May 28, 2009

Seeking judges who sail

MR. OBAMA'S SELECTION of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor has touched a raw nerve in the editorial department of The Walnut Street Gazeout (should be Gazette). It evoked a scathing editorial in the latest issue of the prison's underground newspaper, whose editor happens to be doing time for grand yacht theft. Here is his weighty piece, word for word:

IT'S HIGH TIME judges were chosen for their fairness and ability. Not because they're Hispanic. Not because they're women. These are values chosen solely because they advance the political aspirations of the current president and his party. What we desperately need right now is judges who sail. It's time we had a sailor on the High Court.

There has never been a greater need to select judges based on their knowledge and experience without regard to their jender (sic) or race. We need people like sailboat owners, people of charm and distinction and good taste, people who would see immediately that stealing a sailboat is not a crime and never could be. It's like picking a wild flower or eating a blackberry. The principle is exactly the same. Would anybody send a person to prison for that? These things were put on earth for all to share.

Just as land cannot belong to one person, as my Native American friends so rightly believe, so sailboats are placed on earth for the benefit of us all. And if a sailboat belongs to everybody, how can one solitary person (namely, me) be accused of grand theft of it? I ask you! That's what I told the judge but he wasn't having it. Stupid judge. I bet he never sailed a boat in his life. Anyone who has sailed would have been on my side and recognized the validity of my argument.

The lack of sailing judges at all levels of the justice system amounts to nothing less than discrimination. It's shameful. It's tragic. It's making innocent people like me suffer. When I get out of here I'm going to start a nation-wide campaign to make sailing lessons obligatory for all judges. Or maybe I'll just steal another yacht and take off for Tahiti. I haven't decided yet.

Today's Thought
If the district attorney wanted, a grand jury would indict a ham sandwich.
—Barry Slotnick

“I don’t trust this caddie. I think he’d steal my ball as soon as look at it.”
“Yeah, right, I agree. I wouldn’t putt it past him.”

May 26, 2009

Fighting weather helm

WEATHER HELM is not much discussed in polite sailing circles. In the same way that you don’t entertain party guests with tales of an ancestor hanged for treason, or a maiden aunt gone mad from syphilis, you don’t go around telling everybody your boat has weather helm, especially if you’re trying to sell it. Nevertheless, most boats have it, and it’s a vexing thing to have.

Weather helm is the name we give to the tendency of a boat to round up into the wind. The term is actually incorrect, since weather helm is what the helmsman applies in an effort to counteract the tendency to round up, which is known as griping.

If your boat has a tiller, your arm can become mighty tired fighting weather helm. It’s an unrelenting tug that soon becomes much less than fun. Even if you have a wheel, and don’t have to counteract griping with sheer muscle power, excessive weather helm is a bad thing because putting the rudder over in an attempt to keep the boat going straight slows the boat down considerably and puts a heavy strain on the steering gear. In other words, like a leaky loo, weather helm is not a good thing to have.

So what causes it, and, more importantly, how do we cure it? Well, you might have to face the fact that it’s not always possible to cure it entirely, depending on the shape of your hull, the shape, size and position of your keel, and the position of your masts and sails.

What the designer seeks in the first place is a close balance between the center of effort (CE) of the sails and the center of lateral resistance (CLR) of the keel and the underwater hull and appendages.

Normally, the CE is a little forward of the CLR, because (just to make things more difficult) the CLR moves forward as the boat starts to move through the water. So it’s partly a guessing game with a new design. You may have seen boats like the Catalina 30 with little bowsprits added at a later stage. That’s an effort to move the CE forward, to counteract weather helm. But you have to be careful. Move it a little too far forward and you get lee helm, which is even worse than weather helm.

Some designs will always carry more weather helm than others. Hull types like the old IOR designs with a lot of beam carried a good way aft, and hard bilges, will quickly gripe in a puff. Boats with high-aspect-ratio rigs carry weather helm more quickly because the CE of the tall narrow sails is higher, so CE moves farther outboard over the water as the boat heels, thus pushing the boat from the side, and much farther out from the side, gaining leverage with every degree of heel.

Boats with blown-out, baggy sails suffer from weather helm because the CE moves aft. You can cure a bit of that, especially in rising winds, by tightening the halyards and flattening the sail any way you can, which will move the CE forward. The deepest bulge in a sail, the camber, always moves toward the edge under most strain. You can try that yourself with a handkerchief if you need convincing.

