January 31, 2012

Rats ate the dinghy

I CAN STILL REMEMBER the day I punctured my inflatable dinghy.  Well, one of the days. I was ready to go ashore after doing some woodwork.  I dropped down into the dinghy rather heavily.  The screwdriver I  had in my back jeans pocket blasted through the cloth. It also penetrated the side tube of the dinghy with a soft hiss.

I was with another cruiser, bemoaning my accident, when he said:  "Well, be thankful you were able to fix things with a simple patch. Inflatable dinghies have improved enormously since the old days. Have you heard of the Berthon boats?"

I hadn't, of course,  I had to look them up. Apparently Berthon boats were the first kind of collapsible dinghies.  In the 1870s, they were carried on ocean-going ships as lifeboats.  According to Cornell's Encyclopedia of Nautical Knowledge, they were made to fold together in concertina fashion.  They had flat bottoms and thwarts hinging along the center line.  Their   frames hinged at the bilges.  They had skins of heavy waterproofed canvas.  "Use of the type was discontinued . . . chiefly on account of its vulnerability to attack by rodents," says Cornell.   

The collapsible lifeboat was designed by the Reverend Edward Lyon Berthon of Portsmouth, England. Wikipedia says that when the boat was demonstrated to Queen Victoria, the Prince Consort, the Princess Royal,  and the Prince of Wales, the latter commented that a cannonball would go through it easily. Berthon asked him what a cannonball would not go through, and the Queen was reported to have been greatly amused. The Royal Navy accepted a perfected design in 1873.

But 'perfected' is a comparative term, of course.  We tend to take inflatable dinghies and liferafts for granted these days but they are light years ahead of the old Berthons.

Interestingly enough, the Berthon Boat Company is still operating today on the same site and is still a boat yard with a workforce of 70 skilled craftsmen specializing in the refit and repair of yachts of up to 150 feet. It also has a 280 berth deep-water marina and a yacht sales division.

Today's Thought
Small craft are immortal or as near immortal as anything can be.
— John Gardner

"Hey, waiter, what's wrong with these eggs?"
"Don't ask me, sir, I just lay the tables."

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

January 29, 2012

When to give way

HERE'S A REQUEST for help from a sailor in Juneau, Alaska.  "Last summer we were sailing on port tack when we spotted another sailboat way up to windward of us," says Northern Alex. "The only sail he had up was a spinnaker, and it was obvious from our angles of approach that if we each held our course we would be in a collision situation.  In a situation like this, how do you tell who has right of way?"

Okay Alex, I see your problem.  If you're both on the same tack, the windward boat should keep clear of the leeward vessel.  But if you're on opposite tacks, and he's on starboard, you have to keep clear of him.  And the trouble is, you can't tell if he's on port or starboard.

So let's go back and start from the beginning.  Here are my usual steps:

1. Try to ascertain if he's under power as well as sail.  If he is, he should be exhibiting a black cone, point down, in the bow.  Most amateur sailors ignore this rule, so check for exhaust smoke or engine cooling water instead.

ØIf he's under power (even if he has sails up) he must keep clear of you.

2. If it's another sailboat under sail only, check which tack he's on.

Ø If he's on the opposite tack to you it's simple: port tack gives way to starboard tack.

Ø If he's on the same tack, the windward boat must keep out of the way of the leeward boat.

3. But here's the interesting bit:

Ø If you're on port tack, and you see a sailing vessel to windward and cannot determine with certainty whether the windward vessel has the wind on the port side or the starboard side, you shall keep out of the way of the windward vessel.

The rule doesn't address what happens if the situation becomes clearer to you at the last minute, and you suddenly decide that he is the one who should be keeping clear. But common sense should tell you that if you've already made an obvious move to keep clear of  him, he will expect you to follow through and not create a last-minute emergency.

But the question remains: How were you to know what tack he was on, when he was flying only a spinnaker?

Well, the rules define the windward side as the side opposite that on which the mainsail is carried, OR the side opposite to that on which the largest fore-and-aft sail is carried.

Thus, Alex, your situation was certainly ambiguous, since no mainsail was being carried by the windward boat.  If the spinnaker was boomed out to port, I would say that the mainsail, if it were being flown, would be deployed to starboard. That would put the windward boat on port tack and he'd have to keep out of your way. 

If a boomless cruising spinnaker were being flown from the starboard side, I'd say the boat was on port tack and the same situation would apply.

