November 29, 2012

The cost of cruising

 JUST AS people on land spend varying amounts of money on everyday living, so do sailors who go long-term cruising. You can spend as much as you care to on a yacht and its maintenance, according to the style and luxury you seek, but what is of more interest here, perhaps, is how little you can get away with if you weren’t born with a silver spoon in your mouth.

It probably should come as no surprise that if you are frugal on land, you’re likely to be frugal on a boat, too. Two of the world’s most experienced cruisers, Lin and Larry Pardey, figure the cost of cruising this way:

Take all your everyday onshore expenses. Subtract all your costs for cars or trucks. Subtract two-thirds of your expenses for your rent, your mortgage, your mooring costs, and your clothing. Add 33 1/3 percent to the cost of your food.

The result, say the Pardeys, is pretty close to what you’ll spend when you go long-term cruising.

On the other hand, a simpler formula was invented by the famous French round-the-worlder, Bernard Moitessier. When asked after a lecture in San Francisco how much it costs to go cruising, he said: “Everything you’ve got.”

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

The trouble is, by the time we get old enough not to care what anybody says about us, nobody’s saying anything about us.

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November 27, 2012

How fast will you sink?

THE TSUNAMI IN JAPAN washed out to sea a great deal of debris that is now headed for the Pacific Northwest coastline. Some of it has already arrived, of course, including a huge floating concrete dock that washed up on an Oregon beach — not the kind of thing you want to run into with your yacht in mid-ocean on a dark and stormy night.

But the fact that there’s lots more debris on the way got me wondering what I would do if I were in a boat whose hull was pierced by something good and solid. 

The depressing fact is that most bilge pumps cannot cope with the inflow of water from a reasonably sized hole in the hull. If it happens to you, your priority should be to try to stem the flow somehow, either by stuffing cushions or something similar in the hole from inside, or by covering the hole with a collision mat, or a sail, from the outside. That should slow down the flow enough to enable your pumps to cope while you make more permanent repairs.

But unless conditions are ideal, a surprisingly small hole will sink you in short order.

For the record, here’s the formula for rate of flooding from an underwater hole:

Incoming gallons per minute = D x square root of H x 20

(D = the diameter of the hole in inches and H = height in feet to which the water must rise to reach outside water level — in other words, the depth of the hole below water level.)

Note that a mere 2-inch-diameter hole 3 feet below the waterline will let in 69 gallons a minute, or more than 4,000 gallons an hour. A high-capacity power pump is rated at 3,000 gallons per hour. The pump is simply not going to win.

Today’s Thought
In smooth water God help me; in rough water I will help myself.
— George Herbert, Jacula Prudentum

“How was the concert?”
“Terrible. I had to change my seat four times.”
“Some man bother you?”
“Yeah — finally.”

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November 25, 2012

Be modest with binoculars

IF YOU ARE a very nice person, and if you are thinking of buying a new pair of binoculars for someone with a boat, don’t waste your money on the highest-power magnification you can find.

Be content with a modest magnification because the erratic motion of a small boat causes images to shimmer and blur in the eyepieces. The rule-of-thumb glasses for small boats are 7 x 50s. Anything more powerful is a waste of money.

Incidentally, 7 x 50 means the image is enlarged seven times, and the front lenses are 50 mm in diameter. The 7 x 35 format is quite popular, too, but the larger the front lens, the better the binoculars will gather light at night. The 7 x 50 format makes for good night glasses that will help you spot buoys and moored boats mostly invisible to the naked eye after sundown.

You can buy military spin-offs such as night scopes and image-stabilizing binoculars that provide steadier pictures and magnifications of as much as 14 times, but they will cost you an arm, a leg, and maybe an ear or two. They’re heavy, full of vulnerable electronics, and they’ll need a constant supply of batteries. Unless you’re a professional spy, you really don’t need them.

And if you should be so lucky as to receive a pair of good binoculars from a nice person this festive season, guard them carefully. Good binoculars are expensive. Buy yourself a second, cheap pair for visitors who keep changing your settings and won’t put the damned strap around their necks.

