May 30, 2013

Heavy vs Light Displacement

THERE HAS NEVER BEEN any general agreement on whether heavy-displacement sailboats are more seaworthy than light-displacement boats. It’s a subject that occupies many hours of beer-drinking time in yacht-club pubs and all too often results in harsh words and broken friendships.

Perhaps the views of K. Adlard Coles will be helpful in this respect. Coles was one of the world’s best-known long-distance racers and cruisers. He was a British publisher and one of a small band of fearless ocean racers who roamed the high seas in tiny boats just after World War II. He was unique in that he kept details of all the storms he nursed his little vessels through.

In his magnum opus, Heavy Weather Sailing, Coles agrees that the extreme shape of the modern ocean racer’s hull, which is designed to reduce drag from the underwater surface with its cut-away fin keel and spade rudder, makes a boat fast and efficient.

But, he points out, the sail area for such boats is critical and must be “exactly right” in relation to the strength of the wind, both to preserve balance and to avoid the rudder’s stalling in the event of excessive heeling or a knock-down in a squall.

 Coles feels that the motion in fin-keelers is much livelier than it is in older-style boats (no arguments from anyone about that) and thus steering a fin-keeler requires greater concentration, so even when you’re cruising, you can’t leave the helm alone for a moment.

He says steering is at its worse when the boat is running in strong winds, particularly with the wind on the quarter. Such a boat needs a constant supply of well-rested crew at the helm. But its livelier motion will put the crew under greater strain than a “conventional” boat would, and it would likely provoke more seasickness among the crew.

In exceptionally rough going, another disadvantage shows its face. The spade rudder is much more vulnerable to being damaged, whether it is attached to a skeg or not.

It’s interesting to note how enthusiastic a fan of light-displacement boats Cole used to be, and how successful he was in campaigning with them.  But, significantly, he was later converted to heavier-displacement ocean racing boats of the same length. He found these to be better sea boats with “immeasurably improved windward performance in really heavy weather” because of their ability to carry more sail and provide more drive.

Today’s Thought
He who will not be ruled by the rudder, must be ruled by the rock.
— Isaac D’Israeli, Curiosities of Literature

“Frank, please lend me $50.”
“No can do, Charlie. Here’s $25.”
“But I asked for $50.”
“Yeah, I know, Charlie. But this way you lose $25 and I lose $25.”

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

May 28, 2013

Beware of the bunk problem

IT’S INTERESTING how many boats have a bunk or two that is too short for the average crewmember.  Interesting because, no matter how hard you try or how long you practice, you never seem to be able to get comfortable in a bunk that’s not long enough for you.

Before you buy a boat you should definitely test every bunk for length. The minimum length that designers strive for is 6 ft. 4 in., but all too often production boats are built with smaller bunks because of customer pressure for the greatest number of berths in a given hull.

Don’t buy a boat unless there is at least one bunk in the main cabin or aft cabin that fits you. The only exception to this rule is where a saloon berth abuts a locker that you could break into for a foot well. You can stow your bedding in there when you’re not using your bunk.

A bunk that is too wide is uncomfortable at sea because the rolling of the boat throws you from side to side. The maximum width for the average person should be about 21 inches, though it can taper from 13 inches at the foot, out to 21 inches at mid-thigh and back to 16 inches at the head end. You might find this restrictive at first but you’ll soon get used to it.

You’ll need a lee board or cloth to keep you in your bunk at sea. Sailcloth is often used for the purpose, but if it makes you feel claustrophobic use netting instead. A lee cloth is usually fastened to a lengthwise batten screwed or preferably bolted to the bunk frame beneath the mattress, close to the outer edge of the bunk. It’s held in place by three or four lines lashed or clipped to eye straps firmly bolted overhead. When it’s not in use, the lee cloth lies flat beneath the mattress.

Mattresses for double berths should be made in two lengths with a lee cloth brought up through the split between the two. This will save you from rolling steeply downhill across a wide expanse of bed and crashing into the hull. It’s not conducive to a good night’s sleep.

Today’s Thought
If a bed would tell all it knows, it would put many to the blush.
— James Howell, Proverbs

Overheard on the subway:
“We went to Bophuthatswana for our vacation.”
“Bophuthatswana? Where’s that?”
“I don’t know. We flew there.”