Nevertheless, if there's any doubt in your mind about any of this, you must revert to the rule under 3 above.  Play it safe. Presume he is the stand-on vessel and that you should keep out of his way.  Then make an large and obvious course correction so that he, too, knows what's in your mind.

Today's Thought
If a man will begin with certainties, he will end with doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties.
— Bacon, Advancement of Learning


"Wanna lift home? I like giving rides to experienced girls."
"But I'm not experienced."
"You're not home yet."

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

January 26, 2012

Coins to bring you luck

WHEN I LOOK at the forest of masts in a marina I wonder how many of those masts have coins under them. The ritual of placing a coin under the mast to bring a ship luck goes back thousands of years. The ancient Greeks believed that when you died you had to cross the River Styx to get to Hades, which, in those days, was regarded simply as the Underworld, the home of the dead. It wasn't hell as we think about it now. But  you had to have a coin to pay the boatman to take you across the river.

Every boat I've owned (at least those larger than a sailing dinghy) has had a coin under the mast, or, in one case, a thin disk of gold.  It's not that I'm superstitious, it's just that I'm a sucker for ritual and tradition and . . . oh well, all right,  I guess I'll have to admit it, I'm superstitious.

When a large medieval ship was discovered preserved in mud near Guangzhou, in Fujien, China, archeologists found coins inserted into the scarf joints in her keel.  In fact, the Guangzhou ship was furnished with a whole set of coins that formed a representation of the moon and the stars of the Great Bear constellation.

Another medieval vessel, the Vejby Cog, a boat originally about 45 feet long, was discovered in 1976 at Vejby strand in Denmark. There were still ceramics on board and, more significantly, about 100 English gold coins dated 1351 to 1377. Three of these had been placed under the mast.

Modern navies have continued the tradition. One of the U.S. Navy's newest carriers, the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan, has her lucky coins placed under the huge island house that contains the bridge, controls rooms and pilot house.

Captain John W. Goodwin placed his gold naval-aviator wings there, along with a selection of coins. The ceremony was conducted on November 11, 2000, when giant cranes hoisted the 650-ton island house in place.

So if your mast doesn't yet have a coin under it, you might want to start thinking about it. You don't have to use rare or expensive coins. In fact, in the days of wooden ships, when even skilled artisans earned comparatively little, it was regarded as imprudent to use gold.

So choose a coin that means something to you, one that was minted in the year the boat was launched, perhaps, or one from the year when you were born.

Today's Thought
Against a lucky man, even a god has little power.
— Publilius Syrus, Sententiae

Welcome to number 500
WE HAVE reached another little milestone together, you and I.  This is the 500th Mainly about Boats column.  You can read any one of them by clicking on the list of subjects shown at the bottom of this page.

Incidentally, although the official name of this column is Mainly about Boats, I have never emphasized it. Hardly even mentioned it, in fact, except in the little line that asks you to tune in on Monday, Wednesday and Friday for a new column. Perhaps it needs more prominence.

At the same time, the number of Followers has reached 100 for the first time, something that will have repercussions, I'm sure, for Col. Ivor Tungin-Cheaque, Chairman of Vigor's Silent Fan Club, the biggest fan club in the world.  I'm sure we will be hearing from him as soon as he can chew through his restraints once again.

In any case, I'd like to thank you all for your support, your comments and suggestions, and your occasional rude and uninformed criticism, which I don't print and don't take any notice of, so there.  As Kingsley Amis once said, "If you can't annoy somebody, there's little point in writing."

"Sorry to hear that your wife ran away with your chauffeur."
"Ah, no problem. I was going to fire him anyway."

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

January 24, 2012

About propellers

MOST PEOPLE who sail also do a fair amount of motoring.  The thing that makes motoring possible is the propeller, so it behooves sailing people to know more about propellers than most of them do.

In the long history of ships, the propeller is a fairly recent invention. The first screw propeller was used in England in 1838, and the first vessel to cross the Atlantic with the aid of a propeller was the British ship Great Britain in 1845. The development of propellers has been advancing ever since.

Auxiliary sailboat propellers usually have two or three blades, and most powerboat props have three or four blades. Each blade is twisted so that if it turned in a solid medium it would bore its way through like an auger bit. In water, however, the blades act more like the wings of a plane in flight, gaining "lift" as they turn, and their rate of advance is reduced by slippage.