Today’s Thought
The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something. Hundreds of people can talk for one who thinks, but thousands can think for one who can see. To see clearly is poetry, prophecy and religion all in one.
-- Ruskin, Modern Painters

“Yes, I’ve been very unfortunate with both my husbands.”
“Oh? Why?”
“Well, the first one ran away.”
“And the second?”
“He didn’t.”

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

November 22, 2012

Estimating fuel consumption

IF YOU THINK fuel-mileage figures on new-car stickers are misleading, wait till you to try to find out how many miles you get to the gallon on a boat.

Few boat owners know their fuel consumption to any degree of accuracy because it varies so much with boat speed, headwinds, contrary currents, and the boat’s load. Most owners tend to exaggerate their mileage figures, probably because the truth is so depressing.

Nevertheless, it’s important for any serious boater to know at least roughly how far the boat will go on a tankful of fuel, and a couple of simple formulas will help establish that figure.

Firstly, an inboard gasoline engine will use roughly one gallon of fuel per hour for every 10 horsepower expended. So, if a 40-horsepower engine is running at half speed and expending 20 horsepower, it’s using about two gallons of fuel every hour.

Now, diesel fuel has more energy, by volume, than gasoline, so a diesel engine needs about one gallon per hour for every 18 horsepower expended.

Incidentally, most marine engines expend about 75 percent of maximum horsepower at cruising speed. So if you have a 25-horsepower diesel engine and you’re running at cruising speed, you’re using about 18 horsepower and your engine is swallowing about one gallon of fuel an hour.

Outboard engines use far more fuel than inboards, of course — often as much as 50 percent more — and two-strokes use considerably more than four-strokes.

Finally, here’s a handy tip that will make the Coast Guard love you: When you’re going on a trip, plan to use one-third of your fuel on the outward leg, one-third to get back, and one-third for a safety reserve.                

Today’s Thought
He is free from danger who, even when he is safe, is on his guard.
— Publilius Syrus, Sententiae.

“What’s Vanessa’s last name?”
“Vanessa who?”

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

November 20, 2012

Ideas for a protest committee

I WAS JUST THINKING to myself “Thank goodness it’s Thanksgiving. Nobody wants to read a column during Thankgiving.  They’re all too busy having lots of food and fun.  So I don’t have to write a column. Whoopee.”

But then I realized, from long and bitter experience, that there’s always some whiner lying on the couch who’ll be planning to read the column on an iPad propped up on his extended stomach after Thanksgiving lunch.

Well, dang!

It sort of reminds me of all the whining that went on a few days back, after the computers running the Virtual Vendee Globe crashed for more than four hours. Lots of poor hapless souls engaged in cut-throat rivalry with fellow competitors nearly went crazy as their boats plowed on through the North Atlantic on their own, with no-one at the helm.  Some ran aground and flailed around hopelessly. Others fell into irons as the wind direction changed.  Almost all were adversely affected in some way or another as their boats rushed along out of control.  Too many, I fear, resorted to hard liquor and wrote nasty complaints to the game organizers.

I must confess that I was one of those who complained.  I had worked my brain to the bone day and night for more than a week to bring my boat up to about 20,000th position out of 300,000 starters.  But when I was eventually able to rejoin the game, after someone gave the computers some smelling salts, I found to my astonishment that I was now ranked about 4,500. 

I made the mistake of gloating to my wife about it.  “You should just let the darned boat sail itself,” she remarked.  “It seems to go much better when you’re not interfering.”  Interfering, she said, honestly. Jeez, that hurt.

But all the same, she may have a point. Now that I’m at the helm again we’ve fallen back to 60,000 and something.  And we’re continuing to lose places steadily.

But what I was going to say was that the organizers felt really guilty about the computer crashes (yes, more than one).  They formed a Protest Committee. They had a formal hearing and decided after much sober debate that there was nothing they could do that would be fair to all entrants. But the guilt still gnawed at them. So they decided on a decidedly Gallic course of action that basically meant fining themselves. They vowed to make a contribution to charity.

