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Yachtmasters: Ship's Captain or Boat Skipper? (Chapter 3)

Sean2 v2

That Yacht Masters routinely refer to their 3000 tonne vessels as ‘boats’ is not unique – Admiral Lord Mountbatten habitually called aircraft carriers ‘boats’ but not without a hint of irony, not least because he knew the difference between a ship and a boat. Does it matter?  Does it shape the mentality, the attitude and ultimately the way in which a vessel’s crew is managed and led? Horatio returns to his beloved oggin; with Skippy as his new boss might this be a marriage made in heaven, or a recipe for a disaster?


The Sea ditty thus far...

Despatched to Antibes by his patriarchal, concerned elder brother and the gels’ adored Grandpapa, ancient mariner Captain Horatio Hardy rendezvoused with Claude, second of his three great identical triplet nieces, in Le Totty d’Azure (booze purveyor of choice to the junior end of the ‘yachtie’ community and (seemingly to HH, at least) the unofficial HQ of the Anglophone Projectile Vomiting Association.  

His mission was simple: to establish that the girls are safe and sound, a mission ever more imperative because their parents have, motivated by greed*, been kidnapped by marauding Somali buccaneers somewhere in the Gulf of Socotra. And the Rolex is ticking; how long can Algae (Dad) and especially Herm (Mum) survive in their tortuous squalor without so much as a phial of Floris scent? Through Claude (#2) HH has met Micky Brewster, aka ‘Skippy’, the Master and Captain of ‘Caviare’, 55 metre plaything of a Ukrainian billionaire due back tomorrow with his new woman in tow.

For Cap’n Micky the ‘Heat is On’: the Chief Stewy’s gone awol (whereabouts unknown), so Claude is employed ‘on the spot’ as the replacement for her identical elder sister, and now HH is embarking as a guest in the magnificent yacht with Skippy and Claude as his hosts. As he walked up the gleaming brow, H’s eyes are agog at the sheer, nay shocking, splendour of ‘Caviare’, a vessel circumstance would dictate he would get to know rather more intimately……..   

* the pirates’ greed, that is.   

Horatio 3

The story continues...

Reclining (more than self consciously*) in the captain’s sumptuous leather bridge chair, H was temporarily in seventh heaven. Booze loosened, he over-imaginatively mused that his head was probably cushioned by the downy gossamer plucked from the bonnets of a thousand virgins, whilst his outstretched feet nestled on top of what looked like an ECDIS display (it surely couldn’t be a telly, could it?)  

With a long pink (Plymouth) gin in one hand and a Cuban cigarillo in the other, Horatio cast an eye down his limp body and noticed, with some horror, his unclipped starboard big toe peeping out of his threadbare Gieves and Hawkes socks. ‘Gordon bloody Bennet!’ he chunted; ‘why on earth did I have to take off me bloody shoes!?’  Horatio hailed from a bygone age: even half an inch of skin exposed ‘tween his socks and flannel turn-ups was the height of gauche bad manners; H was a properly trained officer.  

At that moment, Skippy Brewster returned onto the bridge with Claude in station astern. Having gone briefly down below to show Claude her austere bunk space, and to check all was well with his watch-keeping troops, it was ‘crystal’ that something was amiss; someone or something had made Skippy more than anxious.

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Pacing back and forth across the bridge like a caged lion, he was spluttering profanities ten to the dozen, punctuated only occasionally with disconnected phrases H’s aural sensor occasionally picked up: ‘passage plan …. F’ing this, f’ing that…..Mate buggered off …. Boss’s bloody car’ and so forth, whilst Claude looked on nervously eager to please, but clueless how to. 

You didn’t need the sensitivity of a diplomat tuned in with full ‘gain’ to realise that something was up – a command issue - so H, ever the sensitive guest, thought it best to beat a delicate retreat and ‘exit stage left’ (port?). He started to ease himself out of the captain’s throne when Skippy stopped him with an authoritative wave of the hand.

‘When it rains, it bloody pours… wait a minute H,’ Skippy looked straight at Horatio who had by this time stopped dead in his tracks; ‘I think I might have a cunning plan and you, me dear old shippers, might feature!’

Skippy explained his dilemma, spitting out his barely restrained venom with the ferocity of Ahab’s harpoon. It transpired that the Mate (Skippy’s 2i/c) had left with no notice because, having recently risen to the heights of OOW (Commercial Yacht 3000gt), he had secretly sought out and received an irresistible offer as Chief Mate in a posh(ish) vessel along the jetty rather improbably named ‘Cunning Stunt’. 

‘The disloyal bastard, after everything I’ve done for ’im, and he’s gone to that piece of sh…… ’   Skippy paused, having drifted off clearly in thought, then laughed out loud: ‘not seen anything like it, well, not since I scarpered from Pythagoras at the rush having been caught – wink, wink – with the boss’s missus….. well, one of ‘em!’  There he stopped, realising that more detail was probably unnecessary. The 11th commandment of yachting** sprang to mind.  