Interestingly, a propeller with no slip would displace no water and therefore generate no thrust. It's similar to the principle that governs the lift generated by a sailboat's keel — if there were no leeway at all, the keel would not generate lift.

The Complete Boating Encyclopedia provides a greatly simplified definition of a propeller as "a pump, submerged in the fluid it is pumping. Normal rotation sucks the water from ahead of the propeller, accelerates it, and discharges it astern, creating an opposite reaction that pushes the boat forward."

Two-bladed screws are the most efficient because each blade moves through water that is least disturbed by the passage of the other blade. But to get the blade area required, the blades must be comparatively long, and often there isn't sufficient clearance between the propeller shaft and the bottom of the hull. Therefore, three or more broader blades of smaller diameter are used instead. Nevertheless, some very fast small powerboats, as well as sailboats seeking to reduce drag under sail, use two-bladed props.

A large-diameter, slow-turning propeller is usually more efficient than a small one turning at high speed, although an exception is made to this rule for boats operating at about 35 knots or more. In small craft, "slow-turning" means fewer than 1,000 revolutions per minute.

The problem for sailboats is that a big, slow-turning prop creates an awful lot of detrimental drag when the boat is under sail alone.  So it is usual to compromise, with a less efficient, smaller, faster-turning prop that allows better performance under sail.

Incidentally,  the amount of slippage experienced by a propeller has always amazed me.  On auxiliary sailboats the slippage usually amounts to between 40 and 55 percent.

Today's Thought
You shall have joy, or you shall have power, said God; you shall not have both.
— Emerson, Journals

"What did her father say when you asked him if you could marry her?"
"He darn near broke my arm."
"Did he hit you?"
"Hell no, it's just that he was shaking my hand so hard."

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

January 22, 2012

Puffs and luffs

IT'S A STRANGE THING, but have you noticed how often the wind will start to rise or shift in direction just as you're about to enter a congested anchorage or port under sail? It's as if the weather gods are deliberately setting out to test you.

You know you should reef to reduce speed and heeling, but either you can't leave the helm or there simply isn't room to heave to while you take in sail. So — what to do?

In a puff, spring a luff;
In a lull keep her full.

That's the old advice. It applies to cruisers as much as racers. Feather the mainsail in the gusts by giving it some sheet and pointing up close to the wind.  Then, when the gust passes, fall off well to leeward.

You'll be carving a zigzag course and no doubt alarming the landlubbers watching you from shore, but you will be averaging the required course and your boat will be under better control.

You can't do this for long, of course. It's a short-term expedient to get you out of imminent trouble. If you're planning to continue for any distance, you must find a place where you can tuck in a reef or claw down the sails and fire up the engine.

Today's Thought
All the first part of a voyage is spent in getting a ship ready for sea, and the last part in getting her ready for port.
— Richard Henry Dana, Jr.

A poultry breeder noticed that one of his hens was sick. He wrung the bird's neck, fearing highly infectious fowl pest, and sent it off to a government lab for testing.
Ten days later he received the official report:
"This bird died of a broken neck."

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

January 19, 2012

The Catalina 27

SOMEONE ASKED ME the other day what I think of the Catalina 27. "I've heard it's lightly built and not very seaworthy," he said.

Well, I had to admit I rarely think about the Catalina 27, but when I do, I recollect that there are good reasons why it's one of the most popular small sailboats in the United States.

She was designed and built by Southern Californian Frank Butler, and well over 6,000 have been built.  She's a fin-keeler with a raked, detached rudder well aft, and a masthead sloop rig.  But she was never designed for sea work, and never pretended to be. Early boats lacked backing plates on deck hardware, stanchions, and rails, so that the gelcoat flexed and cracked quickly. Through-hull fittings were simple gate valves screwed onto pipe nipples glassed into the hull. Spreader sockets were made of cast aluminum, which fractured when overstressed. And so on.

On the other hand, this boat has more headroom and interior space than almost any other 27-footer on the market. In fact, she has about the maximum amount of interior room you could possibly cram into a 27-footer — and the trick that made it all work was the cunning design of her curved topsides.  She doesn't look boxy or ugly.

Newcomers to sailing didn't have to pay BMW prices for their Volkswagen boats. They rightly perceived them to be good value for money and well suited to the job this boat was expected to do: family racing and weekend cruising, with the odd short coastal passage thrown in.

