March 29, 2016

The evolution of steering

WHAT WOULD YOU SAY is the most unappreciated part of a sailboat, the one thing that’s invariably overlooked and neglected, but without which the boat simply cannot function? Yes, that’s right, it’s not the skipper. It’s the rudder.

On larger boats it’s out of sight (apart from the few stern-hung rudders still around) and it’s largely out of mind. It’s a truly modest and uncomplaining piece of equipment, one that doesn’t need to be fed constantly with expensive diesel fuel, one that never goes flat and needs charging, one that never has to be taken to the sewage pump-out every week, or varnished every six months.

It is a marvel of efficiency; and also such a marvel of simplicity that you have to wonder why it took so many hundreds of years to make an appearance on sea-going ships.

The ancient Phoenicians, the Romans, and even the Vikings, used steering boards — oars or paddles, usually hung from the right-hand quarter. (Hence the starboard — steerboard — side. The other side was the side that rested against the port, so the steerboard wouldn’t be damaged.)

It wasn’t until 1242 A.D. that pictorial evidence appeared of a centerline rudder on a ship in Europe. It was, if you’ll forgive me, a turning point in marine design. Apparently this new-fangled invention was received with such enthusiasm that it was quickly adopted by shipbuilders all over the world. Pintles and gudgeons suddenly became household words.

How does the rudder work? Well, in the crudest of terms, if you push it to one side, the water flowing past strikes that side with more force than it strikes the other, so the rudder tends to be pushed sideways, taking the stern with it. (It is actually a foil whose shape provides “lift” like an airplane wing does, but never mind that for the moment.)

I often marvel at the way a tiny rudder can turn a 250,000-ton oil tanker; although, lurking in the back of my mind somewhere is something vague I once read about the rudder only initiating the turn, and the ship’s hull itself acting to reinforce the turning moment, as might a wedge driven through the water.

It’s interesting to note that the average sailboat rudder will stall and lose efficiency if it is put over more than 35 degrees from dead ahead. In fact, it will act as a good brake if you are approaching a dock too fast and you can put it over to 90 degrees, first one side and then the other.

While most rudders lurk quietly and invisibly beneath their mother ships, the importance of their roles has not been lost on naval architects, physicists, and engineers. The design and performance of rudders is the subject of countless scientific papers and even whole books. In this respect, if you should wish to develop your latent rudder fetish, get hold of a book called The Development of the Rudder, by Lawrence V. Mott. It’s a fascinating and lavishly illustrated volume of nautical archaeology that digs deep into the conception of the modern rudder, starting with its crude but rather interesting parents in various parts of the world.

Even if you don’t find yourself entirely enthralled by rudders, it will help while away large parts of the long, bleak period between the morning cocktail and the evening sundowner.

Today’s Thought

The ancient sailor said this to Neptune in a great storm, “O God, thou shalt save me if thou please, if not, thou shalt lose me; yet will I keep my rudder true.”

— Montaigne, Essays


“And you, madam, what’s your husband’s average income?”

“Oh, usually well after midnight.”

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

March 28, 2016

The ideal dinghy

AN ACQUAINTANCE of mine has moved up to a bigger, newer boat. He sold his tender with his last boat, so he’s looking for a new dinghy. Naturally, he came to me for advice. The big choice, I told him, is between an inflatable and a hard dinghy.

Here are some pros and cons for inflatables:


They’re compact when you deflate them.

They’re fast even with small outboard motors.

One of their best attributes is that it’s easy for swimmers to climb (or launch themselves) aboard.

For their size, they can carry heavy loads.

Because they are just big fenders, they won’t damage your topsides.


Barnacles on the rocks will puncture them.

A screwdriver in the back pocket of your jeans will puncture them. (Don’t ask. It still hurts.)

They are mostly pretty wet and bouncy under power.

It takes time to inflate or deflate them.

They’re fairly expensive.

They don’t stand up well to everyday hard work in tropical climates.

They are very attractive to thieves.

Here are the pros and cons for hard dinghies:


They’re better sea boats.

They’re much easier to row — and even sail, if you want.

They’re more durable.

They tow better behind your boat, with less drag.

They’re better able to withstand abrasion.


They’re less stable than inflatables.

They’re heavier and bulkier.

They need more stowage space on deck or on stern davits.

