February 29, 2016

The pull on a sheet

THE MODERN ROPE we use for sheets and halyards is a wonderful material, strong almost beyond belief, but it does have its limits, of course, and if your brain demands peace of mind while you’re sailing, maybe you should be quite sure all your running rigging is adequately sized.

You can make a pretty good estimate of the strain your jib imposes on its sheet. You simply square the wind speed in knots and multiply the answer by the sail area in square feet. Then you divide the answer by 232. This gives you the approximate pull on the sheet in pounds.

For example, let’s say you have a 200-square-foot jib, and the wind is blowing 20 knots. Square the wind speed, 20 x 20, and you get 400. Multiply that by the sail area, 200, and you get 80,000. Divide that by 232 and the result is 344.8 pounds, say 345 pounds.

That’s the weight of two big men, which explains why you need the help of a winch to trim the jib when it’s blowing hard. And here’s another thing: wind pressure in the sail rises as a square of wind speed, so the greatest pull you’ll experience on that sheet is likely to be double the 20-knot figure, or in the region of 700 pounds. If you want peace of mind, make sure your gear can handle it.

Today’s Thought
The winds and waves are always on the side of the ablest navigators.
—Edward Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Notice in an optometrist’s office: “If you don’t see what you’re looking for, you’re in the right place.”

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

February 28, 2016

Technical trouble

If you're having trouble connecting with this blog through my website, please be aware that my host server is having technical problems. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.
John V.

February 25, 2016

Even red nuns carry odd green cans

THE STRANGE THING about mnemonics is that if you know what the word means, you probably don’t need mnemonics. It’s my personal misfortune, however, that I can hardly remember anything, so I’m one of those sailors who definitely does need mnemonics. (But at least I can pronounce it. It has a silent m, and I know which one.)
I had to invent a mnemonic to help me remember the colors, shapes, and numbers of navigation buoys. I mean, it’s all very well to remember “Red, Right, Returning,” but what if you’re entering a strange port at dusk, and you can’t see whether the buoy’s red or not? There are many times when you can’t see anything but the black silhouette of a buoy, or maybe just its number. Which side do you leave it on then?
Well, to help me sort it out, I imagine a Russian nun carrying a green milk can from the nunnery cow barn. I recite to myself: “Even Red Nuns Carry Odd Green Cans.”
Those of you who know how to navigate by the Mark I Eyeball method will recognize the shorthand code in my mnemonic. It tells you that red buoys are nun buoys — the ones with the conical, pointy tops. It also tells you that nun buoys always carry even numbers. Conversely, can buoys — the ones with the flat tops, like cans of soup — are always colored green, and they carry odd numbers.
Thus, if you stumble upon a buoy while returning to port at dusk, you know you should leave it to starboard, if it (a) has a conical top; OR (b) it’s colored red; OR (c) it carries an even number. OR all three, of course. But any one will do the trick.
However — and there’s always a however — it’s an unfortunate fact that buoys with lights on them do not necessarily conform to the nun or can shapes. From a distance, in broad daylight, most lighted buoys look like can buoys with their middle section missing. But in daylight, such a buoy will not tell you which side of the channel it guards. If you’re nervous, you have to hang around until dark, and only when it starts flashing either red or green will you know which side to leave it on.
It’s sad that there can be no mnemonic for lighted buoys. It’s a flaw that was apparently overlooked by the International Association of Lighthouse Authorities when they bequeathed System B to us. You’d think a high-powered bunch of maritime brains like that would have seen the problem coming, and invented distinctive shapes for red light buoys and green light buoys. But no. No such luck, dude. What do they care about Eyeball Mark I navigators in pesky little sailboats, I ask you? Nothing, that’s what. If they ever choke on their caviar, some of us won’t be too concerned.
Today’s Thought

They make glorious shipwreck who are lost in seeking worlds.
— Lessing.

