February 27, 2009

Dacron Dolly in poly breakthrough

Christchurch (AP) — Sailors and sailmakers the world over were last night celebrating the achievement of New Zealand scientists in breeding a sheep that grows polyester “wool.”

Using cloned material from the famous Scottish sheep Dolly, genetic specialists at the University of Christchurch last year altered the DNA of a lamb embryo.

“We now have a sheep in polyester clothing,” said Dr. Brian Winchester, head of the university’s Experimental Genetics Department. He said the sheep had been named Dacron Dolly. “It’s a breakthrough we thought was possible, but we never expected success so quickly,” he added.

Dacron Dolly will be cloned and future flocks will be sheared to provide polyester material for Dacron ropes and sails. “We expect it to be about half the present cost of Dacron, maybe less,” said Dr. Winchester, himself an avid sailor in a country of sailors.

Dorothy Brown, head of publicity at the University of Christchurch, said Dacron Dolly’s coat would provide a filament that was lighter, softer and easier to sew than present-day polyester. “It’s also more resistant to stretch, so it will be ideal for yacht sails,” she said. “Textile engineers from all over have already been contacting us for samples, but full-scale production won’t begin for about a year.”

Ms. Brown pointed that Dacron would no longer have to be made from imported crude oil. “This is an infinitely renewable resource,” she said, “It’s about as green as you can get.”

One snag is that Dacron Dolly and her cloned family will be more difficult to shear. “Polyester blunts the clippers much quicker than wool — but we hope to solve that problem with titanium cutting edges in a few weeks.”

A representative of North Sails, one of the largest sailmakers in North America, arrived in Christchurch yesterday to collect a sample of Dolly poly.

“We are very excited at this development,” said Fred Borthwick, based in Newport, Rhode Island. “Sails are expensive, and cutting the price of the sailcloth in half will mean an explosion of business for sailmakers and better, less expensive sails for boaters.”

Today’s Thought
The best scientist is open to experience and begins with romance — the idea that anything is possible.
—Ray Bradbury.

Notices we noticed:
On a plumber’s truck:
“Don’t sleep with a drip. Call your plumber.”

February 24, 2009

Dreamtime horror

I DREAMED LAST NIGHT that my wife was extremely concerned about the state of the economy. In particular, the family economy. She suggested that I should sell my dear little Cape Dory sailboat.

I have to admit it has never occurred to me. That is not part of my strategy for surviving the depression. It gave me shivers down my spine just to think about it.

“It’s a luxury,” she said. “We could turn it into kids’ college money.”

I pointed out that luxury is different for different people. “A cardboard box is luxury for a homeless person. Maybe two homeless persons. But I’ve never heard you suggest they should give up their cardboard box.”

“You’re being silly,” she said. “Exaggerating again.”

“Our sailboat is not a luxury,” I insisted. “In the first place, nobody’s going to college on what we’d get for a 26-year-old Cape Dory 27. And then you have to consider the benefits of yacht ownership.”

“Such as?”

“It’s a shovel-ready escape vehicle. If the economy really goes down the tubes, there will be riots and insurrection. Cities will be in flames, people will be at each other’s throats. Our boat can carry us to safety. Anywhere in the world. Anywhere they speak English, anyway. It’s a way to get money out of the country. You can sell it at the other end.”

“If it gets that serious we can always steal a boat. We don’t have to own one.”

“It’s not the same,” I countered. “They might not have food on board. Worse, they might not have beer on board.”

“Is that all you think about? Beer? In any case, we can’t afford the slip fees.”

“We can claim it as a second home on our income tax,” I pointed out. “You can’t do that if it’s someone else’s boat.”

“We’re going to end up in the poor house. The kids will be in rags, thin and starving, all because you won’t sell the boat.”