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May 26, 2013

The villainy of varnish

THE TWO WORST THINGS about varnish are that it’s expensive and that I always have to buy more than I need. Right now, I’m varnishing a couple of teak handrails, so I don’t want to buy a quart of Epifanes, or even a pint of Captain’s Varnish, which is sometimes available. Consequently, the varnish always gels in the can before I can use it all, and I swear I have thrown away more varnish than I have ever managed to use.

We all know that varnish will start hardening if it is exposed to the oxygen in the air of a half-used can, so there are various things we can do to separate the air from the varnish.  Some people cut a round disk of plastic and float it on top of the varnish. Others squirt propane gas into the half-empty can to displace all the air.  (They have to be very careful later not to light a match to check the contents of the can.)

I’ve heard the suggestion that you should decant a quart of varnish into much smaller jars or cans filled to the very top, which is a good idea, except that I never have enough empty cans or jars for the job. There are other methods, too, including the one I have always used, which is quick and easy.  I always sprinkle a capful of paint thinner onto the surface of the varnish left in the quart can. I leave it for a minute or two so that the vapors will displace the air, and then I hammer the lid on tightly.

This scheme served me well for many years, but lately something seems to have changed. Now I find the varnish is starting to gel and become lumpy after a few of these treatments.  The varnish doesn’t form a hard skin on the surface, as used to happen if you simply didn’t do anything at all about the air enclosed in the can. Now it just forms hunks in the body of the varnish with a consistency like cheesecake.

I have managed to rescue some of this stuff in the early stages of its cheeseification. I simply ladle it out into a small container and stir it with a spoon, having added 50 percent of paint thinner or turpentine.  After a while it seems to dissolve most of the lumps, but I’m never sure how the consistency is going to work out. In any case, I strain it through some old insect screen I just have lying around, the remains of a long-departed screen door, and I’m left with a varnish that is reasonably free of lumps, easy to apply, and dries just fine, but never looks quite as brilliant as it should, probably because it’s thinned out too much.

I have half-filled quart cans of Epifanes and Captain’s Varnish that are almost solid now, and past rescuing. It just drives me mad to have to buy another quart of expensive varnish when I need only a few teaspoons for a handrail.  Every now and then I consider painting the darned handrails — but they’re made of teak, and I suffer from the common misconception that no rational sensitive person can paint beautiful teak. But I’m going to have to steel myself if things keep going the way they are.

I can paint teak if I have to, I know I can. And maybe I will. Just one more can of varnish, and after that it’s paint, I swear it.

Today’s Thought
A thing of beauty is a job forever.
— The Keats Rule of Varnishing

A woman walked into her lawyer’s office, taking with her a baby in arms and four other children under the age of six.
“I want a divorce,” she said.
“On what grounds?” asked the lawyer.
“Really? Desertion?” the lawyer looked from her to each of the five children in turn.
“Oh, don’t take any notice of these,” she said. “Yes, he really has deserted me. It’s just that he comes home now and then to apologize.”

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May 23, 2013

Should you pack heat on a boat?

DO YOU NEED FIREARMS to protect yourself from desperadoes lurking over the horizon? If you go cruising, should you ship a gun aboard to frighten off pirates and drug runners?

The answer depends partly on where you cruise and partly on your own philosophy about owning firearms. Remember, though, that most foreign countries have gun-control laws far stricter than those in the United States. Don’t expect foreign customs officials to look kindly upon tourists who enter their countries bearing arms.

Apart from the insult to their hospitality, they regard it as an act of overt hostility. You have to remember, too, that Americans have a well-deserved reputation abroad for being trigger-happy. Firearms kill more U.S. residents every year than those killed by guns in the world’s next 25 most industrialized nations put together.

Many cruising sailors get along fine without firearms, using common sense about the areas in which they sail and the company with which they mix — just as any cautious tourist would.

But if you really do fear that you’d be vulnerable abroad without your personal arsenal, here are some points to ponder:

Ø A handgun is not likely to be much use for anything at sea except to kill sharks — and a dead shark only attracts other sharks.

Ø A rifle might give a long-range warning to another vessel to halt its approach, but if they’re truly bent on mischief you’re likely to be outgunned anyway.

