April 30, 2015

Sail the world on the cheap

LET’S SAY YOU’VE GOT the Walter Mitty dream. You’re itching to take three years off work and sail around the world. Never mind the reasons. What would it cost? How much would you have to pay for a boat that could take you, or two of you, or even three, around the world? Did you say $50,000? $75,000?  Was that $100,000?

Well, there’s one for sale right here, right now, in Puget Sound, for $16,000. She’s called Phoenix and she belongs to John Jannetty, of Vashon Island, Washington.  She’s a gorgeous-looking 35-foot sloop, launched in 1989. She’s a Colin Archer type with a full keel and attached rudder. She’s as rugged as they come, with all-bronze fittings from the famous Port Townsend Foundry, and the looks of a boat that was born for the ocean.

Why $16,000? Because she’s wooden. Because that’s the perception of her worth by people who don’t know boats. In my view, wood is the ideal boat-building material, and even more so for boats likely to make long voyages abroad. You can fix almost anything on a wooden boat with a few simple tools. Or you can get it fixed at reasonable prices by skilled woodworkers in foreign ports. And think about this: if you want to fix something to a wooden boat, inside or outside, a simple nail or screw will do the trick. You can’t do that with fiberglass. It becomes a major kerfuffle then.

Phoenix was built by a master craftsman at Upright Boatworks on Lopez Island. He used cedar for the planking and oak for the frames. Cedar, of course, is light and strong. Better still, it’s very resistant to rot.

Phoenix has a diesel engine that would be regarded by many “experts” as too small, a 10-horsepower Saab.  But what do the “experts” know? The Hiscocks sailed around the world in a boat that was probably much heavier, and they had a 4-horsepower engine. Some people, like the Pardeys, don’t have engines at all.  

There are advantages to small engines. You can start this Swedish-built Saab by hand, for example. It has that lovely old-fashioned heavy flywheel to even out the vibrations, and there is space all around it, so much space that you can actually get to every part of it without having to hang upside down by your toes from a hatch in the cockpit. Furthermore, she’s raw-water cooled, just like an outboard motor. No fresh-water secondary cooling system to go wrong. What could be simpler? And what more evocative than the noise it makes? Ker-pluff, ker-pluff, ker-pluff. It’s just magic.

John Jannetty admits Phoenix has some faults. Bits of her are in need of a lick of paint. And her bilge pump has stopped working through lack of use. There’s probably some dust in the bilges. But how bad can that be?

For some pictures that will make your mouth water and your heart flutter, go to:

Today’s Thought
You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.
— Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Two definitions for you today:
Diplomacy — the art of letting someone else have your own way.
Nonchalance — the ability to look like an owl when you have just behaved like an ass.

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

April 28, 2015

Remembering the pasta sailors

PEOPLE ASK ME the strangest things. Just a while ago a reader in South Carolina asked me if I knew what a macaroni mate was. She had come across the phrase in some sea story or other.

I naturally said I knew what it was. “The mate of macaroni is cheese,” I said. “Everybody knows about mac ’n cheese. Especially teenagers. It’s their favorite food.”

For some reason she wasn’t satisfied, so I grumbled off to my bookshelves and consulted my old copy of The Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea, edited by Peter Kemp. And there, sure, enough, was the definition of a macaroni mate.  It wasn’t quite what I expected.

A macaroni mate, apparently, was a man signed on as mate in a merchant vessel, but lacking the required qualifications and consequently not receiving any pay.

This name arose at the time of the Napoleonic occupation of Genoa and Leghorn in 1796. Many of the sons and favorite employees of the English merchants in those cities were this signed on in American merchant ships so as to avoid capture and imprisonment  by French troops, and also to avoid impressment at sea if their ships were stopped by British cruisers.

Impressment at sea was a legal hazard for British nationals serving in foreign ships, but British naval officers were unlikely to question the nationality of a man serving as a mate (or second in command) of an American ship. The rank of mate automatically implied American nationality and it wasn’t difficult for an Englishman to assume an American accent for long enough to fool his would-be captors.

So there we have the official explanation. As with spaghetti Western movies, it’s pasta that defines the Italian influence. I guess it’s just by chance that they weren’t called spaghetti mates.

Today’s Thought
I am not one to turn down macaroni and cheese, even late at night. I love Italian food. I love pasta . . . A refrigerator full of water and Gatorade? Honey, that's just not gonna happen.
-- Queen Latifa

“What time does the day nurse go off?”
“She goes off at six and the night nurse takes over.”
“What does the night nurse do?”
“She wakes you up to ask if the day nurse gave you your sleeping pill.”