I appealed to her sense of logic. “It’s the means for our salvation,” I said. “It’s a place to store emergency food. It’s place to go to after an earthquake. It’s a place to fly the national ensign where you can’t be criticized by the neighbors for letting it touch the ground. It’s a calming place – saves therapy fees.”

“What therapy fees? Nobody around here is in therapy.”

“If I don’t have a boat I’m going to have a nervous breakdown,” I warned her. “It’s going to be ugly and very expensive.”

“Sort of like living with you,” she retorted . . .

I would have woken up screaming, but in that twilight zone before full consciousness a little voice reminded me that we don’t have any kids at home anymore and we don’t need to put anybody through college and it’s okay, it’s okay, nobody’s suggesting you sell the boat, so relax, willya, take it easy feller.

It’s all very well for little twilight voices to be reassuring like that, but it’s Big Brother Conscience who obviously rules my dreams. He’s the realist. He’s the one who spreads the incendiary rumor that only the indolent rich have yachts. I don’t know how I’m going to handle him, but I fear it’s going to be a nasty battle until the economy improves.

Today’s Thought
Some people think luxury is the opposite of poverty. It is not. It is the opposite of vulgarity.
—Gabrielle (“Coco”) Chanel

Teeth is very nice to have
They fills you with content.
If you don’t understand that now
You will when they have went.

February 22, 2009

Genius at play

WHAT WOULD YOU call an amateur sailor who capsized, hit rocks, and ignored bad weather? Is there a name for a sailor who nearly collided with other boats, deliberately refused to wear a life preserver although he couldn’t swim, frightened his passengers with his recklessness, and neglected the upkeep of his vessel? Yes there is. That name is Albert Einstein.

Sailing was a passion for the lovable, spaniel-eyed genius with the wild white hair that floated in the wind. Einstein sailed as he lived his life — absent-mindedly. He was a dreamy kind of sailor, a man who was bemused and delighted by sailing. His was a true passion, undiluted by caution and unburdened by technical knowledge.

His mast fell down frequently. He often had to be towed home. He almost managed to drown himself and had to be rescued by a motorboat. He wouldn’t carry an outboard motor himself, though. He despised machines of all kinds. He’d rather drown, he declared, than permit a motor on his beloved sailboat.

Einstein was an instinctive sailor. A sailor, it is safe to say, the Coast Guard would have hated.

A relative cruiser
He had long been the most famous scientist alive when he settled in Princeton, New Jersey, in 1933. He sailed extensively in New England in a 17-foot daysailer called Tinef , meaning Worthless, but he was no conventional sailor.

He never strayed far from the shore. He certainly didn’t race. He had no desire to pit Tinef against any other yacht. His friend. Dr. Gustav Bucky, who sailed with him often, said: "The natural counterplay of wind and water delighted him most."

One has to conclude, therefore, that Einstein was a cruising sailor, relatively speaking.

Damage formula
Einstein’s famous formula, e = mc2, explains why hitting the jetty (or another boat) at 2 knots is so much less damaging than hitting it at 4 knots or 8 knots.

The formula for energy stored in a moving boat is simply mc2 divided by 2. Thus, if the damage at 2 knots is $200, the damage at 4 knots will be $800, and at 8 knots, a whopping $3,200.

Simply brilliant
Sailing gave Einstein an enjoyable sense of control. He never mastered any other kind of machinery. He never learned to drive a car, for instance. “It is too complicated,” his wife, Elsa, explained to a visitor. He was well over 50 before he learned to handle a camera. He used a typewriter with great difficulty and mostly wrote in longhand.

Today’s Thought
Success equals X + Y + Z, where X is work, Y is play, and Z is keeping your mouth shut.
—Albert Einstein

Notices we noticed: In a podiatrist’s office — “Time wounds all heels”

February 19, 2009

Flying the flag

OLD WOTSISNAME who moors down the row from me says we have something in common. “We both fly a burgee from the masthead,” he said.