Catalina 27s come with inboard engines or outboard engines, and if your sailing area allows you to use one, an outboard engine has many advantages, starting with price and easy maintenance.

Despite the fact that she was designed for inshore work, several Catalina 27s have made circumnavigations.  "We don't recommend using the boat this way, " Practical Sailor magazine once commented, "but it goes to show that good preparation and seamanship may be more important than your boat when it comes to successful offshore voyaging."

Patrick Childress, of Newport, Rhode Island, was one of those circumnavigators and he told me he installed chainplates on the outer hull for the aft lower shrouds. "I used to watch the side decks flexing, and it was scary," he said. He first tried installing backing plates twice as large and thick as the originals, but that only threatened to pull out a larger chunk of the side deck.

Nevertheless, Childress sailed around the world in three years, experienced no major problems with the boat, and returned safely to the United States. That has to say something for Frank Butler and his Catalina 27.

Today's Thought
The sea is only safe and harmless as long as the ship is safe and seaworthy and ably handled.
— Felix Riesenberg

When the living room sofa is a hive of activity, you can be sure there's a little honey around.

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

January 17, 2012

The Dekker enigma

I DON'T KNOW quite what to make of Laura Dekker.  In a few days she will become the youngest person to sail around the world singlehanded. But the accolades will be somewhat muted because the former little Dutch girl has suddenly become a little New Zealand girl.

She appears to have attempted to change her nationality, and her boat's registration, in mid- voyage in a fit of pique. Her 37-foot Jeanneau ketch now flies the flag of New Zealand.

In 2009, when Laura first announced her plans to circumnavigate the globe, Dutch authorities intervened and insisted she should first finish school. The child welfare authorities brought the case to court and a judge ruled that the then 13-year-old was too young to travel alone. Laura then ran away and took a plane to Sint Maarten, where she was arrested and sent back to the Netherlands.

In July 2010, a judge gave her permission to carry out her plans—provided she agreed to a number of conditions, including continuing her secondary education through an online teaching programme set up for Dutch-speaking children abroad.

But naughty Laura has reneged on that agreement.  She hasn't been doing her homework as she promised to.

Officially, Laura does not have to comply with Dutch regulations regarding her education, as she is no longer registered as a Dutch citizen. She holds New Zealand citizenship because she was born there—on a boat—while her parents were sailing around the world.

The Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant says the World School, which organises the correspondence course education, is afraid a precedent will be set if they don’t intervene. “Laura is contending with an 80-year school attendance battle. Compulsory school attendance is sacred in the Netherlands.”

There is no doubt that Laura Dekker is greatly self-centered and very stubborn. But she is also very capable, surprisingly mature in many ways, and an excellent sailor.  She sailed around the world the easy way, taking the trade-wind route via the Panama Canal, so her accomplishment does not begin to compare with that of Jessica Watson, the Australian who sailed singlehanded and non-stop around the world via the great Southern Capes at the age of 16.

Laura received outside help from her doting father and others at every stop.  She received weather routing and advice every day by satellite communication. She appealed for money from the public on her website to help her indulge herself in her selfish dream.  She won't win any official record, because records like hers are not longer recognized by any competent authority.  But she will publish another book, no doubt make a lot of money, and probably find a job as a professional sailor.

I wonder if the Kiwis will clutch her to their hearts as one of their own?  I don't think the Dutch will, now she has kicked her fellow countrymen in the teeth.

Today's Thought
Loyalty is the holiest good in the human heart.
— Seneca, Epistulae ad Lucilium

A real Scrooge of a yachtsman who was away from home sent his wife a birthday check for one million kisses.
His wife called him and said: "Thanks for the check. The harbormaster cashed it for me last night."

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

January 15, 2012

Think inverted

IT'S THE OPINION of a British expert that cruising yachts should be designed for minimum stability when they're upside down. I mentioned this in my book The Seaworthy Offshore Sailboat, and I believe it's as valid now as it was when I wrote the book.
John Lacey, former honorary naval architect of the Royal Naval Sailing Association, and a member of the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors, said in the fall 1982 issue of the RNSA Journal that until the disaster of the 1979 Fastnet Race, few people had explored the stability characteristics of yachts sailing on coastal waters, beyond a 90-degree knockdown.

But on the night of August 13, 1979, that complacency changed. Sixty-three yachts each experienced at least one knockdown substantially farther than 90 degrees. Many did not right themselves quickly, and remained upside down for considerable periods.