They didn’t mention how much they decided to give, or to whom.  In any case, I think it was a wrong move.  Nobody taking part in the race benefits from this, unless by chance they belong to the Homeless Ex-Mariners’ Benevolent Society.  No, what the Protest Committee should have done was to set up more prizes.  Doesn’t charity begin at home, after all? As far as I know, there’s only one prize at the moment for the overall winner, and that’s a watch said to be worth about 1,600 euros.

There could be lots more prizes.  First boat to the equator. First to go aground. First to Cape Horn. Last one to finish before the cut-off time. And so on.

I don’t suppose it will happen. The race organizers don’t read this column, you know. They’re French.  I’m tempted to say that explains everything, but I won’t. I don’t want to antagonize them. I’m calmly waiting for the next computer crash to get me back in front again, out through the doldrums and heading helter skelter through the south-east trades for St. Helena.  It probably won’t be long.   

Today’s Thought
Luck, mere luck, may make even madness wisdom.
— Douglas Jerrold,  Jerrold’s Wit: Luck

Happy Thanksgiving
I’D LIKE TO THANK all of you ( well, both of you, actually ) for reading this column so faithfully week after week.  We’ve notched up more than a quarter million page views now, which must mean some people read the same pages over and over an awful lot of times.

But have a wonderful Thanksgiving anyway.  I wish you all that’s best and tastiest.

“Dad, why did you say the girls at the health club are all ugly?”
“I didn't say they were ugly. I said they held a beauty contest there the other day and nobody won.”

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

November 18, 2012

Just call it 2,000 yards

We all know (don’t we?) that it’s wrong to talk about knots per hour. The words “per hour” are redundant because a knot is already a speed of one nautical mile per hour. If you talk about knots per hour, therefore, you’re really talking about nautical miles per hour per hour, which drives other people mad.

That’s a pity, because the nautical mile is a pleasingly natural measurement, unlike the contrived kilometer and its affected minor offspring, the centis and the millis. The mariner’s mile is simply one-sixtieth of one degree of latitude.

Now, man’s ability to translate degrees of latitude into humble feet and inches that we can all understand has always varied with man’s ability to measure accurately the surface of the earth. But one degree of latitude has always equaled 60 nautical miles.

For many years, certainly as far back as I can remember, one nautical mile was held to be 6,080 feet. But we now know, thanks to brainier scientists and improved satellite equipment, that it’s actually 6,076.1 feet or 2,025.4 yards.

For all practical purposes, the harried navigator on a heaving yacht in bad visibility can take the nautical mile to be 2,000 yards. After all, the extra 25 yards is merely the length of one large yacht, and if your navigation is that good, your skipper will have nothing to complain about.

The land mile, used on the Great Lakes, inland rivers, and the Intracoastal Waterway, is still 1,760 yards, as always.

Another nice thing about the nautical mile is that one-tenth of one is a cable — say 200 yards, or two football fields. Since your GPS gives readouts in tenths, you have a ready visual reference for nautical distances in terms of familiar football fields. That’s something the metric system can’t hope to emulate. Who among us can visualize one tenth of a kilometer? Or ever want to?

Today’s Thought
New times demand new measures and new men;
The world advances, and in time outgrows
The laws that in our fathers’ day were best;
And, doubtless, after us, some purer scheme
Will be shaped out by wiser men than we.
— J. R. Lowell, A Glance Behind the Curtain.

“Nurse, get the patient’s name so we can inform his parents.”
“What for, doctor? His parents already know his name.”

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

November 15, 2012

Learning the ropes

YOU DONT HAVE TO learn the names of all the ropes immediately you start sailing. Some boat owners like to show off their knowledge by using technical terms that beginners can’t understand. They give the impression that you can’t sail, or even crew efficiently, if you’re not familiar with nautical jargon.

That’s not true, of course. You only have to see the kindergartners sailing the Optimists to know that. In fact, the more a skipper insists on pompous correctitude, the less likely he or she is to be a capable and experienced mariner.

Sailor’s lingo was important in the heyday of sail, when sailing ships had hundreds of lines and sailors had to know each one by name. But those times are past. If you’re a beginner, you can pick up the right terms at your own pace now.

