Monday, April 2, 2018

Buy a Swatch for Pete's Sake!

I don't wear a watch.
I once wore one daily. But then the battery died and it cost more than the watch to replace the battery and then cell phones were invented and since phones now act as ALL small appliances, well, why bother.
But, I have noticed that on each sailboat there is at least one person, usually the captain, who wears a watch.
Most likely because they got tired of fishing iphones out of the water, but also because the traditional method of sailboat time keeping is ridiculous.
I am talking about ... Bells.
You've heard the saying: Four Bells! All's well!
All's well because no one really knew what time it was so why argue...

According to, as well as that lovely tome "The History of Navigation", back in the 15th century days time was kept with an hourglass and announced with the ring of a bell. The notice was for every half hour of each 4 hour watch.
Time aboard a boat was marked in 4 hour watches starting at 4am as such:
Middle Watch: midnight (0000) to 4am (0400)
Morning Watch: 0400 to 0800
Forenoon Watch: 0800 to 1200
Afternoon Watch: 1200 to 4pm (1600)
First Dog Watch: 1600 to 1800 (6pm)
Second Dog Watch: 1800 to 2000 (8pm)
First Watch: 2000 to 0000

Why First Watch is last on the list and Middle Watch is first should give you a clue as to the next confusing part of this process.
Why the 4pm-8pm watch is broken into two watches was to allow for the evening meal. Why it is called the 'Dog' Watch I do not want to know.

Now this is where the 'Bells' comes in.

In order to mark the passage of each watch a bell was rung for every half hour.
For example:
0030 – one bell was rung.
0100 – Two bells were rung
0130 – Two bells, pause, one bell
0200 – Two bells, pause, two bells
0230 – Two bells, pause, two bells, pause, one bell
0300 – Two bells, pause, two bells, pause, two bells
0330 – Two bells, pause, two bells, pause, two bells, pause, one bell
0400 – Two bells, pause, two bells, pause, two bells, pause, two bells.

Making 8 bells at the wee hours of daylight 4am.
Or, 8 bells late afternoon 4pm.

It was important for the crew to know when their watch was up or starting. And important for navigation as before the days of GPS, travel was done with a sextant and the stars and time was very important in knowing where a constellation should be.

Which makes me wonder...
Was this really the best system they could come up with?
How did they not lose track of how many times they flipped that hourglass and how many bells they were ringing?
It would be like making a triple batch of cookies to take to work at 10pm while watching a particularly exciting episode of Chopped and forgetting if you just measured 5 cups of flour or 6 cups of flour as Ted announced that there were only 15 seconds to go and now you wonder if you actually added 14 cups....
or so I have heard...

According to Rob, they probably made hash marks on the crows nest. But that would be an awful lot of marks on that lovely wood. And wouldn't you lose track of which hash mark was yours? Why couldn't they just use a chalkboard?
When did they invent chalkboards?

I could go on.
But thankfully I have a much better method of timekeeping.
I present to you Laura's Real Time Sailboat Timekeeping:
Time to sail. You can tell we are just starting out by the unrumpled appearance of the sails. And me.
(Blue Skies, our 15 foot wooden sloop.)
1000 – Leave the dock and hoist all appropriate sails to a perfect wind.
1010 – Wish you had a soda, which is below, so you don't say anything.
1012 - Captain is ready for a soda so now I have an excuse to get two sodas and a handful of chips.
1025 – Ipod playlist is started up.
1028 – Captain is asking for a snack.
1103 – Begin regretting the soda and wondering how much longer to restaurant for lunch so I don't have to use port-a-potty.
1108 – Finally ask how far with usual response being 'about 15 minutes' which in driving time is the equivalent of 'just over the next hill'.
1130 – First visual confirmation of existance of restaurant. Wind dies.
(Boat, Cool Change - our fixer-upper)
Afternoon time is easier.

1600, or one hour before you need to be back at the dock to clean up and meet friends at the wine bar - Wind becomes perfect, boat is flying with just the right amount of heel (lean) and spray leading you to the decision to make one more run.
1615, or furthest distance from dock – Wind dies.
1617 – Peevish looks pass between captain and crew. Crew threatens to call friends and decry captain's horrible job of controlling the boat and cheapskate need to not use motor.
1620 – Motor started, sails dropped.
1620:05 – Wind becomes perfect.
1837 – First glass of apres-sail Cabernet served with delightful appetizer of Spanish peppers stuffed with goat cheese and drizzled with balsamic glaze served.
1840 – Plans for sail the following day finalized.

Please note, these times are generalized.
In all honesty, unless you are truly circumnavigating the world, attempting to outrun that threatening lightening bolt on the NOAA app, or have rezzies at the Snook'sBayside, there is absolutely NO reason to tell time on the sailboat.

It is one of those very few places where time can stand still and life truly is in the moment.
Seriously, do you really need to know what time it is?
(Blue Skies)

Come back on Tuesday for C – Catamarans, Cool Change and Cruising – I can't decide....
check out the link:
for more A to Z posts!


  1. Laura, it is amazing how they navigated the seas back in those days. I can't even imagine and interesting about the bells. I do like your method of sailing. If it ends with wine and delicious food...I'm on board!

  2. Honestly it is amazing with all the bells that people were on watch or sailing at all!

  3. Love it! ooooh am I ready for Spring!

    1. oh, me too! as I sit in the living room listening to it thunder and monsoon rain...

  4. Oh dear! All those bells would have my head ringing for sure. I'd be lost at sea after the first half-hour if I were in charge. ;D My dad used to take my mom, my sister and me out on his sailboat, and your itinerary sounds pretty close to what usually ended up happening on the lake, along with my mom having to jump into the boat as it took off from the pier, scraping her leg on the side, and getting peeved about how far my dad liked to lean the boat, yelling at him not to capsize us. We did have to be towed in by folks with motorized boats more than once, too, but I think our motor may have broken during the journey. I guess sailing, like many things in life, occasionally requires reliance on the kindness of strangers!

    Happy A to Z-ing!

    1. Oh your poor Mom. There is nothing worse than being caught halfway between the dock and the boat! One of the wonderful things about sailing, as in camping, seems to be that no one is ever a stranger, especially if someone is in need.

  5. This was both hilarious and informative. Bravo!!

    1. Thank you, Beverly! It's good to see you around here again!!

  6. That is ridiculously complicated - I much prefer your time keeping method - or the end bit where you ignore time completely and just enjoy the moment. I've never sailed seriously and you make it sound like fun (rather than hard work with lots of boom ducking).

    Leanne |
    C for Consider Every Angle

  7. Oh Leanne, it is so much more fun than work.

  8. Hilarious post! My FitBit is more used as a watch than a fitness tracker...hee-hee.

    Donna B McNicol, author & traveler
    Romance & Mystery...writing my life
    A-Z Flash Fiction Tales:
    A-Z of Goldendoodles:

    1. Oh those FitBits! I feel they only mock me!! lol!


Got a Hairnet sighting? Other weirdness?