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

April 26, 2015

Beware the dreaded hinge effect

HAVE YOU EVER FELT the deck of a fiberglass boat “give” with your weight as you walk over it? Has it ever given you concern, because you were thinking of buying that boat? And did you come to the conclusion that if the springy deck can carry the load of your walking about on it, all must be well?

Ah, but it’s not, apparently. According to one of Britain’s foremost naval architects and surveyors, Ian Nicholson, no boat can be deemed seaworthy if it has flexible panels that encourage the dreaded “hinge effect.”

This is a condition in which the edges of the panel flex back and forth, giving rise to a series of approximately parallel cracks along the edge of a panel. The repeated bending eventually cracks the gel coat.

In his book, Surveying Small Craft, Nicholson points out that you’ll often see this trouble along each side of the bottom of a cockpit well. It happens where there is no cockpit grating is fitted to distribute the crew’s weight evenly over a large area, or where the grating is too flimsy for the job.

It is widely found where the cockpit sole is weakly supported or where the bottom beams are not carried to the full width of the well,” says Nicholson. “It is sometimes seen when these beams are spaced too far apart, or end too sharply.”

And here’s the big warning from the expert: “If the hinge effect is allowed to develop, eventually the whole panel will drop out.”

Nicholson says this is admittedly rare but is occasionally found in the bottoms of high-speed powerboats where the whole hull pants in and out at each impact with the sea’s surface. “The reversing strain, occurring thousands of times each day, soon cracks through the gel coat and then sets about fracturing the glass fibers.”

The hinge effect is particularly troublesome with sandwich construction, which is how many sailboat decks are built, and even some hulls. “If the outer skin does not continue to grip the core, the trouble may develop very quickly,” Nicholson adds. “The first indications of the hinge effect are, of course. the roughly parallel lines of cracks along the ‘hinge line.’”

So now you have been warned. Large areas of fiberglass, especially flattish areas, should be absolutely stiff under load. In the old days, we learned the hard way about metal fatigue when the flexing wings of Comet airplanes broke off in flight.  Fiberglass fatigue may not be as dramatic, but it’s not something you want to experience on your boat.

Department of Gobbledygook
This was published by Yahoo News, 12 March, 2015:
“From The American Register
“by Andrew Higgins
“In the finding that could significantly transform recognized opinions of the fact that world is effective, the workforce of astronomers brought by means of Chris Milne of the College or university of Az (UA) possesses identified that supernovae are not even, although diverse—a discovering that lifts concerns about how precisely significantly ‘dark energy’ is in your world in addition to just how fast your world is actually widening.”
Welcome to the wild world of computer newsgathering.

Today’s Thought
Whenever your preparations for sea are poor, the sea worms its way in and finds the problems.
— Francis Stokes

Tailpiece “Waiter! Get your thumb off that steak.”
“Very well, sir, but if it falls on the floor again it’s your fault.”

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

April 23, 2015

Two tips to keep lubbers quiet

IF YOU OWN A SAILBOAT, sooner or later one of your guests is going to ask you how to sail. Perhaps this has happened to you already. Perhaps you have racked your brains to think of a quick and easy way to describe it. And perhaps, as you started to explain, you realized what a vast subject this is, and how impossible it is to condense it to a few sentences. Perhaps you end up as most boat owners do by simply showing your lubberly guests how to steer, and giving them a point on the horizon to aim for while you attend to the sheets and everything else. That seems to satisfy most of them. They think then that they can sail.

But now and then you come across someone who is a bit more persistent, someone who rightly suspects there is more to sailing than steering, and who really wants to learn how to sail.

Well, there are a couple of tips that will keep such a person out of your hair and well occupied and, with any luck, foster in him or her a desire to sign on with a decent sailing school and learn properly.

Those two tips are questions:

Ø  Where is the wind coming from?

Ø  Which of the two kinds of sailing are we doing? — 1. Beating, or 2. Everything else.

Most experienced sailors know instinctively at all times which direction the wind is coming from, and most of us presume that landlubbers know this, too. But they don’t. Landlubbers hardly ever give a thought to where the wind’s coming from. It makes no difference to them.

So when your would-be sailor demands to be shown how to sail, ask him or her to point into the eye of the wind with an outstretched arm. If your pupil seems puzzled, point to a flag, a plume of smoke on the horizon, a cloud moving overhead, or the direction of the wavelets. Tell your pupil to feel the wind on the face, or the back of the neck, and don’t be satisfied until the response to your often repeated query: “Where is the wind?” is automatic and correct.

Then explain that it’s of paramount importance to know where the wind is coming from because no sailboat can sail directly into the wind. Demonstrate the 90-degree “no-go” zone to windward, 45 degrees either side of the direction in which the wind is coming from, and explain that by zig-zagging to and fro across this no-go zone, you can actually fetch up at a destination that lies directly into the eye of the wind. That should keep them occupied for some time as they digest all the implications.

