Waggle in Wake

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Posted by Ed Kiser on December 14, 2002 at 21:52:00 from user Kisered.

Avoid a WAGGLE in the WAKE

It seems that when proper sailing is involved, there is a great
emphasis on the importance of a "waggle-free" wake. Perhaps this
is more important to a sailor than I can understand, but somehow,
this seems to be equivalent to driving a car without having to
move the steering wheel - which of course is not a feasable goal.
Maybe with sailing, there is a bit more room, not being
restricted to a narrow lane as one is when driving a car.

Perhaps the importance to a sailor comes from trying to obtain
maximum efficiency in using the wind to get the boat from here to
there, as I can see how each movement of the tiller, with its
sidewise vector of force, is detracting from the available force
that is desired to be used as a forward vector.

But it is definitely important to these Ransome characters, as a
waggle will attract negative comments or at least a frown of
disapproval. It is certainly looked down upon as a "mistake" of

One plots a course and one tries to maintain that proper heading
with as little deviation as possible, but this does not mean
merely holding the tiller in a rigid, unmoving manner. Each gust
of wind needs to be met with the tiller, to make sure the heading
is readjusted back to its proper course.

One glaring example of this is in SWALLOWDALE when John
momemtarily loses control of the Swallow to a rather good strong
puff of the wind, and thus the heading becomes unfortunately onto
the Pike Rock, with resulting shipwreck. With a good stiff wind
like that, there is no wonder that the course is not always just
straight, that a "waggle" just cannot be helped. John of course
felt very disappointed in himself - to say the least - in his
failure in seamanship resulting in the loss of his ship.

I can understand his accident as a failure to properly manage his
ship, but the many comments of criticism regarding a "waggle" in
the wake seem to be harping needlessly or just plain fault
finding. This "waggle-free" steering seemed to be a very
important goal for the D's when they were learning their sailing
skills, knowing full well that when they once more were with
their more experienced sailing companions of the Lake District
that any waggle in the wake would be met with scorn and
criticism. This seemed to be of primary importance to Dick when
he first took command of his new ship, the Scarab, knowing that
his actions were under critical scrutiny of Nancy, who would be
sure to note any waggle.

This emphasis on waggle free steering seemed to appear in many
places in his stories.

Lines quoted from the several texts are within the square
brackets [].

In BIG SIX, chapter 11
The Death and Glories have to imigrate to Ranworth. The D's with
Tom in his Titmouse visit Ranworth to see them. As they depart,
with Dick steering, the D&G's are critical of Dick's steering.
They see this error, but at least are kind enough not to make any
verbal remark. Note the word, "critically", to indicate their
opinion of the waggles.

[...Death and Glories, watching critically, observed that
his wake was straight enough, except for two slight waggles
due to the sighting of grebes.]
In Coot Club, chapter 16
Dick is trying to keep a straight wake when steering the Teasel,
and is sensitive to any deviations, but Tom is trying to avoid
being overly critical, considering that Dick is a novice, and
thus apt to make such mistakes. But there is still here the
sense that a WAGGLE IS A MISTAKE.

[Dick was ready, clutched the tiller as if he thought it might
get away, watched the burgee fluttering out, and glanced
astern to see how badly the Teasel's wake betrayed the
unsteadiness of his anxious steering.
"Never mind about the wake," said Tom. "You're doing
jolly well."]
In COOT CLUB, chapter 23
The twins are training the D's as they take turns steering
through a series of tacks. It is pointed out that the more
abrupt turn of the tiller seems to detract from the forward
progress, with more gentle action of the tiller being better.

The concern here is not the unwanted waggle while steering
stright, but in managing the turn when shifting from one tack to
the next.

[First to one side of the river and then to the other, watching
the Teasel's wake to see how well or badly they had brought her
In MISSEE LEE, chapter 26
They are trying to flee in the junk, with Captain Flint steering.
Now you'd think this bunch would not dare to be critical of HIS
steering, but...

[...the junk swerved and then straightened again on her
course towards the lights.
"You've put a waggle in your wake," said Roger.]

Even Captain Flint gets the criticism of such a horrible mistake.
In PETER DUCK, chapter 16
They are trying to get as much distance between themselves and
the bad guys, with emphasis being on properly handling of the
ship, its sails and its steering. Any waggle would bring on the
criticism of the others.

[Everybody did the best they could for the little schooner, and
the worst that ever John or Nancy or Bill said of each other was
to point out that whoever of them was at the wheel had put a
waggle in her wake.]
in PETER DUCK, chapter 29
John and Susan are in the Swallow, sailing about Crab Island.
John is steering and is distracted momentarily by looking at two
dinghies by Bill's Landing, and thus commits this steersman
error, resulting is immediate criticism from Susan.