Ø A shotgun is probably your best form of short-range protection and it will injure, rather than kill, if you use suitable ammunition.

Ø You must declare all firearms to foreign customs officials. They will often confiscate them for the period of your stay and if they return them full of rust and pitting you have no recourse. If they catch you with undisclosed firearms they can confiscate your whole boat.

Ø If you do decide to take firearms, keep them safely locked up. Make sure you know how to use them and look after them properly.

Ø Be aware that a flare-launching pistol that uses 12-gauge or 25 mm cartridges might be considered a firearm in some countries. Also, I’ve heard sailors advocate their use for personal protection in place of a handgun, but I fear that’s fraught with possibilities for disaster, including setting your own boat on fire.

Today’s Thought
The three great elements of modern civilization, gunpowder, printing, and the Protestant religion.
— Carlyle, Essays: German Literature

Did you hear about the duck who went to the psychiatrist?
“You’ve gotta help me, doc,” said the duck. “I think I’m quacking up.”
“Don’t worry about it,” said the psychiatrist. “You’re a duck. That’s perfectly normal. That’ll be $350. I’ll send you a bill.”
“Don’t bother,” said the duck. “If I’m normal, as you say, I’ve already got one.”

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

May 21, 2013

The heavy price of ice

SOME TIME BACK, a man who had just earned a university degree told me he planned to take two years off before he started his years of plugging away at a career. He had scraped together enough money to buy a 25-foot International Folkboat, which he wanted to sail around the world.

His problem was that he had been told it was impractical to do long ocean passages in a boat that lacked a freezer or even a fridge.

I assured him you don’t need a fridge or freezer to cross an ocean or even to sail around the world. Hundreds of people have done it already, perhaps thousands. If you can train yourself to do without ice for a couple of years while you act out your plan, you will be much happier and more relaxed than the cruisers around you who are saddled with perpetual refrigeration problems.

And consider this: the bliss when you finally step ashore and down that first cold beer or soda after an ocean crossing will rank as one of the great experiences of your life.

Refrigerators have two disadvantages on small boats. The use a lot of power and they break down more frequently than your reliable old kitchen Frigidaire because they have to work in such atrocious conditions.

Those faults make the cost and bother of refrigeration unacceptable to many sailors from countries whose cultures are not centered on ice cream and cool drinks. While most North Americans have an ongoing love affair with ice, there are still plenty of sailors who have learned to live without it and who are buoyed by the thought that they have to make that sacrifice for a fixed period only.

If you are a permanent liveaboard, rather than a cruiser purposefully following a planned schedule with a visible end,  then of course, you will need refrigeration — and you will pay dearly for it, one way or another.

But if your plan is to go fancy free and iceless, you will undoubtedly feel a delightful rush of schadenfreude when you drop anchor in a port where your frustrated neighbors have been searching vainly for a refrigeration engineer or waiting for weeks for spare refrigerator parts to be flown in from the States or some other far-flung part of the world.

It’s true that in the relentless heat of the tropics, nothing brings greater joy to the heart of a hot and sweaty sailor than the sound of ice tinkling in a tall glass. The exciting challenge for somebody on a Folkboat is to track down the source of that tinkle and, looking very pathetic, to get invited on board.

Today’s Thought
Every one carries his own inch-rule of taste, and amuses himself by applying it, triumphantly, wherever he travels.
— Henry Adams, Education of

The average man flirts with the girl he wouldn’t marry, then marries the girl who wouldn’t flirt with him.

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May 19, 2013

Cruising in the golden years

CONTRARY TO WHAT many people believe, age of itself is not a major barrier to cruising under sail. If you can climb the companionway steps, you’re probably fit enough to sail the boat. And if you have been wondering how long you can safely leave it, be assured that it is possible to start cruising in the golden years of your life, provided you’re still reasonably sane and reasonably healthy.

Tom Anderson, a New England cruiser I met in Tortola, British Virgin Islands, told me of a 40-foot yacht that arrived one day from Venezuela with an elderly couple on board, both in their middle seventies.

Tom watched with fascination while the man wrestled to free the pin of an old and very rusty shackle on his anchor.

“I would have taken a hacksaw to it and replaced it in five minutes with a new, two-dollar shackle,” said Tom, “But not him. He was obviously prepared to fight.”

