Are you a port and Starboard guy? #41 #cong21


There are lots of hidden leadership lessons in the story of an epic ship voyage

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About Owen Higgins

Irish Dubliner

Accident of birth

Made in Connemara

Went to school in Synge street

The German teacher told me I would be a failure for the rest of my life

Bruce College

Met My Friend Cliona

Met Colin Farrell,


IT Support / 1994 – Present

All the technologies; pre-Plug and Pray to today

Favorite tool was a screw driver




Vikings Marines

Love climbing hills

Contacting Owen Higgings

Check out Owens work on bbc IT Advisors or email him.

By Owen Higgins

When I hopped on the boat it was the first question i asked the skipper. From that point on it should have been all plain sailing .. just echo his commands, keep everyone safe..  be the voice..  that was the only advice I’d been given… our own skipper was down with a bad cold.

Most days we did not know what was to happen and talking about it would be optional as the day progressed.  In fact talking,  might even be dangerous.

Kieron said he was indeed a port and starboard guy

The word Starboard has its origins in Viking long boats,  it was the steering board side of the boat . The rudder not being centred on the ship like modern craft

With all the crew facing to the rear and rowing with their backs to the direction of travel it became an unmissable landmark on the ship.  Crews adopted this landmark as a means to explain which side should pull harder on their oars.

Some captains would identify their favourite oarsman and communicate with the crew via his/ her name.  Other captains  did not know  their port or starboard..    and still there were captains  who did not even need oarsmen at all  like Kenny.

“Right lads,  this is what is going to happen”

If there was a briefing, it was always brief, questions usually came from the less experienced and questions for the most were ignored.  questions being a sort of smoke screen as the answers would become evident only through the trial and errors.

The mission today was to deliver stores to a fort two miles up the river at high tide,  there would be three boats  and the final delivery point was within a huge armed compound.  The entrance to this compound guarded by two huge towers  and an equally huge hinged gate.  The clearance for the hull of the ships  was tight which meant that the oars would need to be pulled inside the ship just as we reached the towers  and then extended  again on the other side of the gate…  add to this the complexity of a fast river which meant a certain amount of speed was required and once committed the skipper would need all his skills to guide the ship through the narrow channel.

When anyone boarded the ship it was important to bring them on safely.  Hands projected up over the gunnels to guide everyone aboard,  even those jolly enough to jump or swing from ropes demonstrating their independence were watched .. just in case.  The ship dividing into little parcels of jokes or songs. People settled ito their day.

Whistling wasn’t allowed, for it encouraged bad winds..  but little in the way of superstition really ever existed.  There was a common instinct, everyone who was aboard wanted to be there and little in the way of fear ever seemed present in the men and women I worked with.  Perhaps it was there in the jokes and songs, but one could not define or sense fear ever.

To get things done you must do..

When new people were rowing it was customary to let them get a feel of it without trying to give too much direction.  If their oar was not hitting the water correctly or out of time a stern warning was shot across their bow.  “Watch your Oar”,  “watch your stroke” were Familiar calls on board a ship…    they make a new person  very worried.. and an old hand wake up and focus… as it is easy lose track .

An exciting day was ahead

Another ship,  the freya had been doing this all week  with an inexperienced crew.  We would be following her example up the river matching her stroke and following her line.

“Oars out”

The sun was low but bright, a fresh breeze finding us inside this sheltered valley. There would be a little bit more work for those on the port side all day  as we fought against the breeze and those on the port side started to feel this responsibility right from the start.

There was a lad named Zettwik  having difficulty at the back..

I could see his opposite explaining something about pushing forward on the oar  rather than pushing down on the oar as we prepared the ship to get underway.

“All together now”

The ship lurched ahead with a slight list to port.. the skipper indicating that the heavy men chatting up at the bow needed to spread their weight to both sides. Two strokes later the chatting subsided and all eyes were fixed.

