January 30, 2014

Pondering by starlight

The Disease Called Cruising

6. Mid-Ocean Philosophy

HE THAT WILL learn to pray, let him go to sea, said George Herbert. He was right. I’ve done my fair share of praying in bad weather.

And on a gentle starlit night like this, when the trade wind blows warm and soft over a friendly sea, you can’t help wondering who made the Earth and the universe; and why; and where are we going?

Being at sea in a small boat makes you think quite a lot about how all this got started.

It seems to me that human knowledge is back-to-front. I mean, we know how to do incredibly difficult things such as splitting the atom and photographing the back of the Moon and keeping up strapless dresses, but we are no nearer to answering the very simplest questions: We don’t know as much about who or what created the universe as a tomcat knows about making gingerbread.

Ask yourself: Is it possible to create something from nothing?  Maybe it is, but not in my experience. So even if God did do it, something must have existed before. How was THAT created, then? If we all started from a Big Bang, what was it that went bang so bigly? Nothing doesn’t go bang. Nothing can’t go bang, if you see what I mean. Nothing is nothing.

It’s obvious that the human brain is not yet advanced enough to tackle the really simple questions like who we are and why we are and where we’re going. At this early stage of our evolution, human brains are able only to answer to tough questions, like what is the composition of Venus’s surface and what is the speed of light at 0 degrees Celsius in a vacuum?

You look at the stars on a night like this and you’ve got to wonder if mankind will ever know the answers to the simple questions before it is wiped out for ever. Scientists aren’t helping much. Oh sure, they’re making noises about progress. Of course they are. They have to justify their work and their lack of results. They need salaries, too.

Maybe, as I said, humans will disappear from the face of the Earth, as the dinosaurs did, before the simple questions get answered. Maybe it’s the destiny of the dolphin, or the whale (or, as some maintain, the indestructible cockroach) eventually to understand how the Earth and the universe were formed.

If that’s so, what point is there in our wondering about it now? If we’re never going to find out, why do we spend so much money trying to do so? Those billions could buy a lot of new anchors and genoa jibs for the deserving sailing class. The Hubble telescope alone could probably have provisioned every cruising yacht in the world for 10 years. Doesn’t that make more sense?

What’s more, we’re exploring the vast outer reaches of space before we’ve explored the oceans right here on Earth. There are big things lurking down there that I would like to know about. Big ships often disappear at sea without trace, even in this age of instant communication. Yachts disappear, too. Wouldn’t it make more sense to find out why, rather than spend money trying to figure out who we are and where we came from?

Perhaps the people in charge of spending our money should be forced to spend some time at sea in the cockpit of a small boat at sea, like this one, and let the sight of all those beautiful stars get them thinking about the really important things that affect us, as I do.

Hmmm . . . I see it’s getting light over there in the east. Enough of the brain strain. I wonder what June’s going to dish up for breakfast?

Today’s Thought
To understand the place of humans in the universe is to solve a complex problem. Therefore I find it impossible to believe that an understanding based entirely on science or one based entirely on religion can be correct.
— Wilton Robert Abbott, aerospace engineer

“Well, hello . . . and where have you two been all afternoon?”
“Hi, Mom. Daddy took me to the library.”
“Did you enjoy it?”
“Yes, it was exciting.”
“Yes, one of the librarians had a full house and made Daddy pay $50 over the table.”

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

January 28, 2014

An unloved, unwanted crop

The Disease Called Cruising
5. Hair, Hair, Every-Bloody-Where

HAIR IS EVERYWHERE on cruising yachts. You seem to notice it most when you’re at sea. Only yesterday I had to ask my wife to start brushing her hair outside, in the cockpit. I’m tired of lifting the cabin floorboards to clear the limber holes in the bilge. Know what clogs them? Hair. Long blonde hair. Well, blondish, anyway.

So I jiggle the chain running through the limber holes and the water drains into the bilge sump. Great. So the sump is now full and I can pump it out. But guess what. The pump strainer is clogged. With hair.

And now, every couple of days, I’ll have to lift the cockpit grating and flush away sickening globs of matted hair and goo.

There’s hair everywhere. It’s in the cabin carpet, it’s in the chart drawer. There are hairs, long hairs, twisted into strands, on the face of the compass. It’s enough to drive you crazy.

Last week I emptied the chain from the anchor locker to find out what was blocking the drain hole through to the bilge. Hair, of course. How the hell does hair get in there?

“Underarm hair,” says June. “You should shave under your arms. While you’re working the anchor winch, the hair falls down the hole with the chain.”