A hard man is good to find.
— Mae West

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

February 23, 2016

Difficult choice: Wife or boat

I GOT A DEAR JOHN LETTER. Not the usual sort. This one was from a man calling for help because his wife was threatening to divorce him if he spent any more money on his boat.

Well, I’m sorry but I don’t think I can help. There are too many unknowns. How much work does the boat need? How much money has he spent already, to make his wife so mad? Has she made this threat before? Did it worry him? Did he back down? Will she back down next time?

Political correctness demands that I advise him to quit spending money on the boat and start patching up his marriage. But logically, the first question should be — Which is more important to him, wife or boat? If he can’t have both in good working order, which one would he choose to spend the rest of his life with? Only he can answer that. (Hint — whose picture does he have in his wallet next to the West Marine card?)

Perhaps he should consider taking his problem to Dr. Phil, whose national audience of voyeuristic landlubbers might be fascinated to know how much it takes to outfit a boat in a half-decent wardrobe of sails and running rigging. Yachtsmen are all too often portrayed as filthy rich and incurably snobbish but he could make the case for the rest of us, the great majority of modest male sailors whose financial states compel them to hide from their wives the bills from the boatyard, the sailmaker, and the engine repair man.

Meanwhile, the only advice I can offer is that he should bone up on stuff like cooking supper, washing clothes, darning socks, and fixing buttons. Just in case.

Today’s Thought What counts in making a happy marriage is not so much how compatible you are, but how you deal with incompatibility.
— George Levinger

“I see Old Moneybags finally got hitched to that chorus girl he’s been chasing for so long.”
“Yeah, he spent a fortune on her, so he had to marry her for his money.”

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

February 21, 2016

The problem with the islands

NORTHWEST OF THE CITY of Seattle there is a glittering archipelago of wooded islands spilling over into the Canadian province of British Columbia. It’s a charming inland sea, a wonderful cruising area for small boats, but it sometimes proves a challenge for navigators. There are islands everywhere. One island looks much like another island when you’re observing them from six feet above the water. They overlap. Their edges blend. And all too often the passage you seek between them is invisible until you are within spitting distance, when it might be too late to retrace your steps.

As I have never owned a GPS chart plotter I have had my fair share of last-minute scares. My invariable method of pilotage has been to plot a course on the chart and sail the boat very carefully along that course, even as it seemed — as it usually did — that I was heading straight for the middle of an island. Eventually, though, as we drew nearer, one island would start to separate itself from another. A sort of three-dimensional effect would kick in. The background would separate from the foreground. And if the current hadn’t pushed us too much sideways we might still have enough time to shape up a new course to take us safely through the gap.

One of my favorite authors, Negley Farson, had this same problem, when he sailed his 26-foot centerboard yawl Flame from Holland 3,000 miles to the Black Sea. This is from one of his books, The Way of a Transgressor:

“An American, sailing an English boat, in a Dutch river, with a German chart, is a confusing enough combination. Add to this that the scale of the chart was in kilometers not miles, that none of the buoys were numbered, and that the shoreline was honeycombed with waterways, and you have some idea of my feelings.

“Realize also that while an island is an obvious thing on a chart — there it is, with water all around it — it is a deceitful affair in real life. If it is big and lies close to shore you are not sure whether the open mouth of water you see at its foot is merely the mouth of another river or not — it might not be an island.

“You cannot fly over to look, nor is it always possible to rush up and see if there is water on the other end of it. You have to chance it, trust your luck, and spurn all enticing water mouths until your instinct tells you that you have reached the one you are bound for. Canals every few hundred yards do not tend to simplify matters.”

I must say that I don’t think that our islands are deceitful. That has a ring of deliberate nastiness about it. But they’re certainly deceptive. Luckily though, almost all the islands in the San Juans and Gulf Islands are steep-to, so you can get mighty close before there’s any danger of running aground. I thank my lucky stars for that.

