Our blogger Jonty Pearce contemplates how useful a Babelfish would be in real life


The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy describes the wonderful Babelfish, a creature that functions as a universal translator. Once inserted into the ear it allows instant understanding of all languages, and we desperately need one aboard Aurial.


Carol, the Indoor Dragon, has a curious disability that prevents her from understanding clear instructions such as ‘put the thingummy in the whatsit and whojumaflop the doodlebug’. Granted, these commands may be issued when my mind races ahead of my tongue. I am told that I am unable to multitask more than two things at a time, one of which is breathing. This is evidently untrue because whilst in the pub with the boys I can breathe, drink, play dominos and talk absolute rubbish simultaneously. The premise that I have a communication problem can be instantly dismissed – I had an expensive private education that taught me that if somebody fails to understand me I should simply repeat myself louder, especially with foreigners. And Carol is Welsh.


However, wishing to evolve from the label of ‘Captain Shouty and the Tongue Lashed Crew’ to the considered correctness of ‘The Admirable Jonty and The Mellifluous Mate’ we decided to resolve this on-board communication issue. Being Patrick O’Brian fans who admire 19th century Napoleonic naval speech, we decided to adopt certain elements of ‘Jackspeak’ into our everyday sailing discourse.


There were, of course, areas of sailing practice that have changed. Firstly, Jack Aubrey did not have the luxury of the diesel engine. He did not have DSC radio, electric anchor winches, or roller reefing. We felt that the 19th century equivalents – towing Aurial using our Avon’s oar power, hoisting flag signals, manning the anchor windlass to the sounds of the hornpipe, and climbing the yards to make sail – were taking things too far. No, our resolution was to merely use his language to clarify our purposes.


Thus, preparing for our first outing, the Quartermaster (Carol) suggested we took on board fresh provisions. ‘Make it so’, I ventured. Once stowage was complete and the engine started, I continued with ‘All hands unmoor ship’. I moved behind the wheel and put the helm over to larboard. Leaving our berth, the First Mate (also Carol) stowed fenders and ‘Made all shipshape on deck’, quietly grumbling but going dangerously quiet when I suggested she ‘Clap a stopper on that mutter.’ Reaching open water, it was her turn. Taking the helm, her ‘If I might oblige you, all hands make sail’ was followed by ‘Top men aloft’, and ‘Handsomely on the yards tackle’. Wisely, I obeyed silently, and soon we were sailing, engine off. ‘The deck is yours’, I stated. ‘Pray entertain yourself. I must retire to the seat of ease. I will be with you presently’. On my return some time later, the Mate requested ‘Might I press you for a cup of tea?’ I lit the galley fires and returned topsides with a ‘wittles is up’. A powerboat was coming up but Carol took my ‘Avast behind’ the wrong way, and I was in deeper trouble when I clarified its position with a ‘it’s very broad on your beam’. Despite our press of sails, the motorboat had the weather gage and was soon past us despite The Mate’s desire to ‘Run up our colours, lay us alongside, and deploy grappling hooks’. I decided not to mention The Mate’s considerable broadsides.


Drained by all the excitement, it was soon time to ‘ Look lively and lower away on the main’ and ‘Rouse up the off watch and prepare to anchor’. Once safely at rest, ‘The sun is over the yardarm, gentlemen’ was the best order of the day. ‘The bottle stands by you’ and ‘A glass of wine with you, Sir’ was followed by dinner – lobscouse, spotted dog and drowned baby. ‘May I trouble you for the salt’ had to be said, though gladly ‘Stop their grog’ did not feature.


It was all too much. Sailing is busy enough, but concentrating on all this Jackspeak made us tired and emotional. I threw the Babelfish back overboard, and Captain Shouty returned us to harbour while The Mate slept below as usual.