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Crew communication 

Floppy Rope The language of boat handling; but does everyone get it?

A smart Freeman 26 was approaching Marlow lock one day when the immaculate lady manning the foredeck realised that the fenders were still on deck.

She decided to point this out to her husband in the cockpit, and to the delight of the sightseers, she cried ‘Jeremy, we’re going to bang. Quick, dangle your balls over the side…’

Over thousands of years, the art of handling a boat has developed a language all of its own. The trouble is, not everyone aboard will understand it. For example, ask a layman to ‘find a rope that will make a good spring’ and this will lead to all sorts of confusion.

Grab the painter

Take the owner of a boat who was trying to berth in a marina in Spain in a furious cross wind. He was one of those lucky people who had a mooring right outside his house, a delightful two-storey ‘cassa’ that was being decorated by a local firm at the time.

Waiting to help him on the quayside was a family friend, who could see that the boat was having difficulties but seemed at a loss as how to help. The frustrated skipper, knowing that this friend was a dinghy sailor, shouted an instruction he thought she would understand.

“The painter!” he cried, pointing frantically at the front of the boat, “Grab the painter!”

To his surprise, the woman gave him a matey thumbs-up, and then disappeared inside the house. Seconds later she emerged again pulling along a bemused man in a pair of paint-splattered overalls.

Loud hailing…

Sometimes, as I quickly learned as a lockkeeper, referring to the ‘front string’ and ‘the pointy end’ in a tongue-in-cheek way can yield results from a faintly relieved crew.

But for the skippers themselves, actually getting their intentions up to the foredeck can be a bit of a problem, especially from an enclosed wheelhouse.

One owner’s solution was to fit a loud hailer on the cabin top, which could be activated from the helm.

However, the first time he tried it, his sharp command of ‘starboard side too, dear,’ nearly lifted his partner off the foredeck in fright.

She whirled around and stabbed a finger at the cockpit.

‘You do that again,’ she shrieked, “and I’ll rip it off and shove it up…” the rest was lost in a cheer from the lock-side crowd.

Slick team

Crew communication will get easier as a team works together, and understand what is required of them. The novice crews of hire boats, for example, very quickly developed into a slick team, each with their own particular role.

I also watched quite large boats being expertly moored by just one person. When a steel cruiser entered Boveney lock one day, I complimented the skipper on his manoeuvring.

“You don’t have a crew, then?” I asked, nodding at the deserted decks.

“Oh yes,” the skipper beamed. “He’s just coming.”

He glanced over his shoulder and I was amazed to see a young man swimming strongly into the chamber.

“Terribly sorry” he called, making for the steps. “Sort of fell in – and I couldn’t find anywhere to get out again…”

Jake Kavanagh, marine journalist.

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