The second tip is an explanation that even some experienced sailors have never thought of. It’s the simple fact that you can divide sailing into two kinds, beating and everything else.

When you’re beating, or trying to sail as close to an opposing wind as you possibly can, you keep the sails firmly sheeted and you trim the boat to the wind. In other words, you use the rudder to keep the sails correctly trimmed. As the wind changes slightly in direction, you change the direction of the boat to ensure that air is flowing freely and correctly over the sails.

On the other hand, for every other course, from a close fetch to a dead run, you aim the boat on a straight course toward your destination, either heading for a point on the horizon or steering by compass. And, as the wind switches, you use the sheets to trim the sails to the wind. 

Beginners are often puzzled about when to pull on the sheets or ease them, or when to use the rudder to luff or pay off. Now you can explain it in a couple of sentences. Use the rudder when you’re beating. Play with the sheets on every other course. That’s not all there is to sailing, but it’s enough to keep a beginner quiet until you’re at anchor and sundowners are being served.

Today’s Thought
Swallow all your learning in the morning, but digest it in company in the evenings.
— Lord Chesterfield, Letters, 10 May 1751

“What happened to Gloria?”
“She swallowed some coins and had to go to the hospital.”
“Wow. How’s she doing?”
“They’re keeping an eye on her but the doctor says there’s no change yet.”

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

April 21, 2015

What to do about fog

WHEN THE CLOUD COMES DOWN to water level we call it fog. Fog is very scary stuff and it can happen at any time of the year in our coastal areas. In fact, on the West Coast of the United States, fog occurs frequently from the Strait of Juan de Fuca, north of Seattle, to Santa Barbara, down south in California.

On the East Coast they experience fog from the Canadian Maritimes right down to Long Island Sound, New York. On average, these coastal areas experience areas of fog about 10 percent of the year, and some particular areas are blanketed in fog for twice as long. 

As I said, fog is scary. What can you do about it?

Actually, there isn’t much advice to give about getting caught in fog that isn’t covered by common sense. If you see a fog bank forming ahead, and you have a chance to turn back to a safe anchorage, do so. It’s the seamanlike action to take. Unfortunately, you don’t always have that choice.  You can run into a thick bank of fog at night without even seeing it. Been there, done that, didn’t like it.

Fog is treacherous. Go slowly and listen very carefully. Your ears are your eyes in fog. If fog catches you out, try to get into shallow water and anchor there. Once again, oftentimes that’s easier said than done.

If you have radar, use it, and practice often. Use AIS if you have it, also, but don’t expect everybody else to have it, especially that 40-foot ferro-concrete ketch with the long metal bowsprit that’s bowling along under power toward you.

You should raise a radar reflector as high as you can, so that other vessels with radar sets will see you. And you should be meticulous about making the right sound signal every two minutes or less. I have noticed that too many skippers are very lax about this. I have even traveled on a Washington State ferry that made no sound signals in thick fog, presumably relying on radar and clearance from Seattle Traffic Control, which can’t possibly tell the ferry if a small craft, invisible to radar, is in its path.

If you’re sailing, the correct signal is one long blast and two short blasts. That’s also the signal made by a vessel not under command, or restricted by her ability to maneuver. The same signal comes from a vessel engaged in fishing, or towing or pushing another vessel.

If you’re under power, the fog signal (and the signal in any kind of restricted visibility, by the way, including rain or snow in daylight) is one long blast every two minutes or less.

And one last tip – take along a horn that you can blow into. The fog horns that work off cans of compressed air don’t always work. I can vouch for that. I can also tell you that blowing the damn horn as loud as you can every two minutes is a pain in the you-know-what. You can’t go anywhere or do anything that lasts more than one minute, fifty-nine seconds. It puffs your cheeks out and raises your blood pressure. It makes you dizzy and produces black spots before your eyes. But it’s better than being run down at sea. So do it.

Today’s Thought
He that bringeth himself into needless dangers dieth the devil’s martyr.
— Thomas Fuller, Holy War

“I’ve found out why production has slowed down since we got that second computer.”
“Good. What’s wrong?”
“The big computer’s shoving all the work on to the little computer.”

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

April 19, 2015

No more lies about size of waves

THE COMING OF SPRING in the northern hemisphere ushers in a sense of renewal, a sense of refreshment and commitment to improvement. Spring always makes me want to be a better person than I was, which, admittedly is not difficult. This new sailing season I shall, once again, attempt to follow the Ten Commandments for Sailboat Owners:

1. Thou shalt not lie about the size of the waves, nor yet of the speed of the wind which hath assailed thee.

2. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s gorgeous Hinckley nor his adorable wife.