On a 27-foot boat like my friend’s, there is simply no space on deck for a hard dinghy. He doesn’t have a roller furling jib, so he needs the foredeck space.

L. Francis Herreshoff listed his requirements for a hard dinghy as follows:

It should row easily, light or loaded

It should be light enough to be hoisted aboard easily

It should be constructed strongly so it will not leak, and take some abuse

It should tow steadily, always holding back on its painter and never yawing around.

I’m not sure it’s possible to find a dinghy like that, especially one that will always hold back and never yaw around. But it might pay to keep looking. Miracles do happen, they tell me.

Today’s Thought
For she IS such a smart little craft,
Such a neat little sweet little craft —
Such a bright little,
Slight little, Light little,
Trim little, slim little craft!
— W.S. Gilbert, Ruddigore


“Let’s stop here. This looks like an ideal place for a picnic.”
“It must be. Fifty million mosquitoes can’t be wrong.”

(Every Monday, Wednesday, Friday — a new Mainly about Boats column.)

March 25, 2016

Balance and seaworthiness

WHAT MAKES a small sailboat seaworthy? That’s a question often asked by adventure-seekers who are planning to buy a boat to sail around the world. But it isn’t easy to answer because seaworthiness is the happy result of a lot of factors, including the experience of the skipper and crew. Nevertheless, there is one factor that is often overlooked. It’s called balance.
According to Tony Marchaj, a sailor, pilot, naval architect, and research scientist, “Almost by definition, seaworthiness cannot be achieved if the boat is badly balanced.”

So what do we mean by “balance”? That question was answered by a famous British designer, J. Laurent Giles. He said good balance is “freedom from objectionable tendencies to gripe or fall off the wind, regardless of angle of heel, speed or direction of wind.”

He added that a well balanced boat had an easy motion in a seaway, that is, she passed easily over the waves, neither tending to plunge the bow deeply into the next wave ahead, nor throwing her nose high in the air as a wave passed the fore body. She would also unfailingly lift her stern to a following sea.

“One requires of the balanced yacht that she should retain the utmost docility and sureness of movement in manoeuvering at sea, in good or bad weather,” he added. “She must maintain a steady course when left to herself, but must be instantly responsive to her helm so that the heavier seas may be dodged if circumstances permit.”

And another important quality: “ She must be capable of being left to her own devices, sailing, hove-to, or under bare poles.”

That sounds like a very tall order to me. What sort of hull has this wondrous quality of balance? Here’s Tony Marchaj again:

“In a narrower sense, this means that the inherently balanced hull does not substantially alter its longitudinal trim, and does not alter its course during the process of heeling and rolling.” In other words, to be well balanced, a hull should immerse about the same volume of topsides forward and aft when she heels.

Marchaj points out that many of the good old boats still sailing now were either designed for, or affected by, the old International Offshore Rule, which produced shallow, beamy hulls with pinched bows. “Usually, when they heel, the stern is lifted and the bow falls. Consequently, these boats are difficult to control by rudder and are unseaworthy.”

If the bow digs in as the boat heels, a boat will try to round up into the wind, of course, not only because of the wedge effect of the forward sections but also because the center of lateral resistance has moved forward while, at the same time, the center of effort of the sails has moved outward and gains more leverage. This is when the person at the helm suddenly finds the tiller up under his chin. Not that it does much good, anyway,  if the boat heels too far and the rudder comes out of the water.

Luckily, most people don’t often sail in sea conditions that challenge the full seaworthiness of their boats. But if you should be of a mind to cross an ocean or double Cape Horn, balance might be a good thing to keep in mind as you search for the right boat.

Today’s Thought
Everything splendid is rare, and nothing is harder to find than perfection.
— Cicero

Tailpiece“Are you allowed to smoke at school?”
“Are you allowed to drink at school?”
“Of course not.”
“How about dates?”
“Oh dates are fine, as long as you don’t eat too many.”
(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

March 22, 2016

Cheap boats aren't bargain boats

THE COMMUNITY OF SAILORS has its fair share of bargain hunters. I think it’s reasonable to say that there are very few of us who haven’t at some time thought about finding a cheap boat, a boat we can update and renovate, and enjoy for next to nothing. The only problem is that it almost never happens that way. We never learn. A cheap boat seldom turns out to be a bargain.