What other cures are there? Well, you could move the whole mast and rig forward. (Well, most of us couldn’t, actually, for obvious reasons.) You could rake the mast forward very slightly, or at least set it completely upright if it’s leaning aft. If you have a racing mast, a bendy mast, hauling on the backstay will induce an aft bend in the mast that will flatten the sail and reduce weather helm. In heavy winds you should set the mainsail traveler down to leeward as far as possible so that the sail spills wind and lies flatter. That helps quite a lot.

One thing often overlooked is that a large headsail can contribute to weather helm, too. Quite a lot of the area of your 150 percent genoa lies aft of the CLR, which is somewhere in the middle (in fore-and-aft terms) of your keel. You might as well be adding that extra genoa area to your mainsail. Change down to a smaller genoa or working jib, or roll it up to a similar size, and your CE will move forward.

And let’s not forget the best cure of all: reef the mainsail. Get rid of the sail area at the aft end of the boat that is constantly pushing the stern away from the wind and making the boat want to point up.

A little weather helm is a good thing. You don’t want it to disappear completely. You just need to be able to control it. Tank testing has shown that about 2 or 3 degrees of rudder from dead center helps lift a sailboat to windward. More than 4 degrees just acts as a brake to your progress.

In gusty weather, most of us will try to ride out the puffs by easing the mainsheet and putting the rudder over to leeward, but because excessive heeling is a major cause of weather helm it’s always wiser to reef down and keep the boat more upright if the wind is likely to continue at a greater strength.

Do what you can to lessen weather helm. It’s a good feeling to be in decent control of your boat in heavy wind. And I’ll tell you what — I won’t mention your weather helm to anyone if you don’t mention my maiden aunt.

Today’s Thought
It would have been as though he were in a boat of stone with masts of steel, sails of lead, ropes of iron, the devil at the helm, the wrath of God for a breeze, and hell for his destination.
—Emory A. Storrs

“The doctor said I’d be on my feet in two weeks.”
“Was he right?”
“Yeah, I had to sell my car yesterday.”

May 24, 2009

Separated by a war

I DREAMED LAST NIGHT of a two-and-sixpenny tin of Tate & Lyle’s golden syrup. It was among the meager stores in the little air-raid shelter my dad built in our back yard in Plymouth, a corrugated-iron Anderson shelter that smelled of damp earth and cat’s pee. I don’t know why I remember the golden syrup (or its price) except that it tasted good on a slice of bread and butter.

My mother and I were the only ones in the shelter one night when a German bomb exploded in the road outside our house and blew the roof off. My dad was absent, as usual. He was in the Royal Navy, guarding a convoy of ships on that dreadful run through the Arctic Ocean to Murmansk, the back door to Russia, and fighting German U-boats.

I saw very little of my dad during the five years of that war. He would come home on leave for a couple of days sometimes and then disappear again back to sea. He was a stranger to me, and he hardly ever spoke of his war experiences, even years afterward.

We were bombed out again in Birkenhead, where we had gone to visit friends, and my dad was with us this time. I was about four years old, and my mother had put me to bed upstairs while the adults sat around the fire and chatted downstairs. For some reason, my mother felt uneasy and after a while she fetched me downstairs with the adults again, and sat me in her lap.

When the bomb fell on the army barracks across the road, a great Whoosh! came down the chimney, blowing smoke and soot everywhere. A small piece of the glass from which my mother had been drinking embedded itself in my cheek and I started bleeding profusely.

I remember that the floorboards were sticking up at odd angles. The strange silence that followed the explosion was eventually broken by my dad. “Everybody OK?” he asked.

It seemed that we were, so he led us out of the darkened house, picking his way carefully through rooms lit by flickering orange flames from the burning barracks. Outside, in the cold street, the contorted bodies of several dead soldiers were silhouetted high over my head in the telephone wires.

My mother suddenly remembered that her purse with her money and our ration books was upstairs in the bedroom and she darted back into the house. My dad tried to stop her, but he was too late. She returned quickly with her precious purse and the news that a large, heavy wardrobe had fallen over the bed I was sleeping in before she came to collect me.

My dad carried me down the street to the communal air-raid shelter, where a nurse made a great fuss about the little wound in my cheek and we all hunkered down for the night while the bombs went on exploding all around us.

