Announcements on the ferry, one self-explanatory, one not


While I was riding the ferry last Saturday, there were two announcements made over the public address system.

"All crew please report to the Second Mate's office."

What were they all doing in the Second Mate's office? Would the whole crew fit into the office? And while all the crew are in the Second Mate's office, who's steering the ferry?

The second announcement was self-explanatory:

"Will the owner of a XYZ please report to the Car Deck to shut off your car alarm? The passenger in the car is becoming increasingly frantic."

What was I doing on the ferry anyway? I was returning to Seattle from a bike ride with two other friends. (The route is not quite correct, though. Instead of taking Brownsville Highway NE, we took Ogle Rd NE and S Keyport Road NE; also, we took Virginia Loop Road instead of following 308.) The ride includes two stops, one at the Naval Undersea Warfare Museum in Keyport, and a lunch stop in historic downtown Poulsbo.

This ride began over ten years ago as a "Hey, here's a fun ride, let's try it." On a whim, we added a detour to Chief Seattle's grave, and on the return, coming down Suquamish Way NE, the lead rider "Joe" fell and took an extremely nasty spill. (We concluded later that we must not have been sufficiently respectful at the grave site, and this was Chief Sealth's way of exacting retribution.) As Joe went rolling down the road, I thought to myself, "Well, it's a good thing he's got his helmet on." And then his head struck the ground and the helmet shattered. But he kept going. "Uh oh, now he's got no helmet." Fortunately, he was able to keep his head off the ground and avoid a head injury.

Now, this was back in the days before mobile phones were a standard personal accessory. Our group consisted of four riders. We sent "John" ahead to call for help. (We knew there was a casino at the bottom of the hill.) "Bob" directed traffic around the accident, while I tended to our fallen friend. John returned sooner than expected; he said that a passing driver offered his car phone (wow, remember car phones?) to call for help. A police officer and an ambulance from the local fire station arrived. While the paramedics tended to Joe's injuries, the police officer took statements and took over traffic direction duties. The officer seemed somewhat disappointed that Joe fell of his own accord. I think he really wanted to nail a driver for hit-and-run.

As the officer directed traffic, he mentioned to us, "You know, directing traffic is an all-day class." I hadn't thought it about before, but directing traffic is actually quite tricky. You have to be able to convey information to drivers using only nonverbal cues. Things like "Two cars should come forward and stop at this point" or "While I'm directing traffic coming from this direction, cars on the cross street may turn right."

While we waited for an ambulance from the hospital to arrive, we asked the fire station paramedics, "Why don't you take us to the hospital yourselves?"

"Consider yourself lucky we aren't. If we took you in our ambulance, that would mean you were on the verge of death."

Joe, it turned out, suffered a broken shoulder blade. The ambulance driver who took him to the hospital returned later from another run and poked his head into the room.

"Whatcha got?"

"Broken shoulder blade."

The ambulance driver gave him a thumbs-up sign. "Good job!"

A little ambulance driver humor there.

Given this auspicious start, we turned the ride into an annual event, naming it "The Joe Memorial Bike Ride". But we never took the Chief Seattle detour ever again. After three or four years, interest in the ride petered out, but I decided this year that it was high time to resurrect it.

Comments (13)
  1. Messages like the one about reporting to the Second Mate’s office are sometimes used to alert the crew to a situation while sounding sufficiently anodyne not to alarm the passengers. Shortly before the Herald of Free Enterprise capsized off Zeebrugge in 1987 with the loss of 193 people, a call was made for the Ship’s Carpenter to report to the car deck; that was a coded signal that in effect meant "Somebody fix this problem or we’re going to sink".

  2. Iain says:

    You get the same sort of thing in supermarkets – something along the lines of "Relief supervisor to aisle four" will often translate to "All spare staff to the front door to tackle the shoplifter when he runs for it".

  3. BradC says:

    "Will the owner of a XYZ please report to the Car Deck to shut off your car alarm? The passenger in the car is becoming increasingly frantic."

    But there are still so many questions:

    Was it a human passenger or a canine?

    Child or adult?

    Why would you leave your child in the car on the ferry and wander away?

    Was it a hot day in Seattle? (yes, they have them… occasionally) Was there a heat risk in the passenger in the car? Were the windows down? How far?

    At least that’s what I would wonder….

  4. Matt Lee says:

    You rode right by my house.  I’m at the end of the little road, just to the right of #6 on the map.  [wave]

  5. Michael J. says:

    directing traffic is actually quite tricky.

    > You have to be able to convey information

    > to drivers using only nonverbal cues. Things

    > like "Two cars should come forward and stop

    > at this point" or "While I’m directing traffic

    > coming from this direction, cars on the cross

    > street may turn right."

    It would not be tricky if Rules Of the Road contained specific description of officer’s gestures. Seen these pictures in the Rules, or maybe in the Vehicle Code? I doubt it. While in Europe and in Asia these gestures are standardized like "stop all ways" or "attention" or "go across the intersection if I stay with my side to you, do not go if I face you" or "go in the quantrant shown by my hands; cars behind me can turn right". There is lack of formal rules in America and no disire nor enforsment to learn such rules. Even the criminal law is precendent-based. One never knows will he be put in prison or let go simply by reading the law book.

  6. GregM says:

    We had something similar to report a suspected shoplifter, we’d page our district manager (who was rarely in our store) to come to the front of the store.

  7. Joe says:

    Glad everyone made it to the end this time. I should work on getting my fat butt in shape in time for the next ride.

  8. C Gomez says:

    It’s possible that "standardized" traffic signals might help in the U.S., but we’re not talking about a situation folks deal with everyday.  It’s easier to remember you can make right turns on red lights because you deal with it every day.  How much basic chemistry or algebra do adults forget because their use of the skill is minimized in many occupations or activities?  Even if this were part of a driving test, it might be that no one remembers the signs after a few years.  Or it might be that everyone does.  It makes for an interesting idea.  Still, it’s not like I’ve ever had a problem understanding exactly what a traffic officer wants me to do.  Perhaps it’s just as well they are trained to understand innate comprehension of their signals than to attempt to train everyone to understand specific signals?

    Criminal law is hardly based on precedent in the U.S.  While law students learn the common criminal law, which sprang to life in English common law, there is probably not one single crime that isn’t spelled out in statute at this point.  You know exactly what the elements of a particular crime are precisely by reading the statute, and a jury decides if the evidence meets each specific element.  Besides, even if this were not so, common law makes outcome more predictable as a body of law is established to cover situations.

  9. Michael J. says:

    How much basic chemistry or algebra do adults forget

    > because their use of the skill is minimized in many

    > occupations or activities?

    Well, but where is the line that divides lack of specific knowledge from basic illiteracy? How many people get amused when you tell them that vodka is just ethanol mixed with water? ;-)

  10. TomF says:

    As one who spent several decades commuting on the Washington Ferry system, I can share my frustrations about "standardized" hand signals. Every deck hand has a different idea of how to tell you where to move your car as you load on or off. This often results in shouting matches, raised tempers and us long timers feeling grateful that these ferry employees are not working for our employers.

    Yes- this is a situation that people encounter every day here in America. However given the apparent competence of the employees involved the training class would need to be a week.

  11. KevinOR says:

    You don’t need to worry when they say "All crew please report to the Second Mate’s office.", there are still officers around to steer the ferry.  In maritime terms the word "crew" does not include the officers.

  12. If it’s not one thing it’s another.

  13. A reminiscence about a great programmer.

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