Today’s Thought
Ay, many flowering islands lie
In the waters of wide Agony.
— Shelley, Lines Written Among the Euganean Hills

“Does your husband always talk to himself like that when he’s alone?”
“Dunno. I’ve never been with him when he’s alone.”

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

February 18, 2016

A paean to the purserette

IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS when ocean liners still roamed the seas, the men I knew often got into arguments about whether air hostesses were better (i.e. sexier) than ship’s purserettes. The terms are politically incorrect now, I know, but things were different then.

On the newspaper where I worked we had a competition to settle the issue. We reporters held a poetry contest, the prize being a six-pack of beer and a date with the editor’s secretary.

I won, but I only got the beer because I was married. My wife worked on the same paper so she would have known if I’d dated the secretary in any case. So I split my six-pack with the runner up, a friend of mine, and we drank it right there in the newsroom after the daily deadline had passed. As I said, things were different then.

By now, I know, you’re dying to see my poem, so here it is. It’s never been published before and you will probably be able to guess why:


An air hostess is a Freudian mess
All rigid and frigid and class
She’s straight up and down
Wears her face in a frown
And lacks, in her slacks, any ass

But a ship’s purserette is a cute little pet
All happy and snappy and comely
Her bows stick out front
Like twin prows on a punt
And her stern shows a turn quite bomely

(No clapping please, by request of the author.)

Today’s Thought
The urge to write poetry is like having an itch. When the itch becomes annoying enough, you scratch it.
— Robert Penn Warren, NY Times, 16 Dec 69

“I think you’ve had quite enough to drink.”
“How do you know?”
“You’re all blurred around the edges already.”

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

February 16, 2016

Think hard about gasoline

WHEN THE DREADED day comes, and your old auxiliary engine finally decides to head for the great scrapyard in the sky, what are you going to replace it with? There’s almost complete agreement these days. You’ve got to get a new diesel, right?

But why a diesel? It’s not necessarily the right choice for everyone who owns a good old boat. In fact, it’s more of a fashion than a logical choice. There’s much to be said for modern gas engines with fuel injection and solid-state ignition.

The most popular reason given for choosing a replacement diesel is that it’s safer. But sailors who own diesels mostly cook with propane gas, which can blow a boat to pieces just as easily as gasoline can.

A gas engine is cheaper, smoother, and more powerful than a diesel of the same weight. It’s easier to crank, easier to repair, even for an amateur, easier to remove from the boat, and much quieter in action.

Gasoline engines in cars are designed to run about 3,000 hours, or 100,000 miles before they need an overhaul. Now, the average boat owner logs 200 engine hours a year, so, if you maintain it faithfully, it would take nearly 15 years before a gas engine needed an overhaul.

As for safety — your nose is very good at sniffing out very small concentrations of gasoline. Together with a bilge blower, run for five minutes before every start, it will virtually eliminate the chances of a surprise explosion.

So, when the time comes to replace your auxiliary motor, don’t be stampeded into diesel. Gasoline engines have been used in small boats for many decades. Consider their advantages very carefully before you make your choice.

Today’s Thought
To some will come a time when change
Itself is beauty, if not heaven.
—E. A. Robinson, Llewellyn and the Tree

Notice outside a muffler shop:
“No appointment necessary. We heard you coming.”

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

February 15, 2016

Strange things going on

THE PLANETS are in line. Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue has a size-16 woman on the cover for the first time. Playboy magazine has stopped publishing nudes. Something’s going on. Should we duck or run for cover?

Of the three, Playboy seems the most ominous. It’s the Internet, of course. Men no longer have to buy Playboy to find out what women actually look like under all those clothes they wear.  The Internet is full of free photographs of naked women, the great majority of them taken and submitted by themselves.

