Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Temper On The Seas

Last night I was skippering a sailboat for “tutorial races.”  This is where newer sailors learn skills like sail trim and maneuvers, with a little bit of stress to help push the education.  Usually it’s lots of fun.

Last night was not lots of fun.

I took 3 people with me, 2 beginners and one intermediate-level sailor.  One of the beginners instantly became a problem.  He repeatedly argued that he knew better ways to rig the boat than I, but wouldn’t listen to why his suggestions wouldn’t work.  For three races he kept telling us how we were failing, and how much better he could do than us.  The fourth race was his turn to shine.  Reluctantly, I asked him if he wanted his turn at the helm.  Steering.
He happily took the role, but instantly stopped listening to my suggestions. For the most part, I let people do what they want.  I’ll give advice, but unless you seem to be getting out of your experience/ safety level, I’m not really concerned whether my suggestions are followed.  So if I say that we can tack whenever you like, we can tack whenever you like.  If I say that there is more wind on the right side of the course, but you want to stay in the left-end doldrums, that’s your call.  I don’t care if we win or lose, this is for training.
Last night, some of my calls weren’t suggestions.  I told him to bear away to keep from hitting the committee boat (referee).  I told him four times before he finally turned away to avoid the vessel.  As we sailed along the start line, I suggested that we turn around.  He kept going for another minute, putting us in a very bad position for starting.  With no right of way, and 2 right-of-way sailboats bearing down on us, he commented that he wanted to do a fairly complicated and time-consuming maneuver.  “No,” I said.  “It’s not safe.  Keep going straight.”
He turned the tiller anyway, trying to gybe into the oncoming traffic.  I grabbed the tiller and forced it back to centre, at which point he started shouting at me to keep my hands out of his way.  “I told you to keep going straight ahead.” I growled. 
“Don’t tell me what to do, I’m gybing!” he shouted.
At that point, I lost my temper.  “I’m the f***ing skipper, it’s my boat, you do what you’re told, and don’t EVER fight me for the tiller!”  There was a lot more shouting back and forth, before I ordered him to walk up to the mast and stay there.  I realized that there was a good chance I’d shove him overboard, and then I’d be in the wrong, possibly with legal ramifications.

I sailed by the committee boat and shouted over that we were leaving the race and heading back to the dock.  It was too dangerous having an unpredictable a***hole like that on the boat, and I wasn’t taking responsibility for him or anyone else while he was on board.

He still didn’t get it.  He stood at the mast yelling “We haven’t won a single race!  You suck!  I went for a good move, and you panicked!  You panicked like a woman!”  At that point I bit my tongue and gripped the tiller harder.  I wanted nothing more than to walk up and put my fist through the back of his head.  I took a breath and suggested that if he wanted to talk like men, that we could discuss it over a beer once we got back on land. 
“I don’t want to talk to you!” he screamed, and suddenly seemed like a spoiled little bitch.
We got back to land, he did a ½-assed job of closing up the boat with the rest of the crew, and he sulked away into the night.  The rest of us sat back with a couple of beers.  I felt bad for those two guys - they'd wanted a fun night of sailing, and we'd brought the boat in an hour ahead of schedule.  A little unsure of whether I’d overreacted, I asked my remaining crew for honest feedback.  They were impressed with how I handled the situation, and honestly I could have been more forceful and still been in the right.  Wow.

I spoke with a couple other members about him, and he’s caught their attention too, however not quite as spectacularly as with me last night.  They also agreed that I was in the right, both with my demanding control and obedience, and in my decision to return the sailboat to the dock.  I won’t be sailing with him again, at least not without a good chat that shows he’s submitting to my (legal and moral) authority as captain of the boat.

Edit:  For the record, the captain's authority and responsibility is universally recognized, both morally and legally.  Most of us take it pretty seriously and do what we're told by the captain, whether we agree or not.  Sailing too many dangerous aspects to be democratic.  So it's a pretty serious offence to do what he did. 

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like the guy should be playing football or hockey if he's so damned competitive! What a loser.

    Way to handle him. Sounds like you need a little Cartman pin that says "Respect muh authoratay!" :)