This is ridiculous. I examine the hair. It’s not my hair. It’s blondish. I show it to June triumphantly. “Who is the one with blondish hair, then?” I crow.

“It’s not blondish,” she points out. “It’s grey.  Who is the one with the grey beard then?” she mimics, breaking into that irritating, smug, tight-lipped smile of hers.

Did I mention the binoculars? No? Well, gigantic hair, blurred and thick as ropes, lives on the front lenses, obscuring everything you want to see. Probably breeds there. 

Bloody hair. The damn stuff doesn’t seem to rot. It’s not biodegradable. It’s indestructible. I bet it’s choking fish everywhere. One of these days the world is going to disappear under a thick mat of it, you mark my words.

Depilatories? Don’t think I haven’t considered them. Maybe compulsory all-over shaving would be the answer. Or plucking. Or even singeing. Yes, that could be the quickest way at sea. A swift singe of the whole body once a day, maybe.

Okay, we’ll be in port in a few days. I’m gonna get me a kerosene blowtorch.  I could fix June in three minutes flat. A swift flash all over. It wouldn’t hurt a bit. Too quick to hurt.  Just a bad smell for a while, that’s all.

Anything would help. Ten days at sea and we’re awash in blasted hair.  I’m a reasonable man, calm and sane, but . . . damn it all, there’s only a certain amount of hair a man can put up with.

Today’s Thought
Interest in hair today has grown to the proportions of a fetish. Think of the many loving ways in which advertisements refer to scalp hair—satiny, glowing, shimmering, breathing, living. Living indeed! It is as dead as rope.
— Dr William Montagna, dermatological researcher, Brown University

“Why is that police officer wearing a white suit with little black squares all over it?”
“Oh, it’s just a routine check.”

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

January 26, 2014

The fright of my life

The Disease Called Cruising
4. Come and get me

BY FEBRUARY we were deep into the South Atlantic, running free for Rio de Janeiro, four of us in a 33-foot wooden sloop called Diana K.

But we had blundered too close to the South Atlantic High, and it was calm, dead calm. The pinned-in mainsail was slatting and filling noisily. The galley cupboards sang the clink-clink song of all small ships adrift among the southern swells.

I sat alone in the cockpit marveling at the beauty of the night. There was no moon, but each of a million stars was reflected brightly in the pitch-black ocean and each was connected to its neighbor by a wobbly skein of light. The whole surface of the sea was gently heaving with this magnificent display when I got to wondering how far down into the water the light of a start might penetrate.

It wasn’t exactly logical, but I got the deck flashlight and shone it overboard. Looking down along it, the narrow beam stabbed deeply forever, twisting and spiraling eerily, boring into the verdant depths.

I was lost in contemplation for quite a while until a sudden thought occurred to me —  a thought that made me burst out into a cold sweat.  I realized I had just signaled our presence to every leviathan of the sea within miles.

Now, we all know the size of the creatures that lurk down there. Occasionally some octopus the size of an elephant gets washed up on a lonely shore, and enormous whales return to the surface all scarred and bleeding after tumultuous fights with giant squids.

And now on a moonless night I had flashed my light deep into the water to show the brutes where we were.  I was guiding them to their prey.  And we weren’t moving. We were sitting ducks.

Shivering with fright, my first impulse was to start the motor to get away from that spot. But how would I explain it to the others? I knew full well they would scoff at my fears. I thought of waking the skipper and confessing to what I’d done so stupidly.  But I was paralyzed. I did nothing except crouch low in the cockpit.

Then I had another idea. I crept down below to fetch the fireman’s ax we carried for emergencies. If any tentacles started sliding over the gunwale, I wanted to give a good account of myself.

I don’t know how long I spent on the cockpit floor, ax at the ready.  Time seemed to be suspended.  But eventually I felt a faint breath of air. I ran forward and raised the big genoa. I freed the mainsheet and got her fetching, full and by, making her own wind.

No Olympic helmsman ever concentrated harder. I sailed like a demon, sucking every ounce of power from every wayward puff.

After a while, I guess it was about 15 minutes or so, we had moved several hundred yards from Ground Zero, where I had signaled the giants of the depths to come to dinner.  I began to relax. No tentacles had appeared over the gunwale. No whale had swallowed us. I took the ax below again. God, we’d been lucky.

I never told the others what I’d done, and, of course, I’ve never done it again. One fright like that is enough to last a sailor a lifetime.

Today’s Thought
To sail uncharted waters and follow virgin shores—what a life for men!
— Rockwell Kent

“Why did they transfer your boy friend from that submarine?”
“He said he couldn’t sleep without a window open.”

