March 29, 2012

When men were men

SAILING MAGAZINES have become a lot tamer than they used to be.  And their editors have become less flamboyant. I guess it's the need to avoid being sued or alienate your readers or advertisers. Whatever the reason, I can't think of a sailing magazine that stirs the blood like the old Rudder and its feisty editor, Thomas Fleming Day, used to do.

One hundred years ago, The Rudder, published in New York, was writing about pirates.  Apparently they were just as much in evidence then as they are today, but on his editorial page,  Round the Clubhouse Fire, Thomas Day was of the opinion that pirates of even older times were sailors worthy of at least some praiseworthy recognition.  He refers to "the fine old times, when jails were few and pirates plenty. Grand days those, when if you wanted anything and had the powder and ball you could go and get it . . . when people mixed Religion and Rum in equal quantities and swallowed the discourses of the pulpit and the contents of the bottle without feeling the worse for it.

"After a life of active, glorious rascality, all you had to do was to settle down in some seaside town and put a brass knocker on the door, and wear a frilled shirt, and all was forgiven, if not forgotten.

"What you did not do, and what you were not, was charitably chiseled on your gravestone, and your neighbors spoke of you as the respectable Captain Cutpurse who came from nobody knew what and went to nobody knew where."

Yes, indeed, those were the days when men were men — and editors were men, too.

Today's Thought
It's when pirates count their booty that they become mere thieves.
— Bolitho, Twelve Against the Gods

No matter how much you push the envelope, it will always remain stationery.

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

March 27, 2012

Metric nightmares

I HAVE A RECURRING NIGHTMARE in which hundreds of chart makers are erasing all depths marked in fathoms and replacing them with depths marked in meters. It's the worst kind of nightmare a person can have, because, basically, it's true. It's happening. We are going metric, slowly but surely, and I can only express dismay and astonishment that such a useful natural measure as the fathom should be ousted by that most unnatural and artificial measure, the meter.

As you probably know, the meter was a blunder. The French thought it was one ten-millionth of the distance from the equator to the pole, measured along a meridian.  Well, their math wasn't too good. They got it wrong. So in 1960 the length of a meter was defined as 1,650,763.73 wavelengths of the orange-red radiation of krypton 86 under specified conditions. As you can imagine, not everybody has a piece of krypton 86 handy in case they want to check a meter or two, so, in 1983, the meter was officially re-defined as 1/299,792,458 of the distance light travels in a vacuum in one second.

Now, if you have a boat drawing 5 feet, and your chart says you are in water 2 meters deep, how do you know whether you're going to go aground or not? Where are you going to get a vacuum from for a start?  Well, okay, say you have a Thermos flask and a flashlight to shine inside it and a chronometer to measure one second exactly — how do you measure 1/299,792,458 of the distance the light travels?  I mean, it travels so fast. So what use is a chart marked in meters?  What use, in fact, is the meter? You'd be aground before you could find the Thermos.

Now the fathom, on the other hand, is something you can get to grips with. The word was derived from another word meaning two-arms'-width, or an embrace. That, in turn, came from the Latin root for arms.  Not guns and things. Arms with hands on the ends. In fact the Latin languages still make its derivation clear.  In Portuguese, for example, it's braca.  In Spanish it's braza, in Italian, braccio.  English had to be different, of course.  Our word fathom comes from the Old English faethm, which meant the outstretched arms.

You'll recall that the old lead-line used to find the depth of water was measured between the outstretched arms. Now, it might occur to you that different sailors had different-sized embraces, of course, so in the end, to keep things nice and tidy the fathom was standardized at 6 feet. And nobody tried to pretend it was any kind of portion of the distance between the poles, and nobody sat it down next to a piece of krypton 86 or tried to measure it in a vacuum.

At 6 feet, the fathom is a subdivision of the cable, which is 100 fathoms or 600 feet.  The cable, in turn is a subdivision of the nautical mile, which for all practical purposes is 6,000 feet (or 10 cables).  These are lovely, natural, easily remembered measurements.  There is no Frenchified pretense about them. They're good old Anglo-Saxon stock and they have served us well for many centuries.  I can hardly believe we are doing away with them in favor of such vague and inferior replacements.

