engines, sit sonar, or even navigate... all those are skills to command; resources to be called upon. On a cruiser, the captain might put the most experienced person at the helm in a blow, or the lightest to the masthead to free a haulyard. Decision and delegation are the captain's business.
Work out Communication Protocols - This feels goofy, at first, and sounds like a bad play until you get it down. But it helps immensely to develop terse, easily understood communication standards for each SOP. Some will be non-verbal (whole arm signals, and the like). Verbal exchange should be just as simple and precise. It helps to use words of one or two syllables which carry well. Speak up, and turn to face the recipient. Repeat back for confirmation.
Some of these protocols are well known maritime standards. Shippy terms and usages aren't just vain souvenirs of times gone by. They evolved because they work well under stress. I'm not talking about piping the Admiral aboard. Ready about / Helm a-lee is the kind of thing I mean.
Traditional forms are tried-and-true and understood by most sailors. For example, the term 'tack' is common usage, while its trendy alternative, 'flop', is not. Either work, however, so long as all aboard are fluent with the terms.
[This bit is reposted from Rules of Thumb.]
Our most useful call outs are Stand by! and Say again! These mean Hold on aminnit! and Huh? respectively, but carry further. By saying the same thing each time, it's much more clear than a bag of equivalents shouted across a windy deck. We've learned to trust them, too, that they'll work without further explanation or complaint, and that heads off the quetsching to which couples can be prone.
Here are some sample exchanges we use....
I toldja this sounds goofy. Lot's of redundancy and small steps, practiced in calm times, make it go like clockwork when it's blowing up and sleeting sideways.
The mizzen (aft sail) is hauled up before we get started, which holds our bow into the wind. While the anchor is being hauled aboard, the helm hoists the main. If there are any difficulties at the anchor (weed, say), the bow will answer the backing call with "No can do!". The helm will then go forward to back the sail and complete the maneuver.
In that last step, backing the main makes the bow fall off away from the backed sail. The helm will reverse tiller away from the sail, as well, and the boat spins on a dime. At 45deg off the wind, we let go the main, trim, and sail off under normal helm.
The helm is doing the sounding. As soon as the doink is done, the helm hauls the boards, to prevent fouling with the anchor line. Tidy up commences with no commands necessary.
The helm will trim the sails as each is reefed.
Tacking up a narrow, rocky cut:
Note that dangers are identified by direction, distance and depth. We accompany this with whole arm pointing, when possible.
In this case, the bow usually call the shots as they have the good view. It's their call whether to push with the pole, or not, though the helm can also call for a push or backed sail.
We actually prefer to sail close-hauled through dangers. The only active option is to tack, which simplifies things greatly. If we somehow end up in a cul de sac, worst case is luff up, drop the main, and drift backwards through clear water until we can fall off again.
As you can see, there's not much to it. The main trick is to have clear, unambiguous words. Repetition helps nip misunderstanding in the bud. And practice, practice, practice!
Assess, Address, Amend. This is our mantra. We work out standard operating procedures (SOPs), and debrief them after every task in which there's the least whiff of trouble.
When something has gone wrong, there are only two possibilities: Either the SOPs need improvement, or we need more training (drills) in their use.
Neither of these is a personal issue... there is no blame or recrimination called for, no matter how dire the consequences. There's a tendency to think that guilt is proportional to a bad outcome. I propose that guilt is an impediment to action, and to the correction of problems. Guilt, defensiveness, and blame are a useless and unpleasant tangle of emotions... I strongly suggest you chuck 'em overboard.
And when the anchor's down, Cap'n, take off the hat?