There’s a fellow called Joe who used to live in Oakland, California, who related his experience on a boating website. Joe bought a Santana 22 with a trailer, a good hull, mast and boom, and several sets of usable sails for $500.

“I’ve spent two years working on the project so far,” he wrote. “I have invested somewhere close to $4,500 out of pocket, not counting storage, and now have a seaworthy (though not yet class-competitive for racing ) boat that I use on San Francisco Bay.”

During those first two years, Joe reckoned he worked on the boat for about 10 hours every week. He spent a lot of time rebedding hardware, adding epoxy plugs in the deck core all over the place and replacing a section of the aft bulkhead where fresh water had caused rot.

“That sounds like a short list,” he noted, “but the real list of tiny projects would go on for pages.”

Near the end of the project, Joe moved the Santana to a boatyard for a bottom job and to fair and repaint the keel and set up the rig. The big-cost items were the new rigging and the bill from the yard for the lay days while he did the work.

“I use a Johnson 6-horsepower two-stroke outboard, which I also bought cheap and rebuilt,” he said. “I never learn.

“I agree with others who have said that the Santana 22 is a great design. I also have to agree with others who have suggested that you should find a boat whose current condition and inventory of gear closely matches your ultimate needs. I take great satisfaction from the work I have done. I enjoyed the work, and it was a way to spread the cost out, etc., etc., etc. — but the investment required to do it this way completely overwhelms the cost of buying a boat in good condition and with adequate gear.”

Joe estimated that if he figured his own labor as an expense (even at minimum wage) and added that to what he’d spent, he could have bought three of the better Santanas in the Bay area for the same total cost — or he could have had a nice one in one-third of the time.

“I know this isn’t what any hopeful shopper wants to hear,” Joe concluded, “and I ignored the people who told me the same, but a cheap or free hull is not a bargain.”

Today’s Thought
Here’s the rule for bargains: “Do other men, for they would do you.” That’s the true business precept.
— Dickens, Martin Chuzzlewit

“Advertising costs me a fortune.”
“What advertisements do you place?”
“I don’t place them. My wife reads them.”

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

March 20, 2016

Navigating without instruments

ONE OF THOSE New York Times Magazine articles that goes on forever came to my attention the other day. It said that Alson Kelen, the world’s last-ever apprentice in the ancient art of wave-piloting, had just successfully found the atoll of Aur in the Marshall Islands.

Now, wave-piloting is the art of looking at the sea and deducing which way the nearest land lies, and how far away it is. This is the art that allowed to ancient Polynesians to find and inhabit the far-flung islands of the Pacific.

Wave-pilots can apparently detect very subtle wave trains in the deep ocean that are reflections from the steep-to volcanic islands, and even, it seems, from the low reefs surrounding atolls. But now everybody is getting worried that the Polynesian navigators who possess the gift of wave-piloting are dying out, and the ancient art might be lost to mankind forever.

Alson Kelen is the man in the Marshall Islands who seems to know most about wave-piloting, so it was arranged that he should give a practical demonstration of his abilities to some scientists and a journalist by navigating a sailing canoe from Majuro to Aur. Which he managed to do, apparently, without any navigational instruments or tables.

The New York Times writer was obviously very impressed with this feat, but I can’t help wondering if he has ever heard of Marvin Creamer.  The distance that Kelen covered, between Majuro and Aur, is about 70 miles. You could do that trip reasonably easily using dead-reckoning alone.

On the other hand, 68-year-old retired college professor Marvin Creamer, of New Jersey, sailed his yacht Globe Star right around the world in the 1980s. For 18 months he navigated without a compass, sextant, electronic instruments, or even a wristwatch.

“What we demonstrated,” he concluded, “was that information taken from the sea and the sky can be used for fairly safe navigation. How far pre-Columbians sailed on the world’s oceans we do not know; however, it is my hope that the Globe Star voyage will provide researchers with a basis for assuming that long-distance navigation without instruments is not only possible, but could have been done with a fair degree of confidence and navigation.”

Creamer discovered he could depend entirely on the sun, moon and stars. In overcast weather he studied currents and wind patterns. Further clues came from the composition and color of the sea, cloud formations, the horizon, drifting objects, and different types of birds or insects.

