December 16, 2014

Barnacles on my mind

THE AUTHORITIES IN CHARGE of all living things in the water have banned the use of certain bottom paints for yachts because they are toxic to sea life. Probably the most effective of these anti-fouling paints was based on tin, and that is almost completely forbidden now unless you have an aluminum boat, which is allergic to the ubiquitous copper-based anti-fouling paint.

The latest news I hear is that the bottom-paint police are now considering banning copper paint, too. I don’t know of any viable alternative to copper paint for most of us — and by viable I mean compatibly priced and easy to apply — so it appears our underwater hulls are doomed to play host to great colonies of barnacles. Any hull roughened in that way creates a great deal of resistance to movement through water. Those barnacles will slow our boats drastically under sail, and send fuel bills skyrocketing under power.

Now, there is a point here that the bottom-paint police seem to have overlooked. These sea creatures they’re so concerned about are not helpless. They have a choice. They are not forced to attach themselves to my hull. Nobody tells them they have to live there. They have the whole sea to choose from, billions of welcoming rocks and sunny beaches, concrete seawalls, and lovely wooden piles; and if they have any of the sense of survival that Nature is supposed to have instilled in them, they will carefully avoid the comparatively tiny number of boat bottoms painted with copper paint. Those without that sense of survival (and there do seem to be some) surely deserve what they get, and their suicidal genes should not be passed on to future generations.

It is difficult to perceive what part is played in the great business of life on earth by barnacles, and their cousins, limpets, and their low-life relations, brown and green slime. I seem to remember a hymn about all things wise and wonderful, all creatures great and small, but the voice of experience tells me that not all creatures great and small are wise and wonderful. And that applies especially to the barnacles and slime that attempt to fasten their useless, loathsome, parasitic selves to boats.

Let us not forget that Whoever or Whatever created barnacles also created copper, and nowhere in the good book does it say the twain shall never meet. Let Nature take its course, I say. Let copper keep my bottom clean. Let all wise and wonderful barnacles go and live somewhere else, and let Nature remove the dumb and unwonderful ones in her own way.

Today’s Thought
Nature is that lovely lady to whom we owe polio, leprosy, smallpox, syphilis, tuberculosis, cancer.

—Dr. Stanley N. Cohen, geneticist, Stanford.
(He forgot to mention barnacles. —JV)

“You in trouble with the IRS again?”
“Yeah, they disallowed my medical expenses.”
“What medical expenses?”
“Five hundred dollars for the tooth fairy.”

December 14, 2014

Best place for an anchor light

ALMOST EVERY CRUISING SAILBOAT I see has an anchor light perched on top of the mast. What a silly place for an anchor light. What’s wrong with sailboat designers and builders? Have they never crept into a crowded anchorage late at night and nearly run into some yacht whose anchor light is hidden among the stars high overhead, instead of down low at eye level where you can see it?

There is nothing in the rules that says an anchor light must be the highest thing on a yacht. Rule 30 (b) of the international navigation rules says a vessel of less than 50 meters in length may exhibit an all-round white light “where it can best be seen.”

It used to be the fashion in the last century to run an anchor light about one-third of the way up the forestay, and often that light was a kerosene lantern (which is still legal, incidentally). But for some reason boat designers took it upon themselves to place a electric anchor lights atop the mast, about as far away from the battery as it’s possible to get. That meant extra-heavy copper cables running back and forth, cables that slapped against the interior of an aluminum mast at night when you were trying to sleep.  The cables were heavier because it was necessary to avoid the voltage drop occasioned by the long electrical circuit.

My anchor lights have always been suspended over the aft cockpit, slung beneath the boom. This is a more sensible height for the light — right where the eyes of a helmsman approaching at night would be focused. Some of the light splashes over the cockpit coamings and the adjacent cabin top, too, which is useful and also enables you to check on the anchor light from down below.

I don’t know of any official statistics that prove a low anchor light prevents more collisions that an anchor light set on top of the mast, but I can offer the circumstantial evidence that I have anchored in scores of busy places and never been hit. You may say that’s obviously because there’s someone up there looking out for me; but I wouldn’t go so far as to claim that. I don’t think I’ve been good enough to deserve special favors from above.

Today’s Thought
And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehendeth it not.
New Testament: John, i, 5.

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

December 11, 2014

The most incompetent sailor

I SEE THAT ONE OF OUR LOCAL LADS is well on his way to claiming the title of the world’s most incompetent sailor. In 2013, Rinas Meleshyus, a Russian-born American,  bought a decrepid old San Juan 24 racer in Oak Harbor, Washington, just down the road from me. Now, despite all the odds, he has arrived in Pago Pago, American Samoa,  to hell and gone across the Pacific Ocean.