3. Thou shalt not curse the weather forecaster unless severely provoked.

4. Thou shalt not pour scorn upon the Coast Guard boarding party, yea even though thine potty be legal.

5. Thou shalt slow down both in the marina and the anchorage; neither shall thine junior offspring run amok in the outboard dinghy.

6. Thou shalt not stamp thine foot, nor beat thine breast, nor rent the air with thine fists when thou receivest thy bill for engine repairs, for it frighteneth the children

7. Thou shalt not laugh openly at thine seasick mother-in-law.

8. Thou shalt not neglect to switch on the cooling water before starting the engine and blame it upon thine spouse.

9. Thou shalt not lie about when last thou changed the engine oil.

10. Thou shalt honor thine foredeck crew, and refrain from assailing them with raiséd voice, for they are the salt of the earth.

And one more for the helluvit:

11. Thou shall not allow thine halyards to smite thine mast, lest it arouse sleeplessness and bitterness among thy neighbors.

Today’s Thought
We must do the thing we must
Before the thing we may;
We are unfit for any trust
Till we can and do obey.
— George Macdonald, Willie’s Question

“What happened to your ear?”
“Well, I was ironing my shirt when the phone rang and I accidentally put the iron to my ear.”
“Bummer. And what happened to the other ear?”
“Well, I had to call 911, didn’t I?”

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

April 16, 2015

Mayhem at the masthead

IN THE INTERESTS OF FREE SPEECH, a whistleblower for VigorLeaks recently intercepted the following  letter to our local office of the Social Security Administration:

Dear Sir or Madam,

I would like to apply for Social Security disability benefits. This is what happened:

I was employed as a yard hand at the local marina. My boss told me to replace a burned-out light bulb at the top of a mast on a 45-foot cutter. Having drawn a suitable bulb from the Stores Dept. I proceeded to the boat. I had no help to get up the mast but hit upon the idea of filling two large plastic buckets with water. I tied them together and winched them to the top of the mast on the main halyard.

I then secured my bosun’s chair to the halyard with the thought that the weight of the buckets would help me ascend mast.

Unfortunately, as I cast off halyard, I discovered that the weight of water in the buckets was considerably more than my weight. I therefore shot up the mast at high speed.

Unfortunately, my right shoulder crashed into the spreaders and became dislocated and heavily bruised. At the same time, the descending buckets hit my left shoulder, cracking the bone and causing considerable pain.

Upon my arrival at the masthead, two fingers of my right hand got jammed in the pulley, causing one to be broken and the other to be badly squashed. I had no time to install the new bulb because the buckets, having hit the cabin top, fell over on their sides and emptied themselves. I was now considerably heavier than the buckets, and began descending at a rapid pace.

Unfortunately, on my way down I met the buckets coming up at high speed, causing severe contusions and bruising, and fracturing two ribs. I slammed heavily onto the cabin top, breaking a toe on my right foot. And then I must have lost control of my senses because I let go of the halyard.

The buckets now descended from top of the mast at high speed, one delivering a blow to my cheek, which was badly cut, and the other hitting me squarely on top of the head, which rendered me unconscious until a nice lady from one of the other yachts, having seen me bleeding and heard my screams, gave me first aid and called 911.

My boss says he doesn’t think I will ever be fit to work on boats again, at least not for his boatyard. I would therefore like to apply for disability and look forward to hearing from you.

[Name withheld to avoid embarrassment. -- Ed.]

Today’s Thought
There is no person who is not dangerous for someone.
— Madame de Sévigné, Letters

“Where’ve you been?”
“Yeah, half an hour ago, they tell me.”

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

April 14, 2015

How to do a pre-survey survey

WHENEVER ANYBODY asks about buying a used boat, I always advise them to get a professional survey. It will cost several hundred dollars, of course, but it could save you a small fortune in unexpected repairs.

But, alas, I am not very good at following my own advice. Of the five major boats I’ve owned, not one was surveyed before I bought it. In fact, I’m almost ashamed to admit that two of them were mail-order boats — ones I found on the Internet and bought sight unseen.

I don’t know whether I have a special talent for sorting out the winners from the losers, or whether I’ve just been plain lucky, but I never regretted any of those purchases. Nevertheless,  if someone is not willing to gamble, as I am (and lose gracefully, if necessary) then I still think a professional survey is the way to go on anything worth more than, say, $5,000.

It occurs to me, however, that you can save money by doing your own pre-survey survey. By that, I mean you can take a good look at a boat and decide whether you would like to buy it if a professional survey showed it to be sound.

