So, let's play house. But instead of the husband and wife who conform neatly into their respective gender roles and the 2.5 kids, dog, and a white picket fence, let's make some changes. Let's take this house and shrink it a bit, yet at the same time cram MORE people in. Many more. Let's bring the total number up to around 15. Now lets lock them all in this house for days at a time and toss it around ... also for days at a time.
Sometimes the house isn't rocking and sometimes they are let out of the house (only for the evening though), but these fifteen people are cooped up together here for months on end.
So what happens? Is this a particularly bizarre turn on the game of house? "WHO WOULD DO SUCH A THING?" you might be asking. But then again, you probably know what I'm getting at here.
Say these 15 people are mostly around 27, with some outliers down to 20 or up to their 50s. They're roughly 50-50 male female.
Also they have to work closely together on a daily basis to accomplish coordinated actions. Their work is sometimes fast and intense, where if someone is not doing the right thing at the right time it'll cause everyone delays.
As you can imagine, there is sometimes tension. Tension over who is more important than who where not clearly defined, tension between people who decide they just plain don't like eachother, etc.
On the first boat I served on , the Lady Washington (a 68 foot brig), I found the crew to be a tight knit group it was very hard to feel a part of as a newcomer. I languished alone in the main hold and only managed to join the rest of them in the forecastle on my very last day (of three weeks) there.
When I first hung out with the crew of the Hawaiian Chieftain (a 65 foot topsail ketch) when it passed through Newport Beach I was amazed by how welcome I felt in the group almost immediately. From almost the moment I stepped on the boat crewmembers were inviting me to places with them (the New Years party the first night, to the bar the second night, "dance party in the galley" the next..) and treating me like I was already their shipmate. A sharp contrast to my experience on the Lady.
However, from the beginning there were also signs that something was amiss. I remember seeing "OFFICER COUNTRY" emblazoned on the door to the forecastle of the HC, and thinking it was an odd and alarming sign. The forecastle on the LW had been CREW quarters, not officer quarters, and while the HC's forecastle is a lot smaller, the whole attitude of it it being "officer country" seemed a bit concerning.
Additionally there where murmurings about how there'd until recently been divisive cliques on the boat.
More recently, now that I'm back on the HC, officially part of the crew for six months (and a low level officer to boot!), signs of fractiousness have been numerous. First and foremost there was the shipmate who informed me directly "we are not a tight crew." Then there's been the second guessing I've heard about almost every officer's directions behind their back at one point or another, and the constant speculation about who "belongs" in the forecastle (with only four bunks in there not even all the officers fit, as opposed to the LW which had 8). Also a lot of stories of people who are bitter because they thought THEY deserved that plum promotion or that doing X was not in their position's contract.
I didn't really put it all together at the time, but in retrospect, I posit that it was specifically because the LW crew was a cohesive functional group that it was harder to feel welcome in. Conversely, the reason I felt immediately welcomed on the HC was because there was utterly no "group" to join.
The ironic thing about the fighting over the HC's forecastle is that everyone acknowledges they are among the smallest bunks on the boat and ALSO the least pleasant in heavy seas. Really I think the only reason anyone ever wants to be there is because it's perceived to be prestigious.
In the LW I was grateful to get a place in the forecastle on my last day. In the HC I was offered a spot in the forecastle on my FIRST day... and turned it down.
The crew now on the HC is largely a different crew from the one I met in June, yet it seems to have the same problem with fractiveness. I propose that the problem is not with the specific people but with the setting. I think the problem lies in the fact that the crew is split roughly 50-50 between the main hold and forecastle, and especially that the latter has some sense of eliteness attached to it. The problem ... is the "officer country" sign and everything it stands for1.
The Hawaiian Chieftain, as I found her in Newport Beach, CA, in January
1 notwithstanding I completely understand the need for officers to to maintain their distance above the enlisted in military contexts. But this is not a military context and I find the elitism promoted by some people in this context to be utterly counter productive and stupid.