And he has maintained his record: he had to be towed into and out of every single port along the way.

His sorry exploits (including wrecking his first boat on the beach in Alaska) have generated about 6,000 responses in the Sailing Anarchy forum pages and split the sailing community in half, between those admire him for his sheer guts (and enable him to continue by sending him financial aid), and those who condemn his foolish persistence in the face of obvious incompetence and, seemingly, an inability or unwillingness to learn better seamanship.


Here is what “TQA,” a contributor to the Sailing Anarchy forum, had to say:


“The unbelieveable story rolls on. Rinas Meleshyus left Oak Harbor, Washington, in an old San Juan 24 he bought for $500 the month before.

“Have you ever wondered how far you could get if you set sail one day and drift out over the horizon? Well, he made it to Hawaii (towed in) with $28 and disintegrating rigging. Got fixed up and towed out.

“Somehow sailed/drifted back to San Francisco (towed in). Set off again (towed out). Sailed/drifted across the Pacific. I keep using the word drifted as the man cannot sail, except down-wind.

“Somehow he avoiding wrecking on any island (no charts) and got within 5 miles of Pago Pago but failed to sail in.

“Finally, someone organized a tow when he was 25 miles downwind.”


Meleshyus, 61, who says he wants to round Cape Horn solo, adds: “I want to raise money for children's research cancer and I am sailing under the American flag and I am very very proud to be doing this voyage.” But many accuse him of blatant panhandling.

His proposed route after leaving Oak Harbor, Washington, was, in his own words: “nonstop to Cape Horn-South America. From there 400 miles to the South Georgia Island-UK, Antarctica and stop to plant the American flag there and continue to the Cape Town-South Africa.”

Well, he obviously hasn’t made it to the Horn non-stop. It will be interesting to see how close he comes to completing the rest of his itinerary.

Today’s Thought
Mistakes are at the very base of human thought . . . feeding the structure like root nodules. If we were not provided with the knack of being wrong, we would never get anything useful done.
— Lewis Thomas, The Medusa and the Snail                        

“What’s all that noise in the clubhouse? Are they celebrating?”
“Yes, my wife did it in one.”
“Wow! She got a hole in one?”
“No, she hit the ball in one.”

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

December 9, 2014

Skippers bear all the blame

WE SHALL PROBABLY NEVER KNOW why some of the world’s best sailors ran aground on a large and well-charted reef near Mauritius, in the Indian Ocean, last month. The 65-foot ocean racer Vestas Wind, a Danish entrant in the Volvo Ocean Race, hit the reef in the dark of night while she was doing 19 knots. Luckily, no one was injured and the eight-man crew was rescued by the coast guard from a nearby island.

But how is it possible for a million-dollar boat fitted out with the world’s latest and most expensive equipment, to run into a reef that is believed to have been first charted by Arab trading dhows in about 600 A.D?

Skipper Chris Nicholson has accepted responsibility, as he must, but he added plaintively that although the skipper is in charge of everything, and therefore ultimately to blame for everything that goes wrong, “he can’t be everywhere at once.” What he means, but didn’t say, is that the captain of a boat has to trust his crew to do their jobs properly. And, if they don’t, they should bear a share of the blame.

But he’s only partly correct there. It has always seemed unfair to some that the skipper carries all the blame for the mistakes of his crew, but that is the tradition of the sea for very good reasons. It may well be unfair that you have to assume all the responsibility when you can’t possibly oversee all the crew all of the time, but you, as skipper, are presumably in charge of selecting the crew in the first place, and satisfying yourself that they are diligent and competent.

Furthermore, it’s the skipper’s duty to check everything all the time. He or she must make sure that all tasks are being done correctly and on time. It’s the skipper’s job to anticipate all kinds of problems and discuss navigation in advance.

If you’ve ever been to sea as a responsible crew member, you’ll know how irritating it is to work under a skipper who is forever checking on you. You feel you’re not being trusted, as you should be.

But a good skipper is able to do all the checking up surreptitiously. He or she develops a knack for seeing what is done properly and what isn’t, without raising anyone’s hackles. When you come right down to it, the fact is that he doesn’t trust anybody, not even himself, but he doesn’t create resentment among the crew because he is generous with praise, not only for jobs well done, but also (equally importantly) for the mundane routine jobs that ensure the general well-being of the ship.

It’s no easy job to skipper any ordinary boat sailing across an ocean, let alone a highly-tuned thoroughbred racer with a gung-ho crew drowning in testosterone, but it has many rewards when things go right. And when things go wrong, it carries grave responsibilities.

