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Marian Perera
02-07-2014, 07:26 PM
Hi everyone, another maritime question from me.

This is back in the Age of Sail. A cargo ship gets a new captain who doesn't have a good reputation - he's sort of a cross between Queeg and Jonah. None of the crew likes him, and he doesn't make any significant attempts to gain their trust either.

The rest of the crew has been together a long time so they work well together, and the ship itself does predictable runs (if there's a better word for this, please let me know) where they carry cargo on short voyages and stay close to the coast. So it's not exactly a challenge for anyone.

My question is... assuming the captain starts withdrawing from duties that keep him on the deck, like adjusting their course, what significant work could he do in his cabin? I want him to feel like an outcast among the crew, not really needed for their daily work, but at the same time I don't want him to be twiddling his thumbs. If this is at all possible - maybe I'm asking for contradictory things here. Could anyone let me know?

Thanks! :)

TerryRodgers
02-07-2014, 07:37 PM
I'm not sure if this can work. It is the Captain's job to give orders and it's his responsibility to make sure they are being carried out. If he realizes the crew doesn't like him, he either doesn't care, replaces them, disciplines them, or maybe even kills them. The last thing he wants is a mutiny. He can deal with not being liked, but without respect he doesn't have command of the ship. He will expect order, and if it doesn't get it he will crack some heads and make examples of a few men to get it. Weak Captains don't last, and it doesn't sound like he's a weak Captain. I hope that helps some. :)

Marian Perera
02-07-2014, 07:57 PM
I'm not sure if this can work. It is the Captain's job to give orders

But if he wasn't doing so, the first officer would be doing that, right?


and it's his responsibility to make sure they are being carried out. If he realizes the crew doesn't like him, he either doesn't care, replaces them, disciplines them, or maybe even kills them. The last thing he wants is a mutiny. He can deal with not being liked, but without respect he doesn't have command of the ship. He will expect order, and if it doesn't get it he will crack some heads and make examples of a few men to get it. Weak Captains don't last, and it doesn't sound like he's a weak Captain. I hope that helps some. :)

Well, he's coming pretty close to a mutiny. The crew doesn't like him at all.

However, he's determined this will be his final voyage and he's not interested in making it a memorable voyage or going out in a blaze of glory. He just wants to get it over with, pick up his last paycheck and leave.

Things do not, of course, work out the way he expects, and the ship gets into a crisis that brings out the best in him and makes him work together with the crew, yada yada. But for now I need him to be doing the opposite.

waylander
02-07-2014, 08:01 PM
Checking through the cargo manifests and the logs of previous voyages as if he suspects theft.

Marian Perera
02-07-2014, 08:06 PM
Checking through the cargo manifests and the logs of previous voyages as if he suspects theft.

Oh, that's pretty good. Thank you, waylander, that's just the kind of thing I was looking for.

Anyone got more suggestions along these lines?

mrsmig
02-07-2014, 08:07 PM
If he has an efficient, well-liked first officer, it's entirely possible that he doesn't have to be doing anything ship-oriented at all. Instead of twiddling his thumbs, could he be making plans for his departure from the sea? What's he plan to do when the voyage is over - open a tavern, keep bees, write a bestselling novel? Maybe he could be busying himself with that.

Marian Perera
02-07-2014, 08:12 PM
If he has an efficient, well-liked first officer, it's entirely possible that he doesn't have to be doing anything ship-oriented at all.

That's what I thought, but I wasn't certain it could be feasible. Maybe because all my manuscripts before this one have the captain being very involved in whatever happened on board - but then again, those were all either warships or ships engaged in completely new missions.


Instead of twiddling his thumbs, could he be making plans for his departure from the sea?

Good idea. He likes carving, so his cabin can be full of little driftwood horses and ospreys with bits of shell for eyes. Which are actually a bit spooky for anyone entering the place.

Torgo
02-07-2014, 08:14 PM
Hi everyone, another maritime question from me.

This is back in the Age of Sail. A cargo ship gets a new captain who doesn't have a good reputation - he's sort of a cross between Queeg and Jonah. None of the crew likes him, and he doesn't make any significant attempts to gain their trust either.