I hope that’s all we have in common, considering the state his old wreck is in, but he’s right, I do maintain the old fashion of flying a club burgee from the very top of the mast. In fact, one of the first things I did when I bought my present boat was to remove the Windex wind vane to make way for a burgee.
My thinking was that it’s a neck-breaking task to keep checking the wind direction by looking straight upward at a Windex. Any decent sailor ought to be able to judge wind direction roughly by the feel of the breeze on his or her face or neck, and if you need more accurate indication you can tie old cassette recording tape to the backstay and shrouds. In addition, you can tell if your sails are stalling by looking at the telltales.

I have no use whatsoever for a Windex and I can’t imagine why just about every other boat I look at has one on top of the mast. I guess it must be one of those mass hysteria things, or some infectious fad that has spread through the sailing world, some thoughtless knee-jerk reaction that has worked out very well for the Windex people.

I love my burgee. It brings life to my boat when she’s at anchor and it’s fluttering bravely up there. It makes a fine show under sail, too, flying according to a tradition that goes back centuries, connecting us to all the old-timers whose ways and responsibilities we have inherited.
It gives me pleasure to raise it and lower it correctly, too, making its passage up or down the mast one smooth movement rather than a series of jerks. It takes two hands and some concentrated practice to do that.

We’re a dying race, of course, me and Old Wotsisname. Two of the last burgee flyers in the country, I’ll bet. Just as long as the herd mentality trumps common sense and tradition, Windex will rule the masthead.

Today’s Thought
Take thy banner! May it wave
Proudly o’er the good and brave.

The bank robber shoved a note across the counter to the teller. It read: “Put the money in a bag, dummy, and don’t make a move.”
The teller pushed back another note: “Straighten your collar, stupid, we’re taking your picture.”

February 17, 2009

The terror of calms

PEOPLE PREPARING for their first ocean voyages usually learn all they can about how to survive storms but very little about how to survive calms. That’s an oversight that could result in some nasty surprises. Calm seas can spawn stormy relationships among the crew. It’s extraordinary what harm a calm can do to morale.

I well remember one week-long calm we fell into while sailing across the South Atlantic in a 33-foot sloop. There were four of us on board, long-time friends, but after a couple of days of drifting among exasperating cat’s-paws coming from all directions, and lasting only a few minutes each, the tension built among us. We couldn’t turn on the engine because we were racing.

We snapped at each other. I nearly got into a fist-fight with my good friend Nick whom I caught “stealing” a spoonful of some powdered cool drink I’d brought along. MY cool drink, dammit. Not HIS cool drink. He claimed he didn’t know it was mine. Oh sure! Thought it was ship’s stores. Yeah, right!

Our mate, Eddie, a civil engineer, having calculated our rate of progress, announced that we would run out of food and water before we hit land, if we EVER hit land. He wanted to put out an immediate radio Mayday call to all shipping. He wanted to have a ship take our yacht on board. And he was prepared to pay all costs. He was deadly serious. He had never before in his life been in a situation where he had no control over his own progress.

We didn’t run out of food or water, of course. The wind did come back eventually, to our great relief. But I learned some lessons that stood us in good stead when I later went ocean voyaging with my wife and teenage son.

Most sailboats can’t carry enough fuel to get them through all the calms they may encounter on an ocean crossing, so there will probably be times when their crews will simply have to grind their teeth and practice serenity. One little trick that might help those who find themselves in a similar situation is to calculate a daily “bonus” of miles covered. I started with the premise that a cruising boat covers 100 miles a day. That was the figure I used to calculate the time it would take to cross the ocean, hence the amount of stores and water we would require.

Every day, after I had worked out the noon sextant sight, I would enter our 24-hour distance run in the ship’s log. Anything over 100 miles was noted separately as our “bonus” -- points available to be spent in calms when we did less than 100 miles.

