Since Hollywood started taking an interest in sailing, one can expect a certain Americanization of the past time. With that, comes the American penchant for acronyms.

A condition that I have been aware of since my earliest days of passage making now gets it’s own acronym. GOWS. As in, “he is suffering from GOWS” or “it looks as if she is over the GOWS now”.

Going On Watch Syndrome. GOWS.

There are very few exceptions to the rule that everyone suffers from GOWS at some stage in their early sailing career.

GOWS is easily detected in the seconds following the waking of an off watch crew member and follows some or all of the following stages:

1. Incomprehension. “Are you talking to me?” “Who are you, what do you want? Leave me alone!” The sufferer displays signs of amnesia and lack of awareness of his/her surroundings and often reacts by pulling sleeping materials over his/her head in an effort to return to more familiar surroundings.
2. Disbelief. As the reality of the situation hits home, the sufferer displays disbelief as in “what on earth am I doing out here and why am I being woken at 2am to go and stand in the rain and freezing cold wind for 3 hours?”
3. Hostility. Looking for someone to blame for the predicament that the sufferer finds himself in, he becomes hostile and aggressive towards the waker. “Are you going to make me get out of this bunk?” “You and who’s army?” “Why don’t you just eff off?”
4. Categorical imperative. The realization that we are literally and figuratively “in the same boat” and we all have to contribute as much as we can to the common cause. The sufferer eventually emerges from the relative comfort of the bunk and begins to dress appropriately for the conditions. *for an explanation as to what what this actually means, please refer to my philosopher son.
5. Dawdling. Creating the appearance of preparing to go on watch. This can be a self defeating exercise. The longer the sufferer maintains the appearance of getting dressed, the greater the chance of getting severely injured in the process. NASA spends huge amounts of money to simulate weightlessness for aspiring astronauts when they could fairly inexpensively go sailing with a small boat in a big sea while attempting to pull on foul weather gear and safety harnesses. The difference is that the areas below decks on a small yacht are not padded like NASA’s simulators.
6. Procrastination. As in finding any reason to stay below decks. “Can I make you some coffee?”, bellowed to the current helmsman hopefully. “I need to check the bilges/GPS/chart/cereal situation/biltong stocks” etc. This step is quite often bypassed by sufferers with a tendency for ‘mal de mer’.
7. Acceptance. With a huge sigh, the sufferer emerges to perform his/her watch duties with more often than not, a massive dent into the time remaining on watch!

Experienced yachties have turned this sequence into an art form! * names have been excluded to protect the identity of people that I have sailed with in the past, one of whom has been known to conduct his watch keeping from a sleeping bag on a saloon seat, using a remote control to switch between TV, radar and chart plotter on the flat screen.

Fortunately we have no GOWS sufferers on this trip. The crew has been fantastic in every aspect. Especially enthusiasm. Could ignorance really be bliss?

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