I was never close to my dad in my adult life. It was too late. The connection just wasn’t there. He has been dead for many years now, but I think of him on days like Memorial Day and Remembrance Day and Armistice Day, and often wonder how things might have been if a war hadn’t come between us.

Today’s Thought
Humanity should question itself, once more, about the absurd and always unfair phenomenon of war, on whose stage of death and pain only remains standing the negotiating table that could have and should have prevented it.
—Pope John Paul II

May 22, 2009

A battle of conscience

IT’S A PARADOX that the best time of the year for sailing is also the best time of the year for varnishing. You can either varnish or you can sail, but if you have any willpower at all--if you want to show that you’re a real man, (even if you’re a woman)--you will deny yourself the hedonistic pleasure of sailing, and pick up the varnish brush. You know it must be done. You know exactly what will happen if you neglect your varnish.

Now, a little varnished teak on deck sets a boat off. It gives her the warm glow of a cherished object and it tempers the pale, sterile plasticity of fiberglass. But too much teak on deck is madness. It’s murder on the varnisher and the bank balance. Too much brightwork, to put it bluntly is a sign of poor judgment on behalf of the designer and the owner.

Nevertheless, if you maintain the seal, varnish can last indefinitely, says author Don Casey in his book Sailboat Refinishing (International Marine).

“Besides avoiding moisture penetration at nicks and scratches, you must protect against surface erosion by periodically applying a fresh top coat. Exposed exterior varnish should be recoated at least annually in northern climes, every six months in the tropics. Scrub the varnish to remove all traces of grease and dirt, then sand the surface with 180-grit paper (or scuff it with bronze wool) and lay on a new finish coat.”

There. It’s so easy. Now you know what you really should be doing. If you have any conscience at all, you will hate yourself next time you’re out sailing instead of varnishing.

Today’s Thought
The New England conscience ... does not stop you from doing what you shouldn’t—it just stops you from enjoying it.
—Cleveland Amory, New York, 5 May 80

“Ah, monsieur, so you ’ave climb ze Matterhorn, eh? Zat is a foot to be proud of.”
“You mean feat, don’t you?”
“Ah, m’sieur climb it twice already?”

May 20, 2009

One mile per pebble

SOME WHILE AGO I read in a magazine that the newest speed/distance log is totally electronic. Apparently, it measures speed by counting passing water molecules or something. It doesn’t sound like something I would trust. I prefer good solid mechanical logs. I can see how they work, and might even be able to fix one if it went wrong.

Old Vitruvius had the right idea way back in the year 20 BC. He describes it in his magnum opus, De Architectura.

His distance log consists of an axle carried through the side of the ship with a four-foot-diameter paddle wheel striking the water. The inboard end is attached to three drums, hundreds of cogs, and a store of smooth round pebbles.

“Thus,” said Vitruvius, “when a ship is moving, whether under oars or sail, the paddles on the wheel will strike the resisting water, and being driven forcibly backward will revolve the wheel, and the wheel as it revolves will turn the axle and the axle will turn the drum.

“The tooth of the first drum in every revolution strikes and moves one of the teeth in the second drum. And so, when, by the action of the paddles, the wheel has revolved four hundred times, it will, by the pressure of the cog at the side of the vertical drum, move the horizontal drum on one point.

“As often, therefore, as the horizontal drum in its course brings a pebble to an opening, it will let it drop through the pipe. Thus, by sound and by number (of the pebbles that have dropped) the length of the voyage in miles will be shown.”

As I write this, astronauts are walking in space, fixing the ailing Hubble telescope. It’s fascinating to think that 2,029 years ago, Vitruvius’s clunky distance log was one of the most advanced scientific instruments the world had ever known.

Today’s Thought
We have become a people unable to comprehend the technology we invent.
—Association of American Colleges, NY Times 11 Feb 85

“Was it very crowded at Fred’s stag party?”
“Not under my table.”

May 17, 2009

Top up your black box

DID YOU KNOW there’s a black box on your boat? It’s invisible, but it’s one of the most important pieces of safety equipment aboard. It stores the points you earn for being a good sailor. And when you’re in trouble—when being a good sailor just isn’t enough—those points can save your boat and your life.

Once you know about the black box, you understand why some yachts sink in gales and some survive. Landlubbers talk about good luck; sailors know there’s no such thing. You have to earn your luck.