Because the average cruiser covers between 120 and 140 miles a day, the bonus points add up quickly at first. But when the dreaded day comes that you do less than 100 miles, you simply draw miles from your bonus. For example, if you have 100 miles saved up, but you only manage to cover 50 miles from noon to noon that day, you’ve still got 50 miles left in your bonus — so you know that despite the calm you’re still half a day ahead of your planned arrival time.

You won’t believe what a boost this is to your morale until you try it for yourself. It’s a simple trick, perhaps a naive trick, but it certainly worked for us. Despite the calms, we always arrived a day or two earlier than expected. Very little makes the crew happier than that.

Today’s Thought
And there we sit in peaceful calm,
Quietly sweating palm to palm.
—Aldous Leonard Huxley, Frascati’s.

As I was laying on the green,
A small English book I seen.
Carlyle’s Essay on Burns was the name of the edition,
So I left it laying in exactly the same position.

February 15, 2009

Scraping the barnacles

I GOT QUITE excited when my local newspaper ran an advertisement for a “Marine Growth Scraper” for the city marina. I thought I was going to get the barnacles scraped off my bottom for free.

But no such luck. This Marine Growth Scraper is not going to scrape seaweed and mollusks off boats at all. The ad says the MGS will work 40 hours a week “to remove marine growth from docks and utilities.”

I don’t doubt that there will be people lining up for this position, given the number of people looking for work around here, but the port authority’s advertisement was refreshingly candid about the hardships involved. “Position requires strenuous labor outdoors in adverse weather conditions,” it says.

And what does a marine growth scraper earn? $10 an hour, apparently, and only for 90 days, because it’s a temporary job.

I deduce from this that it’s going to cost marina tenants $4,800 to have the barnacles scraped off their floating concrete docks. I never realized this had to be done. I’ve never heard of a concrete dock sinking because of the weight of the barnacles attached.

In fact, I have an engineer friend who once designed floating docks and I asked him whether barnacles could sink a dock. “No problem,” he said, “it’s self-limiting. The layers of barnacles never grow beyond a certain thickness. Just look at any rock on the beach, or piling in the water.”

So now I’m quite curious about why we’re suddenly having our barnacles scraped. Is this part of Mr. Obama’s recovery package, perhaps, a make-work project, or is there a real reason for it? Anyone got any ideas?

And if we taxpayers are footing the bill, can’t I have my bottom scraped, too?

Today’s Thought
I go on working for the same reason that a hen goes on laying eggs. —H. L. Mencken.

A friend of mine says his wife finally managed to understand the difference between a food processor and a word processor.

“It’s great,” he said, “she doesn’t mince her words any more.”

February 13, 2009

Sailing on Friday

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 13, is upon us. Oh woe! This is the day of the week when no sane sailor will go to sea. This is the day of the month when all sane people stay in bed.

It wasn’t always like this. You can blame the early Christians for it. In pre-Christian times Friday was actually regarded as a lucky day. It was especially lucky to get married on a Friday because the day was named after the Norse goddess Frigga. She was the goddess of love and fertility. She was the wife of Odin, the most powerful of the gods. And she was so popular with worshippers that the early Christians made few converts until they decided to make her the victim of a nasty smear campaign.

They branded dear old Frigga as a witch. They declared that her day, Friday, was an unlucky day. Any ship that started its voyage on a Friday would therefore be sure to meet disaster.
That must have been one of history’s most successful character assassinations, because, to this very day, sailors are wary of sailing on a Friday. This superstition takes up a chapter in my book How to Rename your Boat – and 19 Other Useful Ceremonies, Superstitions, Prayers, Rituals and Curses. But the short version is that you can set sail on a Friday without attracting bad luck if you really, truly, have to.

The trick is to start your voyage on Wednesday or Thursday. You must cast off, or weigh anchor, and then proceed purposefully for a mile or two, as seems appropriate. Then you may return to your slip or anchorage to attend to some small problem that seems to have arisen. Perhaps you forgot the matches. Or maybe a turnbuckle has come slightly loose. You know the drill. The more inventive you are, the better.

