Going to the Dogs

Professional yacht captains should shut up and drive.

It occurred to me recently that with more than 100 "Telltales" under my belt, I have yet to pick on professional yacht captains. What an oversight! Fortunately, two friends and former yacht jockeys provided inspiration.

"Bill sure is a pain in the ass," Bob, who now runs a boat yard, complained to me one day.

"Bob sure is a pain in the ass," Bill, who is now a project manager, confided in me the following day.

As a service to ex-captains Bob and Bill, and for all those who have suffered a professional captain's claim to divine rights on and off deck, I intend to set the record straight.

As a card-carrying, albeit inactive, member of the union, I have a unique appreciation for the professional yacht captain's authority. It takes the creative skills of a true waterman to fill a log with hours, a cup with urine and the correct bubbles on a multiple-choice exam. Designers, particularly those who do not benefit from a writing career, learn to appreciate the professional captain's contributions to custom design. The owner may pen the checks, however, his captain makes the decisions. It is the way of the sea. Fussing with a cranky cappy can be risky.

A builder friend of mine once lost sight of this precept and suggested to an owner that allowing his captain to meddle in the design and construction of his yacht was akin to-these are his words, mind you-"sending his chauffeur over to Rolls-Royce to design his car". In time, my builder friend came to understand that telling an owner that his captain is anything less than an authority in marine design and engineering is like telling him his wife is a horse. To redeem himself, my friend now provides visiting captains with comfortable offices and coupons for free local entertainment. His business has picked up again.

Those who are in need of a professional captain are in luck: The U.S. Coast Guard has been handing out licenses for years. The interview process is typically straightforward. No matter how much an owner knows about his boat, the professional captain he hires will know just a bit more. It's like choosing a tennis partner. The least-experienced owners get the least-experienced captains.

Fortunately, most yachts remain tethered to the dock. However, I suggest that those who intend to wander about insist on a simple driving test. A captain's ability is directly proportional to the point at which he engages the bow thruster during his approach to the dock. A score of anything less than a quarter mile from the dock is pretty good these days.

I am hopeful that all my captain friends are out walking their owners' dogs when this issue arrives. If not, I'm just kidding-I swear! I believe that crew quarters should be lavish, thrusters should be big, electronics should be expensive and teak should be kept indoors.

As for my friends Bob and Bill, they're both right.