He got latitudes by identifying stars with a known declination that lay directly overhead, something that must take a lot of practice on a small yacht heaving and rolling on waves, but then, of course, he had only to sail due east or west to make a landfall.

I guess that wave-pilots are the short-range navigators who find the atolls and islands when they’re fairly close to them. I have tried to detect the deep-sea wave trains that they say come back as reflections of the land masses, but I’ve never been able to feel them among the regular waves and swells,  and neither has anybody else I’ve sailed with.

In any case, it seems that Polynesians aren’t the only ones with the gift of navigating by natural clues alone, and if the art of wave-piloting does die out, it won’t be a disaster. All we need to know is right there in Professor Marvin Creamer’s notes. Google his name and see what I mean.

Today’s Thought
If you will be a traveller, have always the eyes of a falcon, the ears of an ass, the face of an ape, the mouth of a hog, the shoulders of a camel, the legs of a stag, and see that you never want two bags very full, that is one of patience, and another of money.
— John Florio, Second Frutes

“I’ve just sold my second novel.”
“Great! What did you use for the plot?”
“Oh, a brand new idea: the film version of my first novel.”

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

March 17, 2016

Ancient Englishe and anchors

TUCKED AWAY among my boating books at home is a copy of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, published in 1771. Well, it’s only the first volume, to tell the truth, containing words starting with A and B. But among those words is one that interests all boaters: Anchor. And it’s quite interesting to read what they thought about anchors all those years ago ...

ANCHOR, in maritime affairs, an extremely ufeful inftrument, ferving to retain a fhip in its place.

It is a very large and heavy iron inftrument, with a double hook at one end, and a ring at the other, by which it is faftened to a cable. It is caft into the bottom of the fea, or rivers; when, taking its hold, it keeps fhips from being drawn away by the wind, tide, or currents.

The parts of an anchor are, 1. The ring to which the cable is faftened. 2. The beam or fhank, which is the longeft past of the anchor. 3. The arm, which is that which runs into the ground. 4. The flouke or fluke, by fome called the palm, the broad and peaked part, with its barbs, like the head of an arrow, which faftens into the ground. 5. The ftock, a piece of wood faftened to the beam near the ring, ferving to guide the fluke, fo that it may fall right and fix in the ground.

There are feveral kinds of anchors: 1. The fheet-anchor, which is the largeft, and is never ufed but in violent ftorms, to hinder the fhip from being driven a-fhore. 2. The two bowers, which are ufed for fhips to ride in a harbour. 3. The ftream anchor. 4. The grapnel.

The fhank of an anchor is to be three times the length of one of its flukes; and a fhip of 500 tons hath her fheet-anchor of 2000 weight; and fo proportionably for others, fmaller or greater. The anchor is faid to be a-peak when the cable is perpendicular between the hawfe and the anchor.

An anchor is faid to come home when it cannot hold the fhip, the cable is hitched about the fluke. To fhoe an anchor is to fit boards upon the flukes, that it may hold the better in foft ground. When the anchor hangs right up and down by the fhip’s fide, it is faid to be a cock-bell, upon the fhip’s coming to an anchor.

The inhabitants of Ceylon ufe large ftones inftead of anchors; and in fome other places of the Indies the anchors are a kind a wooden machines, loaded with ftones.

— Well, there you are. Now you not only have encyclopedic knowledge of anchors, but you can read Olde Englishe, too. I guess that makes you quite a fmartafs.

Today’s Thought

In the stormy night it is well that anchors twain be let down from the swift ship.

— Pindar, Olympian Odes


“How’s the new Jewish opera singer getting along?”

“I’m not sure. She doesn’t seem to know if she’s Carmen or Cohen because she’s always so Bizet.”

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

March 15, 2016

Tried and trusted sealing compounds

IT SEEMS THAT more and more of us are using butyl tape to seal our deck fittings. Butyl has been around a long time and it’s very useful, especially for sealing car windshields. But it has no adhesive powers. Which means that a wobbly stanchion base is going to let water in after a few not-so-dainty crewmembers have lurched against the lifelines.

What you need here is a flexible sealant that sticks tightly to the bottom of the stanchion base as well as to the deck, something that can stretch temporarily without opening up a gap for water to seep through.