Lacy said the influence of the then-popular International Offshore Rule (IOR) for racing yachts had radically changed the shape of yacht hulls by greatly increasing the proportion of beam to length.

"Increase of beam gives great sail-carrying power without additional ballast," he pointed out. "It also provides the benefit of greatly increased accommodation in a given length."

But the shape of such a hull also makes it very stable when inverted.  In other words, if it is turned upside down by a wave, it tends to stay upside down. To bring the boat upright again would require about half the energy needed to capsize the boat in the first place.

"Since the initial capsize may have been caused by a once-in-a-lifetime freak wave, one could be waiting a long time for a wave big enough to overcome this inverted stability."

By way of contrast, Lacey calculated that a narrower cruising hull with a lower center of gravity, such as a Nicholson 32, would require only one-tenth of the capsize energy to recover from a 180-degree capsize.

Beamy, shallow-bodied boats, he said, "may increase the size of the wave needed to initiate capsize, but in the end the sea will still win if the wave is awkward enough. It therefore seems in my opinion that we should tackle the problem from the other end, and design yachts for minimum stability when upside down."

So, to recap, here are the main requisites for fast recovery from a 180-degree capsize in a monohull:

Ø Moderate to narrow beam

Ø A low center of gravity  (mainly from a deep, heavy, ballast keel)

Ø A moderately high cabin top with reasonably wide side decks, and

Ø Watertight hatches, ports, ventilators, and cockpit lockers so little or no water gains ingress while the boat is upside down.

Finally, I always advise anyone contemplating taking a boat into blue water to "think inverted."  Try to imagine all the chaos that can happen when a boat is forcibly dumped upside down. And take steps to prevent that chaos.

Today's Thought
If the danger seems slight, then truly it is not slight.
— Francis Bacon, De Augmentis Scientarium: Principiis Obstare

"Why did that sailor buy drinks for all those girls?"
"He likes to have a port in every sweetheart."

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

January 12, 2012

The truth about mist aches

SOMEONE who signs himself "Monohull in Maine" left a heartening comment saying how much he enjoys this column. "In particular, the lack of advertising, the good clear writing, and the high standard of grammar and spelling."

Well, "Monohull," I am greatly flattered, but I have to admit that it's not all my work. I've got a spelling checker on my computer and  I use it on the advice of Jerrold H. Zar, who wrote the original version of this poem in 1992:

Eye halve a spelling chequer
It came with my pea sea.
It plainly marques four my revue
Miss steaks eye kin knot sea.

Eye strike a key and type a whirred
And weight four it two say
Weather eye am wrong oar write—
It shows me strait a weigh.

As soon as a mist ache is maid
It nose bee for two long
And eye can put the error rite­;
It’s rarely ever wrong.

Eye have run this poem threw it
I am shore your pleased two no.
It’s letter perfect in its weigh—
My checker tolled me sew.

Today's Thought
I believe that every English poet should read the English classics, master the rules of grammar before he attempts to bend or break them, travel abroad, experience the horror of sordid passion and—if he is lucky enough—know the love of an honest woman.
— Robert Graves, Lecture at Oxford.

"John, what's my mother going to say when I tell her you kissed me twice?"
"But I haven't kissed you twice. I only kissed you once."
"Yeah, but . . . you're not going yet, are you?"

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

January 10, 2012

We need MANLY knots

ON KNOT NIGHT at the club I was one of the few chosen to demonstrate my nautical skills.  I was manning a Knot Table all by myself. The Sheet Bend table, actually.  When a couple of likely learners drifted along I told them:  "I'll show you how to tie one, but I never use it myself. Don't trust it."  They wandered off looking vaguely dissatisfied, not grateful as they should have been. They stopped by some others and pointed in my direction, and after that for some reason nobody else stopped by.

Meanwhile, all around me, people at different tables  were cooing over Square Knots and Figure-Eight knots.  A large group of women at one table was clucking like a bunch of hens about how good the Clove Hitch was for tying fenders to lifelines. I could hardly believe it.  Who has to be shown how to tie fenders to lifelines for goodness' sake? Where have they been all their sailing lives?  Who has to be shown how to tie a Clove Hitch? And to top it all, they were praising their lady instructor as if she'd just discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls or figured out that the earth goes round the sun and not vice- versa, as they had obviously previously been given to imagine. 

