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Yachtmasters: Ship's Captain or Boat Skipper? (Chapter 4)


The Sea Ditty thus far...

Long retired ancient mariner, and the beloved Great Uncle Horry or ‘H’ to his identical triplet nieces, Horatio Hardy is on a family mission in Antibes to investigate and safeguard the well-being of his itinerant blood-gels (hard g) whose parents have been kidnapped by wonga-demanding buccaneers off north-east Africa.

After a soupcon more than a large pink gin, fate leads to his unlikely recruitment as the Mate (2i/c) of MY CAVIARE, a gleaming vessel the likes of which H has never encountered in 60 years experience in the naval, mercantile and shore-side shipping industry. Under the command of Captain ‘Skippy’ Brewster and with lithping niece Chief Stew Claude (‘ia) as his new co-recruit and shipmate, H is ‘at sea’ once again. He retires to his new cabin and drifts off pondering the challenges he will grasp with relish; he faces a new day with much on his mind …. he’s found Claude fit and well, but where are Cam(‘illa) and Clam(‘ydia)?... 

The story continues... 

After a skin-full the evening before, and dreaming uneasily twenty thousand leagues beneath the duvet, Horatio rolled over, his nose millimetres away from the outboard bulkhead. In his ‘orrible, ‘orrible, O most ‘orrible recurring dream, he was stuck in a cable locker burdened with the dauntingly dark omens of a vessel imperilled with free-surface loll.

As his semi-consciousness increasingly emerged from the post-run-ashore fog, he opened his good (starboard) eye and, looking around into unfocused and unfamiliar murk, immediately had two concurrent blurry thoughts: a fleeting ‘where the flying fuck am I?’, coupled with the horrifying recognition of what is surely the mother of all nightmares – that he had woken up in a sealed coffin. Gasping for air and panic stricken, he sat bolt upright smashing his bonce into the BBC missive stuck to the underside of the bunk above. 

‘For Christ’s sake, are we aground?!’ boomed the momentarily startled Chief Engineer in the upper bunk; he had, after all, leapt from a deep coma to seeming Armageddon in less than half a head-butt. 

Bunk without Horatio2

After a second or two, the world - as H perceived it when fully awake and sober - slowly started to take form. ‘BeJaysus, you could bugger me through an oilskin’, he thought, ‘am I really the new Mate of... Cod Roe?... surely not?’

He couldn’t remember the name of his latest ship but knew it was something fishy, but no matter; there were more pressing matters to face. He swung his legs inboard just as great niece Claude tappy-tap-tapped herself in with the news that bwekkie was weady and did Uncle Horry ‘want truffleth on hith eggth Benedict?’ ‘No, thank you’ was immeasurably more polite than what he actually thought about such a vulgar and ridiculous proposition; didn’t these decadent buffoons know there was a soup kitchen just up the road from Le Pub Totty d’Azure?* 

An institutional adherent of the frugal, fiscally disciplined principles enshrined in the Royal Navy’s meagre but perfectly adequate Daily Messing Rate**, H overcame his pious guilt and rather enjoyed the luxury of hollandaise at breakfast, which was only slightly marred by his failure to find a messmate who understood his simple request for a ‘coffee’. He was served some muck Claude called an ‘alpacino’ and resolved to drink weak black tea henceforth (a futile hope based on his assumption that – you guessed it – turned out to be wrong because they only had Rooibosch infusion that to H had distinctly ‘feline notes’ or, in the language of the sea, it tasted like cat’s piss.

Eggs Benedict

His new cabin mate, Chief Clankey ‘Shuggy’, appeared and immediately endeared himself to H. He was asked by keen-to-please Claude when and what he ‘would like for bwekkie that can be therved at any time’ and, without a flicker of emotion, Shuggy replied, 'tinned tomatoes on toast during the French Revolution'. H’s kind of man. Claude was unmoved and thought Shuggy rather handsome, albeit in a rough, unsophisticated kind of way.    

Horatio’s ‘platform induction’ was another enlightening experience; the amusing if baffling highpoints to H being the silk bulkheads (‘walls’) that must on no account be touched, and the (not for sitting on) bar stools that were clad in the foreskins of circumcised, and presumably livid, whales. By no means least was the cellar in which he spotted a familiar case of ’85 Chateau Talbot (he had a few bottles himself back in his Hunstanton beach house, the only difference being that the afloat version was apparently a ‘Tol-boh’.)  

