Downtime

“Don’t worry, I’m nearly sure it’s a dolphin swimming toward you...”

30 April 2021By Gavin Rothenburger
Illustration by John Devolle

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sick of pandemics. But I’m also sick of hearing, reading, and talking about crappy pandemics.

With so many other beautiful things in the world that might kill you but probably won’t, wouldn’t it be a nice change to consider some of these? Venomous snakes, poorly packed parachutes, and serial killers are all wonderful, very lethal things that, odds are, will never cause you to be dead. The other one that springs to mind is yacht crew. Chance has it that it’s unlikely your cabinmates cause an early funeral, but, just saying, they might.

To my mind, the person who’s most likely to make you not alive is the captain. This is a little ironic because it’s the captain’s main duty to ensure your safety, which is routinely done by falling asleep on watch, telling you that the sander with bare wires is perfectly serviceable, or requiring you to wear dress shoes whose grip on anything but sandpaper is about the same as wearing two greased otter skins on a sharply tilted skating rink.

Because of the indisputable fact that all captains are, without doubt, insane, there are any of a thousand different means for them to eradicate you and we all need to be on our guard when told the hurricane’s going to miss us, when things like “I know it looks like a rock but there’s not one on the chart so we’re fine…” are uttered or, “Don’t worry, I’m nearly sure it’s a dolphin swimming toward you.”

Venomous snakes, poorly packed parachutes, and serial killers are all wonderful, very lethal things that, odds are, will never cause you to be dead.

The second most likely person to annihilate you is, obviously, the engineer. And it’s not just because, like captains, they’re mostly all lunatics. No. The odd thing is that the engineer’s primary responsibility is to ensure that nothing explodes, ignites, or ruptures into a fireball even as they spend most of their time going around the boat blowing things up.

For many, basic maintenance means finding a piece of machinery that’s been working perfectly well and, with a couple of well-timed flicks of a wrench, detonating it into a wicked mess of what they grandly call “components” but is actually what the rest of us know as shrapnel. They too can cause you to go kablooey by infinite means, whether from simple electrocution or by infecting you with whatever that unnatural fungus is growing between their toes. It’s important that we all remember that, against all appearances, their job is not just to have naps in between periods of rest but to ensure that you are never, not even once, exterminated.

Another person to watch out for is the mate. While generally I’ve found mates to be nominally less insane than their superiors, they present a more subtle danger in that they typically believe — in spite of education, experience, age, and maturity — that the captain is terrible and that they’d do it better. They can’t. But this won’t stop them from stepping in to make an important decision in the captain’s absence and determining that the right of way is, in fact, yours and that they’ll damn well wait for that Panamax freighter to alter course. (Which it will almost for sure maybe do, rather than bulldoze the yacht into soggy graham crackers without even noticing because the helmsman popped out for coffee.)

And then there’s the chef. This person can have you in the hospital slowly agonizing over your impending exit faster than you can say salmonella. E. coli, to some, is a vegetable similar to broccoli and best served with whatever you’re most allergic to. Not only can they terminate you with boiling oil, they can put you in the ground just by forgetting to wash their hands after doing whatever it was they were doing in the bathroom for three hours that you’re pretty sure you don’t want to know about.

Chance has it that it’s unlikely your cabinmates cause an early funeral, but, just saying, they might.

Next are chief stews. No need to go into detail here — they’ll just straight out bludgeon you with whatever’s in arm’s reach because of a coffee ring on the crew mess table.

Lastly, we have deckies and junior stews. They’re like golden retrievers: cute, cuddly, and fun to be around. But on a boat, they don’t yet know what they don’t know, just as the golden retriever doesn’t know it shouldn’t drink antifreeze. They won’t kill you intentionally but, to get at a water spot, they might just lay down the sticks of an active helm station, max-throttle the boat, and smiling, obliterate the marina office.

Long story short, we’re all as lethal as the crewmember next to us and if wearing a mask could protect us from each other, I’d triple layer with a face-shield. And…well, there I am back to the virus.

Oh well. For a moment at least, it felt nice to think about all the wonderful possibilities this world had to offer outside of stupid pandemics.

This article originally ran in the April 2021 issue of Dockwalk.

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