In the old days when I worked in South Africa, you weren’t allowed to see women’s bodies until you got married. Any book, film, or magazine with a naked woman in it was banned. The apartheid censors were rather cavalier in this respect. They even banned books without first reading them. For example, they took one look at the title of Anna Sewell’s best-seller, Black Beauty, and banned it immediately. It was actually about a horse, not a woman, and the censorship board suffered withering scorn when the news came out, but that didn’t stop them in their attempts to curb free speech.

Playboy was also on the banned list, of course, probably at the top of it. So when I found myself in Rio de Janeiro at the end of a transatlantic yacht race, I bought a copy of Playboy at a corner newsstand. I knew a man at the newspaper where I worked in South Africa who swore to uphold the traditions of free speech by hoarding a secret stash of Playboy magazines, which he rented out to trusted colleagues. He would pay me at least 20 bucks for it if I could smuggle it home. But I had a better idea.

I took it back to the boat, which the skipper was due to sail back home to South Africa with a new crew. I told nobody about it. I unzipped the cover of the starboard berth in the saloon, slipped the magazine into the bottom, and zipped it up again.

Weeks later, when the yacht arrived in Durban, I met the owner/skipper on board. In front of him, I unzipped the berth cover and there was my Playboy, untouched by human hand, pristine after thousands of miles of ocean travel. The skipper nearly fainted. “If Customs had found that they would have confiscated my boat,” he yelled. “Get it out of here.”

He obviously didn’t care much for free speech, so I took my Playboy to work, (after checking out the articles, of course) where I collected my money, and it joined the secret stash. Just another small blow for press freedom.

Today’s Thought
Free speech is not to be regulated  like diseased cattle and impure butter. The audience . . . that hissed yesterday may applaud today, even for the same performance.
— William O. Douglas, Associate Justice, US Supreme Court, 24 Jun 57

“Is this the sound-effects department?”
“Good, send me a galloping horse immediately.”
“What for?”
“Well, the script calls for the sound of two coconut shells being clapped together.”

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

February 11, 2016

Sailing into storms

SOME OF MY landlubber friends are wondering why large ships such as El Faro and Anthem of the Seas are allowed to go to sea despite the certain knowledge that they will be sailing into vicious storms. El Faro actually sank, of course, and Anthem of the Seas, a 1,100-foot cruise liner carrying 6,000 passengers, was badly mauled.

Well, to know why they sailed you have to understand the tremendous pressure on ship’s crews to keep running to schedule. In the end, as we all know, it’s the captain alone who bears the responsibility to cast off, even in the face of unfavorable weather forecasts. He’s only human. He makes mistakes like the rest of us. And he wants to keep his job.

But it does make some people wonder how small sailboats survive in storms when they’re manned by amateurs who lack the weather forecasting resources of the big professionals.

Well, the truth is that most amateur sailors don’t die at sea. The majority die of heart attacks when they get their boatyard bills. Seriously, very few sailboaters die in storms at sea; but fear of sinking far away from land is what keeps many prospective ocean cruisers at home.

In fact, sinking, from whatever cause, is our biggest fear. We pack our sailboats with liferafts, dinghies, lifejackets, drysuits, flares, VHF radio,

SSB radios, satellite phones, and Epirbs just in case our boat sinks.

But the plain truth is that our boats are safer than we think. Probably safer than our cars. Very few small yachts sink in deep water even in the worst storms. Some get rolled over and dismasted, but they don’t sink. Almost all make it back to shore under power or a jury rig.

Size, in itself, doesn’t equate with seaworthiness. Small is not necessarily dangerous, and large is not necessarily safer. If a boat is designed so that it will admit little or no water if it’s turned upside down by a big breaking sea, it possesses one of the major components of seaworthiness. And even the smallest boats can be designed that way.  

Small boats are certainly more uncomfortable, but small boats, especially light-displacement ones, have the advantage that they yield to the seas and offer little resistance, whereas bigger boats offer solid surfaces for heavy water to damage. The disadvantage is that deep-sea sailing in a small boat is like living in a busy tumble drier — only it’s a whole lot colder and wetter.   