He was also reminded frequently of a time-expired linguistic peccadillo that, as a junior naval officer, he had naively thought important: everywhere on board, on board was spelt onboard; even on the on-board kit. Classically educated, this illiteracy drove him to distraction until he realised that nobody actually gave a toss, and nor should he.

shutterstock Onboarding 600

Another peculiar trait, forged into his salt encrusted form, was despite having more personal sea experience than the entire ship’s company combined, his self-effacing nature always led him to worry more about the 5% he didn’t know rather than the 95% he did, and this partially explained why he didn’t query the conspicuous absence of fire extinguishers. He assumed there must be some mega-technical automated system when in reality there were conventional extinguishers aplenty, but stowed neatly away in cleverly concealed cupboards because they clashed with the rose-madder Lalique. 

It was more than a relief finally to arrive in the familiar territory of the bridge where he might earn his rations as the Mate. First impressions: rather flash, a bit shiny with rather too many high chairs (a bridge only needed one – the captain’s), and windows that were somehow weirdly vertical and …. could it be … tinted???? Then he smiled when he spotted something familiar: a chart table with bulging folio under and Admiralty publications over – all pristine, perhaps too pristine; he couldn’t put his finger on it, but somehow they felt untouched by human hand; they didn’t smell right (not least because a couple of volumes were still clad in cellophane.)

As H flicked through Edition 9 of the Mariner’s Handbook, to which in 1959 (1st Edition) he had contributed Kodak photographs of bergy-bits and growlers, Cap’n Brewster sauntered with purpose onto the bridge. Skippy’s deliberately lanky gait, immediately noticed with approval by H, silently bellowed ‘this is my ship; I am the Master!’ Yes, captains (should) have a peculiar walk – a manner, an air, presence, gravitas! 

‘Ah, morning H, me old mate;’ said Skippy with a friendly smile, ‘or perhaps it’s me new Mate! How was the induction tour – any horror stories to report?’ 

Flikr CC2.2

Early days yet, thought H, who’d forgotten his captain’s name but it mattered not; formality was essential, especially on board. ‘Good morning to you, sir, and yes, most enlightening, Captain. I congratulate you on the presentation of your vessel; in all honesty I am awestruck at the surface gleam. Tell me, is the walnut panelling solid, or is it all veneer?’ 

Although he recognised his own self-indulgent weakness, H could never resist being cheekily impish; indeed, Horatio could be a sanctimonious pain in the arse. H wasn’t sure if Skippy’s antenna had picked up his unnecessarily facetious question and, immediately regretting his pointlessly self-indulgent clever-dickyness, he asked for a swift once-over of the bridge that, despite its glossy appearance, was actually just normal commercial kit in rather gauche livery, but with two rather mind-boggling exceptions. 

Firstly, under the inboard armrest of the captain’s sumptuous leather chair was a tracker ball with a few ergonomically friendly knobs and buttons that allowed the bum in the seat to control all manner of kit, including the propulsion machinery, thus avoiding the inconvenience, God forbid, of actually having to stand up. In H’s view, any OOW with charge who sat down deserved to be shot. By association, it reminded H of an occasion when, as the Navigation Officer in the liner QUEEN MARY in the early 50s, he ignored company orders and allowed himself to be seduced by an old hag of a Swedish Countess who, in all seriousness, barked at her lady-in-waiting, ‘where hava you beena – I bin waiting to clean my teeth for ‘alf an hour!’ It was like those automated taps in the bogs of fancy hotels – just so totally bloody pointless.  

And secondly; a Doppler log, the technical development of which H had followed with interest since the 70s. These logs were designed to allow dynamic positioning*** of highly specialised vessels, initially in saturation diving platforms, minehunting naval vessels, and then more widely in the precise world of hydrographic and geological survey. Why on earth would a yacht need a simple Doppler log, let alone one with a twin-axis Janus configuration?

Thinking ‘outside the box’, H thought maybe it helped in the process to launch and recover the mini-submarine he spotted in the ‘garage’, but no! It was, explained Skippy, necessary to hover dynamically because 1) the ship didn’t have to anchor - the noise of the cable upset the owner which was inconceivable and 2) it guaranteed that both the telly and mobile phone signals could be assured. This was the second time on day one that H thought, ‘well stone the crows, you could bugger me …!’ 