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

January 23, 2014

On being driven nuts

HERE’S ANOTHER in the ongoing series:

The Disease Called Cruising

3. The Sin of the Lurcher

My watchmate Nick turned out to be a lurcher. Nick was easy-going, friendly, optimistic, and confident. A wonderful person to sail with. Except for one thing. He lurched.

In his happy-go-lucky way, he never wore a safety harness, even when our light-displacement 33-footer was hopping over waves as busily as a one-legged man in an arse-kicking contest. Nick rarely hung on to anything when he walked on deck, or in the cabin below.

The rest of us scrambled or crawled everywhere in fresh weather, clinging to whatever handhold presented itself. But Nick moved in a series of partially controlled lurches. He nearly drove me crazy.

Sometimes, when he was on his way back to the cockpit from the foredeck, he’d be thrown, tottering, to the edge of the cabintop, where he would blithely let his guardian angel take charge.

Always, the boat rocked back the other way just in time, and Nick would make another lurch in the general direction he was aiming at.

He would take his mid-watch pee at the leeward shrouds and never hang on.  I showed him how to do it, arm curled around the shrouds. One hand for the boat, one hand for the family jewels. But no, it simply never occurred to him that he might be flung overboard.

He would come back along the sidedeck carrying a sailbag over his head, in an erratic series of lurches whose length and timing seemed destined to end in his being catapulted over the stern. And then he’d thump down next to you in the cockpit with that silly friendly grin on his face, and what could you say that you hadn’t said a hundred times before?

“If you go overboard, you’re dead,” we’d say. “We’re hundreds of miles from the nearest land and out of the shipping lanes. How long do you think it would take us to drop the spinnaker and come back to find you?”

Nick would sit down quietly and seriously and try to work it out.

“Never mind how long!” we’d snap impatiently. “The exact time doesn’t matter. The point is, you don’t stand much of a chance of being picked up. How are we going to explain it to your widow?”

Nick would look contrite for a few hours and crawl ponderously around the deck like a hippo stuck in a mud hole.

But once a lurcher, always a lurcher. Before you knew it, he’d be staggering around the foredeck again, holding the spinnaker pole above his head in mid-jibe, teetering and swaying like a drunken ballet dancer.

Somebody Up There was obviously keeping an eye on Nick. He never fell overboard. He just drove us crazy.

I like to think he drove us nuts because we were concerned about his welfare, but it could also have been because Nick, with his smiles and his infinite faith, with his swashbuckling lurches and his devil-may-care attitude, made the rest of us look and feel like clinging, gutless wimps.

Nice as a man might be otherwise, it’s hard to forgive him a sin like that.

Today’s Thought

When you put to sea in your own boat, you become a different and, for the time being at least, a better man.

— James S. Pitkin


“Life’s not fair.”

“What’s your problem?”

“I want to know why my sister has three brothers and I have only two.”

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

January 21, 2014

Thank you, dear Followers

O JOY beyond all understanding! O glory be, and hallelujah! The number of my followers has swollen to more than 200, thanks to several kind persons who reacted promptly to my last column. You have made me very happy folks. It feels s-o-o-o good to have 200 in the bank, and I’m very grateful to you.

So here’s your reward:

The Disease Called Cruising

2.  First landfall

ON OUR 23rd day at sea, the skipper called me at 2 a.m. for my watch. “No sign of land,” he said skeptically.

He was still not convinced that I could navigate. And, to tell the truth, I wasn’t too sure myself. It was my first time navigating out of sight of land. We were 2,900 miles out of Cape Town, en route to Rio de Janeiro, and we were about to come within sight of the first piece of land on the way — if I’d got it right. And this was long before the days of GPS.

From the companionway hatch I scanned the horizon with the night binoculars. It was hopeless. All I could make out in the moonlight was the usual battlements of cloud all the way around the edges of our little world, and none overhead.

I was fairly sure we had passed Trindade Island, because the wind had come back in the night. Not much, but enough to allow our little sloop to make a steady 4 knots.

When dawn came I started to look for the island on the port quarter. The British Admiralty Pilot showed silhouettes of Trindade. It was just 3 miles long and 1 1/2 miles wide.

Miles away, down on the southern horizon, the cloud ramparts were beginning to break up and dissolve into early morning mists.

But one cloud stayed put. Trindade! Right where it should have been, 30 miles away to the south-south-east. Its lofty, detached pinnacles were soon easy to see without binoculars.

I called softly to my watchmate, Eddie.  I didn’t want to waken the sleeping watch. “Have a look at the island,” I said excitedly.

