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Ship of Fools
BobHalstead - 4/29/2013 8:56 AM
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Category: Educational
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By Bob Halstead

It is said that there is one on every cruise. The diver that does not fit in, behaves selfishly, and generally stuffs up the cruise for the other guests.

When operating Telita I had a policy of taking the offending character aside for a friendly private chat pointing out that I was getting complaints about his/her behaviour and asking if they could perhaps be a little more considerate.

That was when I still had patience.

Evolution transformed my private chat into a public dining room story along the lines of how, if a guest was being particularly annoying – eyeballing the particular guest at this point – and making the cruise unpleasant for my other guests, I would do something that I have always wanted to do and that is to get the passenger and all his belongings and dump him on the nearest island.

I pointed out that I was operating in PNG and it was impossible for foreigners to sue, and that I would become a hero in the dive travel industry. The resultant publicity would encourage hoards of frustrated divers to book with me. I smugly thought this very smart.

However, Undercurrent magazine, reviewing Telita and my hand at the helm, called me “opinionated and irascible”! Me! Personally I think it was a misprint and meant to be “knowledgeable and irresistible”. Anyway I got quite angry about it, told them exactly what I thought, and thumped the table a few times.

I must admit to growling at clients when they came to visit me in the wheelhouse in the middle of a particularly tricky bit of manoeuvring. Perhaps negotiating a narrow reef passage or coming alongside a wharf with tide and wind doing nasty stuff. Completely oblivious to my obvious concentration on the task at hand they would ask, “Tell me Bob, how high is that mountain over there?” or perhaps, “How many kinds of parrots are there in this area?”

But I do know all about winning friends and influencing people. For example if divers were a bit reluctant to get in the water I would promise a practice session on one of the several musical instruments I have failed to learn to play over the years. That got them in the water, particularly the trumpet, and they thanked me later.

Empathy is my middle name when chatting up my clients. I explained to a man my age that was a Gynaecologist how lucky we both were. “How come?” he asked, “Well, we both managed to turn our hobby into our profession” I replied. I still do not understand why he was offended.

Another guest introduced himself. “I’m from Texas, call me Tex”. “No you are not.” I proclaimed, as sensitive as ever, “Texans are three foot wide and ten feet tall, I think you are from Mississippi”. He did not even speak to me for the rest of the cruise.

One diver flooded his Nikonos 5 camera and asked me what he should do about it. “Throw it away and buy a new one” was my sound advice. He then went on to tell me that last time he went diving and the very same camera flooded the photo pro had spent two hours taking it apart and “fixing” it for him. He had not bothered to get it serviced since but expected me to do the same. I laid my hand across it, closed my eyes and muttered an incantation. “Best I can do,” I explained.

I must say I miss the power of being a dive boat Captain. I like being in charge. I honestly did try to take note of my guest’s interests and create a special cruise around them. But when incompatible people booked on the boat, it was impossible to please everybody. So I made sure I pleased myself.

Arguments would develop until some nincompoop would demand a vote on where we dived next. This would get me going. “Hold Fast! This is not a democracy, we do not vote on this boat, I, the Captain, decide!” And that is what happened. I decided, and did exactly what I wanted to do. If I fancied Muck diving that is what it would be, or whatever. Vote! Huh!

Of course this all changed if Dinah was on board. Then I would proclaim, “I am the Captain of this boat and I will do exactly as my wife tells me …”.

One thing I always insisted on was that if any of the female clients wanted to do any topless sunbathing that they always use the foredeck. This saved me from getting a twisted neck.

Inevitably some of the “Earth Mother” types, overcome with the splendour of PNG landscapes would insist on taking off all their clothes to be one with nature. Unfortunately they were usually the type you would not welcome on the foredeck. One lovely did surprise me, suddenly appearing stark naked, and in no rush to cover herself. Then she insisted on snorkelling undressed and I must admit it was amusing watching the male divers rotate from watching the corals to swimming upside down watching the surface.

She told me she intended to go to England and walk from the Eastern-most to the Western-most part of the country. In empathy mode I told her I was very worried about her obsession with extremes, and why didn’t she just walk from the middle of somewhere to the middle of somewhere else? This really messed with her brain, and she would come up to me at various times during the trip “I’ve been thinking about what you said, do you really think ….”.

And still the guests keep coming back, one told me recently that she hoped I would not be too polite, she preferred me when I was rude.

It is enough to make me repent.