We must have lost our senses. If were President, I'd insist that people keep on embracing the good old fathom. And it would be flogging and keel-hauling for stubborn recidivists who tried to re-introduce the meretricious meter.

Today's Thought
O coz, coz, coz, my pretty little coz, that thou didst know how many fathom deep I am in love! But it cannot be sounded; my affection hath an unknown bottom, like the bay of Portugal.
— Shakespeare, As You Like It

"How did you get that flat tire?"
"Ran over a Coke bottle."
"Jeez, didn't you see it?"
"Nah, the idiot had it in his coat pocket."

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

March 25, 2012

The most beautiful creation

IT WAS FRANCIS S. KINNEY who said: "Of all man's creations there is nothing more beautiful, I think, than a good-looking sailboat under sail."  Kinney was in a position to know. He was a well-known naval architect and yacht designer, and he revised and updated Norman L. Skene's classic book, Elements of Yacht Design.

In the eight edition of that book, Kinney admits: "Let me say that is it very difficult to design a good-looking boat."  In his opinion, it is the boat's sheerline that "crowns or damns the entire creation."  He discovered that one of the most important tricks to designing a good-looking sheer line was to make its low point tangent to a horizontal line about 80 percent of the waterline length aft.

He said the sheer should start out almost as a straight line at the bow and increase in curvature as it approaches the stern. Theoretically, he added, if the sheerline were projected beyond the stern the curve would continue to increase its curvature into a ram's horn.

And since the sheerline is one of the most beautiful lines on a boat, it should be accentuated. "This can be done by a contrasting color, like a varnished teak toerail above white topsides, or a white bulwark above black topsides. Another good combination — white house, turquoise sheer strake, white topsides, red bottom without any boot top.  To really make it look stunning, have a gilded cove line below the sheer."

Kinney liked to see the toerail tapered, too.  On a 40-foot boat, for example, he would taper it from, say, four inches high at the bow to about 2 1/2 inches high at the stern.  He also liked to make deckhouses less obvious by painting the topsides white to make the hull look bigger and painting the deckhouse light gray or light blue. "You'd be surprised how it makes the house sort of disappear," he said.

Another trick about designing deckhouses is to give them some tumblehome to their sides.  That is, the sides should lean inward at the top. "It is a subtlety of design that takes the curse off a boxlike house."

The camber, or crown, of the deck is important in creating a good looking boat, too. "It has a noticeable effect on appearance," Kinney said. He advocated a camber of 3/8 inch to the foot as a good all-round measure.

There's no doubt that a good yacht designer needs to have something of the artist in his or her makeup, because an artistic touch is need to create a handsome boat. And there are those among us (no names, no pack drill) who believe beauty in boats is probably at least as important as seaworthiness.  Indeed, there have been times when some of us (all right, it was me) have been smitten by a boat's looks to the extent of ignoring all her many vices. And I don't regret one moment of it.

Finally, an interesting observation from Kinney about what constitutes ugliness in lines.  "One of man's ugly creations in my opinion is the Volkswagen Beetle," he says. "Now let's analyze why this is so. Because, it seems to me, almost all of its lines are circles." He goes on to mention that the profile of a clipper bow can be like a VW Beetle if it is an ugly quarter-circle, or, when properly drawn, it can be a line of beauty culminating in a figurehead and flowing trailboard scrolls. "It is one of the most difficult line to get right," he claims. "The late A. Loring Swaysey, a yacht designer of some renown, told me once that he spent a whole day on the design of the clipper bow on a large three-masted schooner he was designing. One entire day for one line!"

Today's Thought
There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.
— Francis Bacon, Essays: Of Beauty

"I've got an idea Fred is going to be in the hospital a long time."
"Why? Did you see his doctor?"
"No. I saw his nurse."

