"Some Reflections" by Arthur Briscoe, Lieutenant, RNVR

The Yachting Monthly, November, 1916

AFTER eighteen months in the perpetual atmosphere of carburettors, thrust blocks, reverse gears, lubricating oil, petrol, paraffin and other bad smells, one begins to have a very real respect for the heroes who of their own accord and not for the love of gain or with any bellicose ideas, cough their odorous way round our coasts in motor boats. In eighteen months I have met many of them, and have been pleased to do so. They are not sailors as a sailing man understands the term, but they are indeed a host in themselves when your carburettor won't carburett or your thrust block won't thrust, or whatever it is a thrust block ought to do; while the way in which they put their hand on a sparking-plug that has gone out of business is a thing that thrills me with awe. I am not an engineer. I don't even like oil; nor does the smell of petrol fill me with pleasant memories; while an electric shock from a sparking-plug which isn't dead is . . . I wondered, eighteen months ago, if I should come out of this with the seed of the marine motorist germinating in my being.

I listen to the cough (or is it throb) of my engine, and I say to my "chief," "She's running well today," or "She's got a nasty cold in the port engine," and Mr. McPhee expectorates over the side in deference to the rules of the service, and lets me down easily with some non-committal remark, such as, "I'll no say but what she might," or "I ken fine"; and drawing a wad of oily waste across his perspiring face, he dives below. I have the greatest respect for Mr. MePhee, and Mr. MePhee always treats me with equal respect; but, well, McPhee is a Scotsman, of course, and I'm not, and I always have a feeling that these northern men have but a poor "opeenion" of a Sasnack. However, as McPhee and I have to cough our way through the war together, he suppresses his opinion of my engineering capabilities, and the ship runs as smoothly as any internal combustion engine will let it.

But it's no good pretending that I like engines. I quite see their usefulness, and I am told I ought to realize their reliability as compared with sail. When there's no wind I can feel more or less content with a motor; but to splutter and cough about the surface of the waters when there is a fine sailing breeze running to waste makes me long for peace and the steady heave and sway of a sailing vessel, with its absence of smells and noise. I like the silence in which a sail does its work, and provided it's a well-cut sail, the thing is a joy to look upon, with its swelling curves and stately lines. Trimming sails to get the best results and steering that they may not be hindered in their work, are two of the most absorbing occupations I know.

True, others may get as recondite amusement out of timing an engine and adjusting the mixture that the infernal thing may do its worst; but, stated simply, as long as you pour petrol and electricity into it in a proper manner, it will do its bit. The force that drives a sailing craft is invisible. We hear it and feel it and we see its path on the waters, but it we never see, and it costs nothing; it's a free gift to rich and poor alike.

If only sails could have been utilized in war ! But there is no good talking of "ifs." A very short experience of the needs and duties of our patrol and kindred services afloat is needed to dispel any idea of sail ever being used again in naval affairs. But if sails have gone for ever, as far as war is concerned, the men who have been trained in "wind-jammers," be they R.N.R. men or R.N.V.R., would not have accomplished what they have but for that training. What the R.N.R. have done is beyond praise. They may not have accomplished any very sensational feats, and the light of publicity rarely shines on them; but they have stuck it out under the most unpleasant conditions, and done the spade work inseparable from modern naval warfare in a way that I don't believe any other breed of men could.

The R.N.V.R. have of necessity taken a very modest part. We're amateurs, and it's no use pretending we're not. The mere wearing of uniform does not make a naval officer of a man, still less does it make a sailor. But what knowledge we have of the sea and the handling of small craft . which, after all, is our main claim to usefulness . has in most cases been gained in sailing craft. I don't want to offend anyone, least of all the man who can diagnose an engine's sufferings with the certainty of a Harley Street physician; but as far as seamanship and the handling of their boats is concerned the sailing man as a rule, after a few hours' experience of a motor boat, has very little to learn from the yachtsman who hasn't sailed, whereas the latter has many things to learn which only sail can teach him.

From a sailing man's point of view I'm quite prepared to admit that most of us have had to learn many things which only a petrol or paraffin engine can teach him. Why, the things I've learnt to say quite fluently since I've had to do with marine motors would scare the mate of a windjammer! And that's something!

The Yachting Monthly, November, 1916