Every time you inspect the rigging, you earn a point that goes into the black box. Every time you check the running lights, you earn a point. Every time you take the bearing of an approaching steamer, every time you change the fuel filters … you get the idea.

When the weather turn unexpectedly bad, or during other moments of stress and danger when human skill and effort can accomplish no more, the points are cashed in as protection. They withdraw themselves, as needed, to ensure your survival.

Boats with no points in the black box frequently don’t survive. Landlubbers call these boats unlucky. But we know better.

(For more on this subject, click on Black Blox Theory over there on the right.)

Todays’ Thought
We must believe in luck. For how else can we explain the success of those we don’t like?
—Jean Cocteau

“How was that gorgeous young secretary you took out last night?”
“Oh, not so good.”
“Jeez, you always were lucky.”

May 14, 2009

Sailing’s biggest problem

I SOMETIMES WONDER how much more popular sailing would be if it weren’t for seasickness. It’s a great pity that such a satisfying and enjoyable sport should make people physically ill. It’s not surprising that many people, after experiencing their first bout of seasickness, firmly put aside any thoughts they may have had about taking up yachting, and devote themselves instead to golf, table tennis, and crocheting little socks for newborn babies.

On the other hand, there are many people like me who go sailing despite a tendency to suffer seasickness. We have convinced ourselves (perhaps without much evidence) that the pleasures of sailing overcome the miseries of hanging over the side and puking.

Although it’s a disease of the mind, rather than the stomach, there should be no shame in suffering seasickness. Almost everyone will become sick if conditions are rough enough. Even in normal weather, 60 percent of people cast adrift in small inflatable liferafts succumb to seasickness. So the rather regrettable fact is that it’s more normal to be seasick than not.

The cause of all this misery is understood to be a conflict between what your eye sees and your inner ear “feels.” The inner ear is the balance organ, of course. When you’re down below, and no horizon is visible, your inner ear senses that your body is dropping through space as the boat falls off a wave. But your eyes say no, hang on, we’re not moving relative to anything we can see in the cabin.

So your confused brain sets up a little boxing ring with Eyes in one corner and Inner Ear in the other and lets them fight it out. Skin, meanwhile, loses pallor and becomes damp and cool. Legs, intuitively fearing the outcome of this fight, become a little wobbly. And finally, Stomach, noting no real progress in the ring, takes things into its own hands, as it were, and says it’s obvious that something’s radically wrong, and if you guys can’t figure it out then maybe I’ve been fed some poison. I don’t want to be the fall guy. I don’t want to be blamed after all this is over, so I’m going to throw up everything I’ve eaten in the last 12 hours. And I’m going to do it now, right now.

As a matter of fact, scientists don’t yet have a logical explanation for the nausea and vomiting. I have considered explaining it to them, but you know how they sneer when an outsider tries to tell them anything. I see no good reason why I should suffer such rejection. Maybe they’ll work it out for themselves in a century or two.

Today’s Thought
Money does not buy happiness but it does allow one to be seasick in finer surroundings.
—Dave Martin

“Why are you looking so gloomy?”
“My wife just had a daughter.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“I was hoping for a son to help with the washing up.”

May 13, 2009

Waiting for the first scratch

KAREN LARSON AND JERRY POWLAS are two very happy sailors. They’re grinning so hard they could start a brush fire with the sparks from their teeth. The Cheshire cat has nothing on them. And all because they’ve had their boat’s deck painted.

Karen and Jerry are the founders, owners, and editors of Good Old Boat magazine. Their boat, Mystic is a 33-year-old C&C 30 that was showing its age last fall when they came back from their annual cruise on Lake Superior and handed it over to a boatyard.

But now it is transformed. Its gleaming finish looks like new. Better than new, in fact. And the lovely thing about a new deck, says Karen, is that you can see it and appreciate it all the time you’re sailing. A new paint-job on the hull is nice, too, of course, but you have to leave the boat to admire it. You can’t just sit there and drool over it and pat it now and then, like you can with a new deck.

I hope their enjoyment lasts a long time. Longer than mine did last time I painted a deck. Because of incompatibility between two lots of epoxy undercoat, my whole polyurethane deck peeled off in one piece two weeks after I finished it, and I had to do the whole damn thing again.

Even after I eventually got it right I didn’t experience the inner joy that’s making Karen and Jerry burst with happiness. I was always afraid some fool would drop a winch handle and chip it. Or some landlubber would sit on it with a marker pen in his back pocket. Or some damned seagull would drop his freshly picked mussel on it from a dizzy height to break it open. The suspense was killing me.