He beamed from ear to ear, and leaning through the hatchway, fumbled in the tool box for the foghorn.

Nick, who had heard him scrabbling, jumped out of the quarter berth and leaped on deck. But the skipper got wakened by a raucous blast from Eddie. He came topsides rubbing his eyes and looking shaken.

 It was a first ocean landfall for all of us, but nobody was more excited than I. I thought my face would burst from all that smiling.

I kept saying: “Wow! Pretty good, huh?” and behaved abominably. “I think it should be named after me,” I said. “Vigor Island. How about that?”

They had the good sense to ignore me, and when I had simmered down I reflected that it would be fairer to call it Blewitt Island after the woman who had written the simple little book from which I had taught myself celestial navigation.

At 6 a.m. we drank her health in rum, drowned in apple juice. “Mary Blewitt,” I said, “you’re a bloody fine woman.”

They treated me with more respect after that. They began to believe in their hearts that I really knew what I was doing with that sextant. I was interested to find out, too. I was still beaming long after the island disappeared into the haze.

I’ve experienced many landfalls since then but none stays in my mind like the first. Nothing compares with the first time, when I acquired the faith a navigator needs to guide a little ship accurately over the featureless ocean with the help only of the sun, the stars, Mary Blewitt, a borrowed sextant, and a wrist watch his wife gave him for his birthday.

Today's Thought

Skill’d in the globe and sphere, he gravely stands,

And with his compass, measures seas and lands.

— Dryden, Sixth Satire of Juvenal, 1


At sea, with low and falling glass,

Soundly sleeps the careless ass.

Only when it’s high and rising,

Safely rests the careful wise ’un. 

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

January 19, 2014

On deserters and disease

THINGS ARE A LITTLE UNSETTLED around here lately. First, we have some deserters in our ranks. Well, not in our ranks, obviously, since they’ve deserted, but let me explain. For weeks I’ve been on tenterhooks, waiting for the number of my followers to reach 200.  Okay, there’s nothing magic about the number 200, but for some reason it got me excited. 

So there we were, a few days ago, with the figure at 197 when a new follower joined, and I rejoiced. Wow, that made it 198. Just two more to go. But no, somebody broke ranks and ran away. Instead of going up to 199, the number of followers went down to 197. We were going the wrong way. Deep gloom set in, accompanied by introspection and wondering what I had done wrong.

And then, next day, some nice person came along and became a follower. Back to 198.  And then another nice person joined our ranks, so now it’s 199, but still tantalizingly short of 200.  I am learning to control my expectations, however. I am fully prepared for the next move to be a desertion. It really won’t bother me. Much.

In the five years or more that I’ve been producing 803 posts for this blog I’ve attracted a total of 478,673 page views, for what that’s worth.  Lately, the tally is about 14,000 page views a month.  I guess that’s not a lot, but it seems quite enough for 199 followers to keep up with.  

Secondly, I recently came across a series of 20 short essays I wrote back in 1991.  They’re all about  boats and cruising. Rather than toss them into the wastepaper basket, I have decided to inflict them upon you, one blog at a time. They’re about 500 words each, a bit longer than my normal column, so I shall understand it if a few more of you slow readers decide to unfollow me. I’m prepared for it. And good riddance, I say. So there.

Well, ready or not, here we go:

The Disease Called Cruising

1. Random glimpses of the incurable

CRUISING UNDER SAIL is an infectious disease that can strike at any age, rendering otherwise normal human beings powerless in its clutches. Like many insidious ailments, it often starts in a small way but quickly gains an unassailable hold on its victim.  Anyone who sails, albeit in the most modest manner, should maintain a careful watch for it.

Like bubonic plague and other pestilences, cruising has no cure. There is no immunization against it. No prophylactic has proved successful. Once infected, the patient is doomed to suffer for life.

Methods of infection:

There are many ways to catch cruising. It may be contracted from sailing magazines and books. Small dinghies are a frequent source of infection. Mingling with cruisers already affected by the malady is extremely dangerous.

Watching color slide shows given by afflicted cruisers is tantamount to deliberate self-infection. Such patients merit scant sympathy.

Early symptoms:

Friends and relatives should be on the alert for symptoms among potential victims. prolonged looking at cruising sailboats is an early indication. As the disease progresses, victims may be heard to laugh derisively at any boat lacking a full keel and eight-inch-high gunwales. This may be accompanied by frequent snorts and snickers at matchstick masts and anchor rollers patently too small for the job.

