LIGHTS, LIGHTS, LIGHTS AND MO(O)RE LIGHTS

Two small explanations are required for the non-naval personnel to understand this anecdote:

First, what’s a Mids Board? Well, a Mid’s Board is a very detailed oral examination (viva) held at the end of one’s Midshipman tenure of about six months; a Midshipman is a rank between Cadet and a commissioned officer in the rank of Acting Sub-Lieutenant. Questions related to Bridgeman-ship, seamanship and all other aspects that one is trained on during one’s stint as Midshipman are normally asked.

Secondly, ships, submarines and other crafts at sea, at night and in low visibility exhibit various lights (normally Red for port or left, Green for Starboard or right, and white for main steaming lights on foremast and main mast and stern light. These lights are in accordance with International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, 1972. These lights can be exhibited in varying brilliance (for range or distance at which they can be seen) and varying combination to indicate restrictions in movement that the vessel displaying them has. For example, two Red lights in a vertical line would indicate a vessel not under command.

Normal Navigation Lights displayed by a Large Vessel at Sea (Pic courtesy: www.kayarchy.co.uk)
Normal Navigation Lights displayed by a Large Vessel at Sea (Pic courtesy: www.kayarchy.co.uk)

Normally, the Mids Board has three members; the senior most being the President. The drift of the questions is naturally the prerogative of the President.

Each President has some favourite subject or the other. In our case Captain Sethi’s (an ace navigator) favourite was to grill the Mids (snotties; a mishipman is often referred to as Snotty since he is perpetually snivelling especially when a hard question is asked) on the subject of Lights and Shapes displayed by ships and craft.

Those who appeared on the first day returned to tell us that a certain Moore’s illustrated book on Lights was his favourite and he’d open the book at random and ask the snotty to describe the scenario depicted by a combination of lights; eg, two vessels engaged in RAS or Replenishment At Sea at night.

During the entire night we mugged up these scenarios. We were then seeing more lights than we had ever seen in our lives. Now, if only those scenarios would stay in our minds.

The Gunroom (Midshipmen are not allowed in the Wardroom for officers but they generally pass their spare time in the Gunroom; the name came about since revolvers and pistols belonging to the ship are generally kept in a locked and glasses cupboard so that they can be sighted during the rounds) was agog with all kinds of complicated questions regarding the Lights. We even made several jokes about these. For example, the answer to the question: ‘if you sight a Red Light to your left and Green Light to the right coming towards you, what do you make out of it? is: ‘It is merely a sea plane flying upside down’.

With this new knowledge gained on the night before the viva, some of us did very well. Others were as confused as snotties make it a point to be.

One of the latter variety was my friend PLG Manu. He went in with confidence to face the board. As he answered a few simple scenarios, he noticed that instead of gaining confidence he was losing the con thing in increasingly larger measures. It is because the qs were becoming tougher and tougher.

Finally, the Moore’s page depicted a curious combination of Red, Green, White, Yellow lights and for good effect a Blue light too added.

Something similar to these lights (Pic courtesy: www.thenauticalsite.com)
Something similar to these lights (Pic courtesy: www.thenauticalsite.com)

Captain Sethi asked him to unravel the mystery. Manu started blinking and also started seeing some invisible lights. He shook his head from side to side. But, Captain Sethi was insistent he should venture a guess.

Finally, Manu saw the light that Moses had seen on the Mount. And he blurted the answer that should have been clear to him all along,  “Sir, it is evident that a ship has rammed into a Disco”.

Generally, the best Midshipman is given the Sword of Honour (a sword is carried by officers in the Navy with their ceremonial uniforms). It was later learnt that they (the Board) had decided to give PLG the sword…….but, alas, not as an honour and at an unspecified place.

© 2014, Sunbyanyname. All rights reserved.

You may also like

9 Comments

  1. Very nice about plg’s sword.also u might have heard former pm mrs ghani witnessed a passing out parade @ nda.admiral awatti was supervising for pm’s visit. He was raiding a horse around nda, a goorka regiment platoon was passing by & the platoon incharge gave a salute to admiral, the horse colopsed & sat on de ground wit de boots noise.admiral managed & said to de platoon in charge, boot ka awaj se goda baitgaya to dusman ka kya hal hooga ?

  2. Ravi sir, that was one interesting narration. I remember my Mids’ board in 1978, with Capt RS Punia (CO, INS Mysore then) presiding the board. A course-mate of mine was facing the board and he had prepared the ROR and the Moore’s Illustrated Book thoroughly the previous day and was very confident on that topic. Unfortunately for him, Capt Punia asked him only just two questions on ROR which he felt was quite depressive. On completion of the Board Exam, as he was told to leave, the Midshipman (so swept up in his attempt to impress the Board) remonstrated to Capt Punia, ” Sir, ask me some more questions on ROR, please ! I have prepared it thoroughly.” Anyway, he was cleared by the Board.

    1. Aha, dear Jojy Kunchattil, this means that the obsession with Moore’s continued many courses after ours. Your narration of the incident in your comment is super indeed.

  3. Viva in my snotty’s board was sketchy,but I recollect a lot of goof ups.
    The board president a genial sird, was quiet through out my b eing grilled.He finally queried me on reporting of navigational hazards not marked on chart…not being prepared on this aspect,replied about the normal protocol followed n he kept on…and…and,by now I was sweating profusedly,could take it no longer n said ,’YOU,Sir’.
    OK,son,we are finished with you,…my capt,who also was a member on the board,added,go have a bottle from my side.
    I promptly passed it down to the remainder in the gun room,with all of them making merry at my silly ones n poor me resigning to my fate n yes downing a few pints on the house….guys were considerate that way.
    There was a large number of re-scrubs n three straight relegates.
    I,not only was not among those but manage to come into the top five.
    What in actuality was that the president was a surveyor n was on a posting to Dehradun

    1. Thank you Ravi. How vividly we recall all this many decades later! Is it because we had better recollection in those days or is it simply because we can’t ever forget our formative years? Thanks for a good description of your own experience.

  4. Ultimate
    I sir i am appearing for my mids board this December
    i hope this doesnt happens with me 😀