Don Casey the man who wrote This Old Boat, the boat repairer’s bible, says there are three main bedding sealants:
Polysulphide is what he’d use for deck fittings. It’s available in single and double packs. Twin packs cure more quickly. Use it for all kinds of sealing and bedding except for plastics. It will melt plastics. Polysulphide remains pliant and adheres very nicely to each side of the joint, although you can remove the fitting without too much trouble when necessary. It’s good for caulking wooden deck seams, and you can paint or varnish over it.
Polyurethane is another good sealant, but it’s also a very strong glue. So use it for permanent joints only. Don’t use urethane on fittings you might want to remove later. Don’t use it on plastics such as Lexan or ABS, either. You might be able to paint over some polyurethanes, but not most of them. Check the instructions.
Silicone is a good bedding compound and sealant that you can use on almost anything, including plastics. Most silicones are not particularly good adhesives. Better than butyl, though. Some new silicone formulations have better sticking power and might be difficult to remove at some later stage. It makes good gaskets, but you can’t paint or varnish over it.
So there you have it. If you trust Mr Casey, as you should, your course is clear. Ignore the herd. Forget the butyl. Grab the polysulphide.
Today’s Thought

An expert is somebody who is more than 50 miles from home, has no responsibility for implementing the advice he gives, and shows slides.
—Edwin Meese 3rd
“What’s the penalty for bigamy in Utah?”

“Multiple mothers-in-law.”

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

March 13, 2016

How to do a pre-survey survey

THERE IS ONE BIG FLAW in the age-old age advice that anyone wishing to buy a boat should get a professional survey first. A problem arises if you are choosing between several boats for sale. You can’t afford to shell out hundreds of dollars for full-scale surveys on every boat you look at.

The answer is what I call the pre-survey survey.

I should confess that the age-old advice has never worked with me. Of the five major boats I’ve owned, not one was professionally 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.

But you can save money by doing your own pre-survey survey. By that, I mean you yourself 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.  Sometimes 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 intimated, 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 the boat has a deck-stepped mast, check down below in the cabin for signs of the support beam giving way, that is, bending downward. The mast exerts tremendous downward pressure on the deck.

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.)

March 10, 2016

Seeking comfort in the cabin

I SAW A PHOTOGRAPH of the interior of a 27-foot Albin Vega the other day and it looked bleak and featureless. I was disappointed, because, for various reasons, I’ve always admired that little design. This one, however, looked more like the inside of a railway carriage than a proper little yacht. In short, it just didn’t look snug and comfortable.

It’s hard to say what makes a small boat cabin comfortable. I guess there must be a compromise between too much and too little in the way of furniture, fixtures, and fittings. There should be a feeling of space but also of snugness. It should be cheery and cozy, homelike and friendly. As you go below, you ought to feel that you’re being welcomed and cosseted, not just tolerated. It’s a lot to ask for.

The famous naval architect L. Francis Herreshoff had strong feelings about this, and one surprising conclusion he came to was that comfort was related to salt.

“If a cabin is entirely free of salt — that is, has had no salt water or particularly spray in it — it will be a dry and comfortable place on damp and foggy nights,” he declared. “It will also be much easier to clean and keep free of mildew.

“One of the best ways to keep the salt out is to stop swimming parties from the boat. You may not like this, but if you are to really enjoy cruising you must do it. After I start a cruise I never go in swimming unless on a large yacht that has a freshwater showerbath.

“If you can keep your cabin and body free of salt you will be much cooler in hot weather and your clothes and bedding stay dry.”

Well, there you are. That’s what the master advises. I’m not sure it’s practical advice for small boats without showers (unless your sailing is restricted to freshwater lakes) but then, I’m not L. Francis Herreshoff, either.

Today’s Thought
Spilt salt is never all gathered.
— John Ray, English Proverbs

“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.)

March 8, 2016

Three minutes of sheer panic

WHAT CAN YOU DO in three minutes? I ask because of this news article I found on the Internet:

A prediction tool developed by MIT engineers may give sailors a 2-3 minute warning of an incoming rogue wave, providing them with enough time to shut down essential operations on a ship or offshore platform.

It’s obviously very clever of the scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to have created a computer program that can predict the formation of a rogue wave. But it does seem to have a  limitation that renders it impractical, if not useless.

I mean, c’mon guys, what are they going to do on a ship if they’re given a three-minute warning? What exactly is going to help, even if you can get it done? You could maybe turn the rudder or even shut the engines down, but that wouldn’t make any difference on most ships. It’s just not enough time, no matter what MIT thinks.