Advanced symptoms:

 Severely afflicted patients suffer from almost uncontrollable urges to rush out and buy charts and pilot books of warm and sunny foreign lands. The process of looking at boats deteriorates rapidly into the business of buying (or, in extreme cases, building) a boat.

Patients often appear bright-eyed and of lively disposition at this stage, but frequently exhibit an extraordinary disinterest in most of the necessities of civilization (such as money, fridges, TV, and hot showers) with the exception of cold beer.

Other advanced symptoms:

An uncanny ability to stare at the sea for hours without developing boredom.

Frequent conversations with dolphins.

A surfeit of unexplained smiling.

Precautions to take:

The disease may be prevented by careful attention to the following:

Avoid all thoughts of hula-hula girls and grass skirts.

Avoid dreams of desert islands, warm clear seas, and moonlight on white beaches.

Plug your ears against the siren song of the sea and the wind sighing in the palm trees.

Never contemplate the wondrous curl of a wave or its gorgeous color.

Ignore all notions of trade-wind clouds drifting like puffs of cotton in azure.

Try not to imagine a swelling sail silhouetted against the setting sun.

Discount all loose talk about self-sufficiency and the sense of accomplishment achieved by guiding a small ship safely across an ocean.

Take no heed of obviously exaggerated tales of the friendliness of fellow cruisers or the bonds of comradeship of the sea.


In the early stages only, self-treatment may alleviate some symptoms. Rage against it. Resist, resist. Make excuses. Get married. Have children. Pay taxes. Consolidate your career. Play it safe. Get wealthy. Forget the sensuous sway of that grass-skirted hip. Grow old. Die of boredom. Serves you right.

Today’s Thought

The most advanced nations are always those who navigate the most.

— Emerson, Society and Solitude: Civilization


“Don’t you think he looks like me, nurse?”

“Yes, sir, but don’t let it worry you.  All new-born babies look strange for a while.”

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

January 16, 2014

Sailing stories for young readers

I GREW UP ON THE Swallows and Amazons series of children’s sailing books. The author, Arthur Ransome, was a very interesting character who wrote on a wide range of subjects. He was a newspaperman, too, a foreign correspondent, at one stage of his career, and Wikipedia has a lot to say about him. But these days he is still best remembered for the books he wrote about the adventures of the Walker kids in their little open sailing dinghy and their frequent rivals, a pair of particularly capable sisters.

When I grow up, I want to write sailing books for kids like Arthur Ransome did, but meanwhile, about 20 years ago (and just for practice) I wrote a book called Danger, Dolphins & Ginger Beer (Atheneum)

I made the protagonist a 12-year-old girl, which was very appealing to my New York agent, Julie Fallowfield. (Actually, she was my wife’s agent, but June allowed me to borrow her). Julie had no trouble selling DD&GB to a children’s imprint of Simon & Schuster, in New York. She also sold it to the German publisher Carlsen, of Hamburg, who translated it into German and called it Segelsommer mit Delphinen (Summer Sail with Dolphins).  You’ll notice that they left out the ginger beer part. I don’t think Germans know about ginger beer. They prefer the real stuff.

Anyway, this exciting, fast-paced story about a family sailing around the world takes place in the British Virgin Islands and it generated hundreds of fan letters from young readers in American schools where it was used as an English text-book. It’s now out of print, I’m sorry to say, but still available on the used-book market. It’s also still available as an audio book from Good Old Boat magazine.

I wrote two follow-ups to DD&GB: So Long, Foxtrot Charlie and Sally Steals an Elephant. They involve the same Sally Grant and her two younger brothers. These books never sold in print form (which is incredible considering how good they are) but  both of them are available as audio books from Good Old Boat magazine. 

All three in this series are splendid books. I have to say this myself, because nobody else is likely to.  What is more certain is that they help fill a large gap in boating books for middle-grade readers.

Today’s Thought

You cannot write for children .  .  . They’re much too complicated. You can only write books that are of interest to them.

— Maurice Sendak, Boston Globe, 4 Jan 87


“How do you like your new babysitter, Johnny?”

“I hate her, Mom. If I was bigger I would grab her and bite her on the back of her neck like Dad does.”  

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

January 14, 2014

An on-board data bank

ANOTHER VOLUME of mine that International Marine published has a title that is very simple and to-the-point: Boatowner’s Handbook.

This quick-reference guide is actually an on-board data bank, compiling thousands of facts, figures, tables, and graphs that, sooner or later, you’ll need if you own a boat. There are practical, easy-to-find timesaving tips and golden rules to provide information on everything from buying paint and adhesives, drilling pilot holes, showing navigation lights, and rigging a boat, to provisioning for a cruise, sizing a propeller or oars, and choosing a dinghy.