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

March 22, 2012

Calculating boat size

IN THE VERY BEGINNING there was the dream.  The dream was of white puffballs of cloud in an azure blue sky, and soft warm seas curling up beneath the transom as the friendly trade winds urged your little boat across the wide ocean.  And as the dream became stronger, you wondered, "How big a boat do I need?" And it boiled down to two things: the number of crew and the weight of stores. The old rule said that to find the minimum required displacement for long-distance cruising with reasonably comfortable living spaces and amenities, all you had to do was multiply the combined weight of crew and stores by 7.

You already knew the number of crew. Just the two of you. But the weight of stores? How on earth do you estimate that? Well, you come to  me, of course. I know these things. Here are the rules of thumb:

Crew: Multiply number of crew by 160 pounds.

Stores: Allow 6 pounds per person per day.

Water: Allow 8.5 pounds per person per day. (That's a little more than 1 gallon U.S.)

Safety reserve:  Add it all up, then add 50 percent.

Personal gear: Allow 5 pounds per day, or a maximum of 120 pounds per person. For permanent liveaboards, make that a maximum of between 500 and 1,000 pounds.

So here's an example. Find the smallest boat needed for two people with water and provisions for six weeks.

—Displacement (within 10 percent) = (weight of crew and stores) x 7.

—Longest time between provisionings = 42 days.

—Number of crew = 2. Weight = 2 x 160 = 320 pounds.

—Daily stores = 6 pounds x 2 crew x 42 days = 504 pounds.

—Water = 8.5 pounds x 2 crew x 42 days = 714 pounds.

—Safety reserve = 504 (stores) + 714 (water) = 1,218 x 1.5 = 1,827.

Personal gear = 120 pounds x 2 = 240 pounds.

—Total weight of stores, safety reserve, and personal gear = 1,827 + 240 = 2,067 pounds.

—Displacement required = 2,067 x 7 = 14,469 pounds, or 6.5 tons.

—Displacement within 10 percent =  13,000 to 16,000 pounds (5.8 to 7 tons).

Now you know how big a boat to look for. So let the dream proceed.

(Or else, if you're like most of us, you can just wing it, and go in the boat you've already got.)  

Today's Thought
I believe it to be true that dreams are the true interpreters of our inclinations, but there is art required to sort and understand them.
— Montaigne, Essays III

If an S and an I and an O and a U
With an X at the end spell Su,
And an E and a Y and an E spell I,
Pray what is a speller to do?

Then if, also, an S and an I and G
And H E D spell side,
There's nothing much else for one to do
But go and commit sioux-eyesighed.

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

March 20, 2012

If you have to ask . . .

THEY SAY the new boat market is improving slightly, along with the rest of the economy. But sometimes those of us so closely involved with boats and sailing have a hard time realizing what a small portion of the economy we represent. For instance, the estimated value of all new sailboat building in the whole of North America in 2010 was just $272 million. [1]

Compare that with the amount we spend on warfare ($119.4 billion in Afghanistan alone last year) and you'll see what I mean. Even the car market in the USA is 253 times bigger than the boat market. Of course, the rate of boat building has long been affected by the overflowing used-boat market, with fiberglass hulls lasting 40 years or more without serious deterioration, and this lower output has meant higher prices for fewer new boats.

People often ask, "So how much does a new 35-foot boat cost these days?" But that's not an easy question to answer because the price varies more according to displacement than with overall length. It's an unfortunate fact of life that the top-quality materials and workmanship demanded by cruising yachts designed to cross oceans do not come cheap. For example, the price in 2012 for a new 34-foot Pacific Seacraft in Puget Sound, Washington, is somewhere between $300,000 and $310,000. If you take an average of $305,000, it works out at just over $22 a pound of displacement.

To this you would have to add many items of gear that seasoned cruisers would deem essential, such as a tender and outboard motor, spare sails, electronic and/or wind vane self-steering systems, radar,  and so on.  This could easily amount to 20 percent of the purchase price, bringing the total to $27 a pound for a boat ready to go deep-sea cruising.

So if you need to know the price of a new, top-of-the-range cruising sailboat, first find out what it weighs in pounds. Then multiply that number by 27 and you'll have a good idea of what it will actually cost you.  This is a more accurate way to estimate the price than comparing by overall length.  You can find less expensive new boats, naturally, and you'll get what you pay for. 