And what about the poor soul on lone watch at 3 a.m. in the cockpit of a sailboat? What could he or she do in three minutes, apart from panicking or saying a quick prayer? What would anyone expect a sailor to do, in any case? Would dropping the mainsail help the boat survive a rogue wave? Not likely.

Small sailboats have been surviving rogue waves for an awful long time without the help of the guys at MIT. Anyone who goes to sea should know that different trains of waves occasionally ride on each others’ backs, forming a wave higher and steeper than those around it. The odds of this happening can be expressed mathematically, but nobody expects to be given a warning, and I don’t doubt that many a yacht has ridden over a rogue wave at night without even being aware of it.

I expect MIT means well, but there doesn’t seem to be much point in their clever calculations unless they can also provide information about how to survive a rogue wave when it arrives, given enough time. But three minutes just doesn’t do it. You can hardly pee your pants in three minutes.

Today’s Thought
The mere apprehension of a coming peril has put many into a situation of the utmost danger.
— Lucan, De  Bello Civili

There was a young girl from Pitlochry
Whose morals were merely a mockery,
For under her bed
She'd a young man instead
Of the ten-times more usual crockery

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

March 6, 2016

Is boat love a perversion?

ANOTHER DAY, another Dear John letter. This one comes from Susan, in Seattle. She says her marriage is being threatened by boats. Can I help?

Well, Susan, it’s not often that I’m asked for advice in marital matters, but some years ago I received a similar plea from a boat widow in California, and this is what I told her. I hope it will help you, too:

DEAR JOHN – I need your help. I have been happily married for 10 years but I’m worried my husband is becoming a pervert. He has started secretly looking at boats. I do my best to satisfy him in every way, but I have found a yachting magazine hidden under the cushions in the den. It has a double-page spread of a gorgeous Hinckley.

He also keeps a well-thumbed cover from Good Old Boat magazine in his wallet. It features a shapely C&C 30 having a bottom job. I know he quietly goes on the Internet and watches videos on and There are advertisements showing provocative Catalinas saying: “Call us, we are in your city.”

Last weekend he went to Las Vegas with a bunch of guys from his office. I believe it’s legal in Nevada to consort with boats aged over 18. When I tackled him about it, he said they went to see the spring flowers. What should I do? —Cathy W., Dorchester, Calif.

Cathy, Cathy, please calm down, it’s all perfectly normal. Young boys straight out of puberty take pictures of boats they’ve got friendly with, and send them to each other on their cell phones. Your husband’s actions don’t mean he doesn’t love you. Men have been lusting after boats for centuries. Mostly they just look. Rarely do they touch. They live in a fantasy world. They mean no harm. If I were you, I would get advice. The two of you should make an appointment with a sympathetic yacht broker and discuss the problem. It’s just possible that a small deposit and reasonable monthly payments will solve everything. Good luck.

Today’s Thought
Love is a fiend, a fire, a heaven, a hell
Where pleasure, pain, and sad repentance dwell.
—Richard Barnfield, The Shepherd’s Content.

Notice on a maternity room door:
“Push. Push. Push.”

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

March 3, 2016

The price of a clean bottom

SOMEBODY MUST HAVE TOLD my local boatyard that only rich people can afford boats. They now charge $95 an hour for labor when they paint your boat.

The official minimum wage in the state of Washington is $9.47 an hour, so that if you are the sort of boater who likes to do your own work, you will save yourself $85.53 an hour, which should bring a smile to your face even if your back aches.

Meanwhile, you might wonder if the boatyard pays its painters $95 an hour (the $95 that it charges you) but I think the answer is likely to be no, nothing like it.  Painters, though, are in a special category, because they have skills, as do mechanics, electricians, fiberglass workers, riggers, and woodworkers, all of whose services will also cost you $95 an hour.

There is good news, though. If you just need a yard hand to help you with some general labor, the boatyard will charge you only $85 an hour. I expect they will give some of that to him, enough to cover his bus fare home to the bridge under which he lives, anyhow.

