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The skipper's thankless task
by Des Sleightholme
The finest yacht is only as good as her crew

A camel is a horse designed by a committee. Says that tired gag with a withering insight into the realms of command. A great many yachts are run by committee and with a similarly uncertain outcome.
In the big-ship world, a ship's Captain is vested with an authority backed by international law. He carries the can and as often as not it is full of worms; but he makes the decisions and his crew obeys them.
In a small pleasure yacht things are different; they'd better be. Let father don cocked hat and sword and start throwing his weight about and he is in for a frosty ride. Hence the committee where nobody knows who's giving orders to whom about what!
Yet the overall plan has to be a communal one. Pleasure with the minimum pain is the basic aim of all. The skipper's job is to conduct the orchestra, going a bit easy on the tympanum and bringing out the woodwind but he/she can't do the j ob without full back-up.
Accordingly a skipper must be free to weigh up the odds without being leaned on. Go or stay, keep on or go back? night passage or dawn start?
These decisions must be made with safety and good seamanship as the first objective, pleasure second.
Crew pressure may dictate that the engine is started in order that the crew can get ashore before closing time. This may well be a pity in sailing terms but if it is the general wish then why not?
The committee wish begins to get dangerous when a skipper yields to pressure and attempts a tricky and unknown entrance against the dictates of common sense, simply because the law of the lee-rail prevails. A skipper must never be subjected to the moods, the nagging, the blame when things go awry.
What every skipper has to juggle with is the crew-stamina factor. The yacht you are sailing (or one like her) may have been around the world in other hands and with a different crew. She may have survived storm Force 10 and the Roaring Forties; but a couple of hours banging around off Dungeness may leave a skipper with a horizontal workforce too weak to stroke a kitten - a flat stamina battery.
The finest yacht is only as good as her crew and many an extra bit of fried bread for breakfast has triggered a Mayday. The family yacht skipper's job is to wash up, repair the loo and cany shopping bags - and quietly, tactfully but very firmly veto any committee decision which is unseamanlike and potentially unwise or dangerous. Easy, isn't it? A


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