As far as I can see, the best bargain is a fairly new boat just back from a long cruise. It will have all the gear you need, with all the wrinkles ironed out. But you know the problem as well as I do: They're as scarce as hen's teeth.

[1] 2010 North American Sailing Industry Study

Today's Thought
If you can count your money, you don't have a billion dollars.
— J. Paul Getty

If life is like a box of chocolates, then love is like a game of poker. It starts with a pair. She gets a flush. He shows diamonds and before you know it they have a full house.

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

March 18, 2012

Creating Homo maritimus

THE TIME HAS COME to create a new species — a species of sailors.  And to this end I must insist that all you existing sailors cease having sex with landlubbers.

Here's the point: According to Guy Murchie, author of that extraordinary book The Seven Mysteries of Life (Mariner Books), mankind as a species is about to die out. He states: "Out of billions of species estimated to have foliated Earth in her five million years of evolution to date, only a couple of million exist at any one time because each lasts hardly a fleeting million years before it finally branches, withers, or in some way loses its identity."

In fact, 99.9 percent of all the species who ever lived on Earth have already disappeared, leaving only the most meager fossilized traces to prove it.

Now it just so happens that it is about one million years ago that man became definable as a separate species. Homo sapiens was just learning how to talk and solve such problems as how to keep a fire lit. "His numbers were small," says Murchie, "somewhere around 100,000 inquisitive furry creatures . . ."  Our numbers have increased many times since then, but the writing is on the wall.  Our time is up.  We've had our million years of fun. If we don't wither, we'll blow ourselves out of existence with nuclear bombs.

However, it occurred to me that a species is  a group of organisms capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring. If we can start a new species of sailors, Homo maritimus, say, we will have another million years to play with while the landlubbers wither away into oblivion.

The mistake sailors made in the past was to mingle with the doomed landlubbers. That needs to cease immediately. So stop having sex with non-sailors. Nature will then work her magic and find a way to prevent your wasting your superior seed on non-sailors, and, in turn, prevent them from forcing their inferior seed on us during their declining days. The time will come when fading landlubbers will no longer be able to breed with the brave new species of Homo maritimus, just as the mule is no longer able to breed with the horse or the donkey, the very species that produced him.

It is your job to save mankind from the kind of fate Mr. Murchie anticipates.  It is, indeed, your task to foster a new, improved species of mankind while the old, inferior one completes its fleeting million years. And the way you do this is to stop having sex with landlubbers. Instead, find a fellow sailor and make love to him.  Or her. There should be no resistance once you've explained that the future of mankind is at stake.

Today's Thought
Sex, a great and mysterious motive force in human life, has indisputably been a subject of absorbing interest to mankind through the ages.
— William J. Brennan,  former Associate Justice, U.S. Supreme Court 

"Good morning, madam, can I help you?"
"Don't you call me madam my good man. I'm a miss. And as for the goodness of the morning, I didn't come here to waste the day in idle prattle with a loudmouth like you. I came here to purchase rat poison."
"Yes, madam. Shall I wrap it or will you eat it now?"

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

March 15, 2012

Tension in the rigging

OLD WOTSISNAME, who never believes anything I say, just can't accept the fact that when he's sailing that concrete barge of his, the mast is pushing downward with a force of about 13 tons.
"If that was true, the mast would push the bottom out of the boat," he said.

Well, it IS true, whether OW believes it or not.  Few sailors realize it, but the compression load that the mast step must withstand is generally between 1.5 and 2.5 times the displacement weight of the boat.

That's the word straight from the mouth of an expert. David Potter ran Kemp Masts Ltd., in England, one of the largest spar manufacturers in the world, and in his book, The Care of Alloy Spars and Rigging (Granada Publishing) he offers several other tips that OW probably won't agree with.

Among them is the recommendation that you set up your upper shrouds and backstay with a tension of 10 percent of the boat's displacement.  Most people I've talked to say this is too much, but it's the rule I've always followed and I've never had any trouble on that score. It means that your forestay will automatically be given a higher tension than the backstay because the forestay makes a narrower angle with the mast, but that's exactly what you want, to keep your jib luff nice and straight.