Skippy fixed Horatio with an impish grin and more than a glint in his eye. ‘H, me old shipmate, do you fancy adding ‘large yachting for the rich and infamous’ to that amazing CV of yours? Name yer price, and I’ll double it!’

H was temporarily taken aback. ‘Is this young whipper-snapper seriously offering me a Mate’s position in this…in this …. this ….?’ H was rarely lost for words, but now he was rendered momentarily speechless. Half offended, but for no good or rational reason, half flattered, he faced an immediate dichotomy.

Bored witless by life ashore and the inane non-conversation of moronic untraveled land-lubbers, H knew all along that he had for twenty years suppressed a yearning to return to sea. H was a hopeless romantic, a modern Conrad: he imagined the sun rising above the eastern horizon, in perfect harmony with the aroma of sizzling bacon drifting up from the galley; the dust and evocative smell of north  western Africa and Iberia three days before you could actually see it; ah, that’s the life!  

Horatio sunrise

H was so excited at the prospect that he very nearly gushed out what he instinctively felt (a resounding ‘YES!’), but wisely thought better of it.  ‘Tell me more, captain’.

Skippy explained that the ‘top man’ was due back after lunch tomorrow complete with his newly acquired ‘bint’. For reasons unknown, the boss had had one of his occasional ‘eureka’ moments and decided there and then that he wanted more than the tiresome monotony of the Med and Caribbean; he wanted to go through Suez and on to adventures more eastern.

Having watched ‘Master and Commander’ fifty times, he was fond of the British naval expression ‘make ready to sail with all despatch!’ Skippy, seasoned yachtie though he was, was ready for most things but this presented a challenge or two, or three, or four: navigation, charts, passage plan, security (yikes – aren’t there pirates running amok out there??), a Suez transit, victuals and more, more, more. Skippy looked at H with a pleading expression that simply said ‘help!’   

Naval to his bones, H never allowed himself to lose sight of the aim: finding the gels. A quick back of a fag packet command assessment later and it was pretty clear to him that a short stint with #2 Claude aboard Caviare might well expose him to plenty of useful intelligence. H smiled inwardly at himself: was he appreciating the situation, or situating the appreciation? 

Throwing caution to the wind, H was on the brink of committing to a job every fibre in his body told him was positively ridiculous when Skippy, increasingly desperate as the seconds ticked by, misinterpreted Horatio’s thoughtfulness as apparent reticence so he bunged in another sweetener that he thought might just seal the deal: ‘Look H, I know that you were in Baghdad when I was in me Dad’s bag, so I know I can learn a thing or two from yer, so feel free to offer morsels and nuggets of wisdom whenever you like. It’s bloody fate! Come on H, give it a go, PLEASE!’

What sealed it for Horatio was not the pleading tone of a desperate man. No, it was the charming deference of a young captain with the nous to recognise his own fallibility; honest modesty was not a weakness but a towering strength in any ship’s captain, and H was hooked.

High Five Horatio 3

Eyeing the row of bridge consoles, H was more than a little intimidated by the space-age kit on the bridge. ‘My dear captain, I should be honoured to serve under your command, but with one condition: that for everything I might be able to impart, you will commit to teach me, old sea-fogey that I am, rather more than a thing or two; we’ll learn from each other. Deal?’ 

‘A deal indeed’, rejoiced Skippy. ‘Yes!’ and he high fived a bewildered Mate.

‘Chief Stewy, please show the Mate to his quarters’.

‘Yeth thir!!’, and Claude burst into tears.

* For H the bridge was a sanctuary, a quiet temple to professionalism. Nobody, but nobody, ever, EVER sat in the captain’s chair (or touched his binoculars).
** Thou shalt not roger the wonga

To be continued...


The Mate’s cabin was shared with the Chief Engineer, a Glaswegian former RN Chief Artificer known to all as ‘Shuggy’. Fortunately for the slightly stiff H, Shuggy occupied the top bunk and was already snoring gently; he was dreaming of the check-out girls at Sainsbury’s in Helensborough.

As H prepared to retire before starting the passage planning the following day, he dwelt on the previous 24 hours. ‘What a truly remarkable turn of events’, H mused as he slid beneath a luxurious duvet and looked up towards the heavens.

But his thoughts were interrupted: for above him, a mere foot away stuck underneath the top bunk, was a rather formal looking business letter on BBC headed paper with the salutation ‘Dear Mr Clarkson’ whom H assumed was the recently departed Mate. H could not resist reading on:


BBC Entertainment 



Dear Mr Clarkson,

Many thanks for your letter of 15 June, suggesting your ex-wife as an ideal candidate for our new quiz show.

I have reviewed the qualities you describe of her and agree that she may possess the attributes we are looking for in the show's contestants. However, before we take this any further, I must point out that the name of the show is actually ‘Fact Hunt’.

In light of this, please let me know if we should proceed and contact the lady concerned.

Yours sincerely,

Hugh Janus

Hugh Janus,
Light Entertainment,
BBC Television Centre,

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: Flickr/Winky Flickr/Spisharam Shutterstock Wikimedia Commons

Previous Chapters: Chapter1; Chapter 2

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