The well-known boating author and consultant, Don Casey, once told me he was astonished at the amount of information I had managed to cram into the book while still making it easily accessible.

Incidentally, the hard-cover version, now out of print, was titled The Sailor’s Assistant and formed part of International Marine’s Sailboat Library.

Ø  Here’s a review from Ocean Navigator magazine:

“Helpful and comprehensive . . . Vigor presents an incredible amount of information in a very clear way.”

Ø  And one from Ensign:

“Well organized and easy to read. It should be on every vessel. It is a must for any cruising sailor.”

Today’s Thought

In a world where the time it takes to travel (supersonic) or to bake a potato (microwave) or to process a million calculations (microchip) shrinks inexorably, only three things have remained constant and unrushed: the nine months it takes to have a baby, the nine months it takes to untangle a credit-card dispute, and the nine months it takes to publish a hard-cover book.

— Andrew Tobias, “Hot Leads and Lead Time,” Savvy, May 80


“Who gave you that black eye?”

“My wife.”

“I thought she was out of town.”

“So did I.”

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

January 12, 2014

How to conduct a burial at sea

YOU PROBABLY WON’T BE burying bodies at sea with any great frequency, but if the situation should arise it’s good to know that there’s a little book that tells you  how to go about it — starting with the important business of determining if the body is actually dead, or just asleep.

That book is called How to Rename Your Boat: And 19 Other Useful Ceremonies, Superstitions, Prayers, Rituals and Curses (Paradise Cay).

But it’s not all about doom and gloom. There’s lot of funny stuff here, too, and hilarious cartoons by Tom Payne, one of America’s best yachting illustrators. For instance, how many sailing books do you know that include formalized curses against people who anchor too close to you, or leave you rocking in their big wakes? And did you know that the Golden Rivet ritual has been amended for use on sailboats? Every red-blooded sailorman needs to know how that works.

My famous denaming ceremony is here, too. It’s the one you need to perform before you can safely change the name of your boat. I have tested it personally and it really works.

This book also contains my Black Box Theory, which explains why some boats weather storms at sea better than others, and how you can improve your chances of surviving catastrophes at sea.

Although it has its lighter moments, this is really a book about safety on the water. Better keep a copy on board. You never know when you’ll need a burial ceremony. Or a good laugh.

Ø  Here’s a review by Norman Desrosiers, on Amazon.com:

“A wonderful book for boat owners. It gives some great information and wonderful anecdotes. I have used the naming on a few boats already. It helped to keep me honest and out of trouble.”

Today’s Thought

My name may have buoyancy enough to float upon the sea of time.

— Gladstone, Eton Miscellany


Excited at the prospect of running his tractor on vegetable-based diesel fuel, a farmer in Alabama is now reported to be working on a top-priority scheme to make corn from coal.

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

January 9, 2014

A single-volume encyclopedia

IT’S NOT OFTEN that a publisher calls upon an author to write a whole encyclopedia by himself, but that’s how I came to write The Practical Encyclopedia of Boating (International Marine).

As you can imagine, it took an awful lot of research and conscientious checking. This is a big book that covers everything from Abandoning Ship to Replacing Zincs, but it’s no ordinary encyclopedia. It’s not written in the usual dry scholastic prose of an encyclopedia. In simple language (which is all I’m capable of, to tell the truth) it informs, entertains, enlightens, and amuses.

It is, nevertheless, an authoritative, comprehensive guide that will help you solve many everyday boating problems and settle a lot of arguments. And, I might add, it makes a wonderful gift for anyone with a boat.

Ø   Here’s a Review from Latitudes and Attitudes magazine:

“You name it, it’s in here. Covers every boating situation. This book is both informative and entertaining.”

Ø And here’s a review from Good Old Boat magazine:

“John Vigor is the answer guy if you’re having onboard arguments about nautical terminology or the science of sailing in general, and his new book lives up to the promise in its title.”

Ø  And finally, I blush to repeat this review from Cruising World magazine:
“Vigor is one of the finest boating writers of our time.”

Today’s Thought

When I want to read a book, I write one.

— Benjamin Disraeli


“Why are you so happy, Gloria?”

“A lady just complimented me on my driving.”

“Great. Who was it?”

“Dunno, she just left a little note on the windshield saying 'Parking Fine.' So sweet of her.”

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

January 7, 2014

Another day, another book

ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS I’ve ever written on deep-sea cruising is called The Seaworthy Offshore Sailboat: A Guide to Essential Features, Gear, and Handling (International Marine).