Of course, I should have been manning the Running-Emergency-Bowline table, but there wasn't one because it isn't an official knot. I had been practicing the Running-Emergency-Bowline knot for weeks, ever since I saw it demonstrated at a Coast Guard Auxiliary meeting.  It's not a proper bowline, actually, but it looks very much like one at first glance.  What it's all about is this:  When someone falls off the end of a pier and seems to be drowning, you run as fast as you can along the pier toward him.  You run with a coil of rope in your hand, and as you run you give two deft flicks of the wrist and Voila!  the end of the rope suddenly has a loop that will not come undone, a sort of instant bowline. The drowner simply inserts himself into the loop, leaving you, the daring, gallant rescuer, to drag him ashore.

It looks quite magical and manly when you do it, even when you're not running down a pier, and I'm sure a lot of ladies would be attracted to a man who can do the Running Emergency Bowline, if ever the stupid club would allow a man to show them how he does it. 

If ever I become a club commodore, I'll make sure there's a Running-Emergency-Bowline knot table on Knot Night.  Never mind the dumb Sheet Bend. Never mind the wimpy Clove Hitch.  Manly knots is what we want. Knots that make the ladies swoon. Even if they aren't real knots.  

Today's Thought
I say that I am myself, but what is this Self of mine
But a knot in the tangled skein of things where chance and chance combine?
— Don Marquis, Heir and Serf

Two little American Indian boys were sitting by the entrance to the reservation with a small puppy when a white man in a priest's robe drove up in an SUV.
"What are you doing?" he asked.
"We're telling stories," said one boy. "Whoever tells the biggest lie gets to keep the dog."
"That's terrible," said the priest. "When I was a little boy I never told lies."
The boys looked at each other with big round eyes. Finally, one said: "Okay. That's it. The white man wins the dog."

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

January 8, 2012

Taming that halyard

IF THERE'S ONE NOISE that drives me mad at night, it's the slap of a halyard against a mast. It has never happened on any boat of mine, because I take good care to tie the halyards back to the shrouds. But not everyone is so finicky, and there have been many times at anchor and in marinas when the maddening clank-clank-clank of a neighbor's halyard has woken me.

If I hear it before I climb into my bunk, I will go over and ask the skipper very nicely if I can help him stop the noise. Often they are surprised that I am affected. How people can ignore that noise on their own boats I don't know, but there seem to be plenty who can.

I'm not one of those who can sleep through noise. I wake up if the wind changes direction, or the current swings us around. I wake up if there are strange splashes outside on a dead-calm night. I know it's probably fish jumping, but I have to get up and have a look. If I don't get up, I keep listening — my ears are my night-time eyes — and if all the sounds seem right I go back to sleep.

I have to admit there are a few things I can tune out. The slap of the wires inside my own  my mast is one of them It takes me a couple of nights at the start of a trip, but after that it's okay. And yet the faintest slap of a neighbor's halyard always drives me mad.

Many a time I have climbed aboard a stranger's boat in a marina to silence a clanking halyard, and each time I've wondered about the ethics of it. I know I'm taking chance in a society that is trigger-happy about suing, but I plead in mitigation that it is unneighborly to leave your halyards flapping so that they will annoy neighbors. I also offer myself the solace that it is the seamanlike thing to do, as it would be to rescue a flapping roller jib in a windstorm, or to push back a fender that had popped up, so that the hull was rubbing against the pier.

I myself would be thankful if someone saved my jib or my hull for me, and I wouldn't dream of suing if something went wrong in a sincere attempt to put things right. The Good Samaritan laws can be tricky, I know, but there are a couple of things you can do to protect yourself if somebody's mast falls down after you tied back his halyards. First of all, make sure no-one sees you in action. If there are other people around, wear a wig, a ski-mask, or a balaclava helmet. Secondly, don't leave fingerprints. Wear gloves. I find the best kind are those gardening gloves with the little pimples.   

Today's Thought
As for doing good, that is one of the professions that are full.
— Henry David Thoreau, Walden.

An apple a day will keep the doctor away.  Well, at least your insides will be healthy if the insecticide is working.
(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

January 5, 2012

Fairy moans and temptation

OLD WOTSISNAME says he misses Sarah Palin. He wishes she'd been running in Iowa. "Ron Paul can be quite funny but Sarah is a real hoot," he said.