The last time I looked, the record for crossing the Atlantic in the smallest sailboat belonged to Hugo Vilen, whose boat Father’s Day, was just was 5 feet 4 inches long, the size of coffee table. Soon the record will go to a boat that is deeper than it is longer, because the occupant will have no choice but to stand the whole way. I imagine it will be almost as uncomfortable as flying coach.

John Guzzwell circumnavigated the world in a boat he built and called Trekka. She was just 20 feet 6 inches long. That was regarded as quite an achievement … until Sege Testa went round the world in Acrohc Australis, which was 11 feet 10 inches long. There’s have even been attempts to organize a race around the world in sailboats just 10 feet long. When will they ever stop?

Anyway, the message is that few sailboats are lost at sea, and there’s no evidence to suggest small boats sink more frequently than big ones. So, if you’ve always wanted to cross an ocean in a small boat of your own, don’t let fear stop you.

Today’s Thought

Rivalry is good for mortals.

—Hesiod, Works and Days


Advice to nubile women:

A man resembles a fine wine: He starts out like the grapes on a vine and it’s your job to crush him underfoot and keep him in the cellar until he matures into something you'd like to have with dinner.

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

February 9, 2016

Sailing science advances slowly

IT TOOK MANKIND a long time to figure out how to represent the shape of a boat on paper. Indeed it is quite an achievement to be able to “see” the three-dimensional shape of a hull in the mind’s eye just by looking at a set of lines drawn on a flat surface. It took centuries before waterlines, buttock lines, and stations became the everyday tools of naval architects.

In fact, before the sixteenth century little was known of the science of ship design, according to Steve Killing, author of Yacht Design Explained: “It was experience rather than theory that taught the shipbuilder (who was often the designer) what was fast and what was seaworthy.”

In those days, experimentation was the only way to make a new ship better than the last, and sometimes progress wasn’t progress at all, Killing says. “In 1697 Paul Hoste, a French Jesuit priest and professor mathematics, was beginning to explore the new science that Newton’s example had inspired.”

Hoste wrote: “It cannot be denied that the art of constructing ships . . . is the least perfect of all the arts . . . . The best constructors build the two principal parts of the ship, viz. the bow and the stern, almost entirely by eye, whence it happens that the same constructor, building at the same time two ships after the same model, most frequently makes them so unequal that they have quite opposite qualities.”

Progress in the early days was very slow, and we might be forgiven for presuming that science is making much greater strides in this modern age. But we are forced to think again when accidents happen such as the sinking of OneAustralia during the 1995 America’s Cup Challengers’ Series. That catastrophe came about because of simple structural failure.

So much for computer-aided design. “Even with the latest scientific know-how on hand, we’re still learning things the hard way,” notes Killing.

Today’s Thought
There is a period of life when we go back as we advance.
— Rousseau, Émile

“How much is a bottle of brandy? It’s my nephew’s birthday and he likes brandy.”
“Well, madam, it depends on the age. Seven-year-old is quite reasonably priced. Ten-year-old costs a bit more. Twelve-year-old can be quite expensive.”
“Gee, that’s terrible. My nephew is 25.”

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

February 8, 2016

Sailing across Europe

IF YOU’RE NOT ACQUAINTED with him already, allow me to introduce Negley Farson. He was an early 20th century American author, adventurer, war correspondent and (more relevant to this column) a sailor. In the 1920s, he and his English wife, Eve, sailed a 26-foot wooden centerboard yawl called Flame from England, through the canals, rivers, and lakes of Europe, over the Alps and  right down to the Black Sea. It was an extraordinary voyage that took them eight months.

He describes it briefly in his famous autobiography, The Way of a Transgressor, although he did in fact devote a whole book to this boating trip. It’s called  Sailing Across Europe. Both books are still in print, together with many others, including a classic on fishing, which he loved dearly.

