Saturday, October 18, 2014

Follow Up: Respecting Roles

New Bern, NC

I neglected something critically important in yesterday's post about cruising secrets.

On the boat, it is essential that all parties learn their roles and live up to the roles.

There must be one and only one captain on a boat.  That's not a policy, it is a reality.  With two on board, that means that one is captain and the other is crew.   That differs from the "partners" role that we follow in marriage.   The two people on a boat under way can not be partners.  That adjustment, and the ability to juggle two sets of roles, (one on board the boat, and another ashore) can be difficult.  But failure to adjust dooms many couples to failure.

It is the captain's role to gather data (including crew input, opinions, and abilities), to formulate an action plan, communicate that plan.  Then it becomes the duty of all crew and captain to execute that plan as a team, unless and until the plan changes.   There can be zero tolerance for anyone in the crew who fails to work with the team to execute the plan.  In moments of urgency, there may be no time for words; orders must be executed immediately and without question.  Urgent moments on a cruising boat are presumably less extreme than those of soldiers in combat (much much less), but the principles of discipline are analogous.

It is the crew's role to provide input to the captain when a decision is being debated.  But as soon as the plan is announced, further debate must be suppressed.   That does not mean being blind. If the captain decides to go to port and a crew sees danger to port, he/she should shout out "Danger to Port!"  Crew must also be free to observe "Your plan is not working Captain."  But there is zero tolerance for crew to substitute a plan differing from what the Captain said.

Who gets to be Captain? Traditions bias us toward choosing the man, but experience and various abilities are the real criteria.  Even the male choice is rational to the extent that men are supposed to be less subject to emotional pressure than women.

Another key role is helmsman.  With two of us on board, we take turns at the helm.  The helmsman necessarily has duties and authorities independent of the person's other role as Captain or crew.  As a trivial example, if the plan is to go east, and there is a buoy due east of us, of course the helmsman steers around the obstacle.  Only in cases where an officer is standing beside the helmsman does the authority of the helmsman get narrowed.

Here's where many Captain Queegs go wrong. Any crew has the right to jump ship once we get to port.  If the captain behaves like an ass, he will lose crew.  So the Captain's primary duty is to command the vessel, but a secondary duty is to nurture relationships with the crew. When the crew is also your spouse, that secondary duty is more than just important it is vital.

In our case, our first two years were rougher until I learned how to properly criticize and berate Libby when she screwed up.  Everyone screws-up, Captain and crew alike.   It turned out that the essential l thing Libby needed was self-confidence.  Once she became sufficiently confident that she could bring Tarwathie safely back to port alone in any reasonable circumstances, she relaxed and became vastly more comfortable living life as a cruiser.  Hasty criticism, and harsh words, pierced her self-confidence.  I had to learn to hold back criticism until times of post-mortem debriefings when we reviewed what we did without emotion.  In the immediate aftermath of something like running aground because of helmsman error, we have both learned to accept it without fear or even raising our voices or our pulse rates at all.  Hours or days after the fact, (and back in our partner roles),  we review what happened and try to learn from that.

That details of that real life lesson for Libby and I may not apply to other couples.  Every person is individual.  The unvarying rule that applies to all vessels, is that there are roles that must be played on board any vessel, and all persons must learn and fulfill their respective roles, quite apart from their relationships on land.

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