We were sitting in the cockpit of his concrete barge on the weekend. He was avoiding working on his engine. I was avoiding helping him, and doing my best to reduce his surplus stock of beer. We said Sarah reminded us of Mrs. Malaprop and recalled that Sarah Palinprop was the one who invented the lovely word "refudiate."

OW said: "You could have knocked me over with a fender when she dropped out of the race. It's just beyond my apprehension. I'd be diluted if she came back."

"Success in politics is elusive," I pointed out. "To all intensive purposes it's a pigment of your imagination."

"That doesn't diminish the extraordinarity of it," said OW, who, for once was looking very dashing with a navy-blue crevasse around his neck.

We both paused to reflect on the profundity of his remark, and to suck on our beers a bit more. Then OW said: "Actually, politicians are a bunch of sharks."

"Quite right," I said, "the waters of Washington are infatuated with them."

There was another pause and then I said: "I'm sorry to interrupt your strain of thought, but whatever happened to the guy you hired to paint your galley after the fire?"

"I had to fire him for gross incontinence," said OW.  "He just started painting all over the powder from the fire extinguisher."

"Hah!" I said. "Serves you right for buying a Chinese extinguisher. It was just a wolf in cheap clothing."

"It was an antique," OW admitted, "but it worked. And Robin Lee Graham had the same kind of extinguisher when he circumvented the world in 1965."

I pondered the significance of that while OW fetched another couple of cans. Then he said: "Getting back to politics, I wouldn't mind getting up-close and personal with Sarah. Nudge-nudge, wink-wink. In political terms she's a hottie."

I was shocked. "But she's married," I said. "You're making a malaproposition."

"Can't help it. It's all to do with fairy moans."

"Fairy moans?"

"Yeah," said OW, "Scientifically proven. Everybody's got fairy moans. Even you've got fairy moans."

"That's offensive," I said. I put down my beer and stepped ashore in dignified fashion. "I resemble that remark."

"Fairy moans," said OW reflectively as I walked away. And then, earnestly: "Lead a snot into temptation."

Today's Thought
The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.
— Oscar Wilde, Picture of Dorian Gray.

"We're celebrating the anniversary of my wife's birthday tonight."
"Don't you mean you're celebrating the anniversary of her birth?"

"No, no. This is the fifth anniversary of her 39th birthday."

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

January 3, 2012

Lack of communication

THE U. S. COAST GUARD recently used up a lot of taxpayer money trying to find and rescue a sailor who wasn't lost or in trouble. Ira Foreman, 66, of Seattle, didn't ask to be found or rescued but the Coast Guard went after him anyhow. They started a massive four-day search off Hawaii for Foreman, singlehanded on a 36-foot sailboat. The search  covered some 209,000 square miles. Involved in the search were a MH-65 Dolphin helicopter, a HC-130 Hercules airplane, and two Navy P-3 Orion planes. He was right there under all their noses, but they didn't find him.

Foreman eventually sailed into Honokohau Harbor on the Big Island, after two weeks at sea. He apparently was blown off course by strong winds during what was supposed to be a one-day voyage from Kauai to Oahu. When he didn't appear after six days, he was reported missing and the Coasties sprang into action.

Foreman said he encountered strong winds but was never in distress.

Every time this kind of thing happens, the public starts foaming at the mouth about irresponsible yachtsmen. Inevitably, demands are made that the perpetrator of this crime should be made to pay for the rescue effort.

And what it all boils down to is questions of communication and ethics.  If the Coast Guard had known that he wasn't in trouble, they wouldn't have gone looking for him. And if he had had the sense to realize that someone would be sure to report him missing because he was long overdue from a one-day sail, and if he had had a radio to tell everyone he was all right, there wouldn't have been any fuss or bother.

So the question is: Should all sailboats going over the horizon be forced to carry communications equipment and keep a regular listening watch?  Or should they perhaps be forced to carry one of those small satellite radios that record your position daily?

Eric Hiscock, the British circumnavigator, never carried long-distance radio. His philosophy was that if you were a professional seaman on a freighter or a fishing boat you were entitled to be rescued in an emergency, and thus you should carry radio equipment capable of calling for help. But if you were an amateur sailor putting to sea purely for your own pleasure, you had no ethical right to shout for rescue when you got into trouble. You had no right to put other people's lives at risk to save your own. You had to be self-sufficient, and not dependent on the courage of rescuers and the goodwill of taxpayers in your own country, or foreign countries, to bail you out of danger.

