Once upon a time in a land not too far away, reigned
the good King Publius. This magnanimous king decreed a vessel to be built
by the shipwrights of his kingdom. His decree stipulated that the ship
should be built primarily as a training vessel for the young people of the
land in preparing to venture forth on the Sea of Life. He further ordered
the ship should be so designed that it could serve the recreational needs
of his subjects when it was not being used in its primary duties. He sent
orders to his Royal Department of the Navy to begin work immediately. The
king levied a tax upon his subjects to pay for the design, engineering and
construction costs. His subjects, seeing the benefits to be derived from
such a ship, raised no objection to the tax put upon them.
The keel was eventually laid, the line and staff
officers were selected from the finest throughout the land, and the ship
was made ready for sea. The Naval Construction Administration inspection
team came and went over the ship from stem to stern and keel to topsail.
The ship passed its certification with flying colors. The crew of trainees
came aboard with four-year rotational enlistments so that 25% of them
would graduate each year. The maiden voyage was conducted under the
leadership of one Captain Gold and was deemed a tremendous success by the
subjects of the kingdom.
As the years went by, the ship won many awards and
honors in various competitions and events with the training ships from
surrounding kingdoms. The subjects of King Publius were extremely proud of
their ship and felt that their tax monies had been well-spent. The
officers and crew felt that their efforts had been rewarded and the ship
continued to excel in its training mission and at the same time continued
to provide recreation to the subjects.
Then one day, events took a turn that no one ever
anticipated. The King decided to transfer the ship from the Royal Navy to
the Department of Boats. The Department of Boats was run by an Admiral
Allan who believed that there should be a report for every incident and a
form for every eventuality. Captain Gold was transferred to the shore
offices of the D.O.B. (Department of Boats) and his former executive
officer, Lcdr. Walter was appointed as the new captain of the ship.
The ship continued to do well (albeit somewhat impeded
by its being surrounded by small boats and small boatmen). The new captain
soon became frustrated by having to fill out the DOB forms for everything
including the pumping of bilges ! Instead of being allowed to run his
ship, Captain Walter found that he had to spend much of his time ashore at
the DOB meetings that were held almost every day. He soon discovered the
futility of trying to talk "ships" to boatmen. Even Admiral
Allan did not understand the difference between ships and boats (nor did
he understand the difference between fishing ponds and the open seas). He
insisted, however, that he still had expertise in all matters inasmuch as
he had been aboard a ship once as a trainee. It wasn’t long before the
ship was spending more time in port with the Captain and officers going to
meetings and filling in forms than it was in doing its intended job.
The Department of Boats replaced Admiral Allan with a
Portuguese boatman by the name of Admiral Dabarro. Everyone knew the
reputation of the Portuguese as sailors. Hope for a return to normalcy was
everywhere. The officers and crew of the ship made ready for sea at long
last ! But alas, Admiral Dabarro was also a boatman like his predecessor.
He was even more enamored with reports, forms and meetings than Admiral
Allan. He appointed as his aide Rear Admiral Denski. Rear Admiral Denski
was to be in charge of everything and responsible for nothing. Very close
attention was paid to the written policies of the D.O.B. Those that were
troublesome were either torn out of the book or rewritten. New policies
were inserted where needed to accommodate the new regime and were approved
by the Civilian Board of Rubberstampers. Even after all that work, things
were going wrong. When they did, Rear Admiral Denski would form
committees, task forces, forms and reports so deep that by the time anyone
could do anything to correct a situation, it was either too late or it was
forgotten ! If anyone asked about the ship, they were given a boat answer
to solve it. If the question-asker were persistent, he would be told to
form a committee. If a committee were formed and after months came up with
a solution, the Admirals would go to the Rubberstampers and do what they
wanted to do in the first place and ignore the committee’s
As time went by, the situation for the ship continued
to deteriorate. Captain Walter was almost at the end of his rope. Every
time he wanted to move the ship or conduct an exercise, the D.O.B. had him
fill out forms – green forms, pink forms, yellow forms, goldenrod forms,
blue forms with a white original with proper distribution of the copies as
indicated. The officers and crew became demoralized when they saw the
futility of trying to communicate with the Department of Boats.
