Sailors Will Argue About Anything

At a recent instructors’ meeting we had a disagreement or two—nothing serious, but it reminded me of the time a couple of decades ago at a similar such meeting when we spent an hour in heated debate over whether we should teach students to say “Jibe-Ho!” or simply “Jibing!” to initiate a jibe. We have repeated the same argument at the same meeting every few years. I must confess that I am just as bad as the next guy though I have never participated in that particular debate.

Sometimes, there is no by-the-book right answer—although many will claim otherwise, which, of course, is why we have disagreements in the first place. For comparison, on my boat with a familiar crew, the command is often simply “OK.” Everyone knows we’re going to jibe and knows what to do and “OK” is completely sufficient. Many race boats count down jibes and tacks to ensure the timing goes perfectly. That’s not in the “how to sail” books either. At Tradewinds, however, we wish to teach reasonably consistent practices and terms that will work with any crew, so as not to confuse our students—and so our students don’t confuse anyone else. “OK” is not going to get it done.

Once you get out in the world of other sailors you may find that Skipper Jones and Skipper Smith do not do things the same way or give the exact same commands. Does this mean one of them is wrong? Possibly. For example, there is a right and several wrong ways to tie a bowline or a sheet bend. Allowing variation or improvisation is courting disaster. But it is also possible, on some other issue, that neither is wrong. Is there a perfect anchor? Is a full keel better than fin keel? Is a ketch preferable to a sloop? Should all halyards be terminated in eye splices? Which crew-overboard method should you use? How do you coil a line? Do you pronounce it “saloon” or “salon?” Should all lines be led aft to the cockpit? Well…it depends. And not only that, sometimes it is just a matter of what you like or what you’re used to. But most skippers think through this stuff, or at least believe they do, and as a result, they often they get the notion that the other guy doesn’t know beans if they do it differently. The fact that sometimes it is just a matter of the skipper’s preference doesn’t stop sailors from getting in furious dust-ups over these issues.

As a captain of your own vessel, you’ll have to sort all this out for yourself. For my part, for example, I led lines aft on my little Catalina 22 that never left the Bay, but on my ocean-going boat I didn’t do this. I had my reasons for both arrangements but I can see arguments for doing it exactly the opposite way.

I have complete confidence that the methods we teach at Tradewinds represent best practices. I learned to sail here and still follow the instructions I received on day one in 99% of what I do, thirty years and 40,000 ocean miles down the road. I have seen no reason to revise them. There are certain minor things I do differently but that is because on my boat maintenance is my job, not someone else’s. At Tradewinds, with a fleet of boats, we need to equip and maintain our boats the same way so our members and boat techs know what to expect.

However you decide to do things, being a good skipper involves communicating to your crew how you wish things to be done. They won’t necessarily have been taught the same way if they learned from family or another school, or picked it up casually on their own. There is a courteous way to do this without disparaging their skills. And to be good crew, you need to follow the methods the captain requires, and not substitute your own or argue that his methods are improper. “Coil lines that way? Aye, captain.” The ONLY exception to this is when you are asked to do something that you feel is unsafe. Even then, you should ask for clarification before assuming ignorance on the skipper’s part. There might be a factor you aren’t aware of. It’s no good having tension on a boat’s crew, and as surprising as it may be, in all my years of sailing I’ve not experienced it. I’ve been fortunate enough to be aboard boats with crews that can communicate without rancor.

So, skipper, what’ll it be? Is it “jibing,” or “jibe-ho!”?

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2 Responses to Sailors Will Argue About Anything

  1. Hal Franklin says:

    Now you’ve done it. I held my tongue after the article about it being proper to coil in figure eights to avoid twist, but it’s nice loops in over-under from now on if I’m skipper.

  2. tony johnson says:

    Hal,
    I have used the no-twist, the twist, and the over-under. I’m OK with any of them and could discuss them further but will resist the bait. The problem that I have encountered much more frequently on a boat is how to secure the line once it is coiled. We’ve all seen someone struggling to undo a coil and in the end making it worse, and much more of a puzzle than it should be. This is why all lines aboard should be stowed in a consistent manner so every crew member knows how to access them immediately; and this in turn is why it is best to follow the wishes of the captain, so everyone is on the same page.

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