This is not a popular view, of course, but I happen to subscribe to it also, and have never carried anything but short-range VHF.

As I said, Foreman didn't ask to be rescued. He did nothing illegal. Sailboats are not required by law to carry radio equipment, and shouldn't be. The ease with which boats can set sail on the High Seas, especially from America, is one of those rare human freedoms that can erode all to easily in the face of official pressure. But the chances of that happening can be reduced with a little common sense.

If you're the kind of person who knows he can take two weeks over a one-day passage, for goodness' sake tell somebody about it before you leave, so the authorities won't be alerted. If you do happen to have long-range communications equipment, let them know ashore that you're OK, just somewhat tardy. And if you're a Hiscock fan, let them know in advance that your upper lip is stiff and you'd rather drown than suffer the ignominy of being rescued by the Coast Guard.

Today's Thought
Where one danger's near,
The more remote, tho' greater, disappear,
So, from the hawk, birds to man's succour flee,
So from fir'd ships man leaps into the sea.
— Abraham Cowley, Davideis

"Waiter, how long have you been working here?"
"It's about a week now, sir."
"Oh, okay — then you can't be the one who took my order."

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

January 1, 2012

The best of 2011

HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU. I think 2012 is going to be a good year. There is something about an even-numbered year that pleases and reassures me more than an odd-numbered one does. I suspect 2011 is a prime number, which makes me feel insecure and inferior. I like to be in charge of numbers but 2011 thumbs its nose at me. I can't order it to divide itself into nice, even, bite-sized bits like a decent docile number should. On the other hand, I can divide good old 2012 by 2 and by 4 and 503 and 1006 and probably by a whole lot of other numbers if I feel like it, which leaves me feeling in charge. So yes, I feel much better about 2012 than I did about 2011.

Nevertheless, 2011 had its moments for me, and it's only right that we should record them for posterity. I learned some new things, picked up some new phrases, and tucked away little literary snippets for future use. Here's what I mean:

The most apt name for 2011:
A Norwegian new to sailing bought a boat to sail around the world and struck a sandbank outside his home harbor. While he was waiting for the tide to rise, he made himself a cup of tea. His stove caught fire, set the galley alight and burned the boat down to the waterline. He escaped unhurt in a rubber dinghy. His name? Bornt Olose.

The best poem of 2011:
Teeth is very nice to have,
They fills you with content.
(If you don’t understand that now
You will when they have went.)

The cleverest Tailpiece of 2011:
Time flies like a speeding arrow. Fruit flies like a rotten banana.

The saddest story of 2011:
Stavros O'Blimey, inventor of the patented self-darkening whisky glass, died in penury in Aberdeen, Scotland.

The most common exercises of 2011:
Running up bills
Hurling insults
Leaping to conclusions
Rubbing people up the wrong way
Pulling the wool over people's eyes
Throwing caution to the wind
Dragging people’s names into the mud
Dodging creditors, and
Flying off the handle.

Best nature poem of 2011:
Extensive exhaustive researches
By Darwin and Huxley and Ball
Have conclusively proved that the hedgehog
Can scarcely be ravished at all.

While further industrious enquiry
Has incontrovertibly shown
That this state of comparative safety
Is enjoyed by the hedgehog alone.

The best reality checks of 2011:
Every silver lining has a cloud.
There’s a tunnel at the end of every light.

Best Dog-Latin mottos of 2011:
Vinum super omnia.
Contra ventum non urinatum.
Illegitimus non carborundum.
And behind the head door: Veni Vidi Wiwi

The most honest comment on exterior brightwork in 2011:
The John Keats Varnish Rule: “A thing of beauty is a job forever.”

Today's Thought
Now in the New Year reviving old Desires,
The thoughtful Soul to Solitude retires.
— Omar Khayyam, Rubaiyat.

Cannibals in the Congo captured a missionary as he was traveling up the river in a dugout canoe. They were about to drop him into a pot of boiling water when he cried out: "Wait. Don't touch me. I possess powerful magic."

He went to the canoe, and patted the outboard motor. He pulled the string and it burst into life with a loud roar.  "See," he said. "I have power at my fingertips."

The savages fell back muttering in amazement.

"Well, I guess we'd better let him go," said the chief. "That really was magic. I've never before seen an outboard start on first pull."

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)