There are many bits of boats that can’t really be tested without destroying them. There are also many bits that are hidden, and whose integrity cannot be established. You will note that survey reports are replete with ifs and buts and legal sentences that mean “I can’t guarantee that this boat is seaworthy or even fit for the purpose of the survey.” On the other hand, an experienced surveyor will use survey language in certain ways to indicate that he thinks this one is in pretty good shape for its age and it’s probably as good any other of its kind, and if it was up to him, he’d make an offer for it.

Now, what can you do before you call in the surveyor? Well, for a start, try to persuade the owner of the boat to leave you alone on board. It’s very inhibiting to have him or her hanging around while you poke in all the private places of the object of his affection. It’s like asking if you can undress his wife and have a good look. Well, maybe not quite like that, but very similar, wouldn’t you say? In any case, try to be alone with the boat.

There are four elements you can employ to do your own pre-survey survey. The first two are your eyes and your nose. Use your eyes to look for cracks, uneven surfaces, water in the bilge, oil under the engine, and tell-tale dribbles down below, from where the hull joins the deck and underneath the portlights.

Use your nose to sniff in all the hidey-holes on board. Sniff for smells of mold and rot. Sniff for mud, dead baby crabs, and god knows what in the chain locker. Sniff for leaking gas and engine fuel. A good, clean-smelling boat is a sign that it is being looked after.

The third element is your feet. Stomp all over the deck, the cabin-top, and the cockpit floor. There should be no flexing anywhere, no sign of fiberglass “giving,”  no sign of fiberglass delaminating.  Jump up and down on the foredeck. Give extra stomps alongside stanchion bases and all deck fittings that are screwed or bolted in place. That’s where water can seep in and rot a wooden core.

The fourth element is a medium-sized screwdriver with a plastic handle. Hold it back to front, with the spindle in your hand, and tap the hull and superstructure with the plastic bit. Tap all over, and use your ears. A solid piece of fiberglass makes a sharp rap when you tap it firmly. Some people say it “rings” but I’ve never heard that. What you’re looking for, and listening for, is areas where the fiberglass has delaminated, so that it is no longer one cohesive, solid piece. When you find a “soft” area like that, the screwdriver will make a duller “thunk” rather than a nice sharp rap.  Sometime the difference isn’t much, but you should be able to detect it.

Use your discretion, of course, and rap as gently as you can, consistent with getting decent results. Once again, try to do this out of the sight and hearing of the owner, because nothing irritates a boat owner more than some stranger whacking the hell out of his nice gleaming topsides.  Nevertheless, you shouldn’t be intimidated, either. It might be torture for the seller, but this is a perfectly legitimate way to assess the structural integrity of a boat you are genuinely interested in buying.

I might also mention that surveyors often use a small hammer, rather than a screwdriver handle, to tap the fiberglass with, but I advocate a screwdriver for most buyers. The sight of an amateur attacking a boat with a hammer is likely to cause the seller to scream.

There’s not much you can do about the engine, except to ask to hear it running, and to check it visually for leaks, stray wires, and excessive vibration. You’ll need to engage a marine mechanic to check it properly at a later stage because most surveyors can’t, or won’t, assess its state of health.

Just looking at the running and standing rigging will tell you whether the boat has been decently maintained over the years and give you a feeling for how much of what the seller is telling you is the truth, and how much is hyperbole, added to furnish verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative.

If you carry out this cheap and informative pre-survey survey, you should get a very good idea of whether you want to go ahead and call in a professional surveyor.  You can show him all the places where you suspect trouble and he will be very grateful. Don’t expect to get a discount on his fee, though. Just doesn’t happen.

Today’s Thought
There is hardly anything in the world that some man cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper, and the people who consider price only are this man’s lawful prey.
— John Ruskin

Was sick.
In his delirium
He mentioned Miriam,
Which was an error
For his wife was a terror
With the name
Of Jane.

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

April 12, 2015

Woman trouble for Dylan Winter

MY ENGLISH FRIEND Dylan Winter is in trouble with women sailors. He has been shot down in flames by angry women readers of Small Craft Advisor magazine. He roused their ire by writing a humorous article in which he tried to figure out what male boat owners should do to make their wives and girl friends more interested in sailing. Sailing with men, that is.

Perhaps he didn’t deserve all the flak that came his way. He is a gentle, educated soul who sails small boats quite peaceably with his wife, Jill, and his family. And he produces some of the most artistically meritorious sailing videos I have ever seen as he wends his way slowly around Great Britain in a small sailboat.*

All the same, he should have known better. I, for one, could have told him that American women sailors are very sensitive to being treated with condescension or superciliousness by men, even in jest. They know their pintles from their gudgeons, and they demand respect. I must say I’m all for it. Respect is good.