Flame was probably the first boat of its kind to go through what was then the only freshwater link across Europe connecting the North and Black Seas. It climbed over the beautiful Frankischer Jura mountains in a series of steps — 101 locks in 107 miles.

“So shallow and so overgrown with weeds was it, that we could not use our motor,” Farson reported, “and I hauled Flame, with a rope around my waist, over the Frankischer Jura range! As soon as breakfast was over, I would go out on the towpath and turn myself into a horse. Flame was 2 1/2 tons deadweight, and it took me three weeks to pull her over the mountains for 107 miles.”

They were now over the backbone of Europe, beginning the long descent to the Black Sea, but they missed disaster by inches at Ratisbon, where they shot beneath a bridge built in the year 1300. “Once out in that swift current of the Danube pouring out from its gorge above Kelheim, we were helpless. The steeples and roofs of Ratisbon simply raced at us as Flame hurled her weight at the one navigable arch of the bridge. We had taken our masts out to get under this arch.

“Not until the last minute did I see that the peasants at Kelheim had directed us to steer through the wrong arch. It was choked with rocks so that a white froth of rapids was sluicing through it. I had to swing Flame sharply to the right and try to hit a small open hole of arch by the town wall.

“We just made it, grazing it as we shot through. All I saw of it was a row of open mouths from the Ratisboners wondering what on earth was this little craft doing up above the bridge, some yells as we shot perilously at the bridge — and then the sun was shining on the back of my head again. The bridge was being snatched away into the distance behind us, Ratisboners wildly waving us a goodbye salute.”

On their way to the Black Sea, Farson and his wife experienced many more hair-raising adventures (some even life-threatening)  in countries recently destabilized by the Great War, and their journey makes wonderfully exciting reading. Great stuff for these cold winter nights.

Today’s Thought
Traveling is not just seeing the new; it is also leaving behind. Not just opening doors; also closing them behind you, never to return. But the place you have left forever is always there for you to see whenever you shut your eyes. And the cities you see most clearly at night are the cities you have left and will never see again.
— Jan Myrdal, The Silk Road

“Do you prefer American girls, Canadian girls, Mexican girls, French girls, or German girls?”

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

February 4, 2016

Silent Fan Club paradox

A LETTER FROM Ivor Tungin-Cheaque, Chairman of Vigor’s Silent Fan Club, says:

Honorable Sir,

A dilemma of considerable proportions has raised itself in regard to membership of your Silent Fan Club. As you well know, members are forbidden to contact you or praise in any way your unmatched wisdom and unrivalled literary skills. Because membership is automatic from birth, you have the biggest fan club the world has ever known.

But a recent newspaper article has given me cause for concern about the exploding world population. The article said that the Real Madrid soccer club is claiming to have 45 million fans. This is nothing compared with Vigor’s Silent Fan Club, which numbers its fans in the billions — but the implications are alarming

Since enrolment in your honor’s club is automatic, there have never been never been more members of Vigor’s Silent Fan Club. Nor has there been so great a demand on our administrative services. Never before have we struggled so valiantly to  keep track of new members and expel those few who break their vows of silence.

It is obvious, however, that the more the world population grows, the greater the chance that some members will break their vows of silence by reading your columns and publicly praising you. They will then have to be expelled.

This means that as the club grows, so its numbers will decline. This is a vexing paradox.

My humble suggestion is that you should immediately start toning down the the cleverness of your columns and the skill with which you wield the editorial pen. If your fans find less to admire in your writing, the less likely they will be to give in to their instinct to burst into ill-considered praise.

I shall, of course, keep you informed of developments.

I close with admiration for your sage-like utterances, your ready wit and charm, the subtle thrust and parry of your sparkling repartee, and the wisdom, Solomon-like, that graces your princely brow.

Yours Humbly and Obediently,

IVOR TUNGIN-CHEAQUE (Chairman, Vigor’s Silent Fan Club)
PS:  I hope this makes sense. They’re replacing the padding in my cell and it’s very distracting.

