Friday, 19 April 2013

Sometimes it's the little things . . .

I know I concluded my last blog with the promise that the next would be about sailing and that this one isn’t but please look on it as an extra?
I think that there are some top level issues to be evolved in conjunction with the Trustees and operations committee but one of my more unpopular decisions to date has been to change the cutlery storage drawer.  I’m told such apparently minor decisions can in different circumstances be a prelude to divorce. 

What was originally the fish hold is the principle enclosure below decks.  It’s been converted into a multifunctional area.  It houses the dining table (see below left), which doubles as a recreational and briefing area, it’s a dormitory for up to eight people it’s a through way to the galley and forepeak.  All of which are vital functions which add to the efficiency of the ship and comfort of the crew.  The same area also houses safety equipment and the navigation chart table, along with a host of electronic aids (see below right) that I am starting to understand (and helpfully are now working and contributing to my understanding of what they are meant to do!!)  So a lot going on in a relatively small space and all competing for their requirements and priority. 
The table has a central, top accessed stowage drawer.  This used to house charts but suffered from the obvious disadvantage that every time someone spilt their coffee or tomato ketchup – a not infrequent occurrence - the charts suffered.  My predecessor improved the situation by a drawer under the chart table to house the charts; a major improvement.  The cutlery lived in the drawer adjacent to the chart table (the chart drawer is the right hand one and the cutlery the one to its left).  This is undoubtedly convenient for table laying or grabbing the forgotten spoon needed to serve the meal. 
My decision to reinvigorate such things as a fault and damage log, an accident and near miss register and other, as I would contend, priority documentation has yet to be fully enacted but I do need an easily accessible place to house them.  So I have decided to rehouse the cutlery in the table stowage and freed up the drawer by the chart table for this purpose.   Of course I understand that none of this is a priority if you are not overly concerned with record keeping, but need to grab a teaspoon when you need it.
Steven Covey urges us to “put first things first”; it’s the third of his “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”.  I think it was Rudolph Giuliani who advocates “organise around a purpose” (and as an side made an early decision as mayor of New York to find money from the City budget to buy filing cabinets for the department of child protection so that they could file their case work and start to deliver their core responsibility of protecting children.)   So whilst I understand why others might have a different perspective; I am also clear where the skipper’s priority and prime responsibility lies.  Where the cutlery lives is not my priority, what I really care about is ease of access to the higher priority documentation and record keeping log books and I am lucky that by long established tradition, the skipper has the last word!!

In my former career I was luck enough when a young captain commanding the mortar platoon to have as my second in command an outstanding man and Regimental character, WO2 Pete “Lofty” Woodcock.  I learnt a lot from Lofty (and regret having lost touch); he made a life-long impression on me.  When faced with an unpopular decision, I would sometimes be (over)concerned about the impact on my soldiers, Lofty used to laugh and say “Sir, sod the blokes, they don’t write our annual reports”.  (Just to avoid misunderstanding Lofty was an outstanding soldier and leader who cared deeply for his soldiers.  He went on to become a Regimental Sergeant Major and was awarded an MBE.)  What Lofty meant was that sometimes as a commander you aren’t there to be popular but you are there to provide leadership and sometimes that is a lonely place where you can’t please everyone or court popularity, you have to do the right thing not the easy thing and if that makes you unpopular that’s unfortunate, try to take people with you; explain your decision as necessary but do the right thing.  Now if you are wondering about my views on the fridge that sits on the navigation table, then we probably share the same paradigm but evolution not revolution and one step at a time with some easy wins before moving on to bigger battles!!!
So we now have a small block and tackle to raise the admittedly inconveniently heavy table drawer.  It will ease the chore of reaching for a tea spoon and act as a teaching aid and demonstration for the younger children when we start our education programme with the schools.

In case that’s all a bit too philosophical, here is a photographic record of Scott and me painting the anchor chain and then Stockholm tarring the locker.  I was horrified to discover that we didn’t have a chipping hammer on board to prepare the metal work around the locker.  Now you might not know that the first present my father bought my mother was her own chipping hammer so that she could work on his houseboat!!  Scott, you just don’t know how special you are to me!!
Scott Paainting the anchor chain
Chipping hammer at work in the anchor locker
Ah Stockholm Tar


  1. Think I might have left the cutlery in the easy-to-access drawer, and put the fault & damage log and accident & near miss register in the space under the table as you won't need to grab them in a hurry and - with luck - you'll never need them at all. Having to use a block & tackle to open the cutlery drawer is going to get annoying by about the fourth time you need a teaspoon, which will encourage people to leave cutlery lying around the galley.

  2. Hi Izzy - thanks for being my first follower and only comment!! We might have to agree to disagree; but I think you give me my point. You dont need a teaspoon in a hurry but you have a personel interest, so you get it despite the "inconvinience". (In fact the block tackle which doubles as a teaching aid makes it easier). Another of my mantras is "don't put it down,put it away". Consequently the Bosun has taken on himself to reorganise the galley, guess where the cutlery now lives? In a draw in the galley!!! May be that gives us a score draw(er)?

    In the last month we have had 3 near misses and 1 accident. There is no culture of reporting and recording, people simple aren't use to it. Making it easier to record is an important step to changing that and learning from experience to make the place safer. I'm now getting visibility of maintenance and faults because they are now being recorded.

  3. Richard,

    On the subject of the accident log and things H&S . . . Should you not be wearing goggles when chipping???

  4. Thanks Tony, I see where you are coming from. There is nothing wrong with taking the view that chipping represents a risk to the eyes and therefore googles are always appropriate. My own approach is different; the decision on whether to wear goggles is the result of a risk assesment (formal or informal) rather than policy. I tend to the idea that when ever possible risk management is best left to sensible judgement that empowers individuals to take responsibility for their decisions rather than taking judgements on their behalf, although of course I agree with you that there are times when the latter course is more appropriate.