On OW's boat, which probably displaces 15,000 pounds or so, he'd need to pre-load his upper shrouds and backstay with a tension of 1,500 pounds, something he can't bring himself to do, even if he managed to borrow someone's Loos tension gauges.

"At that rate, and under constant tension, day and night, the chainplates would probably pull out," he claims.  "Either that, or the bow would rise up to meet the stern."

Well, there are believers and unbelievers in the world of yachting, and OW is a confirmed atheist when it comes to rigging.  But I think he may have to learn to say some prayers nicely when he next gets caught out in a decent blow.

Today's Thought
Ignorance is preferable to error; and he is less remote from truth who believes nothing than he who believes what is wrong.
— Thomas Jefferson, Writings

The last time they had trouble with the head on the Royal Yacht, Prince Phillip called in a plumber. "Before you begin," said the prince, "I'd like to acquaint you with the cause of the trouble."
"I'm very pleased to meet you, Ma'am," said the plumber, bowing to the Queen.

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

March 13, 2012

The perfect crew

WHAT KIND OF PERSON makes the best crew? Sometimes I try to rank the assets of a good crewmember.  For example, is a sense of humor more valuable than the ability to steer a nice course to windward? Is a good cook better than a hand who can apply bottom paint without supervision?

The permutations are endless, but every time I come up with the same answer. The best crew is the one who is almost invisible. The one who is always in the right place at right time. Never in your way.  Never sits on companionway steps. Never blocks the gangway down below. Just glides into a bunk and disappears. Never hogs the head.

This person has a sort of sixth sense regarding his or her presence in relation to other people, particularly the skipper, and always keeps clear. Without consciously knowing it, this person is acutely aware of exactly where other people are and where they are likely to want to be in the immediate future.

Now and then you see people like this in airports and on planes. They always have their shoes off without being asked. They never get pinged by the metal detector. They always have their ID ready to show alongside their ticket and boarding pass. They never have to search their carry-on for their missing passport. The main thing about them is that you never notice them unless you're specifically looking for them. They're never the center of any fuss. They never seem to need help. They just quietly and efficiently go about their business, slipping in and out of exactly the right lines. And they all had a pee before they left home, just like their Mom told them.

I have a theory about these people.  I think they're somebody's crew.  Some sailboat owner has trained them.  Sailors, all of them.  Sailors of the best kind, bless 'em.  Why can't everybody be like them?

Today's Thought
How often the highest talent is wrapped in obscurity.
— Plautus, Captivi

"Mom, what are those things?"
"They're blackberries."
"But they're red."
"Yes, blackberries are always red when they're green."

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

March 11, 2012

$pring is $prung

IT'S A SURE SIGN of spring and the new sailing season when the mailman delivers the West Marine catalog.  I'm not sure, though, that I get enough respect from the mailman.  I'm thinking of getting me a gold frame for my mailbox, so the mailman knows I belong to the Mitt Romney set, the 1 percent whom West Marine optimistically presumes can afford to order stuff from their catalog.

Mitt says his wife has two Cadillacs. Ha! She should have a boat. Then she'd need winches. Winches are on page 11 of my new catalog.  Andersen winches, made by Ronstan.  The top-end ones retail for $11,069.  And that's not for two.  That's $11,069 each, though I must admit you can get a $300 mail-in rebate if you should deign to ask for it.

Flip forward to page 21 and you can see the sort of Rocna anchor you might need.  I have never liked Rocnas, not because they don't perform well, but because it's such a hokey name.  It's just anchor spelled backwards without the "h."  Somebody's little joke. But the price is not a joke. The big ones go for $4,100 each.  Mitt is just lucky his wife's Cadillacs don't need anchors.

They probably don't need touchscreen GPS plotters, either.  Sailors seem to, however, because West Marine is offering top-of-the-line Garmin GPSMap network multi-function displays for a mere $6,099.99.  You might wonder at the 99 cents.  I think it has something to do with forcing the cashier to make change when people come in and start flinging 1,000-dollar bills around. Giving them 1-cent change must make them feel they're getting a better deal.