Then word came that the Naval Construction
Administration (NCA) was due to return for another periodic inspection. It
was hoped that the inspection team would notice that the ship had fallen
into disrepair, that the training schedule was now not much more that
paper, and that the morale had hit new lows. It was the function of the
NCA team to report their findings to the King and there was new hope that
action would be taken to rectify the situation. When the report showed
that a problem existed in communicating ship problems with boatmen, the
Admirals were furious and they decided then and there to rid themselves of
the problem (as they saw it) – Captain Walter. They knew how he abhorred
paperwork and meetings, so they doubled their previous orders, requests,
and demands (each with its own report, of course). One of these requests
was for the annual evaluation of his executive officer, Lcdr. O’Patrick.
He knew he had done the evaluation, but in his now tons of records he
could not locate that one particular form. All he could find were his
handwritten notes of the evaluation. Knowing the importance of proper
forms as far as the DOB was concerned, he decided to type up a new form
and date it the day noted on the handwritten notes. He submitted the form
to Admiral DaBarro and Rear Admiral Denski. They were dispirited inasmuch
as once again he had met their demands…until these expert papershufflers
noticed that the form Captain Walter had submitted was dated before this
revised set of new forms had been printed. They were ecstatic ! They had
the rascal ! The humiliation they had suffered before the King would be
revenged. They decided to sit on their findings a bit in the belief that
if Captain Walter would do such a thing ( a very serious offense to paper
shuffling boatmen), he might err again !If that would happen, they would
be able to court martial the villain and be rid of him forever. So, they
kept up the pressure and finally one of the boatswain’s mates on the
ship had his fill of the paper. He submitted a stack of request forms for
turning on the ship’s watering system in an attempt to show the
ridiculousness of all the paper. Captain Walter thought it would be funny
and also perhaps let the Admirals see the folly of their ways, so he
signed the requests.
That was all the Admirals needed – they instituted
courts martial proceedings against Captain Walter. The DOB and the
Rubberstampers paid for a good lawyer and had the advice of the Royal
Barrister. Captain Walter had to try to get legal help from a lawyer using
his own meager funds and those donations he received from his own loyal
crew. All the while not realizing the genuine hatred the Admirals had for
him. He was naďve in that he had always been able to differ with his
superior officers in the Royal Navy and his opinions and suggestions were
listened to and often followed, inasmuch as he had been running the ship.
He had not taken into account the difference in sophistication between
shipmen and boatmen.
The Courts Martial was convened. The King and many of
his subjects were present. The panel of judges was made up of the
Rubberstampers ! Hope for a fair hearing by an impartial panel was dashed
! It came as no surprise that Captain Walter was officially censured, or
that Lcdr. O’Patrick and others who testified on behalf of Captain
Walter would later rue the day. Had it not been for the outcry from the
subjects who had once been so proud of their ship, Captain Walter would
have been keel-hauled and then banished from the kingdom forever. The
Rubberstampers thought it best just to put the Captain on probation ( with
a tacit agreement to knuckle under) for a year and make an official
notation in his records ( thus making it almost impossible for him to gain
employment as a captain elsewhere). The Admirals had been exonerated and
avenged ! The subjects had forgotten all about such a "minor
thing" as the Report about "lack of communication" issued
by the NCA a year before.
A good leader instinctively knows the rules of working
with people – that’s why he is a good leader ! Perhaps it would be
best to insert a hiatus in the story to enumerate these rules:
Respect is earned, not demanded or expected !
Reward your people publicly for a job well done !
Criticism should be given rarely, and in private !
Don’t ask anything of a subordinate that you wouldn’t gladly do
Listen to and consider the suggestions of your people !
Give the consideration to others that you would want for yourself !
Defend those who work for you !
Fight for causes that are worthwhile !
Don’t knuckle under to self-righteous dunderheads !
