Shout! Shout...Let it all out!

Don't Shout - Sam Llewellyn on the psychology of shouting on-board

Before the advent of psychiatry, there was a lot of shouting on boats.

Bucko mates on windjammers' decks were famous for addressing crew members on the foretopgallant yard in tones indistinguishable from thunder.

Leather lungs and brass vocal chords were a sine qua non for the mariner, brisk obedience of orders was encouraged with the rope's end, and a day without personal abuse left the foc'sle hand feeling unfulfilled and let down.

Shouting means anger

This carryon came to an end when Freud, Adler and the lads pointed out that shouting means anger, and anyone who is angry is not angry with the intended victim, but with himself.

After this, professional shipboard negotiations were conducted in the dulcet tones of a sucking dove asking for a pay rise. Judging by the yelling heard around the Solent at this time of year amateurs, and particularly yachtsmen, are some distance behind the curve.

Seafaring a quasi-military pursuit?

One particular Captain Bligh, whom I heard bellowing at a novice called Cynthia to 'let off the lee runner you cretinous moron and watch out for the vang, the bloody vang', was aggrieved when I pointed this out. 'How else am I supposed to tell her what to do?' he said.

'Watch,' I said, clearing the throat. 'Cynthia, do you see that thin red rope a foot from your right hand?'

'Yes,' said Cynthia in a tear-choked voice.

'Would you mind untying it?' I said.

Cynthia untied it. The lee runner sagged free, as intended. Bligh grasped me by the arm and dragged me up to weather.

'You have undermined my authority,' he hissed. 'Seafaring is a quasi-military pursuit in which orders must be executed at maximum speed in order to preserve life and the integrity of the vessel.'

This is a popular point of view, but it is nonsense, and I told him so. There was no earthly reason why Cynthia should have known what a lee runner was. Bligh was acting like a interrogator in a James Bond film because he felt his mother had never loved him.

The objective of speech is communication, and nobody is helped by shipboard talk that sounds like an all-year-round extension of 'Talk like a Pirate Day'.

Silence is not always golden

Not that silence is always golden. On long voyages, when the crew are likely to be suffering from sleep deprivation to the point where they are seeing pink monkeys playing trombones on the spreaders, a happy-hour at sixish, irrigated by the beverage of choice, can keep the crew feeling like a crew rather than a series of half-mad individuals.

Some speech is important

A friend told me about a stormy Atlantic crossing in his ancient boat, whose rigging had deteriorated to the point that they had rigged the anchor chain as a substitute for the port lower shroud. The crew were busily suggesting they turn back to Nova Scotia or divert to Iceland.

My friend pointed out that both these places were equidistant, and protected by fog and icebergs. The silence that greeted this remark continued for 1,500 miles and still haunts his dreams.

A fug of polite murmurs

The well-conducted cruising boat proceeds in a fug of polite murmurs. At sensitive moments like mooring, anchoring and racing, intercoms and squawk boxes may appeal to the technologically alert.

My late friend Barend, who skippered a beautifully-converted Brixham trawler full of film stars round the Med in the 1950s, disapproved of both shouting and technology, and used a system of signals played on little bells.

He would sail to Cannes or Portofino, the boat a vision of antique beauty under the brilliant Riviera sky, the laughter of Clark Gable and Grace Kelly in the cockpit mingling with the silvery tinkling of his orders as he brought the boat alongside.

Well, I mean to say. Ding dong.

Sam Llewellyn