Then, on Friday, you can set sail in earnest because you will be continuing your voyage, not deliberately starting a new one. Don’t imagine you’re fooling the gods, though. They well know what you’re up to, but they do have a soft spot for sailors who (a) acknowledge their power, and (b) demonstrate a little constructive cunning in averting their wrath.

Today’s Thought
Alas! You know the cause too well;
The salt is spilt, to me it fell;
Then to contribute to my loss,
My knife and fork were laid across:
On Friday, too! the day I dread!
Would I were safe at home in bed!
—John Gay, Fables.

Overheard in a menswear store:
“I’m looking for a tie that would be suitable for my husband – something not too bright.”

February 10, 2009

The cruising life

“WHAT’S IT LIKE to go cruising?”

The question came from a new friend we’d made in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. We were on an extended voyage.

Go north on Hendrick’s Isle, I told her, to where the sign says “Royal Retreat,” and in front of the yachts moored in the canal you’ll see the tiki hut beside the swimming pool. That hut is our town hall, our pub, our meeting place, our parliament.

From the tiki, it’s only a few steps to any of our five cruising boats. The hut’s open sides let in cooling breezes and its palm-frond roof keeps out most of Florida’s summer downpours.

“But what do you do there?” my friend asked.

What we’re mostly doing in the tiki hut this week is scientific research.

“Really?” She sounded impressed.

Yes, our mighty brain power is finely focused, I explained. We have this crab that lives in the sand just outside the hut. One day, at breakfast time, Bob from the Prout catamaran discovered that it eats Cheerios, so for the past three days we’ve been engaged in a quest to establish whether crustaceans can also exist on Quaker Oats, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, and Almond Delights.
Captain Crunch, so named because of the difficulty he experiences berthing his Morgan 42, proposed that we test Twinkies as well, but parliament voted him down. I mean, it’s a proven fact that Twinkies is not breakfast food, although Ozzie from the Kookaburra 35 said it might be all right to test Twinkies after 12 noon. The consensus, however, was that including Twinkies would only muddy our research, invalidate our conclusion, and probably thwart publication of our scientific paper . . .

“Crabs? Corn Flakes? Twinkies?” My friend was as astonished as she was skeptical. “Is that what cruising’s all about?”

Not entirely, I said, it’s also about boats, and new friends, and anarchy, and the freedom to discuss crabs as much as you want, if and when you want.

Today’s Thought
If you wish to study ships, you must also study the men who sail them. —T. C. Lethbridge

Sign outside a tanning parlor:
“We leave no stern untoned.”

February 8, 2009

Cruising with dogs

EVERY SUMMER EVENING, toward sunset, quiet anchorages all over America suddenly become busy as dinghies begin ferrying dogs ashore from yachts. The dogs, cooped up all day on small yachts, almost always stand in the dinghy bows, ears pointed forward, tongues flapping in the breeze, panting with eagerness to get on dry land and empty their bladders and their bowels.

It’s the poop parade and it’s not pretty. It starts with the dreadful, awkward business of trying to get a dog down into a dinghy in the first place, and ends with the equally dreadful, awkward business of trying to get it up, out of the dinghy and back on deck.

Sailing with dogs is such a lot of bother that you have to wonder why anybody would do it. I love animals as much as the next guy, but when I’m cruising I don’t want my choice of destinations and times of sailing dictated by an animal whose only ambition is to lift his leg on the nearest beach. Dogs don’t enjoy sailing. They don’t care if you’re doing two knots or 10. They don’t mind if you hoist the spinnaker or not. They don’t even know what a spinnaker is. People take dogs sailing because they’re lonely for their dogs, not because their dogs are lonely for them.