The good Captain Walter felt that his years of efforts
to make the ship one of the most outstanding in the country had gone for
naught. He had been widely recognized and his advice had been sought by
other ship captains around the entire country. Now he had been shamed. He
could go nowhere without the subject of his degradation being brought up.
Feeling that if he continued to run the ship under the cloud of suspicion
he would bring disgrace to the officers and trainees, he resigned and left
the kingdom. The torment of all this took its toll on Captain Walter’s
personal and professional life. He gave his all and received grief for his
The admirals back at the DOB now had a clear track.
They would most certainly not make the mistake of hiring anyone with the
qualities of Captain Walter (listed previously). This would be in complete
opposition to their way of running the Department. They certainly would
not hire anyone who would argue with their imperious decisions. They
decided they needed someone with a more facile mind. The search was on !
The admirals accepted applications for the vacant
captaincy position of the ship. As was the custom, Lcdr. O’Patrick was
one of the applicants. He and the others were carefully scrutinized and
interviewed. To make it appear that he had a chance ( you remember he had
made the mistake of being loyal to Captain Walter during the Court
Martial), he was told that he came in a close second behind a Commodore
Sycophant. The Commodore had already passed his Admiral’s correspondence
course. Lcdr. O’Patrick was also informed that his pay raise for the
coming year would not be as great as those who were loyal to the DOB.
The new commodore was instructed to bring the renegades
on the ship into line (they are perceived as such to this day). The
prize-winning crew was now reduced to a mutinous rabble in the eyes of the
Admirals and the Rubberstampers. In his efforts to straighten out this
bunch, the commodore’s attention was distracted from the ship operation,
and it ran aground ! Knowing this would look bad to the king, he declared
the ship "not aground" ! The Admirals could not see how a boat
could be aground in three feet of water (once again they were thinking
"boats" when they should have thought "ship").
Therefore, they too declared that there was no problem. The officers and
crew began muttering about being aground. However, since they were just
mutinous dogs that were always being "negative" and forever
complaining – they were not listened to. The Admirals’ feeling that a
possibility existed that some one of the subjects might notice, decided to
form a committee to air the complaints. The committee had 20 boatmen and
only 3 crewmembers from the ship. Needless to say the ship people were
outvoted about being aground. Now the Admirals had overall consensus about
The flags flew from the masthead on the ship, the
reports were duly written and submitted, the crews of trainees came and
went. The subjects of the Kingdom were satisfied that the ship still
served its intended purpose inasmuch as most of the trainees were given
Seaman’s papers upon graduation. The distinction between boats and ships
became unimportant because they were still aground. The officers gave up
any hope of ever setting out to sea again.
And this is how the proud ship became another little boat !
I wrote the above story many, many years ago…not much
has changed over time. Many of my colleagues at the time were not in
agreement with my characterization of the principals involved (pun
intended), nor are they to this day. This piece then, is simply my take on
the events. The character’s names were changed to protect my meager bank
account. If you are curious, here is what happened to some of the
Captain Walter: Could no longer find administrative
position anywhere. The last I heard, he had been working as a dealer in a
casino in Florida and had suffered a massive heart attack.
Admiral DaBarro: Left at the end of his tenure with
his married ( to someone else) secretary. He found much higher paying
employment as Admiral in another kingdom and the last I heard enjoying the
many benefits of his newfound income.
Commodore Sycophant: Served with flair as captain.
Was observed regularly at public meetings and in the newspaper with public
pronouncements that the ship was not only afloat, but one of grace,
beauty, and high speed. He was promoted to Admiral and served
"admirably" until his retirement.
Lcdr. O’Patrick: The only character in this story
who was given his due. After many years serving as second fiddle, he
finally was advanced to the captaincy of the ship. Perhaps he came to
understand the ship was afloat.
Rubberstampers: Original group is long gone.
Several intervening boards have been elected. One can hope they are no
longer under the thumb of the admirals who cite real or imagined law and
mandates to keep them in line.
The Ship: Doomed to remain aground under the
definition of "afloat" as put forth by the Department of Boats
©1989 Dean Rowe