[...said Susan, "but do look after your steering."
"Sorry," said John, with a glance at Swallow's wake, which showed
by its waggles that he had been thinking of more things than
In PETER DUCK, Chapter 7
John is steering the Wild Cat, trying to get used to the feel of
this larger ship, trying to keep a steady course, specially with
Nancy watching as he would expect some critical observation from
her if he failed to avoid any waggles.

One would think that the important job of steering would be to
get their ship on the proper side of the buoy. Obviously, with
the gusty wind conditions, with the need to keep adjusting the
tiller to maintain a proper course, the path is not going to be
exactly straight. Yet the resultant waggle is the regrettable
result, subject to criticism from others. For John's sake,
perhaps it was fortunate that Nancy, for once, was not concerning
herself with any waggles, other than the ones that were churning
her stomach as she tried to adapt herself to the motion of the

[A moment later he was feeling the ship, meeting her as she
yawed, looking anxiously back at her rather waggly wake, and
trying to do with a real ship at sea what he had learnt to do
very well with the little Swallow on the lake in the North. But
it was not easy in this hard wind and uncertain sea. There she
was again, heading the wrong side of the buoy. Oh, bother it,
and now too far the other way! And there was Nancy watching.
This would never do.]
Dick is sailing his new Scarab for the first time, with a lot to
learn, especially while under the critical eye of Nancy. They
are in a race with the Amazon, so proper steering is even more
required. To Dick, nothing else mattered.

[Dick thought of nothing in the world
but of keeping a straight wake.]
In PM, chapter 16
The D's are now on their own, in their new Scarab, trying to get
used to how to properly sail her, but thankfully, away from any
critical eye of Nancy. Even here, it seemed that the important
thing to be learned is "A straight wake".

[They took turns at keeping a straight wake...]
same book and chapter...
Dot is now trying her hand, and has apparently committed this
terrible error of steering. At least, this error was not really
a "waggle", just a large curve.

[...said Dick. "I say. I'd better steer for a
bit, hadn't I?" He glanced back at their wake that showed by
a big curve that Dorothea had been thinking of something other
than sailing.]
in PM, chapter 20
The D's are sailing with their stolen goods to the houseboat,
trying to make a clean get-away. Dick was at the tiller. The
criticism here is not that of any character, but perhaps of the
author himself, as he reports how Dick is doing, but it is a kind
of criticism.

[She was heeling over a little but not too much, and her wake (if
not quite as straight as it should have been) was a long one.]
Titty is now piloting her prize ship, the captured Amazon,
knowing that the Amazons themselves will be watching how she is
managing their ship. Of all the things that she must do
properly, the most important thing to her is - a straight wake.

[She was sailing their ship, and she wanted them to see
that she could do it. She wanted to leave a wake as straight
as theirs. ]
in SA, chapter 8
John is watching the Amazons sail away. He did not really know
these strangers yet, but he did observe one aspect of their
sailing skills, that of a straight wake.

[The little boat, with her white sail well out, held on her
course, leaving a long line of wake astern of her, as straight as
if it had been laid off with a ruler.
"They know how to steer," said Captain John.]
In SD, chapter 35
The two boats are again sailing together, in a race. John is
comparing his own sailing skills with that of Nancy. The main
method of judging these skills seems to be the straightness of
their respective wakes.

["Nancy can jolly well sail," said John, glancing over his
shoulder at the wake of the Swallow, after watching the wake of
the Amazon, straight as if it had been laid down on the water
with a ruler.]
IN SD, chapter 36
The two boats are leaving Swallowdale, returning to Wild Cat by
way of Holly Howe, to return the visitors. Titty and Roger are
sailing temporarily with the Amazons, and are mangaging the boat
while the Amazons themselves are passengers. Of course, the
important thing here is to remember to keep a straight wake.
As a part of this importance, they are keeping score as to who
has the most waggles.

[..."But if you hadn't gone and
said that I wouldn't have made that waggle in our wake."
"Count it my waggle," said Titty. "That's two, with the one I
made myself. And you've made three, two in your last turn and
one in this."]

As a consequence of these two able-seamen's waggles, Nancy lays
down the law.

["You ought never to talk to the man at the wheel, and you've
both been doing it."]
IN SECRET WATER, chapter 14
Titty is for the moment at the tiller as they navigate through
uncertain channels, with hazards on both sides, yet in spite of
all that, she at least is careful about the most important thing,
that of keeping a straight wake.

[Titty, just nipping the end of her tongue between her teeth,
kept a straight wake as she steered.
"That clump of weeds is pretty close," she said.]
They are getting familiar with the handling of the Goblin, and of
all the things they are to learn, the one mistake that will not
go unnoted is, of course, a waggle in the wake.

["No waggles in the wake, Susan," said Roger. "Titty and
I'll tell you every time you make one."
"No talking to the man at the wheel," said Jim. "Don't
you listen to them, Susan."]

This sounds familiar, like a rule of Nancy's heard in SD, ch36
(see above...)
Ed Kiser, South Florida...

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