In the end, I invented a ceremony that brought me peace of mind. I called it the First Scratch Ceremony and made it a chapter in my book How to Rename Your Boat — And 19 Other Useful Ceremonies . . .

The essence of the ceremony is that you deliberately put the first scratch on your new paint job in an inconspicuous place. And then, when your gleaming paintwork finally does get ravaged by some thoughtless idiot, you won’t be consumed by a paroxysm of rage. You will be able to control the very natural urge to commit homicide because it won’t be the first scratch.

The ceremony ends with a lovely (even if I say so myself) little prayer to Aphrodite, the guardian of love and beauty, imploring her to bless the first scratch that will spare us the agony of the endless wait, the awful anticipation that keeps honest mortals awake at night, staring into the darkness, wondering when that wonderful new paint finish will first be violated.

If I were the owner of a C&C 30 with a magnificent new deck I would definitely organize a First Scratch Ceremony and party. And I wouldn’t stint on the champagne, either.

Today’s Thought
The absence of flaw in beauty is itself a flaw.
—Havelock Ellis

“Why are you puffing so much?”
“Man, I just saved myself a buck. I missed the bus and ran after it the whole way.”
“Jeez, you dummy, why didn’t you run after a taxi and save $10?”

May 10, 2009

Barnacles on my mind

WHEN YOUR AUXILIARY ENGINE seems to be working reasonably well, but the boat just isn’t going as fast as usual, start thinking about barnacles. Just a few barnacles can drastically reduce the efficiency of the average sailboat propeller.

It’s one of the facts of life that a big, slow-turning prop is (with a few exceptions) more efficient that a small, fast-turning egg-beater. But a big prop on a sailboat obviously causes more drag than a small one, so the size of the prop is a compromise, as usual.

In my experience, most props on cruising boats are fixed two- or three-bladers and, because they are comparatively small, they need to be very efficient to produce all the thrust the engine is capable of. That means their compound curves should be as smooth as possible to develop the necessary hydrodynamic “lift.”

Unfortunately, barnacles seem to have made it their mission in life to attach themselves with very strong glue to any nice, clean, smooth, hydrodynamically perfect propeller that comes their way, thereby destroying its efficiency. Given a chance, barnacles will colonize a propeller with such zeal that it resembles nothing more than a jagged lump of coral.

And such is their dedication to their mission in life that they will remain attached no matter how fast the propeller spins. It must take tremendous willpower not to get dizzy and fall off when you are whirred around at 1,500 revolutions a minute – that’s 25 times in every second – but somehow barnacles manage it. Perhaps they turn their little heads in the way prima ballerinas do when they spin on tippy-toe, but as far as I know nobody has ever verified this scientifically.

In the years I have been writing about sailing, I have come across many suggestions for preventing barnacles from attaching themselves to propellers. One friend of mine swore by axle grease that he stole from the marine railway when his boat was hauled out for antifouling. He would smear thick gobs of it on his prop just before launch time.

Other people advise you to use carnauba wax, or zinc paint. I myself have tried two coats of copper antifouling paint. I’m told the backroom boys are working on a way to apply a Teflon coating to a bronze propeller, so barnacles simply won’t be able to stick to it. But so far none of these remedies has worked satisfactorily in all waters. The very action of a propeller working in water quickly abrades whatever coating you apply.

There is one trick that really does work, and that is to tie a black plastic bag around the prop each time you reach your home mooring or slip. Some fanatical racers do that, but I’m sure you can see the problems, not the least of which is to remember to remove the bag before you set off again.

There is a theory that barnacles will not touch a prop that isn’t protected by a sacrificial zinc. Apparently the tiny electric currents generated in the bronze of an unprotected propeller are sufficient to deter them, and convince them to move to the boat next door whose propeller is nice and docile, thanks to its sacrificial zinc.

No doubt you can spot the problem, here, though. The electric currents that keep the barnacles away are also slowly eating the propeller away. Maybe if you can afford a new propeller every couple of years you can live a lovely life free of worry about barnacles. If not, you, like the rest of us, will just have to put up with an increasing number of barnacle squatters and a corresponding
decrease in motoring speed as time goes by.