Nevertheless, we need to face the facts. And the real question is, do women like sailing?

I voiced my views on this subject several years ago in a column on this blog, and it might help to repeat it here now. Of course, there’s also a chance it might not help after all; but what the heck. Faint  heart ne’er won fair lady, so here goes:   

DELICATE SUBJECT THIS: Do women really like sailing? It’s a question that occurred to me during a recent meeting of a little committee whose members write and edit articles for our local yacht club’s newsletter.

The editor wanted to know: Are we having enough articles of interest to women members? Recipes, for instance. Or: Where can they get nice nautical fabric for settee cushions? Or: What’s the best detergent for washing up in salt water?

Then it occurred to me that these questions are condescending. Women sailors are no different from men sailors, except they smell better and seem to stay cleaner longer. Sailors are sailors, and if women are interested in sailing they’ll be learning all the same stuff that men learn.

The truth is that most people don’t like sailing. It’s a minority sport. But those who do sail aren’t divided into categories by gender. We all know women who have sailed around the world singlehanded and non-stop. Perhaps they weren’t the first to do it, but there’s no reason now to think women aren’t the equal of men as sailors.

What may be confusing is that there are probably fewer women than men whose ambition is to sail a boat. And that’s probably very wise of them, considering that sailing a small boat is the slowest, most uncomfortable, and most expensive method of travel known to mankind and womankind.

However, the fact that there are still special sailing schools run by women, only for women, seems to me to smack of discrimination. I don’t know of any sailing schools for men only. I think the women-only schools sprang up because of a nasty rumor that men are prone to shout at women who can’t perform a simple action on a boat after being shown how to do it a hundred times, for goodness’ sake.

Women don’t shout at other women, apparently. I presume that whatever needs to be done, the teacher just does it for the pupil and keeps the peace. But what worries me is that when they have graduated, those women will have to sail with men again, so they might as well have got shouted at in the first place and have it all over and done with. (If it’s true about men shouting, of course, which I’ve never seen proven.)

But, anyway, to presume that women sailors want special articles in the club newsletter about how to butter parsnips at anchor, or sauté mangel-wurzels under way, seems demeaning. Women who like sailing want to know how to tell the difference between variation and deviation and where the deepest chord of the mainsail should lie in heavy weather. And if nice nautical fabric is needed for new cushions, why shouldn’t it be a man who searches for it, rather than a woman? Come to think of it, maybe it’s time for a woman editor for the club newsletter. Then the questions wouldn’t even be asked.

Today’s Thought If men are always more or less deceived on the subject of women, it is because they forget that they and women do not speak altogether the same language.
—Amiel, Journal, 26 Dec 1868

Tailpiece “Did you visit that spiritualist last night?”
“Was she a good one?”
“Not really, just a medium.”

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

April 9, 2015

Fame again after a century

IT TOOK a surprisingly long time for Edward Burgess to be formally recognized by his own countrymen. He died in 1891, but it wasn’t until 1994 that he was inducted into the America’s Cup Hall of Fame.

In case you didn’t know either, Edward Burgess was a Boston boy who taught himself how to design racing yachts that could beat those built by the best of Britain’s professional naval architects.

After a visit to England in 1883, Burgess returned to Boston to find the family business failing. He promptly set up a practice as a self-taught yacht designer, and, as luck would have it, his first commission was to design a defender of the America’s Cup against the British challenger, Genesta, in 1885. Burgess drew the lines of an 80-foot cutter called Puritan, which soundly beat the British yacht.

A year later, in 1886, he struck gold again with the design of the successful Cup defender Mayflower, and then, to cap everything, the following year he designed yet another Cup winner, Volunteer.

By this time, the whole country was aware of his triple successes, and showered him with acclaim for the brilliance of his designs. It wasn’t surprising, therefore, that his business flourished to the extent that in seven years he produced designs for 137 different vessels, including yachts, fishing boats, pilot boats, and steamers.

In 1887 he was selected by the Secretary of the Navy to serve on a special board to choose designs for a new American naval fleet, resulting in the construction of the battleships Maine and Texas.

But his sudden rise to fame and fortune had its consequences. He died at age 43 as the result, it was said, of a fever brought on by his demanding naval work. And it wasn’t until more than 100 years later that his brilliant contribution to the art and science of yacht design was recognized by his induction to the Hall of Fame.

Today’s Thought
The splendors of earthly fame are but a wind,
That in the same direction lasts not long.
— Dante, Purgatorio

“Who’s that gorgeous girl over there?”
“She must be the village belle.”
“How do you know?”
“She’s wringing her hands.”