If I sound a bit boastful, it’s because I loved writing this book. It touches on a feeling every sailor must have experienced at one time or another: What would happen if I just kept sailing over the horizon?  Would my boat be seaworthy enough?  Would she stand up to a storm — and would she look after me if I were disabled by seasickness or an accident?

This book tells you, without pulling any punches, if your present boat (or the one you’ve got your eye on) is ready to take on the sea. And I have to say that my publisher, International Marine, did a great job of layout and illustration.

Ø  Here’s an excerpt from a review by Tom Lochhaas, of About.com Sailing, in which he discusses two “unique chapters:”

"Test Your Boat is a rating system questionnaire that considers virtually every aspect of what makes a sailboat safe and efficient for offshore cruising and passage-making. This chapter leads you through 55 variables, each of which contributes to, or subtracts from, a boat being seaworthy. A numerical score is assigned for each of a given boat’s characteristics, and the sum is interpreted in terms of the boat’s overall seaworthiness. This allows you to easily compare different boats or to see where you can increase the seaworthiness of your own boat.

“Vigor's Black Box Theory of seamanship has been widely quoted by sailors, and here is his own explanation of how it works. It’s a fascinating theory that seems borne out by experience, involving a sort of karma of seamanship. The essence is that every boat has a black box you can't see into that contains an unknown number of points. Every time you do something right, whether it's consulting your chart in preparation for entering an unfamiliar harbor or checking the tightness of screws in your rigging before anticipated heavy weather, a point goes into the box. The more safety-conscious you are, the more you practice good seamanship skills, the more points accumulate. In an emergency or difficult situation, even when you are doing everything correctly, you may need help, and at such times points are cashed in. You don't have control over this invisible box, and the naïve may call it luck, but these saved-up points might just save your life.”

Ø  Another review, from Cruising World magazine:

"An invaluable resource. [Vigor's] practical wisdom gives you the know-how and confidence to prepare your boat for the sea. Here is the book that answers the sailor's fundamental question — Can my boat take me offshore safely? — then shows how to make it happen."

Today’s Thought

A Passage perillus makyth a Port pleasant.

— Anon (Motto inscribed on a harbor wall on the Lake of Como)


Some puns are better than others, but jokes about German sausage are truly the wurst.

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

January 5, 2014

Another book to buy

THE NEXT IN THE SERIES of books you really should buy (to make me rich and happy) is Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Started Sailing (Sheridan House)

Probably the best things about this book are the foreword, by that very talented boating writer Don Casey, and the illustrations, by the renowned artist and whackiest boating cartoonist I know, Tom Payne. With the help of those two, this book managed to win a national literary prize of some prestige — the John Southam Award for Excellence in Sailing Communication.

It’s a whimsical reference book, aimed at sailboat owners of all kinds but particularly those nearing retirement age, who will finally have the freedom to indulge their sailing dreams. Each of its 200 short entries is packed with solid practical advice and valuable tips, and they’re sorted out alphabetically, so if you can still remember your ABC you should get along just fine. Even if you can’t, you’re offered the opportunity to open the book at any page and browse endlessly.

There’s an appendix at the back that, even if I say so myself, is a fund of information for sailors of all types, and also a handy list of books I wish someone had told me to read before I started sailing. Not all as good as this one, of course, but then not every author gets to win the John Southam Award. Just sayin’. . .

Ø Here’s a review from www.books.google.com

“Very interesting and useful information on all aspects of sailing from anchoring to operating a self steering device!

“Very good book, that I would certainly suggest to anyone (like myself) that is getting into sailing.”

Ø And another review from www.books.google.com 

“Aimed at sailboat owners of all kinds, this reference book contains 200 entries packed with solid practical advice and valuable tips. Each entry is categorized alphabetically and prefaced by an arresting statement such as "People always lie about how fast their boats are." The reference format offers readers the opportunity to open the book at any page and browse endlessly. Cartoons by Sail magazine cartoonist Tom Payne enliven the text. A comprehensive appendix covers some 50 technical topics.”

Today’s Thought
What is important — what lasts — in another language is not what is said but what is written. For the essence of an age, we look to its poetry and its prose, not its talk shows.
— Peter Brodie, classics teacher, Foxcroft School, Middleburg, VA

“And you, madam, what’s your husband’s average income?”
“Well, on Friday nights it’s usually between 2 and 3 a.m.”

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

January 2, 2014

Twenty boats to think about

HERE ARE SOME MORE inside facts about another of my books, Twenty Small Sailboats to Take You Anywhere (Paradise Cay).

