Thursday, February 12, 2015

Etiquette at Sea: Manners in the Mess

Tall Ships Adventures take people on adventures around the UK coast, Europe, the Canaries, the Azores and the Caribbean
Etiquette on board ship is just as relevant as any other time or place, perhaps even more so as you’re living in very close proximity to others. Your days and nights are spent pulling on ropes and scrubbing the decks, keeping watch in the pouring rain, climbing the rigging and setting the sails. It can be a high stress environment but in order for a ship to run smoothly there must be discipline and there must be teamwork. Manners and considering the needs of your shipmates are therefore of paramount importance.

When I refer to table manners at sea I’m not talking about the manners you use on some lavish Caribbean cruise or leisurely yacht charter. If that’s the kind of seafaring you enjoy then I recommend eating as you would at a fine dining establishment. I’m talking about when you’ve barely slept in four days; you’re cold, and your clothes are dirty and smell musty. Your muscles acPosd you have bruises down your arms; your stomach is churning from sea sickness and you feel woozy but there is no option of taking a nap. Etiquette and manners may be the furthest thing from your mind but they matter.

The mess on a working vessel is a far cry from the opulence and splendour of a cruise liner. It is small and cramped and only too easy to accidentally spill your soup down your front. Etiquette about which fork to use isn’t an issue because you only have one fork. And one spoon. And one knife. Not everyone can eat at once so they have separate sittings. This means that mealtime can be fast paced. You eat and you leave so that the galley staff can clean up, wash up, and serve the next lot of weary seafarers.

Etiquette is all about adaptability. You adapt the etiquette to suit the situation, the company and the circumstances. If you’re eating with tired, grouchy sailors then you need to adapt to their ways. One thing remains though: consideration and respect for your fellow diners. You may not make use of all the rules you learned in Fine Dining for Dummies but you still need to be aware of the people around you and do your part in making it a pleasurable experience for all concerned.
Rachel North, at sea and in the mess, 2nd from the right

Some Do’s and Don'ts for Dining at Sea

  • DON’T be late for your mealtime.
  • DO make sure you know what time your sitting is and go as soon as you are called.
  • DON’T wait until everyone has been served before you start eating.
  • DO pass the plates down the table to the people at the far end.
  • DON’T ask the galley staff to get you a drink.
  • DO offer a drink to everyone else at your table when you get one for yourself.
  • DON’T refuse to eat anything if you feel sea sick.
  • DO try and nibble on anything to settle your stomach, even if it’s just a piece of bread or dry biscuit.
  • DON’T hog the salad.
  • DO offer the bowl to your neighbours once you’ve taken your share.
  • DON’T finish the salad.
  • DO offer your shipmates the last of the salad and then tell the galley staff that it needs to be refilled.
  • DON’T leave half your food untouched.
  • DO tell the galley staff if you don’t want something being served.
  • DON’T elbow your neighbours as you try and cut your food.
  • DO keep your elbows in. Yes, it’s cramped but everyone’s in the same boat (literally).
  • DON’T spill your food and drink.
  • DO ask for a cloth if you do spill anything.
  • DON’T bash into your neighbours even if the ship seems to be on its side.
  • DO apologise for bashing into your neighbours and try to keep upright for the remainder of the meal.
  • DON’T sit there in silence no matter how tired you are.
  • DO smile, make polite conversation and say thank you to the staff and your fellow diners.
  • DON’T lean over your shipmates if you want something.
  • DO ask politely for something to be passed to you.
  • DON’T talk with your mouth full.
  • DO chew carefully and swallow before speaking.
  • DON’T make a distasteful face when your food is served.
  • DO thank the cook for feeding you so well
  • DON’T throw up in the mess or galley
  • DO go on deck if you feel queasy but keep to the leeward side of the ship (also, put your harness on and secure yourself to the ship – we don’t want any accidents!)
  • DON’T stay seated for fifteen minutes drinking your tea after finishing your meal.
  • DO take your tea with you out on deck
  • DON’T try and be helpful by taking dirty plates and cups into the galley (you’ll just be in the way).
  • DO help the galley staff by passing them plates and cups from the table.
  • DON’T sit in the captain’s seat even if he isn’t there.
  • DO sit anywhere else where the table has been laid.

I hope you’ve found this list helpful for the next time you find yourself on a working vessel at sea. Just remember that even when you’re feeling tired, sick and grouchy you still need to be aware of your shipmates around you who most likely feel the exact same way. Good manners cost nothing. Bad manners can cost you an otherwise amazing experience.

Rachel North is a writer, etiquette and tea enthusiast with a heart for young people and a special interest in youth development. In her spare time Ms North enjoys sailing, visiting places of historical interest, attending social events and curling up with a good book, her husband and a cup of Earl Grey tea.