Eventually Tom started to make polite conversation, as cruisers do, and remarked that there always seemed to be something to do on a boat.

“Yes, it’s true,” said the old-timer. “If this old bitch didn’t keep me so busy I would have died peacefully years ago.”

There are many sailors in their sixties and seventies cruising the oceans of the world these days, aided by modern materials and designs that make boat-handling easier.

Francis Chichester was 66 when he made his famous circumnavigation in the 54-foot ketch Gipsy Moth IV. In fact, people over 60 years old are now racing around the world singlehanded. That’s not for everybody, but it does illustrate the possibilities for those who, for some reason or another, were not able to fulfill their cruising dreams at a younger age.

Today’s Thought
Life is precious to the old person. He is not interested merely in thoughts of yesterday’s good life and tomorrow’s path to the grave. He does not want his later years to be a sentence or solitary confinement in society. Nor does he want them to be a death watch.
— Dr. David Allman, former president of the American Medical Association

An elderly man put a five-dollar bill into the Salvation Army kettle. Then a thought struck him.
“What happens to this money?” he asked.
“I give it to the Lord,” the young woman replied.
“And how old are you now, Miss?” the old gent asked.
“I’m 21,” she said.
“Well,” he said, taking his five dollars back, “no need for you to bother. I’ll be seeing Him long before you.”

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

May 16, 2013

A Colin Archer called Sandefjord

Sandefjord in Robinson's Cove, Moorea, 15 miles from Tahiti

EARLIER THIS WEEK I was talking about that famous brand of sailing vessel known as the Colin Archer. That spawned a request for details about a gaff-rigged 47-foot Colin Archer ketch called Sandefjord.  By chance, I happened to know quite a lot about Sandefjord because she was based in my home town and belonged to two brothers, Pat and Barry Cullen.

They sailed her around the world in 1965/66 when she was about 50 years old, and made a movie of the trip.  There is a website still with a slide show that shows how different things were in those days, when young sailors went barefoot and wore nothing but rugby shorts under the tropical sun. No number 50 sunscreen for them as they circled the globe via the tradewind routes. No fears of melanoma, either, because the reigning medical opinion was that a healthy tan was good for you.

I have often wondered how many people were inspired by that movie to follow in the wake of Sandefjord. I wonder how many people bought or built Westsail 32s, the smaller siblings of the Colin Archer, because they were smitten with the romance of sailing off into the wild blue yonder.

It’s not difficult to understand the urge to explore the world’s beautiful islands and harbors, including those of the  South Seas, when you see a picture like that of Sandefjord above. No sensitive person could look at this beautiful boat stern-moored to a coconut tree  in Robinson’s Cove in Papetoai Bay, Moorea, without feeling emotionally moved.

Look at her exquisite lines.  Note the exact right amount of freeboard and the gorgeous curve of the sheerline. See how her bowsprit has just the perfect amount of steeve. Observe how her mizzen mast is raked just a couple of degrees farther aft than the mainmast  to avoid the dreadful appearance of parallel masts.  Note how carefully the ratlines have been placed and secured. This was a boat manned by sailors who loved her and understood her.  And, in turn, she looked after them.

There was a time, way back in 1935, when her former Norwegian owner, Erling Tambs, was sailing her to Cape Town, when she pitchpoled in a storm  and lost one man and her mizzen mast. But the Cullens and their crew completed their 1966 circumnavigation without major problems.  They did remove the engine, it’s true, when it started to give trouble. They carried on without one and they did break their bowsprit in what was diplomatically called a berthing incident, but they built themselves another sprit and carried on regardless.

Sandefjord was already famous when she circled westward around the earth from Durban to Durban, and the Cullens later entered her for the first Cape-to-Rio race in 1971, but what happened to her after that I don’t know. I hope someone is looking after her somewhere, showering her with the love and respect she surely deserves.

Today’s Thought
There’s a schooner in the offing,
With her topsails shot with fire,
And my heart has gone aboard her
For the Islands of Desire.
I must forth again to-morrow!
With the sunset I must be
Hull down on the trail of rapture
In the wonder of the Sea.
— Richard Hovey, The Sea Gypsy

Children’s drums are highly educational toys. The first thing a kid learns when he gets a drum is that he’s never going to be given another one.