Today’s Thought

To know the pains of power, we must go to those who have it; to know its pleasures, we must go to those who are seeking it: the pains of power are real, its pleasures imaginary.

—C. C. Colton, Lacon

An old bachelor had been visiting an elderly widow every evening for three years. One day a friend said to him: “Since you two get along so well together, why don’t you marry her?”
“I thought of that,” said the bachelor, “but then where would I spend my evenings?”
(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

December 7, 2014

The case for simplicity

I WAS LOOKING at a picture of Joshua Slocum’s famous Spray the other day and marveling at the simplicity of it all. My thoughts strayed to an article I once edited for a magazine. The author and his wife had sailed almost halfway around the world in a 42-foot ketch, and the purpose of the article was to tell other amateur sailors how they, too, could do it.
The bit that stopped me in my tracks was a sentence that said a laptop computer was “essential equipment” on the author’s boat (and most other voyaging boats) for communications, the Internet, and electronic charting.
Now, as one who advocates smallness and utter simplicity in cruising boats, I found that statement very disturbing. So a laptop is “essential” equipment, is it? Baloney. As far as I’m concerned, to cross an ocean you need a boat with a keel or a centerboard, a rudder, a pole from which to hang the sails, and a bucket to bail out the bilges. A little stove would be nice to make some hot coffee or a meal now and then, but you can eat cold canned food if you have to. I have.
Let me list a few essentials that the aforementioned author had on his boat, compared with what Captain Joshua Slocum had on his boat when he became the first man to sail singlehanded around the world.
Diesel engine (Slocum, no engine); radar (none); autopilot (none); wind vane (none); Dutchman sail-flaking system (none); watermaker (none); two alternators producing 150 amps (none); refrigerator (none); single-sideband radio (none); Pactor e-mail system (none); towed generator (none); battery monitor (none); 2,000-watt inverter (none); fuel polishing system (none); WiFi (none); laptop computer (none).
I myself am not a greatly experienced voyager, but I have twice crossed the Atlantic in boats of 33 feet and less that lacked the “essential” laptop computer, not to mention radar, autopilot, electronic charts, fridge, single-sideband radio, and a whole lot of other things from that author’s list. I didn’t even have an electric bilge pump.
The strange thing is, now that I know what’s essential, thanks to this experienced author, I suddenly feel deprived. It’s like not having taken advantage of hallucogenic drugs when I was still young enough to recover and save myself. It’s just too late for me to start on the essentials now. Besides, most of the boats I’ve owned had nowhere on board that would be dry enough for a laptop.
I am astonished that I managed to cross the Atlantic twice without all the goodies I really needed. To tell the truth, I’m really rather ashamed of myself. Such a bad example. My only consolation is that Captain Slocum was a bad example, too. And a few thousand others just like him.

Today’s Thought

Often ornateness goes with greatness;

Oftener felicity comes of simplicity.

— William Watson, Art Maxims


California’s wine growers have listened to pleas from senior boatowners who have to make several trips to the head every night.

Vintners in the Napa Valley area, ordinarily producing Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Grigio wines, have now developed a new hybrid grape with anti-diuretic properties that will eliminate the need to visit the head during sleeping hours.

It will be marketed as Pinot More.
(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

December 5, 2014

A plea to boat advertisers

EVERY TIME I roam the Internet, surprisingly personal advertisements keep popping up at me. It’s as if somebody has been reading my mail on the quiet, or perhaps reading my mind.

There are ads for all kinds of all kinds of things I’ve been looking at on retailers’ websites, with one exception. There are never any nice boat ads.

Not so long ago most of these advertisements were static. They just appeared and kept good and still while you looked at them or ignored them. I ignored them, having been trained on newspapers where it was obligatory to separate the editorial department from the advertising department.

This was necessary to prevent the well-heeled advertisers from influencing the editorial department’s choice of news and features. Every day there was a tussle between advertisers wanting an editorial report about their product (free advertising), and the editorial department, which devoted a lot of time and energy to fending off these requests without offending the advertisers who, after all, were providing editorial’s salaries. A tricky business.

But it is no longer possible to ignore advertisements on the Internet. They jiggle and wiggle and flash at you. They attract your attention with pictures of smiling girls with long legs and perfect teeth. The technology has evolved in favor of the advertisers and there’e nothing the ignorers can do about it.

If, for example, you should innocently visit a few websites on a quest for the perfect pair of underpants at the cheapest possible price, you will find underpants ads popping up every time you log on to the Internet.