If you can afford a boat, you can afford to put the dog in a good kennel while you cruise, or to hire a dog sitter. If you really love your animal, you will do what’s best for the dog, not for you. Don’t kid yourself that the dog can’t live without you. Dogs are pack animals and like to follow a leader, but believe me, any leader will do. And if a dog’s going to be cooped up with nowhere to go, it surely would prefer to be cooped up on dry land that stays level and doesn’t make it seasick.

In the main, dogs won’t use a sandbox on board, or even a piece of Astroturf on the foredeck or in the cockpit. They’ll hold in a pee until their bladders almost burst. They’ll hang on to a poo until their eyes change color. They only want to go ashore, find a neatly tended marina lawn, or someone’s pretty flower garden, decorate it with their internal debris, and scratch the hell out of it. That’s doggy heaven; and the whole process is repeated again at dawn the next day.

If you must have an animal on board then a parrot makes more sense than anything else. The pirates knew what they were doing. Did you ever hear of a pirate with a dachshund, for goodness’ sake?

And if not a parrot, then a cat. Cats are more compact. They don’t need exercise. You can ignore them and they’ll ignore you right back, with no hurt feelings. And, best of all, you don’t have to take them ashore. They’ll use a litter box. In fact, some will go one step better, and use the head.

I once met one called Pepe who had sailed around the world on a boat called Aqua Viva. His owner, a lawyer, had trained him to sit on the toilet seat by first placing his sandbox there. Pepe never did learn to open the seacock and flush the loo, but nobody was complaining about that.

The trouble with ocean-going cats is that they almost always seem to fall overboard and drown, or else, if they’re females, they run away with some local riff-raff tomcat as soon as they get to port. So, if you have a cat you should try not to get too attached to it because sooner or later you’re going to learn that sailboats and household pets are a very poor mix.

Today’s Thought
America is a large, friendly dog in a very small room. Every time it wags its tail, it knocks over a chair. —Arnold Toynbee, News summaries, July 14, 1954.

I would live all my life in nonchalance and insouiance
Were it not for making a living, which is rather a nouciance.
—Ogden Nash.

February 6, 2009

Leeway in sailboats

EVER WONDERED why it is that the magnetic courses shown by your compass and your GPS never seem to agree? It’s something that has puzzled most of us in the past, but there is a simple answer. It comes about because sailboats slip sideways through the water on almost all angles of sail except for a dead run.

What we’re talking about here is leeway. Now, leeway is really hard for ordinary mortals to detect. Even if there is land behind the forestay when you look ahead, it’s almost impossible to detect that the boat is slipping sideways while making forward progress.

So, although your compass shows the boat to be on a steady course of 090 degrees, your GPS might be showing your course to be 095 degrees. That’s because your compass shows your magnetic heading, not your course. And your GPS shows your course over the ground, not your magnetic heading.

In the absence of current, the difference between the two is leeway, the sideways slippage of the whole boat, which is at its maximum when you’re sailing against the wind and non-existent when you’re running dead before the wind.

Interestingly, your boat wouldn’t be able to sail to windward if leeway didn’t exist. The keel has to be angled slightly to one side or other of your direction of travel before it can provide “lift.” You can test this next time you’re motoring on the freeway by putting your hand out of the window. Note how it moves up or down as you move it from horizontal toward vertical. The same holds true for an airplane wing, of course. It has to be angled slightly as it moves through the air.

Many factors affect leeway but the rule of thumb is that a sailboat beating to windward will make between 3 and 5 degrees of leeway in a breeze of 7 knots. As the wind increases, so does leeway, until it reaches about 8 degrees in 20 knots.

Short deep keels, known as fin keels and shaped like airplane wings, are more efficient than old-fashioned, long, shallow keels at providing lift to windward. Fin keels depend on forward motion for their efficiency, however. When starting to sail from a standstill, a fin keel will often allow a boat to slide sideways, providing no lift at all until forward speed is gained. Full-keeled cruisers, with their larger surface area, are more resistant to being pushed sideways at very low speeds, and have other advantages in survival weather on the open ocean, but they are less efficient at sailing against the wind.

