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Seamanship Derby

Sunday June 6, 2010

Late last week, a mysterious posting appeared on the door to the salon, something about the 512th annual seamanship competition. All hands were warned to study up on their knots, steering, ship nomenclature and general seamanship skills in anticipation. Watches held secret meetings and study sessions, planning not only their compass boxing and line coiling strategies, but also their team uniforms (or costumes) and to consider illicit ways to win favour with the judges.

The derby was scheduled for 1500 this afternoon, a competition of seamanship skills with a number of different events, pitting watch against watch. Mates Mike, Paul and Rebecca, with help from bosun WT and bosun’s mate Nicksa, were the judges, chief engineer Chris was the official scorekeeper and timer. Each watch started the competition with a presentation – something to intimidate the other watches, or tell everyone more about themselves and simply how wonderful they are. The 12-4 watch, all dressed in black with black grease war-paint stripes on their faces, arms and chests, first presented their bribes to the judges, including cold drinks, candy and potato chips. They then paraded onto the hatch with music and drumming, then sang a cheer, led by Meredith, talking about how they are on duty in the dark in the middle of the night, with a funny verse about each of the other watches and what they do. The 4-8 watch made their presentation next, bribing the judges with chocolate. They were all dressed in tie dye, aviators and bandanas and for their presentation they changed the lyrics to a popular song, describing the 4-8 responsibilities. The 8-12 then presented a skit about the “real housewives of the Picton Castle”, kind of a take-off on the Desperate Housewives or maybe Real Housewives of NY or New Jersey, whatever that show is, that talked a lot about domestics, the cleaning done to the heads and below, which the 8-12 watch do every morning.

The first event in the actual competition was a pin chase, which reinforces using proper names for parts of the ship. The three watches were lined up amidships, then the first person in each line was given the name of something somewhere on the deck that they had to race to touch first. Whoever touched it first was awarded a point for their team. Some of the things people had to chase after were lines, some were parts of the ship like the port fore upper tops’l brace block keeper plate or the fly rail. All watches did quite well in this event, although the 4-8 ended up in first place.

Next up was line coiling. The Captain demonstrated the proper way that a line should be coiled and hung – all turns even, no tail sticking out, hung close to the pin, and all coils on the rail of equal length. The mates cast off all coils on the main deck and each watch took their turn coiling and hanging them all again. This event was timed, plus points were also awarded for style. The times averaged between five and eight minutes, and the watch that took the longest had the nicest looking coils. The 4-8 watch had the best compromise of reasonably fast time and reasonably good looking coils, so they won this event as well.

From there, all hands moved up to the quarterdeck for the knot tying portion of the competition. Each person had a line, and when the mate called out the name of the knot, each person had to tie it. The watch was instructed to call out when each member of the watch had tied the knot correctly. The first watch to call out was then inspected by the judges to make sure the knots were all correct. Knots in the competition included the figure of eight, reef knot, bowline, buntline hitch, round turn and two half hitches, double sheet bend and for bonus points, a one-handed bowline behind the back (bonus points earned by Kate for her 8-12 watch, who ended up winning this round).

Staying on the quarterdeck, each watch then had to stand in a circle and box the compass, starting with north and moving clockwise. Each person had to give the next direction, in order, as it became their turn. We didn’t use quarter and half points, just the 32 points of the compass. This event was timed. The 8-12 watch completed this task in just over half the time it took the other two watches.

Each watch then had to choose their best trainee helmsman for the steering competition. The helmsman’s objective was to stay on course, within half a point and then within a whole point, for as long as possible, to a maximum of five minutes. In smooth water this is not so hard but in 6-8 foot following seas, this can be a challenge. Dan was up first for the 8-12 watch and he managed to hold his course well, but didn’t max out the time at five minutes. Julie was next for the 4-8 watch and, although there were a few tense moments for the spectators, she held it together and stayed within a half point for five minutes. Jimmy took the helm for the 12-4 and matched Julie, and was quite jubilant about his accomplishment. While Julie and Jimmy tied in skill, Jimmy got a few bonus points for style, so the 12-4 took this competition.

The final competition was the bucket race, where each watch was given an empty plastic tote and a bucket with a line on it. The buckets were tied to the ship (we always tie the bucket on when we pull up sea water), and each person had to take a turn retrieving a bucket of water from over the side, the filling the plastic tote. The first watch to fill their tote would win the race. This is harder than it sounds. This one was very close, but the 12-4 watch pulled ahead at the last second to win.

Each watch won two of the competitions, but with the secret scoring system of weighting the scores and bonus points, the 4-8 watch took the victory in the 2010 Seamanship Derby. While there certainly were parts of the competition that were on the silly side, there’s a very real and serious aspect of it as well – having a competition is motivation for everyone to review what they’ve already learned, fill in any gaps in their basic seamanship education to date and to be able to perform the required skill under the pressures of time and scrutiny. This event also heightens general awareness on many levels. It also gives the Captain and the mates an indication of crew skill levels that they may not all have the opportunity to observe every day. All hands did well in this competition and can be proud of what they’ve accomplished so far. For most of our crew, they didn’t know a buntline from baggywrinkle two months ago, so they’ve made great progress.

Chris the scorekeeper
Julie on helm with Rebecca and Nadja watching
the 8 to 12 ties bowlines behind their back

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