I don't quite know how to explain a charge of $17.11, however.  I can't imagine a back-office number-cruncher figuring out that this is the exact sum for which an item should sell to make exactly the profit anticipated. Nevertheless, West Marine is charging $17.11 a foot for large-sized anchor chain.  That's $1.42 an inch, which should impress the mailman if nothing else does.

It's a good job sailors belong to the Romney 1 percent because although they don't have to do their own painting and varnishing, they still have to pay for the anti-fouling and varnish that the hired labor needs.  My catalog lists Trinidad's fine SR antifouling paint at $244.99 a gallon, and that's a bargain price apparently because it's normally $264.99.  As for varnish, well, it's  a steal.  Interlux's Schooner Gold varnish retails for $52.99 a quart.  That makes it only $211.96 a gallon.

But even the big spenders like bargains, of course, and it's only fair to mention that not everything in this catalog is reckoned in the thousands. For instance, there's a Tiller Tamer for only $31.99.  It does the same job as a 5-cent piece of old rope, of course, but it looks more sophisticated.

In the same league, on page 13 there's a Robship Line Holder, a scrap of material that will hold a coiled line to a pulpit railing.  It costs a mere $19.19 (another problem for the cashier) and it creates a feeling of high-tech savvy for newbies who don't know that you can keep the same coil in place just as securely by tucking one end through the loop.

And what's more, the mailman doesn't need to know you're buying a line holder rather than a set of $11,000 winches.  All he needs to know is that you belong to the 1 percent who get West Marine catalogs.

Today's Thought
"Vile money!" True. Let's have enough
To save our thinking of such stuff.
— William Allingham, Blackberries

"I want a corset for my wife."
"Yes, sir, what bust?"
"Nothing. She just wore it out."

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

March 8, 2012

The green non-flash

A MESSAGE from "Crystal," in the Sea of Cortez says:

"Before we left San Diego we head lots of stories from fellow cruisers about how easy it is to see the fabled green flash at sunset.  We've been in the Sea of Cortez for more than a month now, and we haven't seen any sign of a green flash.  What are we doing wrong?"

Well, Crystal, first of all, you need a sea horizon to the west of you at sunset. If you're in the Gulf of California you have land to the west of you all the way from Cabo San Lucas north almost to the U. S. border.  That means you won't see the sun set  over the sea unless you are a good distance offshore, and I imagine that you're pretty close to the shore when you anchor most nights.

Secondly, the green flash is an elusive phenomenon. You can watch until you're blue in the face and never see one.  But on rare occasions, when atmospheric conditions are right, you might see a green flash in the very last rays of the setting sun as it sinks into the sea.

It has been mentioned by several well-known ocean voyagers, and I've seen it myself in the middle of the South Atlantic on a calm evening in the southeast trades. It usually lasts only a fraction of a second but you can prolong it slightly by standing up immediately you see it. If you're really lucky, your boat might be lifted on a swell at that moment, which will save you the trouble of standing up, but don't count on it.

There are a lot of pictures of green flashes on the Internet to whet your appetite, Crystal. Mr. Google is just dying to show them to you. And there's a good backgrounder on green flashes by Andrew T. Young [1].  Meanwhile, however, you should steel yourself to the fact that you're not likely to see a green flash until you sail out of the Sea of Cortez. I'm afraid you're in green-flash-proof territory down there.  I'm sure there is a lot to compensate for this small loss, however.

PS:  I'm told the green flash sometimes occurs at dawn, too, when the bleary sun is just struggling over the horizon. If you're desperate enough, you might watch out for it.

Today's Thought
Nature is a rag-merchant, who works up every shred and ort and end into new creations; like a good chemist whom I found, the other day, in his laboratory, converting his old shirts into pure white sugar.
— Emerson, Conduct of Life: Considerations by the Way

"What's Paddy doing with the big roll of barbed wire?"
"He's practicing for the Irish fencing team."