The rest of the crew has been together a long time so they work well together, and the ship itself does predictable runs (if there's a better word for this, please let me know) where they carry cargo on short voyages and stay close to the coast. So it's not exactly a challenge for anyone.

My question is... assuming the captain starts withdrawing from duties that keep him on the deck, like adjusting their course, what significant work could he do in his cabin? I want him to feel like an outcast among the crew, not really needed for their daily work, but at the same time I don't want him to be twiddling his thumbs. If this is at all possible - maybe I'm asking for contradictory things here. Could anyone let me know?

Thanks! :)

If the captain has good officers, he doesn't really need to be doing much of anything. The sailing master can prick the chart and sail the ship; the officers and the boatswain etc can bark the orders.

I like Waylander's suggestion of going through the paperwork. Pursers and shipyards have always had a reputation for trickiness - there has always been a bit of money to be made cutting corners and pocketing the difference.

Telergic
02-07-2014, 08:34 PM
In a ship, the captain doesn't have to do anything at sea, because the first mate will know what to do at all times. The captain does have plenty of duties, it's just that none of them are such that the ship will be unable to operate without him. However, because the captain would normally spend plenty of time on deck and probably keeps a watch himself, his absence would add to the burden on the mate and any other watch-keeping officers, depending on the size of the vessel.

In his cabin, the captain can handle paperwork, but at sea there wouldn't be much of this, with more to do around ports, so really he would not be doing much of anything useful in there most of the time, and his absence would be obvious to everyone on board.

Since the captain probably isn't the owner, when they return to their home port he might get in trouble unless he is loved by the crew.

Marian Perera
02-07-2014, 08:43 PM
However, because the captain would normally spend plenty of time on deck and probably keeps a watch himself, his absence would add to the burden on the mate and any other watch-keeping officers, depending on the size of the vessel.

Adds to the burden and isn't good for morale, I assume.


In his cabin, the captain can handle paperwork, but at sea there wouldn't be much of this, with more to do around ports, so really he would not be doing much of anything useful in there most of the time, and his absence would be obvious to everyone on board.

Since the captain probably isn't the owner, when they return to their home port he might get in trouble unless he is loved by the crew.Bolding mine... that's the intention. :)

Thanks!


If the captain has good officers, he doesn't really need to be doing much of anything. The sailing master can prick the chart and sail the ship; the officers and the boatswain etc can bark the orders.

I like Waylander's suggestion of going through the paperwork. Pursers and shipyards have always had a reputation for trickiness - there has always been a bit of money to be made cutting corners and pocketing the difference.

Great details. I like the part about checking the books and the paperwork, because while I don't want the captain to be involved in the day-to-day activities, he's not a total incompetent. Nor is he completely uncaring about what happens to the ship, so this is a good way of showing his ability while still keeping him away from the crew for the time being.

Duncan J Macdonald
02-07-2014, 08:58 PM
In a ship, the captain doesn't have to do anything at sea, because the first mate will know what to do at all times. The captain does have plenty of duties, it's just that none of them are such that the ship will be unable to operate without him. However, because the captain would normally spend plenty of time on deck and probably keeps a watch himself, his absence would add to the burden on the mate and any other watch-keeping officers, depending on the size of the vessel.


I beg to differ. Since you're talking Age of Sail, the only person onboard who can navigate the ship (i.e. do star sightings and the math needed to solve for position) are the captain and the navigator (who may be the sailing master). He is needed -- the ship won't operate without him.

There is a reason why Mr. Christian was recruited by the mutineers, aside from Captain Queeg he was the only person who could navigate.

Likewise, the captain does not stand a watch -- since he's on call 24/7 for navigation and emergencies.


Adds to the burden and isn't good for morale, I assume.

Bolding mine... that's the intention. :)

Thanks!



Great details. I like the part about checking the books and the paperwork, because while I don't want the captain to be involved in the day-to-day activities, he's not a total incompetent. Nor is he completely uncaring about what happens to the ship, so this is a good way of showing his ability while still keeping him away from the crew for the time being.

If this is a merchant ship, then the captain may be acting as his own purser, in which case he's doing accounting work besides the navigation and keeping the ship's log and other official papers up-to-date.