Today’s Thought
To communicate through silence is a link between the thoughts of man.
— Marcel Marceau, US News & World Report, 23 Feb 87

“My husband is so careless about his appearance. He just can’t seem to keep buttons on his clothes.”
“Maybe the buttons weren’t sewn on properly in the first place.”
“Oh, you may have a point there. He’s terribly careless with his sewing, too.”

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

February 2, 2016

Why pets and boats don't mix

A young couple readying their boat for long-distance cruising want to know what kind of pet would be best to take along on their 35-foot sloop. Well, I have definite ideas about pets on boats, and I couldn’t do better than refer them to a column I wrote several years ago. It went like this:

EVERY SUMMER EVENING, toward sunset, quiet anchorages all over America suddenly become busy as dinghies begin ferrying dogs ashore from yachts. The dogs, cooped up all day on small yachts, almost always stand in the dinghy bows, ears pointed forward, tongues flapping in the breeze, panting with eagerness to get on dry land and empty their bladders.

It’s the poop parade and it’s not pretty. It starts with the dreadful, awkward business of trying to get a dog down into a dinghy in the first place, and ends with the equally dreadful, awkward business of trying to get it up, out of the dinghy and back on deck.

Sailing with dogs is such a lot of bother that you have to wonder why anybody would do it. I love animals as much as the next guy, perhaps more than most, but when I’m cruising I don’t want my choice of destinations and times of sailing to be dictated by an animal whose only ambition is to lift his leg on the nearest beach.

Dogs don’t enjoy sailing. They don’t care if you’re doing two knots or 10. They don’t mind if you hoist the spinnaker or not. They don’t even know what a spinnaker is. People take dogs sailing because they’re lonely for their dogs, not because their dogs are lonely for them.

If you can afford a boat, you can afford to put the dog in a good kennel while you cruise, or to hire a dog sitter. If you really love your animal, you will do what’s best for the dog, not for you. Don’t kid yourself that the dog can’t live without you. Dogs are pack animals and like to follow a leader but believe me, any leader will do. And if a dog’s going to be cooped up with nowhere to go, it surely would prefer to be cooped up on dry land that stays level and doesn’t make it seasick.

In the main, dogs won’t use a sandbox on board, or even a piece of Astroturf on the foredeck or in the cockpit. They’ll hold in a pee until their bladders almost burst. They’ll hang on to a poo until their eyes change color. They only want to go ashore, find a neatly tended marina lawn, or someone’s pretty flower garden, decorate it with their internal debris, and scratch the hell out of it. That’s doggy heaven; and the whole process is repeated again at dawn the next day.

If you must have an animal on board then a parrot makes more sense than anything else. The pirates knew what they were doing. Did you ever hear of a pirate with a dachshund, for goodness’ sake?

And if not a parrot, then a cat. Cats are more compact. They don’t need exercise. You can ignore them and they’ll ignore you right back, with no hurt feelings. And, best of all, you don’t have to take them ashore. They’ll use a litter box. In fact, some will go one step better, and use the head.

I once met one called Pepe who had sailed around the world on a boat called Aqua Viva. His owner, a lawyer, had trained him to sit on the toilet seat by first placing his sandbox there. Pepe never did learn to open the seacock and flush the loo, but nobody was complaining about that.

The trouble with ocean-going cats is that they almost always seem to fall overboard and drown, or else, if they’re females, they run away with some local riff-raff tomcat as soon as they get to port. So, if you have a cat you should try not to get too attached to it because sooner or later you’re going to learn that sailboats and household pets are a very poor mix.

Today’s Thought
America is a large, friendly dog in a very small room. Every time it wags its tail, it knocks over a chair.
 —Arnold Toynbee, News summaries, July 14, 1954.

I would live all my life in nonchalance and insouciance
Were it not for making a living, which is rather a nouciance.

—Ogden Nash.

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