Skippers whose self-importance exceeds their knowledge often insist that when rope is taken aboard a vessel, it becomes line. Not so. There are several kinds of ropes, including bolt ropes and foot ropes. And guess what sailors themselves said of a hand who showed professional competence? They said he “knew the ropes.” No experienced sailor ever boasted that he “knew the lines.”

If you’re a skipper trying to teach someone to sail, it helps if you repeat the correct phrase after giving a simplified one, so that your novice can learn the sailor’s lingo quickly and naturally.

Today’s Thought
To know how to suggest is the great art of teaching.
— Amiel, Journal, 16 Nov., 1864

“And how’s Mr. Vigor doing this morning, nurse?”
“Much better, doctor. He tried to blow the foam off his medicine.”


November 13, 2012

What's that down there?

IT’S SOBERING TO THINK that we know more about the dark side of the Moon than we do about the oceans that surround us.  I was reminded of this by a story in the Canadian newspaper, The Province, which revealed that two skeletons of a species of whale that has never been seen alive by human eyes were washed up on North Island, New Zealand The beached skeletons were those of an adult and her 10-foot male calf.  

The newspaper said the discovery was published by researchers from the United States and New Zealand in the journal Current Biology. “For the first time we have a description of the world’s rarest and perhaps most enigmatic marine mammal,” they say.

Previously only three skull fragments of the species— known as the spade-toothed beaked -whale—had been found: in New Zealand in 1872 and in the 1950s, and the last one 26 years ago on an island off Chile. The males have broad blade-like tusk teeth that give the species its name. Both males and females have beaks which make them resemble dolphins.

If you have ever sailed on the ocean, you must have wondered, as I have on many occasions, what was hiding below you. For years I have been haunted by a thought first expressed by the famous 20-century ocean scientist William Beebe, who described the ocean as having millions of little eyes peering upwards at us as we pass by. 

 And not only little eyes. The biggest mammals on earth live in the ocean, including the Blue Whale and the giant squid, with eyes as big as car hubcaps. Most experts believe it’s possible that there are even bigger squids or other creatures that have so far managed to remain hidden from us, and they believe that there could be a great deal of truth in those ancient pictures of krakens and other sea monsters dragging large sailing ships to their doom.

 “This is a good reminder,” said Rochelle Constantine, a co-author of the Current Biology paper, “of how large the oceans are, and of how little we know about them.”

And if that doesn’t send a shiver down your spine, it should.

Today’s Thought
It happens, by a common vice of human nature, that we trust most to, and are most seriously frightened at, things which are strange and unknown.
— Cæsar, De Bello Civili.

"Doctor! Doctor! Help me! I think I'm shrinking!"
"Now calm down, Mr. Jones, there's nothing to be done. You'll just have to be a little patient.”

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

November 11, 2012

Getting an engine survey

IT HAS ALWAYS seemed strange to me that marine surveyors don’t survey some of the most important parts of a boat. Hardly any will investigate the condition of the auxiliary engine, for example.

The engine represents a large portion of the value of a sailboat. A new one professionally installed costs as much as a small car. If you’re buying a used boat, therefore, it will pay you to get a good mechanic to survey the engine.

A well-equipped mechanic can use a heat sensor to check for blocked water passages, a bad thermostat, and other cooling problems. A compression test will uncover bad rings or worn cylinders. Smoke, steam, and water coming from the exhaust all tell their own stories to the expert and an electrical test will determine the state of the batteries and the amount of charge from the alternator.

A good mechanic will check the fuel filters for signs of water and algae in the fuel tank. Engine alignment, the condition of hoses,

the color of the engine oil, the amount of corrosion, the condition of the engine mounts--all these things should be checked. It’s money well spent.

It’s a sure bet, though, that not every mechanic has all the equipment needed for a thorough survey. Make sure yours has.

