Last Laugh: Competent Crew

15 October 2020 By Gavin Rothenburger
illustration of man putting screwdriver up nose
Illustration by John Devolle

Gavin Rothenburger has been the author of Dockwalk’s humor column Last Laugh since 2008. For questions, concerns, or for general badmouthing, you can write to me at

There’s a lot to be said for working with competent crew but mostly I just find it annoying. This is largely because when I’m surrounded by diligent and capable people, I appear to be outstanding. Not in the good sense of the word: more like I stand out because I am neither of those things. It’s much easier to blend into a crowd of buffoons who regularly strangle themselves in heaving lines because, among this group, I seem moderately competent and slightly less drunk than everybody else (which proves that appearances can be deceiving).

That being said, there are many reasons why working with competent people might seem desirable. Having a chef who knows the difference between Nutella and salmonella, for example. An engineer who knows a screwdriver isn’t just for picking one’s nose, or a mate who’s able to mix paint without compulsively huffing it. But there’s an irksome downside to all of this: namely, that if we suddenly become too good at our jobs, bosses will find themselves enjoying trips. Fine in and of itself, but if they’re allowed to like things too much, they’re just going to show up more often.

We recently replaced a chief stew who was seemingly unable to set a dinner table without a spoon becoming wedged in her ear and who thought turndowns were that time of day where it was optional to turn down doing any more work. We also swapped our mate for someone who’d never tried to proposition the owner’s wife and who didn’t greet our new deck stew with an invitation to a nudie bar. It really was a shame because beside the fecklessness of these brain-slapped dunderheads, I appeared to be at least partially sane and, relatively speaking, more competent than a stoned four year old.

But there’s an irksome downside to all of this: namely, that if we suddenly become too good at our jobs, bosses will find themselves enjoying trips. Fine in and of itself, but if they’re allowed to like things too much, they’re just going to show up more often.

The boss had long been trained to think that stellar service included paper napkins, partially washed forks, and tender trips that almost always ended with the boat running out of gas. So, when our new crew came on and provided adequate service that in no way endangered his life or threatened his wife’s fidelity, he very enthusiastically mentioned he was thinking of extending the trip.

We calmly attempted to explain to the new crew how things were properly done. They looked at us funny when we suggested that good manners were a rude method of communication and that requested meal times were merely suggestions because, really, the boss shouldn’t possibly expect to be fed every day. The mate became confused when it was proposed that he untuck his shirt and that coming up with an off-putting facial tick was in all our best interests. The chief stew, for her part, couldn’t understand why we demanded she use plastic cutlery in the dining room or insist that vacuuming was an elitist habit that the boss simply couldn’t abide.

In spite of our best efforts to make no effort, they put forth theirs and the boss, seemingly dumbstruck that somebody thought to put a ladder out for him when swimming, told the chief stew that because of her utter lack of ineptitude, he’d like to stay a little longer. This, of course, caused a near-mutiny among the rest of us who had already made weekend plans and couldn’t understand how the owners could possibly have the nerve to ruin a three-day hangover. We implored her to proposition the boss in front of his wife or daughter or use balled-up toilet paper as a table setting. We begged the mate to crash a Jet Ski or, at the very least, spray them with an unwashed hose whenever it seemed inconvenient.

They did none of these things and, while they were busy doing a good job, the rest of us watched warily as the boss slowly began to take notice of what we were doing, which is to say nothing useful (unless you consider six-hour lunches useful — which I do). We soon realized that this new crew was seriously compromising our motivation-starved work ethic and, even worse, by forcing us into action, was improving the experience that much more and seriously endangering our rigorous schedule of sleeping in.

Obviously, our jobs are to ensure the owner has the best possible trip under the circumstances. Unfortunately, a lot of circumstances are well within the crew’s control and include hiring and training people who rarely, if ever, get their hair caught in the blender. It may cause more work. It may mean a drastic reduction in time spent with your favorite bartender, personal trainer, or the cat whose food bowl you may now be wondering might not have been filled a little higher before you left on the now-extended trip. But if you’re unlucky enough to have competent crew, you just have to let them run with it, keep the boss happy, and hope that Mittens is smart enough to order take-out.

This column is taken from the October 2020 issue of Dockwalk.


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