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

March 6, 2012

Seaworthy centerboards

THIS COMMENT just in from someone called Hugo:

"Hello Mr Vigor! As per your book The Seaworthy Offshore Sailboat, boats with a combination of keel and centerboard may not be seaworthy. Since I am considering buying a Jeanneau Sun Rise 35 with a combined pivoting centerboard and stub keel, I am writing to you for advice. Would you consider this particular boat safe and seaworthy enough to cruise from Bermuda to Polynesia and sail around the islands, with side visits to New Zealand and Australia?.

"I shall very much appreciate your expert opinion.

"Best regards,


Well, Hugo, I don't recall saying that keel/centerboarders are not seaworthy.  What I said was that the seaworthiness of such a boat is very difficult to evaluate in terms of its recovery from an upside-down position.   And I don't remember claiming to be an expert  on the subject, either.  So take what advice I have to offer with a liberal dose of salt.

I must say that Jeanneau has had a lot of experience with keel/centerboarders of various sizes, even if they weren't exactly designed for ocean voyaging in the first place. Most of the type are designed as coastal cruisers in areas where shallow waters prevail.  There is no profit in building a centerboarder if your usual cruising waters are deep enough for a fixed keel.

On the other hand, many of the hardest-working ocean-going sailboats are deep-sea racers, and there was a time when, for rule-cheating reasons, many of them were built with centerboards protruding from a stub keel.  The stub keel gave them ballasted stability, of course, and the deep, thin centerboard made them very efficient to windward.

According to Ted Brewer, the well-known naval architect, "One true rule beater was the 1950s Olin Stephens-designed Finisterre. This beamy keel/centerboard yawl took advantage of the rule without really bending it. Her wide beam (moderate by today's standards), shoal centerboard draft, hefty displacement, modest ballast, and yawl rig combined to give her a favorable rating. Combined with Olin Stephen's design genius and Carleton Mitchell's expert handling, she was the boat to beat in any race she entered, and won a room full of trophies. Finisterre's success inspired a host of keel/centerboard yawls, ranging from Bill Shaw's lovely little 24-foot MORC racer, Trina, to Bill Tripp's handsome Block Island 40 and Bermuda 40 and big 50-plus footers such as the beautiful Innishfree, designed by George Cuthbertson, founder of C&C Yachts." 

Eventually, this combination of keel and centerboard gave way to fin keels and spade rudders, but when the keel/centerboard combination ruled the roost, such boats went to sea in all weather conditions and did just fine.

I don't think you have anything to worry about on the score of seaworthiness, Hugo.  These boats are not terribly popular now because it's more expensive to build in a centerboard, which, incidentally, also introduces another thing to go wrong at the most awkward time.

There are advantages, though.  Besides allowing you to sail in water less than 4 feet deep, your Sun Rise 35's centerboard will help you balance the boat to its sailplan by moving the board back or forward to change the center of lateral resistance.

At least, that's the theory.  I don't think you're likely to bother too much with this while you're swanning around the South Seas distracted by the rustle of grass skirts, but it's nice to know that you could if you wanted to.

So go for it, Hugo.  Happy Sun Rise to you.

Today's Thought
 The fruit of my tree of knowledge is plucked, and it is this: "Adventures are to the adventurous."
— Benjamin Disraeli, Ixion in Heaven

"What's the orchestra playing now?" 
"According to that board over there, it's a Refrain from Spitting."

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

March 4, 2012

It pays to be single

IT ALWAYS GIVES ME a good feeling when a boat I'm on has two means of propulsion, sails and an auxiliary motor.  So I'm always rather glad, for safety reasons, that I'm not aboard a motor cruiser that has only one diesel engine and no way to make sail.

There are an awful lot of powerboats that have only one engine, including the majority of the world's fishing boats, and it used to puzzle me why this should be.  But after a little research I discovered the answer:  In general, two engines are not twice as good as one, whether they be inboards or outboards.

As a rule, twin-screw installations are comparatively wasteful of power. They also cost more, need larger fuel tanks, require more servicing, and weigh far more.  In addition, twin-screw installations are commonly rather cramped, and leave little room for access, thus almost guaranteeing that the engines will be poorly maintained.

