When I worked in the shop of the local Exmouth boat builder in England we had a young apprentice who was a bit like a large puppy. Feet everywhere and a good-humoured sense of mischief!

One day he was delivering a large battery to the stern of a cruiser we serviced. The owner and his attractive wife stayed on board at times and this morning as the youngster struggled past the wheelhouse the wife looked out of the door in her revealing nightwear and said “Good morning Brian”. The apprentice turned his head to reply and took a second look, as any hot-blooded youth would, and disappeared straight off the transom. We managed to retrieve the battery and revive it. He never forgot it either for all the above reasons.

Another time we were launching a small sailing scow. The apprentice forgot to hold onto the painter and as the boat drifted out of reach we said “jump before it’s too late”. He did and all six foot of him landed on the small fore deck and he grabbed hold of the mast. Scows are very cut away bow, so it tipped over until the mast, apprentice attached, was in the water. Fortunately he let go at this moment and the scow bobbed back up with the merest drop of water in it. The apprentice resurfaced spouting like a whale as he was laughing so much when he went down with his mouth open. He crawled back up spluttering and laughing so much we almost forgot the scow. We found a change of clothes from the rag bag and managed to retrieve the boat all right.

One day our apprentice was playing up when he was supposed to be working in a new boat with the paid hand. The hand told him to stop it or he would throw him out of the boat. The six-foot apprentice thought this was very funny, as the paid hand was only five-foot tall. There was another burst of laughter then a scrabbling sound and a loud flump as the apprentice cleared the gunwale and landed sprawling on the work shop floor. He was a bit shocked and only chuckled nervously as he climbed back in with a look of disbelief on his face and a quiet word of apology to the paid hand.

This apprentice was clumsy but very good-humoured. One day we launched a cabin boat and he was working his way along the narrow side deck when he slipped and was left holding onto the handrail with his legs in the water up to his knees. “What will I do” he wailed. “Let go,” said the paid hand, and he did. He disappeared completely and came up spluttering and coughing and laughing all at the same time. He did do as he was told though!

I was listening to a recollection of a seaman. He was telling of the day he was put on the helm of a small cargo coaster. They were negotiating a narrow river to some obscure Australian port. The only guide to the channel were sticks stuck in the mud banks. Our helmsman was not too concerned as the skipper was behind him ready to correct him if he strayed out of the channel. When they were tied up safely the seaman said to the Master he was glad to have the skipper there to help. The skipper replied that he had never been in there before either. Phew! That was skill or luck.

One of the boat yards I worked at in Australia had a very narrow steep boat ramp that the public used for a small fee. The bosses’ brother came up one day and said ‘You get the rope, I’ll get the truck.’ We returned to the ramp and there was a boat drifting about and a funny slither of something in the water just off the ramp. The boat owner was given the rope and the truck was backed down and the rather wet owner said ‘0K’ and the truck hauled away. A green car appeared from under the wind shield visor, the slither I had spotted earlier. The owner had launched the boat, trailer, and car. A pretty regular event apparently! When the car was safe on flat ground and the boat was safely tied up, the owner opened the car door and a flood of grey muddy creek water along with all sorts of miscellaneous papers and items washed over his feet. Think he might put on the hand brake next time!

I rowed in to the launching ramp after an enjoyable sail to see a boat with its bow up on the riverbank but the stern was just under water. The owner was trying to bail out the creek. I offered to lift the stern of his plywood runabout above the water and got a line on a cleat on the after deck and took some strain. The port after deck surfaced, but not the transom, just the cleat and deck. Woops! I suggested they pull the boat up so the transom would clear the water to allow them to bail it out. They grabbed one on each side and the starboard deck lifted off. I realised then that the boat was a pile of rot. It was just as well that they had not made it too far from the ramp. Some people and their boats are beyond help!

I hear and forget. I see and remember. I do and understand. Experience begins when you begin.

One day the captain of the Tasmanian ferry was telling us about the day it first arrived into Melbourne. He was the Master but had the previous European Master to help bed the new ship in and get to know it. As they were running along the Station Pier into their berth, a crew member called out “800, 600, 500. . “ “That came up quick.” said the foreign Master, “Are you working in meters or feet”. “Feet.” said the new Master and rang down for full astern. The ship just stopped as the bow touched the end wall. Luck or experience?

I was out with a yachtsman one day and he was coming in very slowly to the jetty and laying alongside with great care. I asked why he did not come in a bit faster and use reverse to stop. He said he had seen one of the Navy’s large destroyers coming in one day almost flat out intending to do a hard reverse and hard over to be smartly laying to. Unfortunately for the Master the engine room did not get into reverse and they ended up with all the sailors in their smart Whites lined along the deck, flat on their face as the ship ploughed 40 foot of its bow into the wharf!

One of my sailing friends said there is nothing more useless on board a small sailing vessel than a combine harvester and a Naval officer. Then he corrected that statement by saying he thought he may be able to utilise some of the combine harvester’s parts for use aboard!

I read with interest about a boat builder who is doing a good job in England despite his dyslexia. I was informed by an ex teacher, a customer when I was about 42, that I was probably dyslexic, whatever that meant. I was showing him and his teacher wife how to build a new tender, one I had drawn up earlier, one they thought would suit their 42’ yacht. I always hated school yet there I was teaching the teachers. I must have repeated this many times since with a number of teacher clients!

I think I have worked it out now. Dyslexia is no handicap, ‘unless one lets it’, rather just another way of looking at life. We don’t waste time with things we can’t do well, like reading, writing or arithmetic, so all our time and efforts are concentrated on what we like, understand and can do.

Boats and boat building was the domain of the fishermen, the seamen and the artisan rather than the scholars. In modern times this has been hijacked by those who ‘can’t do’, so they spend endless time designing and coming up with complicated formulas, just to explain what was a simple task for the traditional boat builder. To add insult to injury they charge a fortune for all these numbers and writings just to impress how important they are. Doesn’t fool us poor Dyslexics one bit! We are little influenced by what other people draw or write, just pure common sense boats and the experience of the boat user and the boat builder. The proof is out there on the water.

Tom Whitfield