“come on  get the stroke “

To move a viking ship, all oars  must hit the water at exactly the same time . There can be no delay from bow to stern,  no staggering.  Often this must be explained with words familiar to all crews.  A multitude of control words exist  to enhance and tune this synchronisation .  The best method  is for everyone to watch  the man or woman at the very front of the ship for their timing

There is a beautiful sound of a singular splash when synchronisation is achieved and this must be encouraged and recognised .

“That’s it  perfect”

Identifying the sound and experiencing the feeling of power of men  is perhaps one of the most beautiful parts of the day.  One never expects it straight away but this crew was experienced and almost straight away things were off to a nice start.

It was an easy cruise up the river to the fort .

As we rounded the final corner  this huge gate the height of the ships mast came into view.  We stopped the boats close to a sheer face of rock about 200 meters on the opposite bank.  A few oars dabbing in the water to hold station…  I could hear Gavar talking about how the entrance was too tight  and what were they thinking.

Gavar  had worked on the forts construction..  it had taken three months to build.  It did seem a bit  tight  for the ships,  but more of a challenge … more fun.

We watched  the huge doors  open between the towers on either side  and the freya which was sitting a few meters off our port side started to move away from us without much hesitation.  We watched her pick up speed the ship lurching forward with each stroke,  faster and faster…    She  started to turn and line up on the entrance and with about five meters  to spare  each set of oars from bow tow stern disappeared into the ship .. with the oars in she glided through the entrance on her momentum  and once on the other side  the oars  started coming out again one  by one.    once you know something can be done..  its easier to do it.

We all watched waiting for the noise of her bumping off the sides  but there wer no bumps,   no oars broken  and happy cheers  echoing around the valley on the opposite shore for their arrival.

All the while as we waited  slight corrections of our own ship were required.  Without hesitation we made our own start..

“pull  lads”  “Pull hard”

“All together”

With slight changes to the strength of pull on either side of the ship  it was possible to steer  her  left and right..

Half way across the river  to fight the wind “Hard on port”   “Easy on starboard”  pulling the bow  to the right and lining her up on what was essentially a goal post.  “get ready to ship the oars”   20 meters,   10  meters…

“ ship oars…”

With about two meters  before the tight entrance each rower  starts  pulling their oars into the ship.  Each rower  passing the end of their oar to their opposite until only the paddle itself pokes out the oar hole.  It looked good,  it was good…  and with inches to spare on either side we slid through the gates without touching the sides.

The skipper was pleased and the crew excited by this unusual challenge  and elated at having done it first time  without any hitches.


We exchanged greetings  and the usual jokes about marrying  off Don our oldest crew mate to the youngest shield maiden  on the dock.  And it was off again..

“Back Row”  “Push forward” Reverse Stroke”

As the day wore on we did this several times, each time perfecting a better landing or a faster passage up the river.  For lunch a meal was prepared for all and it was during this period I asked the skipper if I could race them.

“they love a race skipper”

I’m not sure if he said yes, but I took it that he had and perhaps deep down inside he also loved a race..

And so we raced the freya..  for ten minutes  , men and women pulled harder on those oars for no other reason than the excitement of being first  or for the fun of racing. Motivated by an unknown unifying force.

“they’re  getting away from us”

The truth of the matter was they were not getting away from us,  the freya  was just about ten meters ahead of us,   but our rowers all face toward the bow so they could not see  how close we were.  They pulled hard on the oars bringing us even closer. .. and closer still.

“Hard on port”  … “hard on port”    “easy on starboard”  Watch your stoke” , “watch your oar” “That’s it”

The stroke was almost at maximum speed when we had lined up ,  we were in the wake of the freya, a stones throw and the two great ships seemed to glide on submerged rails moving like one ship into the fort..  one behind the other.

The whole race had not gone unnoticed,  it had brought about a type of fever amongst the onlookers in the fort also,  a bit of inspiration on an otherwise normal day.

We unloaded the ship,  tied her up , cleaned everything away in preparation for her next voyage and went our separate ways.


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