Musings + Essays

Boat Voice.

By: Jen Shoop

One of Mr. Magpie’s best buddies drove up from Southern Virginia for the dinner party I threw last weekend. His visit was studded with reminiscences, several of which centered upon a series of tropical sailing excursions the two of them took in college with Mr. Magpie’s friend at the helm. The premise of these journeys seems now unbelievable and ill-conceived to all of us. How did anyone think sending fifteen college boys — several of whom had no experience on the water — on an expensive boat around the BVIs was a good idea? We talked about how lucky they were no one got lost or injured (there were many close calls), and that the boat was returned in working condition. (“Thinking back,” Mr. Magpie’s friend said, “I’m horrified at the amount of personal liability I assumed.” We laughed, but — wow.) I asked him how he was able to command a sailboat with his friends aboard. It struck me as a difficult task, to rally friends inclined to drink rum and play cards to perform urgent tasks as they navigated the waters, especially given their age.

“You have to have a boat voice,” was the answer — a certain tone of command you assume when things need to get done and there are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. My husband agreed: “If he told you to do something, you just did it.” I was in turn reminded of a time at work many years ago where my boss called me in a panic and indicated that something needed to get done, and I reflexively and seriously replied, “Yes m’am.” I remember all of my teammates turning their heads in unison. I’m sure my tone and address (as I usually referred to her by her first name) caught them off guard, but — there it was. She’d used “boat voice” and I’d jumped in line.

Do you have a “boat voice”? When do you use it? How did you develop this muscle?

I am certain I have a “boat voice” when it comes to matters of safety with my children: instinctually, my voice hardens and rises slightly in volume. Doesn’t every parent have a voice that stops their children in their tracks? But I’m curious about the implementation elsewhere. I’m not sure I’ve ever had cause to use a “boat voice” at work. Perhaps I’ve always worked in lower key environments, or maybe I have where possible channeled emergencies through my own consciousness first before communicating to my team. I think one of my major flaws as a team leader was my instinct to do everything myself — I rank myself poorly on delegation. I wonder now what would have happened if had spent more time developing a “boat voice” instead of trying to handle the lion’s share myself.

What about you? How do you rank yourself? This seems like a skill worth cultivating.


+Have you ever had a bad boss?

+On risk-taking and careers.

+Are you good at negotiating?

+On surviving perceived criticism.

+I know many of you revisit this post with some regularity, and it’s a good reminder for me as well: “Pressure is a choice.”

Shopping Break.

+Romantic little tops for Valentine’s Day and beyond: this SEA and this Veronica Beard.

+This quilted pullover comes in such great colors, and for $30, such a good deal! More fabulous Target finds here.

+This pleated confection of a dress would be gorgeous for a bride.

+Love the design of these suction-cup-bottomed bowls for infants. Brilliant!

+An inexpensive, CHIC bed for a guest bedroom or child’s room.

+I absolutely love this hot pink wool coat.

+Have been hearing good things about these eye shadow sticks — they look to be similar to the LM ones I mentioned last week but are about half the price! Read the reviews!

+Cute Roller Rabbit pajamas for a little one, on sale! Would be great for a birthday boy!

+This gorgeous Rebecca Taylor dress is now on sale for under $200. Love the marigold color. This was one of my top picks for a winter special occasion dress!

+Sweet fleece coverall for a baby. I loved this brand’s fleece jackets for both my children!

+This $39 cableknit! The color and style are SO good! Reminds me of this style from Shrimps.

+Still some fantastic designer buys on serious sale here.

+This marbleized mushroom pouf caught my eye!

+Love this inexpensive runner.

+Adorable monogrammable rash guard for a little one.

+A flamingo toothbrush for your little love.

+Embroidered sweatshirt for a little one.

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4 thoughts on “Boat Voice.

  1. Ah, this (thoughtfully & beautifully written) reflection is forcing me to plug “Sea Wife” by Amity Gaige again! I finished it last week and it’s such a poetic, well-paced novel about a family at sea for a few months. The pull/push between the father & mother figures switching off as captain of their home/sailboat echo the “boat voice” concept, and it’s interesting to see how they both approach the role and how their children react.

  2. Oh I have definitely been a giver and receiver of the boat voice in sailing situations (albeit much smaller-scale situations- we’re talking racing small craft on a small lake, not ocean yachting) and it’s real! My family is part of a sailing community and I’ve always thought that being able to give and take boat voice without issue is a real hallmark of a strong relationship-be it romantic, familial, or platonic. I remember the first time one of my neighbors took his now-wife out racing with him on a pretty wild weather day and everyone was noticing how well they were working together and knew from that moment that they were in it for the long haul. It was actually mentioned more than once at their wedding, both in the vows and speeches: that everyone knew she was the one when she was spotted stoically bailing incoming water from the bow while getting tossed around and absolutely soaked during the race.

    1. Oh I love this so much! I can totally imagine the analogy there — working well together under pressure, doing things because they need to get done without getting finnicky about the details or fairness or pleasantness, etc. Thanks for sharing that!


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