You can, of course, dive and scrape off the barnacles from time to time if you sail in warm waters. But if you live in the frigid zone of Puget Sound like me, then grinding your teeth and swearing in a sailorly fashion seems to be all there is to do about it until the next haulout. I do find, though, that the occasional glass of port helps.

Today’s Thought
Though you drive away nature with a pitchfork, she always returns.
—Horace, Epistles, 1, x

“Why has your dog got such a flat nose?”
“He keeps chasing parked cars.”

May 7, 2009

Giving him the tweetment

OLD WOTSISNAME STOPPED ME as I was walking past his boat the other day. “Do you twitter?” he asked.

“Nah,” I said. “It’s the birds in the bushes over there.”

“No,” he said, “Twitter with a capital T. That internet stuff. What’s it all about?”

“Well it’s a social networking arrangement,” I explained. “You make lots of friends about whom you know nothing and you write things to them.”

I should have stopped there, because that’s just about all I know about Twitter, but I can’t help myself when I’m talking to OW. He’s so gullible. It’s such wicked fun to gullify him.

“What things?” he asked.

“Things that don’t matter. What you’re wearing. What you had for breakfast. How many times you went to the toilet yesterday.”

“People want to know that?”

“Of course. Twitter enables the twitterer to inform lots of twitterees about all kinds of stuff we were too embarrassed to discuss before Twitter came along because we thought it was too trivial. Turns out it wasn’t too trivial, though. Millions of people wanted to know all along.”

“Can anybody do it?”

“Sure, though it’s not easy. You have to write tight. There’s a limit of 140 characters per tweet.”

“How many words is that?”

“About 30, I guess. For example, you could say: I wish I was a fairy prince/And if it came to pass/I’d climb up all the rocks and trees/And slide down on my . . ./Hands and knees. That’s 29 words.”

OW stared at the top of his mast and considered this in silence for a moment. “People want to know that?” he asked.

“Doesn’t matter whether they want to or not,” I said. “It’s out there for them to appreciate it if they want and to ignore it if they don’t. The main thing is that it’s out there. It’s communication. It’s stuff you’d never have known if it weren’t for Twitter, stuff that is being woven into the great historical tradition of the human race, stuff that . . .”

“It’s garbage,” said OW.

“Not everybody thinks so. People even write songs about it. Rick Springfield, for example: Tweet me gentle in the morning. The Backstreet Boys: Tweet me right. Bing Crosby: Let me call you tweetheart.”

OK, I admit I went too far, as usual. OW got that look of belated enlightenment. “I should never have asked you,” he said. “I can never get a straight answer out of you.”

He’s obviously getting to know me better. I can’t imagine how that could have happened without the help of Twitter.

Today’s Thought
The American’s conversation is much like his courtship ... He gives an inkling and watches for a reaction: if the weather looks fair, he inkles a little more.
—Donald Lloyd, The Quietmouth American, Harper’s Sep 63

“How come there’s a speckled egg in that pigeon’s nest?”
“She did it for a lark.”

May 5, 2009

Nature gone mad

WE HAD A NICE SUNNY DAY for a change last week. The boat was in the slip at our home marina and I was sitting in the cockpit, soaking up sunshine, thinking about doing some work but not actually doing any, when a loud metallic rapping sound caught my attention.

It was coming from a sailboat two or three slips south of mine, but I couldn’t see anybody aboard. The rapping stopped and then started again. Rat-a-tat-a-tat! Five seconds on, 10 seconds off. Definitely something striking metal.

Then I spotted it. A bird, perched on the spreaders, was attacking the aluminum mast with a long thin beak. It was a Northern Flicker, quite a large, handsome bird, but obviously quite dumb as far as woodpeckers go.

Flickers are supposed to eat ants and beetles and soft squirmy things they find in old rotting tree trunks. Flickers are not supposed to drill holes in aluminum masts. Mind you, they’re not supposed to drill holes in the thick wooden posts that hold our marina walkways in place, either.

But this one did. I recognized him immediately as one of the occupants of a large hole excavated near the top of a mooring post a few yards aft of my boat.

I presume he was the male because the mouth of that hole was filled with the face of another Flicker, an anxious looking face, a face that might well have been wondering where supper was for her and the little ones.

