Sailing Master Secrets ~ John Vigor on Sailing “Democracies”

Today, we feature John Vigor, sailor and veteran author of 12 boating books and scores of articles in boating magazines on three continents. John has written for Cruising World, Sail, and Good Old Boat. His career as a newspaperman spanned nearly 40 years in America, England, and South Africa. Visit John’s highly entertaining blog at

PEOPLE AROUND HERE have gotten quite spoiled by democracy. Women no longer have to chain themselves to railings in order to vote for their political leaders. Kids no longer have to be silent at the dinner table. They’re allowed to speak now, for goodness’ sake, without even having been spoken to first.

And modern guests on yachts, well, they seem to think they have the right to sit anywhere they like, even on the top step of the companionway. They also talk, nay chatter, without permission, and even use the head without asking. Such extraordinary liberties.

There can be only one boss on a sailboat. By the very nature of things, a skipper must be a dictator — a benevolent dictator if you’re lucky. There can be no democratic committee meeting about whether or not to take in a reef, in the face of an approaching line squall. There can be no split vote on the question of whether or not to put the engine in reverse with the dock fast approaching.

Call me Captain Bligh if you must. I don’t mind. Bligh, in fact, has often been unfairly characterized. He was a very skilled navigator who chose to apply the shipboard rules quite strictly. But he applied them fairly, and he safely delivered to their destinations those who spoke only when spoken to.

One of the persistent fantasies of democracy is to imagine you can be the boss and everybody’s friend at the same time. Forget it. Just be the boss.



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