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May 14, 2013

The case for a collision mat

JUST ABOUT EVERYONE agrees that a collision mat is a good thing for a boat to carry — but very few boats actually carry them. The need for one is illustrated by the fact that a hole in the hull that you can put three fingers through will, if it’s near the waterline, let in about 80 gallons of water a minute.

If the hole is about 4 feet below the waterline, it will let in about 130 gallons a minute, which is more than any manual bilge pump can keep up with.

Taking things a step further, a hole near the waterline that you can put your fist through will admit 160 gallons a minute; placed 4 feet below the waterline, the same hole with admit more than 300 gallons a minute.

These are the kind of holes that might result from a collision one dark night with a balk of timber or a submerged cargo container. The only way to start controlling a leak like that is to block it from the outside.

You can make your own collision mat. A tarpaulin about 4 feet square with reinforced grommets at the corners will do the trick. Slide it on over the bow or stern and work it into position. Be sure to keep the lines taut when it gets near the hole or it may be sucked right inside. That tarp is also useful for catching rainwater, providing shade in the cockpit, and keeping rain out of open hatches, when it’s not being used in an emergency to keep you afloat.

Alternatively (and this is what most sailors fall back on) you could use a small jib or stormsail in place of a dedicated collision mat, but a mat is better, especially if you’ve practiced with it.

Of course, working a collision mat into place is not as easy as it sounds. Nothing on a sailboat ever is, especially if you’re on your own. And it won’t cure a leak, just slow it down enough so your bilge pumps can keep up while you make temporary repairs by stuffing the hole from inside.

Incidentally, the mat will work better if it’s on the leeward side while you’re drifting sideways. The pressure of the water will help hold it in place. And it’s obviously more likely to stay in place if you can stop the boat moving forward or aft.

Today’s Thought
One leak will sink a ship; and one sin will destroy a sinner.
— John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress

Flood damage to a game park in Texas has resulted in an extraordinary cross between a lion and a parrot. A park spokesman admitted yesterday that they’re not quite sure yet what they’ve got, but when it talks everybody sure sits up and listens.

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

May 12, 2013

Rescuing capsized batteries

HOW DO YOUR START your diesel auxiliary engine if most of the acid has leaked out of the batteries? If you’ll bear with me for a moment, I’ll tell you.

Many years ago I was interested in buying a Colin Archer, one of a famous breed of full-keeled sailing fishing boats, pilot boats, and rescue vessels used in Norway a hundred years ago. This particular one was, in fact, called Colin Archer, and she was sailed singlehanded from Europe to Durban, South Africa, where I was living then, by a man called Donald Shave.  He was not quite singlehanded in that he had his dog with him all the way, but I don’t think the dog was a lot of help with the sailing. He certainly never stood watches, not even dogwatches.

Shave sold Colin Archer to a local man who had become quite famous for being probably the world’s most successful mercenary soldier, self-styled Colonel Mike Hoare, whose private army had fought in what was then the Belgian Congo.  Hoare was the most unlikely looking land pirate, not at all riproaring or rapacious. He did not swash his buckles or rip his roars.  He was what he looked like, a quiet Irish accountant. But naturally he had other hidden talents.

I had known him from the time when he was running safaris overland from Durban into the Okavango Swamps of Bechuanaland, today’s Botswana.  I had gone along with him on an expedition to Ngamiland as a photographer.

When Hoare decided to sell Colin Archer I thought I might want her, so we took her for a test sail in the Indian Ocean off Durban one blustery day when the onshore northeaster was piping up .

As we were coming into shallower water, approaching the harbor entrance on the way back, the yacht was thrown onto her beam ends when a large breaking wave caught her amidships.

She recovered herself in due course, but Hoare found he couldn’t start the diesel to enter port. A little exploration down below soon discovered the cause. The ship’s batteries had leaked most of their acid while she lay on her side.

To my astonishment, Hoare immediately filled them up with fresh water.  I was very dubious about that, but when he pressed the starter button the engine dutifully turned over and roared to life.

I have never had an opportunity to make  personal use of this valuable tip, and  I thank goodness for that, but it made such an impression on me that it is permanently tucked away into a corner of my brain . . . just in case.