You, too, might have been anxious if your beloved breadwinner was beating his brains out against a metal mast instead of bringing home the bacon. I don’t know if all Northern Flickers are this mentally challenged, but this one probably had a good excuse. The wooden pole that he hollowed out for his family was lavishly smeared with a preservative called creosote. It’s a liquid chemical I used to splash around with abandon at one time, but which now suddenly has become a noxious substance and a carcinogen, to boot.

Now you might imagine that a woodpecker with a normally adjusted woodpecker brain and Nature’s usual system for tasting things would stop excavating a creosote-soaked pole after the first bite and fly off to the woods somewhere, where nice woodpecker-friendly trees are crawling with delicious bugs. But no, not this one. I fear it’s too late. I think the creosote has got to him.

Now I’m trying to think of ways to keep him off my spreaders, should the mood take him. I don’t want a dotted line around the middle of my mast. But I’m thankful I’m not the owner of the pretty Baba 30 down at the end of the walkway. She has a pretty, varnished, wooden mast. I hate to think what’s going to happen when our crazed Flicker finds that out.

Today’s Thought
To those who study her, Nature reveals herself as extraordinarily fertile and ingenious in devising means, but she has no ends which the human mind has been able to discover or comprehend.
—Joseph Wood Krutch, The Modern Temper

“Mom, why are you shouting at that motorist?”
“Well, look how close the idiot is driving in front of me!”

May 3, 2009

Haulout time again

THE TIME IS ALMOST RIPE for the boat to come out of the water and have its bottom painted. Every two years we go through this ritual, the boat and I. Every two years we humiliate ourselves in our pathetic attempts to back into the tiny slip at the boatyard, and every two years we argue with the man who works the big crane about where the slings should go.

I show him the architect’s drawing of the underwater profile and tell him the aft sling must pass under the full keel just ahead of the rudder, but not touching the rudder. He always says: “That’s tricky. Why don’t we put the sling underneath the counter? That’s the logical way.”

“Because that’s not the proper way,” I tell him. “It must go right under the keel. And you have to tie a line between the two slings, otherwise the forrard sling will slide up and the boat will fall out. And by the way, the forward sling must miss the knotmeter impeller, which is here.”

I stab a finger on the architect’s drawing and he looks at me as if I know nothing about boats, as if this is my first haulout. And I stare back at him eyeball to eyeball. People who work in boatyards are rarely properly informed about the customer always being right.

Eventually, after a little huffy fit and a full set of shoulder shrugs, he does it the way I want it, the right way, and I step aboard to remove the backstay and the topping lift so the big steel spreader bars on the crane can lie close to the mast.

This is the part of boat ownership I hate most, the hauling out and the putting back in. If it weren’t for the need to antifoul the bottom, I’d never go near a boatyard. In days gone past we used to lean our sailboats against jetties and wait for the tide to go out. As the water level dropped and the boat dried out on the sandbank, we’d scrub off the seaweed and barnacles, and by the time she was high and dry she was ready for painting, which meant a fine old race against the incoming tide.

We can’t do this any more. The gummint says we would pollute the ocean. Well, if a few stray spots of copper paint on a sandbank constitutes pollution, I hate to think what you’d call the stuff that factories spew into rivers and estuaries every day. I hate to think what finds its way into the water from boatyards where amateurs work unsupervised on their boats on weekends.

In any case, the sea bottom not far from my boatyard is already contaminated with mercury. It’s a declared clean-up site. But they’re not planning to clean it up. That would be too expensive. They’re planning to cover it with clean new sand. They’re going to hide it and pretend it doesn’t exist.

Anyway, all bitterness aside, the point is that the world would be a much nicer place for all of us if we didn’t have to paint our bottoms every couple of years. It has occurred to me more than once that fishes and some mammals, such as dolphins, never find themselves covered in weed and barnacles, as boat hulls do, even though they spend their whole lives in water.

Why can’t we make a bottom paint that acts like a fish’s scales or a dolphin’s skin? There must surely be a fortune waiting for someone who can invent a paint or some kind of skin like that, not only for yachts, of course, but also for large ships.

Give it some thought, will you? Find out why dolphins don’t get barnacles, and get back to me. I have a brother-in-law who’s an industrial chemist. He could probably formulate the paint accordingly. Maybe we could do some lucrative business together and save me a lot of pain every two years.

Today’s Thought
An idea can turn to dust or magic, depending on the talent that rubs against it.
—William Bernback, New York Times 6 Oct 82

In spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love
And in summer,
And in autumn,
And in winter —
See above.