If you live in British Columbia, Canada, just over the border from us, you can put your boat on a tidal grid for free, or a nominal fee, let the tide go out, and slap on a quick coat of antifouling paint. But here in Washington state, the environmental police have closed down the tidal grids. You now have to be hauled out by a boatyard. Not that it matters. The environmentalists also know that boat owners are rich.

Say, for example, you own a modest little Catalina 27. It’s a belly-button boat. Everybody’s got one. Let’s see how much it will cost you at a local boat yard.

The charge for a two-way haul-out is $8 a foot with a minimum of $200, so your Catalina 27 is going to cost $216. But the environmental police have to be paid, too, and the charge applied to every boat the boatyard handles is a minimum of $80.  A pressure wash is going to cost you $3.50 a foot, or $94.50, bringing the grand total for hauling out, blocking and putting back in the water, to $390.50. That’s before any work is done on your boat, and before the charge for laydays has been applied  — that’s an extra $27 a day for your boat.

But hang on, there’s a better deal. You can buy the bottom paint package, which includes a pressure wash and two-way hauls for $32 a foot for two coats. That’s $864 for your 27-footer. And that price depends on the condition of the boat’s bottom. Additional preparation, getting off the grunge that the pressure wash didn’t remove, will cost you $85 an hour. Tenting and tarping, when needed to contain copper dust if the bottom is sanded, will also be charged extra.  The tarp fee is $100 minimum.

You may be in for a little surprise, however, because for some strange reason the bottom paint package doesn’t include the price of the bottom paint. That’s going to be another $100 or so.

But who’s counting? And did someone mention tax? No problem. Catalina 27 owners are rich. Everybody knows that. Except their wives, perhaps. Like most boat wives, they are kept in the dark. They don’t know that the boatyard charges $95 an hour, which is just as well, otherwise, I suspect, there would be many more mutinies.

Today’s Thought
For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
New Testament: I Timothy, vi, 10

“How old are you, madam?”
“Officer, I’m approaching 40.”
“Yes, but from which direction, madam?”

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

March 1, 2016

How much water do you need?

LET’S JUST SAY the two of you are in mid-Pacific when your boat hits a whale. You have to abandon ship and climb into a life raft. Your first reaction is shock, and that’s likely to last a week or so until you can get your lives properly organized. By that, I mean organize shelter from the elements, work out a plan for navigation, keep a proper watch for passing ships, and find enough food and water to keep you alive.

One of your immediate priorities will be to ration the water supply. You’ve found four or five cans of fresh water inside the liferaft — about two gallons, if you’re lucky. How much should you dole out while you’re still in a state of shock, before you can think coherently about how to catch rainwater, or catch fish to squeeze the potable liquids out of them?

Does three small cups each per day sound about right? Can you actually live on only three cups a day? Each cup is about six ounces, so two gallons should last six days. We all know that most humans can last three days or so without water, and about a month without food, but at the end of six days you won’t have any water left.

So should you reduce your consumption to two cups a day each?  Will that allow you to maintain the strength you need, mental and physical, to do the organizing that needs to be done?

This is a problem that needs to be solved immediately because if you start out by drinking your normal daily ration of water you might run out too soon. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.  In the first few days and hours it would be all too easy to drink too much of that precious supply, so you should have given this problem some thought previously.

It’s not a problem often discussed in the media because every situation is different. Some lucky castaways might have solar stills with which to make fresh water, others might have packed hand-operated water makers in their panic bags. Some life rafts don’t have any water at all, which is something you don’t want to discover only when your boat sinks behind you.

So my advice is to read as many books as you can about survival at sea, and read them now, before you go. One of them is Steve Callahan’s Adrift: 76 Days Lost at Sea. His little single-handed sloop sank after hitting a whale in the Atlantic and he had to take to his six-man Avon inflatable, eventually ending up in Guadeloupe, West Indies.

Apart from the book, there’s a fine interview with Callahan on the Cracked website by Evan V. Symon. If you’re planning to go to sea you’ll find it very instructive:

Today’s Thought
My husband was getting his sea legs — re-reading Joseph Conrad with a side order of C. S. Forester.
— Enid Nemy, “In Search of Glamour on the Sea,” International Herald Tribune 15 Feb 85

Little Johnny’s teacher asked him to spell weather.
He thought about it for a while and then said “W-A-E-I-T-H-R.”
“My goodness, remarked his teacher, “that’s the worst spell of weather we’ve had around here for years.”

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