Today’s Thought
The bad workmen, who form the majority of the operatives in many branches of industry, are decidedly of the opinion that bad workmen ought to receive the same wages as good.
-- John Stuart Mill, On Liberty

“Why the tears?”
“Oh, Johnny, the dog ate your supper.”
“There, there, my dear.  I’ll buy you a new dog first thing tomorrow”

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November 8, 2012

A race of superlatives

Swiss skipper Bernard Stamm fights
70-knot winds in a previous Vendée Globe

IT’S HARD FOR US to imagine what a big deal the yacht race known as the Vendée Globe is for the people of France. Someone recently described this non-stop, single-handed round-the-world race as rather ‘parochial,’ and in a way that’s true because the great majority of the 20 entrants for this year’s race are French, and there seems to be very little interest in other countries such as the United States, which is not represented at all.

Neverthless, the Globe, which starts tomorrow (Saturday, November 10, 2012) is a unique race, a race of superlatives. It’s by far the toughest test of human endurance at sea, and of human ingenuity in designing and building 60-foot sailboats capable of withstanding the extraordinary stresses of crashing through the world’s stormiest seas at speeds in excess of 20 knots for months on end.

Not all the solo starters will finish the race, that is almost a certainty. Boats have limped into port under jury rig, and lives have been lost, before. Gallant rescues have been made to save the lives of fellow competitors out of reach of normal rescue services.

This race should touch the hearts of all who sail, no matter where they live in the world, but it also strongly affects millions of French people who are not sailors themselves, but who recognize the drama in this supreme test of man against nature. More than a quarter million of them are cramming themselves into the little western seaside town of Les Sables-d’Olonne in the department of Vendée every day to see the boats and catch a glance at the brave souls who will sail them on this two-month lone odyssey, among them Britain’s female entrant, Samantha Davies, mother of a young child.

As Bruno Retailleau, president of the General Council of Vendée, put it:

“The Vendée Globe has taken on a more popular dimension in the village. What has impressed me is the capacity and passion of the public. There has not been so much of a queue as a procession. People wait patiently, talking quietly, look at the boats and share the dream. You sense a certain harmony, forming a communion between the event and the public. There is something which develops between the public and the skippers. People want to see them because they are heroes. The concept of the race is so simple that everyone can understand it, you don’t have to be any kind of sailor. I think mostly it is a beautiful, simple story, a legend. It is more than a competition, a race. This is the story of a confrontation between man and nature. Man in a world in which he is fragile faces nature which is big and dangerous. But whether you are French, Brazilian or Japanese you can live this race. And the race is gaining an even more international dimension.”

Like the U.S. presidential election, the Vendée Globe takes place only once every four years, and no one who is not French has ever won it. Maybe this year it will be different. In any case, I tip my hat to the brave souls taking part, and wish each and every one of them safe voyaging on their remarkable journeys around the world.

 Today’s Thought
No game was ever yet worth a rap
For a rational man to play,
Into which no accident, no mishap,
Could possibly find its way.
-- A. L. Gordon, Ye Weary Wayfarer.

“Did you hear the news? Flossie just sold her second novel.”
“Great! What did she use for the plot?”
“The film version of her first novel.”

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

November 6, 2012

Sounds from the depths

SCIENTISTS WORKING FOR the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are wondering what’s causing some strange sounds in the depths of the ocean. Their vast array of underwater hydrophones has picked up some mysterious noises for which they have no explanation.

One of the noises, nicknamed “Upsweep,” is like the continuous scratch of tree branches against your bedroom window. It has been noted seasonally since 1991, peaking in spring and fall, and NOAA’s best brains think it might have something to do with undersea volcanic activity, but they can’t be sure.

Another sound recorded in July 1997, called “The Whistle,” sounds like a kettle of boiling water. Only one hydrophone picked it up, so it wasn’t possible to say where the noise was coming from, and to this day the scientists are scratching their heads about what caused it.

But perhaps the most mysterious noise of all is “The Bloop.” In 1997, NOAA’s hydrophones picked one of the loudest underwater sounds ever recorded off the southern coast of South America. “The Bloop,” which sounds just like it name, was recorded by two hydrophones nearly 3,000 miles apart.  It apparently mimics animal sounds in some way, but it’s far too loud to have been made by any sea creatures so far known to man.

Aside from the scientific mystery involved here, I am fascinated by the fact that the world’s oceans, even in the remotest parts of the Antarctic, are crisscrossed with listening devices.  I know that nations like to listen out for other nation’s submarines and warships, but I hadn’t properly realized that agencies such as NOAA have their own arrays of hydrophones, all listening for interesting underwater noises.