Torgo
02-07-2014, 09:22 PM
I beg to differ. Since you're talking Age of Sail, the only person onboard who can navigate the ship (i.e. do star sightings and the math needed to solve for position) are the captain and the navigator (who may be the sailing master). He is needed -- the ship won't operate without him.

The captain ought to know where he is - you're not supposed to be able to pass for an officer without knowing how to navigate - but then if he has a sailing master and other officers, I don't think it's essential that he helps out. I bet we could find tales of captains dead drunk (or indeed just dead) for whole voyages...

melindamusil
02-07-2014, 09:35 PM
Other posters mentioned going over the ship's logs and cargo manifests, and you could certainly add going over maps/navigation. IIRC, he'd have the maps in his cabin, and I'm sure he could spend time going over the route.

In real life, he probably wouldn't need to spend too much time studying the route, especially if it's a regular route that he's sailed before. (It would be more of an issue if he was going on a totally new/unexplored route.) BUT there's no reason he couldn't spend hours obsessing over the route. Money is a big motivator, as other posters have mentioned - perhaps he's constantly trying to find a way to make the route faster. Or perhaps he's looking at another map, looking at a route he wishes he could sail but hasn't been able to sail yet.

Telergic
02-07-2014, 10:50 PM
I beg to differ....

I disagree. In addition to the master, any officer should be able to navigate or they wouldn't be an officer. Of course in a small vessel there might not be a master, the first mate could conceivably be a dunce, and there might not be anyone else on board who can even read, but that's not a ship at all then. In an actual blue-water merchant ship, I think there would be a number of men aboard perfectly capable of navigating, and not by dead reckoning either.

The captain is capable of keeping the log in his cabin. That probably should have been mentioned as the one duty he really would be able to manage in isolation, but on the average day that's just a minute to note down position and so on. I think purser-type bookkeeping wouldn't arise much in the course of the voyage, mainly around the ports -- at sea it would just be a matter of keeping track of consumables, which should only take a few minutes a day. So for the most part I think the captain has almost nothing to do if he doesn't go on deck and keep a watch or at least stand there looking important.

King Neptune
02-07-2014, 11:37 PM
There are a few possibilities. Some captains would stand a watch by the wheel, while a steersman did the actual turning. And any orders would be relayed through the officers. On a ship with a large crew the crew would never hear anything directly from the captain, and they would only rarely hear directly from the first mate. The second officer, master, and boatswain(s) would direct the seamen, but it would depend greatly on the size of the crew. a 100 ton bark could be sailed with a crew of five, so the captain would be involved. China Clippers required a much larger crews.

PorterStarrByrd
02-08-2014, 12:06 AM
The suspended belief I have to have on this scenario involves your ship's purpose. The captain would not go on a long voyage on PRIVATE VESSEL unless he had a crew he trusted. That goes two ways when trust exists. For relatively short haul jumps in small ship cargo trade there wouldn't be a lot of time to alienate the crew. His cadre of trusted officers (probably a man or two and the first mate) would keep things under control during those short trips. The sailors would put up with him until they got to port even if they didn't like him, then jump ship. There were no democracies onboard, very little politics.

Torgo
02-08-2014, 12:16 AM
The suspended belief I have to have on this scenario involves your ship's purpose. The captain would not go on a long voyage on PRIVATE VESSEL unless he had a crew he trusted. That goes two ways when trust exists. For relatively short haul jumps in small ship cargo trade there wouldn't be a lot of time to alienate the crew. His cadre of trusted officers (probably a man or two and the first mate) would keep things under control during those short trips. The sailors would put up with him until they got to port even if they didn't like him, then jump ship. There were no democracies onboard, very little politics.

Yeah, my knowledge of the Age of Sail comes mainly from Patrick O'Brian stories, but it seems like a Navy vessel could have an unpopular captain/officers foisted on them much more easily than a private vessel could. You have to persuade sailors to sign on with you in the latter case.

Marian Perera
02-08-2014, 12:32 AM
The suspended belief I have to have on this scenario involves your ship's purpose. The captain would not go on a long voyage on PRIVATE VESSEL unless he had a crew he trusted.

It's set on an alternate world where the ship isn't a private vessel.

