Port…Or is it Starboard? Oops…


A landlubber chases his dream,

and gets acquainted with some new words

The helicopter ferrying me to my friend’s yacht was swooping low over the coast. The azure sea below me rippled with a hint of gold, the beautiful and rugged coastline was dotted with little white patches. Must be the luxury villas of the playboy millionaires that my friend often refers to as the Velvet Blue Strip, I thought. I can’t tell you where I was, or where the chopper was headed … my friend doesn’t like being hounded by the paparazzi.

As we got closer, I saw I wasn’t going to be alone with my friend. It wasn’t going to be the one-on-one, man-bonding session I’d hoped it was going to be. I wanted to bounce a story idea for a film I was planning to make, and talk about some girl trouble. But it was…the chopper is about to land on the yacht…going to be … it was a little tense inside, what with a slight breeze buffeting our landing … something else altogether. I stumble out and a beautiful thing wearing a sarong and a well oiled body offers me a tall glass with a flower in it and some amber liquid sloshing inside keeping some ice cubes company. I raise it against the sun and I see the perfect picture postcard, the perfect dream. I want one of these boats, I think to myself as my friend strides across in his smart casual evening line designer boating wear and throws his arms around me and says, “I thought we’d have some company tonight”. His girlfriend bounces in, she’s looking like a million bucks, and all that surgery must have done her good, I think, being a little bitchynasty. A few “muah muahs” later I was given another drink and the first drink was taken away. “Let’s party”, he says.

The more I looked around, the more I wanted one of these super yachts, or as my friend says modestly, “a boat”. After I finished doing the “muah muahs” with, in alphabetical order of nationalities – an American IT czar, a Brazilian footballer, a Croatian tennis player, a Dutch designer, a French ballet dancer,  a German supermodel, a Spanish formula one driver, and, their girlfriends/wives/boyfriends/husbands/companions – I got down to learning the basics. A good way to begin, I thought. At least I’ll pass off as being knowledgeable when I begin shopping around, I thought again.

“Good captains are hard to come by, so don’t bug him” were the words my friend used as I headed up to the Bridge. Obviously my friend was referring to my tradition of incessant question asking. Even I agree, it can be tiresome at times. But a super yacht was in my destiny and I had to have an education.

“Evening, Cap’n, how goes?” I asked politely.

“We have a fair wind from the east and great weather, so it’s going to be a good sail”, he replied. “Could I replenish your drink sir?, he asked, nodding in the direction of my glass.

“Oh yeah, why not” I murmured as I picked up a pair of binoculars and scanned the shimmering sea for mermaids. Momentary distractions … now that is something I am good at … but the task at hand was an educational one. I took a long sip of the just replenished drink and blustered forth my ignorance of all matters regarding sea terminology.

“Now this is called the Bow, the front part of the ship” he said, flinging a manicured arm across the gleaming brass controls. “And the back of the ship is called the Stern”.  And then he paused and looked at me in a quizzical manner that said ‘fool’.

Hmm, interesting I thought. ‘Bow’ and ‘Stern’.  Interesting but the language of the sea was beginning to confuse me. Why was it called the bow and the stern? Why not simpler terms like ‘Front’ or ‘Back’? I am sure I had this question on my mind and was about to ask, when the Captain continued…

“Now this side of the boat is called Port. Yes, that’s right. The left side of the boat is called Port. And the right side of the boat is called Starboard. Remember…left, Port…right, Starboard”.

As usual, I was confused. “So, Cap’n”, I said, “Is the left side called Port because the port always comes on the left side?”

“No, it’s got nothing to do with ports. A port can be on either side, the Port side or the Starboard side. But the left side of the boat is called Port.”

“But isn’t it confusing”, I say. “Why can’t they just call it Left side and Right side. Why call it Port when sometimes ports come on the Starboard side too?”

“A sailor never gets confused”, he replied. “Left is port, right is starboard. It’s quite simple”.

“But if sometimes port is on the Starboard side, then why don’t they just change it to mean “any side which is on the port side” be called Port. And the non-port side be called Starboard. It would be simpler wouldn’t it?” I argued.

“You would have an accident which is why the maritime association has fixed the terms”, he replied being a little stern, (which is not to be confused with the rear of the boat).

One baffling definition after another followed. Most of them sailed past my head. “Stem the tide” meant to head the vessel’s Bow directly into the current or waves. ‘Stem’ however meant the timber at the extreme forward part of a boat secured to the forward end of the Keel. ‘Pooped’ didn’t mean you were tired. “Poop Deck” wasn’t the place you could go and huh … relieve yourself. ‘Knot’, was not only an entangling of ropes so as to join two ropes together, but was also the speed of the boat.

My vocabulary was being undone by a slew of new and alien terms. The thought of mixing the two lives – landlubber and sea dog – began to look like a daunting task. (Multi tasking is not my forte). However, the delicious daydream of me on a yacht with pretty young things enlightened me enough to focus on the solution. I would hire someone who knew all the sailing terms. Ha-ha. Done deal, next…

A week was spent luxuriating on this boat. All of us really got to ‘know’ each other. I think a few videos are floating about in the cyber world. A few photographs, taken by crew members (who were later dismissed), did the rounds of the papers and the magazines. Word had gotten around the world of the “Lets party” that my friend had murmured into my ears, what seemed a long time ago.

I jumped on to the helicopter to go home and as it rose higher slowly, watching the emerald sea becoming bigger and the ‘boat’ become smaller, and then banking gently left, watching the sun sweep past the big windows inside, watching it turn left, I wondered…was it to ‘Port’, or to ‘Starboard’?

India Boating, November 06

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