I wonder if NOAA has any recordings of whales screaming in pain as giant squid rip hunks of flesh off them. I wonder, too, if yachtsmen have to be careful what they say when they’re wandering over the oceans.  If you curse and swear when you drop your last shackle overboard, are you likely to receive a terse note from NOAA telling you to clean up your act?

And I also wonder about the ethics of placing listening devices on the bottom of the High Seas, which are supposed to be neutral territory and free for every nation to use for peaceful trade.

Where I live, the city council even threw out a proposal to install cameras on traffic lights to catch people running red lights.  

There is something quite eerie and offensive about the possibility of recording the noises of people sailing across oceans , especially when you consider that what we are allowed to know about this whole business is probably nothing compared with what we don’t know.

Today’s Thought
 He who has command of the sea has command of everything.
— Themistocles

“ What's pink and fluffy?”
 “Pink fluff.”

“Oh, you heard it already. Okay then, what's blue and fluffy?”

“Pink fluff holding its breath.”

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

November 4, 2012

Close is not necessarily safe

BEWARE OF THE FALSE FEELING of safety you get when you’re close to land. Most water-related deaths occur near land, not out at sea. Be particularly careful in a hard dinghy. If it founders or capsizes you might never make it to shore.

Inflatable dinghies are less likely than hard dinghies to capsize, but they are more likely to be blown out to sea if the engine fails.

Most of us suffer from the delusion that if we can see the shore, we can swim to it. But that doesn’t take into account the effect of the current or the coldness of the water. In areas where the water is cold, you’d be lucky to survive for an hour before hypothermia set in.

The biggest danger lies in overloading a hard dinghy. Choppy waves may flood the boat and lead to capsize. So check the dinghy’s safe carrying capacity label. If there’s no label, multiply overall length by beam in feet, and divide by 15, to find the maximum number of persons.

Here’s a tip: Make up a small safety pack for your dinghy (besides oars and lifejackets): flashlight, compass, bailer, and spare drain plug. A hand-held VHF radio could be a lifesaver.

Today’s Thought
He is safe from danger who is on guard even when safe.
— Publilius Syrus, Sententiae

“Why did they transfer your boy friend from that submarine?”
“He likes to sleep with the window open.”

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

November 1, 2012

Sizing up is complicated

LIKE MOST OF US, Old Wotsisname sometimes wishes his boat was just a bit longer. And, like others of us, he sometimes finds plans in yachting magazines that would be just perfect if they were stretched out a few feet fore and aft. This is what drives yacht designers berserk, of course. People just don’t realize that you can’t just magically stretch a set of sailboat plans out to some arbitrary length and expect to end up with your dream boat.

Apart from anything else, interesting things start to happen when you vary the size of a boat. The Law of Mechanical Similitude works like this for boats that are similar in basic shape:

If you double the size of a vessel evenly all around:

Length increases by 2 times

Beam increases by 2 times

Draft increases by 2 times

Wetted surface area increases by 4 times

Volume increases by 8 times

Weight increases by 8 times

Stability increases by 16 times

The new boat, rather than just double the size of the old one, would actually be 41 percent faster, able to carry four times as much sail,  be eight times heavier, eight times roomier below, and 16 times more stable.

No right-minded person would build a boat to the new dimensions, of course, but it helps explain why large sailing yachts are so much stiffer than small ones, even if they carry proportionately less beam and draft.

This law also explains why you can’t just take a set of plans for a 25-footer and blow them up 200 percent to build a 50-footer. As a boat gains length, she needs proportionately less beam and less draft because she gains stability so rapidly. The rule of thumb is that large boats are skinnier than small boats, which is why the smallest type of boat, the coracle, is as wide as it’s long — round, in other words.

Today’s Thought
Some people will never learn anything, for this reason, because they understand everything too soon.
— Pope, Thoughts on Various Subjects.

“Did you find a good math tutor for Johnny?”
“Yeah, he’s great. Even his teeth have square roots.”

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