Telergic
02-08-2014, 01:52 AM
If the captain is really considered a jonah, ie a cursed figure who will lead the ship to doom, he's a dead man unless he has the officers on his side. It will turn out he took poorly and his body was consigned to the deep. Very tragic indeed. Not necessarily so bad for him if he's just morbidly depressed or paranoid and the crew is looking forward to being paid off at their final destination.

jclarkdawe
02-08-2014, 02:11 AM
Number of officers is directly related to the size of the ship. Go to Mutiny on the Bounty (http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CCcQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fen.wikipedia.org%2Fwiki%2FMutiny_ on_the_Bounty&ei=UVL1UrisM-qssQTFxYHYAg&usg=AFQjCNHno2zMns37nVT2IM3j1dSpVQDOVA&sig2=-g0e6DztKMFv9ol_8XrvuQ&bvm=bv.60983673,d.cWc) and down to section 4.2 for the crew list for HMS Bounty, 90 tons.

I believe Bligh, Fryer, and Christian could all navigate. The midshipmen were in the process of learning to navigate. Fryer, Christian, and Elphinstone were the officers for each of the three watches. People with specialization were not on the regular watch list. Petty officers and warrant officers would work with the crew, but had some level of command authority.

The HMS Bounty was a military ship, and was heavily crewed compared to a merchantman of the same size.

Crew's discontent with a captain arose from two separate causes, although a captain might do both. The first is making sailors work outside of the normal conditions for sailors and the second was excessive punishments. Punishments would normally be handed out by watch officers trying to make the captain happy. Work conditions could be something like a captain making the crew tar the lines on the Sabbath. (The Sabbath was normally considered a light duty day, if possible.)

Captain's reputation isn't too important compared to what he actually does. And if the captain is staying in his cabin, I'm not sure how much the crew is going to care.

So let's set up a circumstance where the captain would be thoroughly loathed by the crew and officers.

Normally, a ship has three watches, with a sailor being assigned to one of the watches, and an officer responsible for the watch. The watches are normally middle watch (midnight to 4 AM), morning watch (4 AM to 8 AM), forenoon watch (8 AM to noon), afternoon watch (noon to 4 PM or 16:00), dog watch (may be split) (4 PM or 16:00 to 8 PM or 20:00), first watch (8 PM 16:00 to midnight or 24:00).

Most senior watch officer (first mate) will have the forenoon watch and dog watch. Second most senior watch officer (second mate) will have the forenoon watch and first watch. And last and least popular, the third mate will have the middle watch and afternoon watch. Basically, people worked 4 on and 8 off.

Way to make yourself very unpopular as a captain is to have the crew and officers working watch and watch or 4 on and 4 off. It's a brutal schedule.

Captains would frequently have some sort of incentive to sail, either getting a bonus or owning part of the cargo. If the ship sails lean on crew, the captain makes more money, with the crew not getting more money. Captain signs up the crew with a legally binding agreement. Jumping ship after you sign is a major crime. Captain decides to sail short-crewed and let everybody work harder while he stays in his cabin. Seriously disgruntled crew.

Captains spend a lot of time in their cabin. Captains need to be there for going in and out of port, setting overall course (taking advantage of wind and currents), authorizing sail changes, and checking the condition of the ship. If you want to as captain, you can do a lot of this from your cabin and delegate it to the watch officers. If your captain is on his last voyage, he could be checking the cargo and acting as purser and developing the plans for selling the cargo and reinvesting the profits for the return trip.

Working close to shore tends to increase the captain's responsibilities on deck. Captain is always going to feel an outcast from the crew. He's not involved that heavily in the day-to-day life of the crew, and has no social interaction with the crew and officers. He eats alone, he lives alone, he is alone. Only one on the ship who does this.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

Marian Perera
02-08-2014, 02:12 AM
If the captain is really considered a jonah, ie a cursed figure who will lead the ship to doom, he's a dead man unless he has the officers on his side. It will turn out he took poorly and his body was consigned to the deep. Very tragic indeed.

His previous ship sank (in a previous novel). He was the sole survivor, so he's not considered terribly lucky to have on board. And yeah, he's very much aware of the possibility that the crew will turn on him to that extent, and he takes certain precautions. He's fortunate in that the first mate keeps them more or less under control.