I wrote this book for the man in the street, the underdog whose cause I have always championed, especially the underdog who lacks the means to acquire a large expensive yacht, and especially the young underdog who will cheerfully put up with a lack of bodily comfort of the sort provided in boats with lofty cabins and large expense bills.

There’s no reason why men and women who are young and short of funds can’t experience the romantic dream of crossing an ocean or even sailing around the world. The market is glutted with good used fiberglass boats, most of which cost less than a new car.

So I chose 20 small but seaworthy sailing boats, between 20 and 32 feet on deck, and capable of crossing oceans. I have heard people scoff that some of my choices are ridiculously small. But, in fact, all of them have crossed oceans and are fit to take you around the world.  They represent the work of some of the world’s finest yacht designers, even though some of them look very ordinary now, and would hardly warrant a second glance in a marina. Nevertheless, they come from pedigreed stock.

I’ve described details of their design and construction, and I’ve assigned each a rating of seaworthiness, compared with the other 19 boats in this book. Not all these boats are fit to take on Cape Horn but if you choose your route carefully and  time your passages to benefit from the best weather, they will take you where you want to go — not in the greatest comfort, perhaps, but with a spirit of adventure and excitement that you’ll remember all your life.

Twenty Small Sailboats sold quite well, and the publisher suggested that I write a follow-up book, perhaps Twenty Slightly Larger Sailboats to Take You Almost Anywhere. I wasn’t interested. The whole point of my book was that the boats you could sail around the world were small and cheap. There are literally hundreds of bigger, more expensive boats that can take you around the globe.

But the publisher eventually found an author to write a follow-up, and they called it Twenty Affordable Sailboats To Take You Anywhere, which peeved me somewhat, since it seemed to be taking advantage of my very clever title, not to mention sowing confusion and hurting my sales. But I held my tongue and just rolled my eyes and wrote a foreword for it, as requested. Sometimes you just can’t win.
Here's a review from www.thecruisingkitty.com:
"Loved this book Loved it!
John Vigor, former managing editor of Sea magazine, evaluates and compares the seaworthiness of 20 of the most tried, tested and beloved small yacht designs available. The boats range in size from 20 to 32 feet in length.
"Any one of these designs would be a solid choice to cross an ocean in. John lays out his analyses and evaluations clearly. Each design is compared to the ideal of seaworthy and also compared to (ranked against) each other.
"This book was a good investment. The criteria for seaworthiness were clearly illustrated and analyzed as he considered each design."
And here’s a review from www.goodreads.com:

This is one of a handful of "dream" books I have. I spend the winter poring through these, looking for a suitable vessel to take me...just about anywhere. When it's cold and I want to think of impossible pleasures, I often reach for this book.
My wife calls these books boat porn. This book is full of statistics and prosaic descriptions of the build of these boats. It's easy to imagine owning one and sailing it across an ocean, anchoring in a shallow bay in the Bahamas or the Virgin Islands. And i
...more Mar 18, 2011:  Duncan rated it 5 of 5 stars

“This is one of a handful of ‘dream’ books I have. I spend the winter poring through these, looking for a suitable vessel to take me . . . just about anywhere. When it's cold and I want to think of impossible pleasures, I often reach for this book.
“My wife calls these books boat porn. This book is full of statistics and prosaic descriptions of the build of these boats. It's easy to imagine owning one and sailing it across an ocean, anchoring in a shallow bay in the Bahamas or the Virgin Islands. And it's a delicious thrill to imagine leaving port in one of these boats, watching the land sink down behind me and to know that it will be days or weeks before seeing the next destination. I will probably never take such a trip in such a boat, but I love thinking about it.”

A larger round-the-worlder
LOOKING FOR a boat to sail around the world? I can’t vouch for this one personally, since I’ve never laid eyes on her, but she’s a famous design with a wonderful pedigree.  I wonder what the story is, behind her forced sale at an auction to come.  She’s being sold by the Port of Bellingham, Washington state, but it seems incredible that anyone would just abandon a boat like this, or simply give her up because he or she couldn’t afford the mooring fees.  Anyway, maybe someone will benefit from the previous owner’s bad luck. 

Today’s Thought
Life ought to be a struggle of desire toward adventures whose nobility will fertilize the soul.
— Rebecca West

The Honorable Member from Oklahoma succinctly stated his objection to the Reduction of Fertilizer Bill.
“It’s a lot of crap,” he declared.
The chamber erupted with laughter.
The chairman  banged his gavel loudly.
“Ordure!” he cried, “ Ordure in the House!”

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