This is very worrying. It feels as if somebody out there is reading everything I type on my keyboard, peeking into my personal diary, or inspecting my underwear drawer. This highly targeted advertising is unique to the Internet. Newspapers eventually managed regional advertising, but could never grab you by the neck and force a personalized ad down your throat.

As I’ve said, this is worrying, not only from the Big Brother aspect, but also because of the rampant discrimination displayed by the fact that there are no boat ads.

I wouldn’t mind if a nice little Folkboat jiggled at me now and and then. I would be quite happy to inspect a flashing Hinckley or a Morris 35 draped in long-legged women. But no, nothing like this ever happens. Only underpants.

I know this whole business of personally targeted advertisements is the surreptitious business of little packs of electronic code called cookies, a deliberately sweet little name for a dastardly concept, but it also seems to me that advertisers of boats for sale have fallen far behind in the electronic advertising race.

So I would like to make a personal plea to boat brokers and private advertisers of boats. Since we can’t beat ’em, let’s join ’em. C’mon lads, get your cookies in a row. Down with underpants. Up with boats.  

Today’s Thought
In good times, people want to advertise; in bad times they have to.
— Sydney Biddle Barrows, Town and Country, Feb 55

“Poor Charlie, he keeps winning at poker but he loses a fortune on the horses.”
“Yeah, that’s because they won’t let him shuffle the horses.”

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

December 2, 2014

It's the journey that counts

IN AN IDLE MOMENT I wondered if there were one particular book I would recommend as a Christmas present for someone interested in sailing. I hit immediately upon Tom Neale’s famous book, An Island to Oneself, the story of how the author spent six years on a desert island in the Pacific, mostly alone.

I thought that book would resonate with anyone who sails. Somewhere in the back of our minds there is a picture of the perfect tropical island, peaceful and serene with its white beaches, turquoise waters, coconut palms and glistening reefs. Tom Neale shows us that this is not just a dream. It’s real. It’s Anchorage Island in Suvarov Atoll, 200 miles from the nearest inhabited island.

But then I glanced around at the boating books lining my little office and I thought, “No, not Neale. Hiscock, for goodness’ sake.” Eric Hiscock, the humble circumnavigator. It’s not a name you hear much of these days, but his beautifully written book, Cruising Under Sail, must have attracted many landlubbers to the wonderful sport of deep-sea cruising.

After a moment or two, reality set it. “How can you possibly mention Hiscock,” I wondered, “if you don’t also mention Tom Day? And, good lord, what about Frank Wightman and Roth, and the Pardeys, and Moitessier and Bardiaux and Slocum and . . .”

I concluded that it’s simply impossible to pick out one book that would fascinate everybody interested in sailing; which is reason enough to go back to my first instinctive choice, Tom Neale, and  the story of how he spent six years alone on an uninhabited coral atoll half a mile long and three hundred yards wide in the South Pacific.

He first went there in October 1952 and remained alone (with only two yachts calling) until June, 1954 when he was taken off ill after a dramatic rescue. He went back in April 1960 and remained alone again until December 1963.

An Island to Oneself (Collins) is a well written and well illustrated peek into the mind of an unusual man, a man with the guts to experience a life that most of us dream about but don’t dare to try. It’s out of print now, I believe, but it’s still available occasionally on the used-book market from sources such as and

There is another reason for sticking with Tom Neale, one that brings at least a glimmer of relief and satisfaction to those of us who  seek, but do not find, paradise. In the end, his perfect island proved not to be perfect after all. He left for two reasons. First, he was afraid of dying a lonely death. “I wasn’t being sentimental about it,” he wrote, “but the time had come to wake up from an exquisite dream before it turned into a nightmare.”

The second reason was more prosaic. “A party of eleven pearl divers descended on Suvarov — and, frankly, turned my heaven into hell . . . I didn’t dislike them, but their untidiness, noise, and close proximity were enough to dispel any wavering doubts I may have had.”

I guess it’s what I’ve always said: Every silver lining has a cloud. Nevertheless, it will do your soul good to read this book. Man can strive for perfection and even achieve it for a time, but most of us eventually learn that it’s the journey that counts, not the destination. So enjoy the sailing when you can.

Today’s Thought
To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.
— R. L. Stevenson

A local junior-school teacher was trying to teach the concept of distance. She asked whether her pupils throught they lived close to school, or far away.
Nobody was willing to hazard a guess except little Susan, who was quite adamant that she lived very, very close to school.
“How are you certain?” asked the teacher.
“Well, every time I come home my mother says: ‘Hell, are you home already?’”