Today’s Thought
We sometimes had those little rubs which Providence sends to enhance the value of its favours.
— Goldsmith, The Vicar of Wakefield

“What can I do for you, young man?”
“Sorry to have to ring your door bell, sir, but I’ve come to collect your daughter and my car’s horn isn’t working.”

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

May 9, 2013

Sailing's really pretty simple

 I HAVE ALWAYS maintained that almost anyone can learn to sail in an hour. Put a kid in a small sailing dinghy and see what happens. Within minutes, he or she has figured out how to work the three main controls — tiller, mainsheet, and daggerboard.

Even an adult can learn to sail in an hour or less. To tell the truth, basic survival sailing comes almost instinctively to most people. There are exceptions, of course, people who can’t get the hang of where the wind is coming from, or who panic when the boat starts to heel. But on the whole, sailing is a pretty simple pastime.

On a typical professionally taught sailing course over a weekend, you’ll learn the rules of the road, elementary navigation, crew overboard drills, coast-guard safety requirements, light and sound signals, anchoring and docking procedures, and a whole lot of other stuff apart from the simple skills of sailing.

What we call sailing actually involves many disciplines, from weather forecasting to domestic science, but the nub of it all, the actual business of making a small boat travel though water in the right direction, is not complicated. If you can drive a car, you can almost certainly sail a boat.

For my money, it’s best to learn the basics in a boat of 25 feet or less. Then you’ll be ready to sail anything.

Today’s Thought
Thus, thus I steer my bark, and sail
On even keel with gentle gale.
— Matthew Green, The Spleen.

Notice at a hotel swimming pool:
“Please be extra careful when using the swimming pool. The lifesaver has not yet received his annual raise.”

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May 7, 2013

Some shameless self-promotion

WHEN I WAS A TEENAGER, and suddenly interested in sailing, I started tearing pages out of yachting magazines and collecting wise sayings of the sea. I was obsessed with the idea of owning a deep-sea yacht of my own, and I thought all this knowledge would come in useful one day.

It did, in fact, and by the early 1990s I had baskets overflowing with clippings and a drawer full of files with handy facts culled from yachting books.

One day I was sailing with a pupil in San Diego Bay and he happened to mention that he was going to make a fortune by writing a book of rules of thumb.

“What sort of rules of thumb?” I asked.

“Oh, household hints and tips,” he said vaguely. “Haven’t given it much thought yet. How best to iron a shirt. How to peel an egg easily.  How to sort the washing. That sort of thing.  Small pieces, easy to read, very useful to have at hand.”

I wished him luck and (seeing where he was steering the boat) I warned  him never to sail downwind into a narrow strait unless he was sure he could beat out again. Almost as I said it, I realized it was a rule of thumb. A nautical rule of thumb.  And I also realized that I had baskets and files full of nautical rules of thumb. Well over 400 of them, actually.

That’s how The Practical Mariner’s Book of Knowledge got started, though I’m afraid I never gave my pupil any credit for the idea.  McGraw-Hill’s nautical publishing department, International Marine, published the book in 1994 and it went on to become a best-seller in terms of the sailing-book industry. It sold solidly for 18 years until 2012, when the powers that be decided that it needed to be updated and expanded to keep pace with the technological changes that had taken place.

Now, you’d think that mariners’ rules of thumb would be valid forever. After all, things don’t seem to change in the oceans where sailors work and play.  Out among the blue waves it looks the same now as it did millions of years ago.  Mankind has left no permanent marks on the face of the sea, no pyramids, no Stonehenge. 

But, in fact, the sea does change. The ice caps are melting. The sea level is rising. Conditions for boaters, whether under sail or power, are changing also.  Most of all, the science of the sea and  boats is changing.  In the nearly 20 years since this book was first published, there have been great strides in many areas, but particularly in electronics.  Satellites and computers have taken over from sextants and chronometers in the navigation department and safety has improved immeasurably with smart phones and such aids as CARD, AIS, EPIRBs and personal locator beacons (all of which are described in this book). Long-distance communication has been revolutionized by satellite phones and the internet. Diodes capable of emitting light are changing the way we illuminate our cabins and our navigation lights.

And so I had to saddle up my trusty PC again and revise the whole darned book. This spring, International Marine has published the second expanded edition of The Practical Mariner’s Book of Knowledge. It now contains about 460 rules of thumb for almost every boating situation and should be good for another 18 years.