Unless your destination lies dead downwind, it’s usually wise to point up into the wind 5 degrees or so to compensate for leeway. Then you will achieve your planned course over the ground and your GPS will be very happy.

The oldtimers had an expression for it. They said a boat wasn’t going where she was looking. But she’ll go where you want her to if you understand and anticipate the effect of leeway.

Today’s Thought
Where lies the land to which the ship would go?
Far, far ahead, is all her seamen know.
And where the land she travels from? Away,
Far, far behind, is all they can say.

—Arthur Hugh Clough.

Neil Diamond was once well into his act in a Chicago theater when four women held up a poster reading: “Will you sleep with me tonight?”
Neil didn’t falter. “Ladies,” he announced, “I can perform only once a night — and this is it.”

(If you’d like to comment, click on the word “comments” below. Write your remarks in the panel on the right of the new page. Click on the “Anonymous” button if you’re not sure which to choose. You can always add your name to your written comment if you wish. After you’ve written your message, click “Submit.” Your message will disappear into thin air without acknowledgment. Do not fret. It will come to me. And I know what to do with it. Trust me.)

February 3, 2009

Tuning the rig

ONE OF THE most frequent questions I hear around the marina is “How tight should my stays and shrouds be?” Tuning the rig seems to be a source of deep mystery for many sailboat owners, but there’s nothing mysterious about it at all, really.

What you need to do first is lay hands on a wire-tension gauge. The Loos company makes gauges that work well on boats, with an accuracy of about 5 percent. They’re available from all reputable marine stores and cost between $60 and $90, depending on where you buy them. You may find a used one for far less on eBay, but in many cases you’ll need two gauges, one for wire of 3/16th inch to 9/32 inch diameter, and another for wire sized between 3/32nd inch and 5/32nd inch.

Now, armed with your bought, begged, borrowed, or stolen gauge, you can get to work on your mast’s standing rigging. The first thing to check is whether or not the rigging is strong enough.

Shrouds: All the shrouds on one side of your boat should be capable of lifting a weight equal to 1.2 times your boat’s displacement when she’s fully loaded with all liquids, gear, provisions, and crew. Ocean cruisers should make that figure 1.4 times. In the case of double lower shrouds, use only one lower shroud for this calculation. The other lower should be the same size as the first because the presumption is that the load is carried by only one lower shroud at a time.

Headstays: Make them the same size as the heaviest shroud, or one size bigger.

Backstay: Make it the size of the headstays, or one size smaller.
So now, knowing the displacement of your boat and the number of shrouds on one side, you can check the correct wire size from the following table. It’s for 1 x 19 stainless steel wire, type 302/304. (Type 316, more resistant to corrosion, is about 15 percent weaker.)

Diameter in inches -- Breaking strength in pounds
1/8 -- 2,100
5/32 --3,300
3/16 -- 4,700
7/32 -- 6,300
1/4 -- 8,200
9/32 -- 10,300

The correct tension
The old rule of thumb was that under normal working sail in a moderate breeze, the lee shrouds should feel slightly slack when you wiggle them, but they shouldn’t look particularly slack to the casual observer.

We can do better than that with a tension gauge. Follow these steps:

