On Becoming a Skipper

“Make a list. Then work through it.”  

Good advice generally, but a list implies some sort of linear order – one item written after another. However you look at it, your brain makes the items at one end of the list more important than the other. And what happens to the items in the middle? Working through a list takes time, and, the human condition being what it is, the enthusiasm that greeted the construction of the list and dealing with the first entries will wane as time goes on. 

OK, a list works if you can afford to forget a portion of its contents, but what happens if your occupation involves items that are all of equal importance – each relying on the other for success? 

Take, for example, the knowledge, skills and attitudes required to be the skipper of a small boat, particularly if you want to sail single-handed. You need to get it all right, or at least a good enough proportion of it – in your own style. It might be helpful to know what Robin Knox-Johnson or Ellen MacArthur did in similar circumstances but they’re them and you’re you, and the circumstances won’t be exactly the same, and they’re not there to help you anyway. 

So how do you start? Well, “Make a list. Then . . . . .”   No, there’s another way, using a mindmap. 

Below is a group of skills and attitudes for skippers that I first saw listed in a book – (and my apologies for not noting which one), early last year. It struck me as interesting, well thoughtout and a good starting point from which to build my own skills, so I copied it down. Then I forgot all about it. I found it again this week. 

This is an exercise in getting it all together – and keeping it together. It’s an exercise in converting someone else’s thinking into my thinking. If it appears to you to be an exercise in the blindingly obvious, bear with me, some of it is – but these are the early stages of a much longer enterprise. 

Here’s how I’m going about it. 

Step One: Create a new mindmap. Call it, in this case, ‘On Becoming a Skipper’. Add two branches – ‘Practical Skills’, ‘Theoretical Skills’. Add sub-branches for each set of skills, taken from the original list. Now we’ve developed an image of a complex subject which appears all on one screen.  However, at this stage, the content is still someone else’s work.  

01. On Becoming a Skipper
Step Two: Begin to sort the branches by adding icons based on your own style and needs. Pencil = work on this, cross = not ok, tick = ok and so on.  
02. On Becoming a Skipper
Step Three:Think about it for a while. A couple of days after producing this, I added ‘rigger’ and ‘purser’, the latter being very relevant at the moment.  The point here is that it is not a fixed picture, we can alter it at will. 
03. On Becoming a Skipper
Step Four: Rearrange the skills and attitudes into some sort of order that suits your current needs and style. What are you going to do with what you are learning here? (Or, in this case, what am I going to do?) 
04. On Becoming a Skipper
Step Five: Keep this image at the front (or back) of your mind. Every now and then something else will occur to you and you can add to it. This is a work-in-progress to maintain a balanced approach to growing as a skipper in an age when traditional apprenticeships are not always available or appropriate. The sea is still the sea, sailing is still sailing, and we all need to learn the same stuff regardless of the way we do it. 

As for me, I shall revisit this file regularly. I can see where I need to be working now and I shall add another level of branches, going deeper into each topic, but always the overview will be there.

Maybe we shall look at it again later in the year and see what’s happening.