The commonest reason for having twin engines is safety. But that can be misleading. Many twin-screw powerboats with planing hulls are almost unmanageable under one engine in bad sea conditions — the very conditions under which engine failure is most likely.

What is often overlooked is the fact that a boat with two 100-h.p. engines cannot make the same use of all the available power as a boat with one 200-h.p. engine. Added weight, added friction in drivetrains, and added underwater drag from extra struts and rudders are high prices to pay.

The rule of thumb is that a twin-screw installation wastes about 20 percent of the power available compared with a single engine of comparable horsepower. With fuel prices reaching record levels, that's a formidable price to pay.  Besides, modern diesel engines are extremely reliable if they're given the simple maintenance they require.

I still prefer to have an alternative means of propulsion up my sleeve, but now I can see why designers and builders turn out so many single-engined motor cruisers. They're trading fuel economy and efficiency for safety, certainly, but the odds are on their side.

Today's Thought
Power is so far from being desirable in itself that it sometimes ought to be refused, and sometimes to be resigned.
— Cicero, De Officiis

A sailor rowing a dinghy came across a man in the water fighting off a shark. Nearby, on a 45-foot ketch, the man's wife stood calmly by with a rifle in her hand.
"Why don't you shoot the beast?" the sailor asked.
"I will if I have to," said the woman, "but I'm waiting to see if the shark will save me the trouble."

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

March 1, 2012

A bigger fish to fry

FRENCH FISHERMEN have caught the biggest fish in the Indian Ocean — a 28,000-ton Italian luxury cruise ship with more than 1,000 people on board.

The tuna-fisher Trevignon responded to a call for help from the Costa Allegra when a fire destroyed the cruise ship's generators and disabled her engines. Although tiny in size compared with the Allegra, the Trevignon has powerful engines designed to haul heavy seine nets through the water.

The fishing boat got a line aboard the stricken liner and towed her at 6 knots for three days to Mahé, capital of the Seychelle Islands. Along the way, the Frenchmen refused to hand their prize over to two more powerful tugs from Mahé, which could have towed the liner faster and got her passengers ashore about a day earlier. Without electrical power, the passengers had no working toilets, no air conditioning, and no hot food.

Now, with the Allegra safely berthed in port, the Trevignon's crew can look forward to a salvage award that could mean they'll never have to catch another tuna in their lives.  

According to Captain D. Peter Boucher, a retired master mariner living in Coral Gables, Florida, once that towline was passed and accepted, the standard maritime salvage rights were established for the FV Trevignon. Even though the fishing boat is French and the  liner is Italian, English Law will apply, Capt. Boucher maintains.

Lloyds' Open Form (LOF) is a salvage agreement almost universally accepted by seafarers. "It is a "No Cure No Pay" agreement, which was put in place in the 19th century by Lloyds' Insurance of London, United Kingdom," says Boucher. "No amount of money is quoted in LOF, which is about a page-and-a-half long, and quite basic. Once the salvage is successful (that is, "cured") then an arbitrator sits down and assesses the entire operation to come up with an award amount for the "cure," based on the value of the ship, its cargo and/or passengers, risks involved, dangers involved, and the overall degree of difficulty.

"Usually the arbitrator is a Queen's Counsel of the English Admiralty Bar who follows English Civil Law on Salvage and decides on the award to the tower vessel. Clearly in the current case of towing the MS Costa Allegra, a passenger vessel, this award could be considerable."

It can take many months to decide such matters, of course, but if the crew of the Trevignon are like many other sailors I know, I bet they're swilling champagne and living the high life in Mahé right now and celebrating the biggest catch of their lives.

(The Costa Allegra, incidentally, belongs to the same company as the cruise liner Costa Concordia, which capsized recently after hitting rocks off the Italian island of Giglio.)

Today's Thought
This is our special duty, that if anyone specially needs our help, we should give him such help to the utmost of our power.
— Cicero, De Officiis

Fruit fly to horse fly:  "Uh, don't look now, my friend, but your human is undone."

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