1. Tighten each upper shroud, and the backstay, to 10 percent of your boat’s displacement. Not 10 percent of the wire’s breaking strength. Ten percent of the displacement. In doing this, you’ll notice that the forestay becomes tighter than the backstay. This is because of the differing angles of attachment to the mast. But don’t worry, it’s a good thing.
2. Now you can tension the forward lower stays, or the babystay, to give the mast a slight but noticeable forward bow at the spreaders.
3. Tighten the aft lower shrouds until, as you sight up the mainsail track, the mast is straight up-and-down again.
4. Go sailing in moderate winds and let the rig stretch into its new position.
5. After a few hours of stretching, and while still sailing in a moderate breeze, get the mast straight from side to side by tightening or loosening the appropriate shrouds. To do this without losing the correct tension you’ve just obtained, you must loosen a turnbuckle on one side a few turns before you tighten up the turnbuckle on the other side by exactly the same number of turns. Never, ever, try to take the slack out of the leeward shrouds by tightening the windward shrouds, and then going about and repeating the action. The turnbuckles are so powerful that you’ll tend to push the mast down through the bottom of the boat.
6. In most cases, adjust the lower shrouds first. They’ll get the mast centered and straight up as far as the spreaders.
7. Then work on the cap shrouds to get the top half of the mast into column.

There we are. Your rig is tuned. Wasn’t so mysterious, was it?

Today’s Thought
He that will use all winds, must shift his sail. —John Fletcher, Faithful Shepherdess.

At our local city council meeting the other day the chairman of the Works Committee was asked to give figures for how many people are employed by the City, broken down by sex.
“Not too many,” he replied, “liquor is more of a problem for us.”

February 1, 2009

Microwave disaster

MY LOCAL newspaper says the Coast Guard and NOAA are no longer monitoring 121.5 MHz EPIRBs from February 1, 2009. The modern frequency for Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacons is 406 MHz only.

“The switch is a boon for rescuers,” says the paper. “They have responded to thousands of false alarms generated by microwave ovens, ATMs, sports scoreboards, and other sources of analog electronic clutter. Currently, only two in 1,000 of the analog alerts are real.”

Meanwhile, we take you to Coast Guard headquarters, where the scene is one of cool but frantic energy.

Cmdr. Bornt Olose: “A Mayday, you say?”
Lt. Harmo Nica: “Yessir, just in on 121.5 MHz. A microwave again.”
Olose: “God, not another one. That’s the fourth this week.”
Nica: “Yessir, engaged in heating pizza, 12 miles southwest of Prominent Point.”
Olose: “How many slices on board?”
Nica: “Two, sir.
Olose: “Ages?”
Nica: “Two days, sir. Came from a college dorm.”
Olose: “Are they wearing lifejackets?”
Nica: “Negative, sir. Couldn’t find any that fit.”
Olose: “Damn fools. How did this happen?”
Nica: “Accidentally switched on high, sir. Overheating. Likelihood of fire.”
Olose: “Fire, you say?”
Nica: “Yessir, the cheese is melting already.”
Olose: “My god, we have no time to lose.”
Nica: “What shall we send, sir?”
Olose: “A cutter, of course.”
Nica: “A pizza cutter, sir?”
Olose: “Negative, you idiot, a Coast Guard cutter — no, wait. A fireboat.”
Nica: “But the salt water will ruin the pizza, sir.”
Olose: “Tell them to take two cases of beer. Squirt it on. Beer and pizza go well together.”
Nica: “New message coming through, sir.”
Olose: “What’s it say?”
Nica: “They’re sinking.”
Olose: “Omigod.”
Nica: “They opened the door to let the smoke out.”
Olose: “Damn fools. Do they have a liferaft?”
Nica: “Only a half-eaten packet of crackers, sir.”
Olose: “Too bad, we’ll never get there in time.”
Nica: “No, sir.”
Olose: “Well, we can’t win ’em all, lieutenant.”
Nica: “What’ll we tell the Press, sir?”
Olose: “Just say we participated in an unfortunate maritime culinary event with terminal consequences.”
Nica: “But they don’t understand those big words, sir.”
Olose: “Exactly, lieutenant . . . now what’s this I hear about an ATM drifting onto the rocks?”

Today’s Thought
Life is short, the art long, opportunity fleeting, experience treacherous, judgment difficult. —Hippocrates, Aphorisms.

A serious thought for today
Is one that may cause dismay:
Just what are the forces
That bring little horses
If all the big horses say "Neigh?"