Skip to main content

MYOB: the gentleman’s code of sailing

Daysailing alone out of Annapolis is a seasonal ritual for me, but I find myself watching other boaters and that creates a dilemma. Years ago, I developed a horrible habit of knocking sailors aloud for one infraction or another that bothered me. Of course, whatever the offending skipper was doing was absolutely none of my business, and my misdeeds eventually led me to regret my obnoxious behavior. So, mea culpa. I have since learned to follow the code of MYOB (mind your own business).

Image placeholder title

But I still must restrain myself on occasion. For example, take one windy day in late July when I was tacking out of the Severn River under full sail in a stiff, white-capped southerly. I sailed toward a pair of chartered Hunter sailboats off the mouth of nearby Back Creek, where many charterboats are docked.

I thought the Hunters were rounding up into the wind to reef, but instead they cranked up the engines, rolled up their furling jibs and mains, and returned to the base from whence they came. Why were they abandoning their outing so early in the afternoon in what were quite tolerable wind conditions? Or did they have another reason? Whatever - it was inappropriate for me to question their actions, so I just got on with my own sailing. MYOB.

Even so, I am sometimes tempted to tack way over toward the mouth of Back Creek if I see what looks like a chartered 35-footer with a reefed main and jib (or main alone) preparing to encounter a perfectly manageable 12-knot southerly. Often, their jib is eased off and properly trimmed for a sailing reach across the Bay, but their mainsheet and topping lift still may be strapped in tight.

Keeping some distance between himself and other boats should help the Bay Tripper (at left) in his pursuit of MYOB sailing.

This gives my Sailmaster 22 a chance to easily overtake them in silence without my helpfully pointing out their errors as I pass to windward close by. In the past, I would have told them to ease the topping lift and the mainsheet, but now I say nothing and just pass the larger sailboat in silence.

I recently chased a large Hunter sailing under main alone across the Bay almost to the Eastern Shore. I was preparing to pass him to windward when he must have spotted me closing in and finally rolled out his jib and picked up speed to avoid any shame. But I managed to be ahead of him as he tacked, forcing him to grant my starboard rights. He hardened up on a port beat with his rail under and I fell off on a gentlemanly reach, rather than bash on. I wanted to say hello, but I just waved and tended to my own business.

My horrible intrusiveness was pointed out in print some years ago by Dave Gendell, a founding editor of SpinSheet, a free Annapolis sailing magazine. Dave, a good friend, good-naturedly commented on my then-outrageous habit of demeaning sailors under power when I decided they should be sailing with a favorable breeze at hand. (After all, they may have had a perfectly reasonable explanation for motoring.) Besides, it was none of my damn business, and to make matters worse, I sometimes go under power myself to catch a Spa Creek drawbridge opening in a good sailing situation and no one has ever shouted at me for doing that. So shut up, I say to myself, and MYOB.

I laughed off Dave's comments, but realized how ugly my habit was when, sailing along on a perfect reach, I became aware of a large sailboat slowly catching up with me under power. He was very close when he came alongside and shouted, "Jack! I must apologize for not being under sail, but I'm running late for my race. Will you forgive me?"

Humiliated, I pulled my cap down over my ears and waved him on in forgiveness while shaking my head over the embarrassing incident. Shamed, I said nothing but began to think about adopting MYOB.

Although I have since learned my lesson in yachting manners, I still find it difficult not to signal something when I meet up with a sailboat with dirty fenders dangling over the side like cruddy sausages. That is when I sometimes assume my voluntary role as Bay Fender Enforcement Officer. I simply return a wave, but point (in silence) to the offending bumpers. That gets the point across and I remain loyal to my MYOB code of conduct.

I know I have done the skipper a favor when he immediately waves or shouts a thank-you and dispatches a crewmember to correct the unseemly situation. Incidentally, I never point out anything to offending powerboaters.

Generally speaking, I am not on good terms with powerboaters in large vessels who cross my bow on purpose under full speed, then look back and laugh at me wallowing wildly in their wake. But they must be sent a message, so I give them a deserved one-finger salute and pretend to blast them out of the water with my invisible heat-seeking portable missile launcher.

I believe veteran sailors who pride themselves on being shipshape, observing tradition and Rules of the Road share many pet peeves that annoy me. On one occasion, blasting along under a reefed main and with gusts burying the rail, I became aware of more than one sailor shouting at me. Huh, I thought to myself? I figured they were just being friendly, but when I returned to the dock I noticed my starboard numbers board near the bow dangling by one screw. So shouting may be the proper thing to do on occasion, even if it counters my decision to shut up and follow the MYOB dictum.

There are times, however, when my policy of not being intrusive can be thrust aside, especially when it comes to females in skimpy dress stretched out on decks in exposed public sunbathing displays. This gives me an opening to become intrusive again, in a way.

If a male skipper has no problem with his female companion sailing in a bikini, for example, he should not make it a problem for me by giving me a one-finger salute if I close in for a closer view with binoculars. Males have a tendency to get touchy in such situations.

Recently, while waiting for the Spa Creek bridge opening, I encountered a classic wooden workboat waiting for a turn at a nearby fuel dock. Two men were in the cabin at the controls while a pair of lovely females in bikinis were lying at the stern in full sunning positions. I circled slowly, getting closer with each pass. Finally, as the drawbridge was about to open and I prepared to depart the pleasant scene, I came face to face with the male skipper, who showed signs of irritation. I waved and shouted: "Fine-looking boat you have there!"

Jack Sherwood is writer at large for Soundings.

This article originally appeared in the November 2010 issue.