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

April 7, 2015

Bailing gas from the bilges

I WAS STOPPED IN MY TRACKS the other day when I read an account by a circumnavigator of how he used kerosene for cooking on his boat. I thought I was the only one left in the world who thought that was a good idea.

I grew up in the Dark Ages when every cruising boat used kerosene. The British and Colonial ones used paraffin, admittedly, but it was the same stuff under a different name, a slightly more refined form of diesel fuel.  It was used in lamps and Primus stoves and you had to pre-heat the kerosene burner with denatured alcohol. The Brits and Colonials pre-heated it with methylated spirits, but once again, it was the same stuff under a different name. They’re funny that way.

Anyway it was a lot of fuss and bother, and sometimes a lot of fun when the burner flared up because the pre-heating hadn’t been going on long enough. Few galley cooks had eyebrows in those days.

I still have a kerosene Primus stove, as a matter of fact. It’s in the garage, ostensibly for emergency use, but really for the pleasure of taking it out of its box once a year and trying to light the bloody thing. Nevertheless, I am neither hidebound nor stupid, so I readily admit that gas is the most convenient stuff to cook with on a boat. It has problems, though. Butane and propane are heavier than air and they’re highly explosive.

I remember smelling gas when I woke up one morning on a 72-foot ketch in Ramsgate, England. It was during the dog days of summer, dead calm. We fixed the gas leak and tip-toed around softly so as to cause no sparks, and waited for a breeze to ventilate the bilges.

We had a 12-volt bilge blower, but neither Gary, the skipper, nor I, the mate, wanted to risk switching it on.

“They’re supposed to be spark-free,” said Gary, “but . . .”

“Yeah, it only takes one spark,” I said.

Eventually, after considering everything, we decided to bail the gas out. Soon the residents of Ramsgate were treated to a strange spectacle. After dipping their buckets into the bilges, the crew of Thelma II would appear on deck one after another and solemnly pour seemingly empty buckets into the harbor. In true British fashion, the locals were too polite to enquire about this astonishing ritual, which must have rivaled even English Morris Dancing for sheer lunacy.

After 45 minutes we figured it was good enough. We all went ashore except for Gary, who bravely flipped the switch for the blower. We saw his hand move. There was no explosion. He grinned widely.

“All r-i-g-h-t!” We cheered and yelled from the dockside.

The locals shook their heads and pretended to be watching seagulls.

Today’s Thought
I adore life but I don’t fear death. I just prefer to die as late as possible.
—(the late) Georges Simenon, International Herald Tribune

“Waiter, there’s a fly in my soup.”
"Sorry, sir, the chef used to be a tailor.”

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


April 5, 2015

A black eye for the Press

BY NOW, most of America will have read how Louis Jordan, 37, was plucked from the upturned hull of his old 35-foot Alberg sloop by the U. S. Coast Guard after drifting helplessly in the Gulf Stream off the Carolinas for 66 days.

Most of America will have read how he stayed alive (all the while nursing a broken collar bone) by catching small fish in his laundry, catching rainwater in a bucket, and reading his way right through the Bible twice.  Most of America will have learned of his suffering from hunger and thirst.

And most of America will have been misled by some of the shoddiest journalism ever to have been foisted on the public.

Anyone who has had the slightest connection with small boats and the sea will have been disgusted by the sloppy and inaccurate reporting of this accident.  Even newspapers within spitting distance of the sea were guilty of deliberate distortion and failing to check the facts.

The Virginia Pilot, for example, stated that “He cut off the mast to prevent his small boat from sinking.”

The facts, the plain unvarnished facts that anyone could have checked, were far different.

Jordan was actually spotted drifting off Cape Hatteras (between 124 miles and 300 miles off, depending on the news source) by a German flagged container ship called the Houston Express. They called the Coast Guard, who sent a helicopter to fetch Jordan from the ship.

He was taken to hospital on shore, checked, and discharged. He did not have a broken collar bone. He was not suffering from sunburn or any kind of exposure. He was not dehydrated. And he had certainly never spent a minute on the overturned hull.

None of the worthy members of the Press thought to ask him how he could have perched on the bottom of a full-keeled Alberg 35 for days on end.   Nobody queried if it is even possible for a relatively narrow boat with a ballast keel to remain inverted for more than a few seconds.

Nobody thought to ask him if he had an engine, and, if so, why he didn’t simply motor back to shore. Nobody asked him why, if he could cook and eat pancakes, he would want to eat raw fish. Nobody asked him why he was so far out to sea.

