Stand up sailor

Flying into LA to pick up a yacht delivery, it was getting quite late and upon our meeting, I asked the Captain if he was all ready for the trip to Panama. “No worries all we have to do is go out turn left and keep the land to the left.” Sounds reasonable I thought. After an evening’s prep and some handover, I retired. The next morning we moved to the fuel dock and after bunkering there was more familiarization of the vessel and we set sail.

After ten days of our very pleasant and routine cruise, the call came in from the owner. He wanted to meet us in Guatemala for a short trip and travel with us to Panama. We changed plans and with a local pilot made it through a tidal river to a small yacht club and buoyed up for the night. It was late evening and the crew wanted to go ashore. I’m not keen on first nights ashore so I opted to stay aboard and do the watch. Hours later I can see from the CCTV that the tender had arrived back with crew intact. I continued to watch them as they headed up to the Jacuzzi deck and bar.

As I didn’t particularly want to get involved, I remained in the crew mess. Half an hour later the Mate appeared with instruction from the captain that my presence was required on the top deck. Not wanting to offend, I made my way up to the expected sight of 10 jolly crewmembers in a party mood, drinks everywhere, and happy smiley faces. The captain was on form, regaling stories of yore and telling jokes. I sat down and with a big slap on my back, the Captain beamed, “come on have a drink” and handed me a Corona. To be honest I wasn’t in the mood to drink at all and the Chef whispered, “don’t worry just pretend to drink, he won’t notice.”

The whole scene was enthralling, happy and buzzing with energy. Moments later, a Deckhand got up and leant across the table for an ashtray that was just slightly out of his reach. He knocked a half empty bottle over and although it had spilled, he was able to pick it up quickly. Disaster averted he thought. With a slight roll of the boat, the pale amber liquid, unbeknown to the Captain had travelled to his part of the table and began to drip on his thigh. The Captain, alerted now to his damp trousers, he stood up in an instant and let out a roar. “Stand up sailor so I can knock you down! How DARE you spill beer on the Captain!” The shock was immediate. The whole crew stared wide-eyed at each other in horror.

The Captain was spitting with fury and attempted to make a grab for the Deckhand who was cowering an apology. Everyone reacted and tried to calm the situation as the Captain, then red faced with anger, stormed to his cabin slamming the door. We all retired. Nothing more was said. In the morning we dreaded an explosive temper from a normally mild and jovial man. Fortunately it never came and the rest of the trip continued as normal. I will always remember the Captain with regard and respect but will never forget the shortest mood change in history…

Joe Hodgson.