I’m not much of a one for shameless self-promotion. Apart from any moral considerations, it involves too much hard work. But I have always loved the little description my original copy editor wrote for back cover: “The Practical Mariner’s Book of Knowledge is either the most useful boating book ever designed to entertain, or the most entertaining book ever designed to be useful.”

I wish I’d said that.

Today’s Thought
No rule is so general which admits not some exception.
— Robert Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy

Love is the great poker game of life. It starts with a pair. She gets a flush. He shows diamonds and, before you know it, there’s a full house.

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

May 5, 2013

More killer waves than we thought

THE EUROPEAN SPACE AGENCY has confirmed that freak waves exist in the world’s oceans “in higher numbers than anyone expected.” Wolfgang Rosenthal, senior scientist with the GKSS Research Center in Geesthacht, Germany, says two of the agency’s Earth-scanning satellites used radar to monitor the oceans for three weeks. They identified more than 10 individual giant waves around the globe that were more than 81 feet high.

Laurence Draper, of the British National Institute of Oceanography, has long insisted it’s no old wives’ tale that every fifth, or seventh, or ninth wave is larger than the others. Sea systems are composed of many different wave trains, he says, each with its own speed and height.

So, at random intervals, waves can ride on each other’s backs to form an exceptionally high wave — and it doesn’t have to be blowing hard. Draper estimates that one wave in 23 is twice the average height; one in 1,175 is three times higher; and one in 300,000 is more than four times higher.

But it’s the height of the breaking crest that’s the greatest threat to small sailboats. Luckily, the size of the crest does not necessarily relate to the size of the wave in deep open water.

Watch out for more frequent giant waves when you’re in a strong ocean current. Winds blowing against the current create the biggest and steepest waves.

Today’s Thought
Under every deep a lower deep opens.
— Emerson, Essays, First Series: Circles

According to the cynics among us, a platonic relationship is the interval between the introduction and the first grope.

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May 2, 2013

Three little-known boat types

THERE MUST BE HUNDREDS of names for different types of boats around the world. Patrick Boyle mentions a few of them in his book Sailing in a Nutshell (Methuen, London, 1938) and his list contains three I’d never heard of before.

Near the beginning of the book Boyle discusses the various kinds of sailboats a beginner might be tempted to purchase. He ends up by declaring that if you really mean to sail in style — and especially if you intend to wear white trousers and to look sometimes through a telescope — then the right vessel for you is a yawl.  He continues:

“Right, then, a yawl it is. The procedure for acquiring one of your own is familiar enough in one form or another to most people, even on shore, and is known as ‘buying.’

“Note: There is no point in paying any attention to such exotic or egregious types of craft as scows, dhows, catboats, jollyboats, barquentines, corvettes, hoys, galliots, lerrets, randans, bucentaurs, gondolas, wherries, ferries, corsairs, xebecs, sampans, catamarans or junks . . .”

Well, the three I’d never come across before were the lerret, the randan, and the bucentaur. In fact, I was so over-confident of my nautical knowledge that I took it for granted that Boyle had made those names up. After all, this is a book of exaggerated humor. But some cautious nook of my brain suggested it might be wise to do some research, lest I made a fool of myself (again) in public. And lo! all three are real boats.

The lerret. The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia says of the lerret:

“A boat of great strength, built for the heavy seas: used about the Isle of Portland.”

Wiktionary describes the lerret as “A traditional fishing boat of southwest England.”

The randan. The Encyclopedia of Nautical Knowledge (Cornell) says of the randan:

“In England, a boat having three thwarts and operated by three oarsmen, single oars being pulled from forward and after thwarts, while man on midship pulls two oars. This arrangement often is termed randan fashion; as, to row r. fashion.”

The bucentaur.  The same invaluable encyclopedia says the bucentaur (Italian bucentoro) was the “State barge of Venice used each year (1177 - 1797) by the Doge at a ceremony known as Marriage of the Adriatic, signifying subjection of the sea to her husband, the Venetian Republic.”

Well, there we are. We live and learn.

Today’s Thought
What’s in a name?  that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
— Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Sir Winston Churchill used to say there were only two things more difficult than making an after-dinner speech. One was climbing a ladder leaning toward you, and the other kissing a girl leaning away from you.

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