There’s no doubt that flags and boats seem to go together. Cruising abroad it’s always interesting to discover the nationality of one’s neighbours without having to ask. But I’ve noticed an increasing problem over the last couple of years with regard to flags.
I’ve also been more than a little suspicious of the British blue ensign brigade. Their wasted attempts to prove they are somehow superior to the rest of us through the membership of a “royal” yacht club and its attendant privilege of flying a defaced blue ensign has always seemed rather pathetic to an unabashed republican like me and, whilst the red ensign has been thoroughly debased by the tax dodges of British Overseas Territories which means one often sees Russian billionaire gin palaces flying red ensigns from the BVI or Cayman Islands, the red ensign is our maritime flag and the blue flag is only recognised in UK waters. That doesn’t seem to stop British yachts flying them, much to the confusion of yachtsmen and women of other countries and port officials across the world. In fact I saw one British yacht this week flying both a blue and a red ensign from its transom: somehow legal and better than the rest of us at the same time. In fact it just looked rather stupid.
But this piece is not about the silliness of a certain type of British man (and its nearly always a man) wearing pink trousers, sipping pink gin, but refusing to fly our red duster. That’s for another day and after all it’s just idiosyncratic and mostly harmless and class-based and symptomatic of everything that’s wrong with modern Britain...
My recent concern about flags is a mostly British one but it’s not solely a British issue. In the Ionian, British flagged boats outnumber other foreign boats by a considerable number and at least one half of charter boats are crewed by Brits so my sample is somewhat biased. The concern is this: over these last couple of years the size and number of flags has grown like a virus. It’s now common to see 2 metre flags flying from the stern of 40 foot boats and charter boats are now routinely dressed with multiple flags flying from the port spreader displaying multiple nationalities (Welsh seems disproportionately popular?) football club allegiances and other assorted nonsense. I’m only surprised not to have seen flags with Instagram addresses and Facebook groups on them, it’s surely only a matter of time...
So what is it that is driving this passion to advertise one’s tribe so prominently? I’m at a loss to explain it. For British boats and charterers it could be a new nationalism created out of the train crash that is Brexit? We are Welsh and we don’t care? But we do really want to tell you that we are Welsh so that you can’t be in any doubt about it. Perhaps the wider weirdness of social media self-promotion is the root cause, not only do we want to send everyone we have any vague connection to pictures of our souvlaki and Greek salad, we also want to advertise and publicly promote our tribe in the somewhat artificial world of cruising. It’s a mystery. At least to me.