Keen to get to work, H asked what tasks he could usefully crack on with. Skippy was not slow in asking Horatio to think about a passage through Suez and down into the north-western Indian Ocean, somewhere off Salalah in southern Oman. Immediately enthused, H was back at sea. Shiver me timbers, Horatio was going to enjoy this!  

‘Aye aye, sir’ replied H with a naval salute, ‘give me a couple of 2B pencils and point me in the direction of the Chart Correction Log, NP 131 and your tonnage certificates. Do you have a Suez Canal Tonnage Certificate?’ 

UKHO Weeklies ©Crown Copyright UKHO 2016 

Skippy shifted uneasily in his leather throne. ‘OK H, point one: we are far too busy in yachting to get bogged down in the minutiae of bloody chart corrections; that’s what we pay the management company for, so talk to them if the idle bastards deign to answer the bloody phone and, while you’re at it, ask ‘em about the wadyacallit – the Suez tonnage thingymebob. Shuggy’ll give you their Monaco number.’ 

Horatio frowned and looked into the middle distance: ‘ummm …’ pondered H, ‘ … reminds me of my time at the MAIB# and, as Skippy went below, without thinking he started to hum ‘there may be trouble ahead ...’.   

H was about to open the chart drawer and, ever the optimist, dig around for UKHO Weeklies and maybe the odd Cumulative List when he heard Skippy’s distinctive but raised antipodean voice coming from the fo’c’sle; it was the kind of shouting that clearly meant something was up. Overly animated behaviour afloat always bothered H; an officer should never raise his voice or run, it frightens the troops.

He followed Skippy’s eye line and identified the cause of his Master’s angst. Along the jetty H could see a bright yellow convertible Lamborghini, of the type favoured by pimps in and around Nice, Naples and the less affluent parts of Milan, approaching CAVIARE’s berth. 

The driver was a tanned, linen clad Tatar, but it was his passenger who caught H’s eye. Despite sporting a pair of inflated lips known as pneumatic bananas in Cannes and its environs, where such hideous adornments were commonplace, H instantly recognised great niece Clam (#3), former chief stewie and now …. wait for it … elevated in social standing beyond her wildest dreams as the muse of the great underpant oligarch?? Wobbling out of the ‘lambo’ in her Jimmy Choo stilts and clutching her matching trademark Hermes bag, Clam looked like a hybrid cross between Barbara Cartland and Greta Scaatchi in White Mischief; as the great Kenny Everett used to say: ‘all in the best poooosssible taste!’ 

‘Jesus wept!’ was all H could muster, ‘whisky, tango, foxtrot …… what have I got myself into ….’  

Lamborghini CLAM

*   No, and nor did they care since the creation of wealth is all that matters; its distribution was neither their concern nor their business (apart from tips, o’course).  
**  £3.66 per person per day – three cooked meals a day and ‘nine o’clockers’ (a First watch warm snack); now that, dear reader, is professional catering.
*** DP systems allow ships to maintain a fixed position relative to a point over the ground (ie seabed).
#   Marine Accident Investigation Branch


To be continued...  

Previous Chapters: Chapter 1Chapter 2Chapter 3 

About the Author: 
Sean O'Reilly spent 28 years in the Royal Navy. He commanded two warships, taught navigation, ship-handling and leadership at Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, before commanding the naval contingent in the UK MoD Saudi Arabia Project. He then commanded the UK inter-agency Maritime Counter-Narcotics contingent in the Caribbean.A Masters graduate in International Affairs, he left the Navy in 2006 to lecture International Law of the Sea to Naval undergraduates in Abu Dhabi. Sean now teaches UK MCA accredited courses in the captaincy of commercial yachts up to 3000gt. 

Image credits:  US Navy Photographer's Mate 2nd Class Jayme Pastoric, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons; Isabelle Hurbain-Palatin via Creative Commons By-SA/2.0/; Onboarding - Shutterstock; Box - Aurelijus via Flickr CC2.0; Admiralty Notices ©UKHO 2016; Yellow Lamborghini via Wikimedia Commons.

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