Marian Perera
02-08-2014, 05:46 AM
Number of officers is directly related to the size of the ship. Go to Mutiny on the Bounty (http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CCcQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fen.wikipedia.org%2Fwiki%2FMutiny_ on_the_Bounty&ei=UVL1UrisM-qssQTFxYHYAg&usg=AFQjCNHno2zMns37nVT2IM3j1dSpVQDOVA&sig2=-g0e6DztKMFv9ol_8XrvuQ&bvm=bv.60983673,d.cWc) and down to section 4.2 for the crew list for HMS Bounty, 90 tons.

I always meant to watch that film. For some reason, never got around to it (though I did see Das Boot and The Caine Mutiny).

Amazing that Bligh managed to get them all the way back home with so few resources.


Captain's reputation isn't too important compared to what he actually does. And if the captain is staying in his cabin, I'm not sure how much the crew is going to care. Unless that makes more work for them, right? I mean, if the captain just let the first mate take on any responsibilities of his which involved interacting with the crew...

I guess my problem is, if he actively does malicious things to the crew, it'll be near-impossible to redeem him as the hero of the book (which is a romantic fantasy, so I can't make him too nasty a character). The key word there, I think, is "actively". If he lets things slide because he's either regretting the past or planning for his retirement, it'll be different from him assigning the crew to very unpleasant or unfair duties.


Captains spend a lot of time in their cabin. Captains need to be there for going in and out of port, setting overall course (taking advantage of wind and currents), authorizing sail changes, and checking the condition of the ship. If you want to as captain, you can do a lot of this from your cabin and delegate it to the watch officers. Checking the condition of the ship is another good one - a captain's duty which he passes off to the officers. Thanks for the suggestion!

Torgo
02-08-2014, 05:48 AM
Someone remind me why shortest watch is called the dog-watch?

jclarkdawe
02-08-2014, 06:31 AM
Best one I've heard for dog watch is that the star Sirius (the dog star) is the first star seen at night. Another is because it can be split is you only got a "dog's" sleep on it. A third is because dogs go to sleep about that time.

None of the tasks of the captain are things the crew is going to get stuck with. At most, it's going to hit one or two of the senior officers. And the crew don't give squat about an officer getting extra work. I mean, all officers are loafers as far as the crew is concerned.

The reason I suggested the watch and watch scheme is because it's not really malicious, just greedy.

If you've seen the CAINE MUTINY, then you know how little Queeg was on the bridge. With a small crew, a captain will probably be a watch officer (remember if you add another watch officer on a merchant ship, you're reducing your profit). But on a merchant ship, a captain doesn't have a whole lot to do. Unless the shit is hitting the fan, there isn't much ship handling he does. There can be a bunch of paperwork, but reality is most of that can be ignored. Many captains are great readers, going through a bunch of novels each voyage.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

Torgo
02-08-2014, 06:38 AM
Best one I've heard for dog watch is that the star Sirius (the dog star) is the first star seen at night. Another is because it can be split is you only got a "dog's" sleep on it. A third is because dogs go to sleep about that time.

I'm afraid not. It is because it is cur-tailed. [(C) Stephen Maturin]

Marian Perera
02-08-2014, 07:24 AM
He who would pun would pick a pocket.

Also (C) Stephen Maturin.

GHO57
02-08-2014, 07:40 AM
The ship and her crew are doing a routine route? But the captain is basically just getting a ride home with them (ship needs a captain, and it's his last voyage, so basically the ship is heading to pick up their new captain and the current captain is just a temp)?

The crew probably wouldn't be too happy about taking orders about their exact route from someone unfamiliar with it... especially someone temporary... with a bad reputation... they might revert to familiar practices. Like, swinging wide of some island to catch the wind coming off the coast better, taking a risky but familiar shortcut between some rocks.

For the captain the crew would seem obstinate. You could keep the captain at his charts to make sure they're following his route. For him it would feel like just doing his job, can't trust the crew, gotta keep checking position and the maps.

For the crew, the captain would seem like fussy know-it-all... they know what they're doing, the captain obviously doesn't. And he doesn't trust them for some reason.


(It's the basic war movie setup: A freshly minted Lieutenant is put to lead a battle hardened infantry platoon... he not going to be too popular among the troops for a while, especially if he insist things have to be done by the book. Things remain tense until he earns their trust.)