Obviously Jordan has very little experience of sailing at sea. He seem to have gotten into a storm and been capsized and dismasted. Nobody asked him if it was a 90-degree capsize or complete inversion. It seems he had the gumption to cut away the standing rigging attaching the damaged mast to the boat, but after that he just drifted helplessly. He was a liveaboard based in a marina in Conway, South Carolina, and he had food and water on board sufficient for a month.

When did he start rationing himself, if in fact he did? Nobody asked. His family reported him missing after he said he was going on an offshore fishing trip, and the Coast Guard conducted searches fruitlessly for 10 days.

The biggest question of all, and one that completely escaped the Press, is why his boat was found drifting off Cape Hatteras when the current should have carried it half-way across the Atlantic. The average rate of the Gulf Steam is 4 miles an hour according to the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), slowing to 1 mile an hour farther north.

There are 1,584 hours in 66 days, so, even at the speed of 1 mile an hour the boat should have traveled 1,500 miles to the north and east. This point obviously did occur to the Coast Guard, however. According to several reports they checked his financial records to see “if he sneaked ashore” somewhere.

I haven’t spoken to Jordan so I can’t know what he told the media. But I do know what the media reported, and it makes me ashamed to admit I was once a journalist. There can be no excuse for this total lack of professionalism. The Press is indeed in a very sorry state in this country, and it makes me wonder how much I can trust in anything I see in print or on the radio or TV. And if this is what the professional newsmongers are offering, God preserve us from the amateurs who run rampant all over Twitter and the Internet these days. Nothing is now more elusive than the truth.

Today’s Thought
The art of reading between the lines is as old as manipulated information.
— Serge Schmemann, NY Times, 10 Nov 85

 “How did poor old Joe survive that mustard gas and pepper spray?”
“Oh, it turns out he’s OK. He’s now a seasoned veteran.”
(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


April 2, 2015

A simple pawl for your windlass

I WAS LOOKING through some pictures in one of Hiscock’s old books the other days when I noticed that he had a rudimentary chain pawl on his bow anchor roller. It’s not a thing you see much of these days, not on ordinary daysailers or weekenders, anyway. But a chain pawl, or chain stopper as it’s also known, could save you from serious back injury. It could also save your boat from the rocks.

Back in the days when I was working slave on a yachting magazine, I received an anguished letter from the owner of a Hans Christian 38 who almost lost his boat on a lee shore because his anchor chain kept slipping on the windlass.

It was blowing 50 knots and high seas were breaking in 50 feet of water off Isla Isabella, in Mexico's Gulf of California. A reef lay dangerously close aft.

When the skipper tried to raise his 45-pound anchor, and motor out of there, the chain just kept flying off the gypsy when the strain came on it, and even more chain would run out.

Eventually, in appalling conditions, submerged by waves sweeping over the bows, he managed to sever the chain with bolt cutters and power away to safety offshore.

What went wrong? Well, he shouldn't have been there in the first place, of course, with only his wife to help. He had had time to weigh anchor and put to sea when the wind first started blowing onshore. But it was nighttime and he procrastinated, as most of us would have done, until the situation became pretty desperate.

In the second place, he shouldn't have expected his windlass to take the strain of a heavy boat plunging in rough seas. Windlasses are designed to lift the anchor and chain. Period. They’re not designed to drag the boat forcibly to windward in tough conditions.

But besides that, most anchor chains contact only one quarter of the circumference of most windlasses, so no matter how well the chain and gypsy are matched, excessive tension will strip the chain off the windlass.

The answer is a simple chain pawl or stopper. They're designed to take the enormous strain an anchor rode experiences when a boat is rearing and plunging in an unprotected anchorage. The pawl is a one-way valve, allowing chain to come inboard but not fly out again. Some pawls, like Hiscock’s, will fit right on the jaws of your bow roller and simply flip over when you want the chain to run out.

Chain stoppers are heavily bolted down to the foredeck in a straight line between the bow roller and the windlass.

As a matter of interest, a chain pawl can often make a windlass redundant on a boat of 30 feet in length or less. You haul in the chain only when it goes slack. You don't have to bust a gut (or crush some vertebrae) trying to hang onto it when the bow rises.

This way, a reasonably fit person should be able to handle a 35-pound anchor with 5/16th inch chain in 90 feet of water without a winch.

PS: It will also work with a rope anchor line in a pinch, but repeated use will damage the line.

Today's Thought
Oh hark! what means these yells and cries?
His chain some furious madman breaks
—Matthew Gregory Lewis, The Maniac

“How was the movie?”
“Didn’t see it. There was a notice that said 'Under 14 not admitted.'”
“But you’re 35.”
“Yeah, I know, but I couldn’t find 13 others to go in with me.”

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