March 3, 2015

A rumor about dismasting

EVERY NOW AND THEN I hear the rumor that sailing under a jib only will cause dismasting. It’s one of those rumors that surfaces for a while, dies a natural death because of its inherent stupidity, and then miraculously is reborn, to start the cycle again.

I have no idea why sailing under a jib only should cause dismasting. I have sailed many hundreds of deepsea miles under jib only, and in stormy weather, too. I have wondered if maybe a fractional rig was more vulnerable than a masthead rig, because of the stress at the top of the mast caused by a lower forestay and a higher backstay, but I imagine that any naval architect would know how to compensate for that.

A Cal 20 of mine was fractionally rigged, and she would sail just fine under working jib only, and even go to weather in strong winds. So did my old Mirror dinghy, for that matter. I have vivid memories of planing under a jib little bigger than a pocket handkerchief after a sudden windstorm hit, and I dropped the mainsail completely. She, too, would go to windward under jib only, but carrying a whole lot of lee helm, of course. And despite the many miles I’ve done under jib only, I’ve never lost a mast. Touch wood.

There is, in fact, a long tradition of yachts tackling the trade winds with twin jibs and no mainsail. I mean, one of the lovely things about the lone jib, or twin jibs,  on a deepsea keeler is that the center of effort is so far forward that a windvane, which normally struggles dead downwind, is able to guide you to leeward with ease. You can huddle down below, nice and warm and dry, with your hands wrapped around a mug of coffee and rum, while your boat goes downwind like she’s on rails.

The only problem with this rig is that if your course is deeper than a reach, your boat will roll from gunwale to gunwale. But all dead-downwind work is pretty rolly, anyway, unless you know how to fly twin jibs or a twistle yard in a deep V forward, so they act like a cone and resist a lot of the sideways movement.

So don’t be put off. Fly that darn jib on its own if you like, and to heck with the rumor mongers.

Today’s Thought
Rumor travels faster but it don’t stay put as long as truth.
— Will Rogers, The Illiterate Digest                                                      

Our local school officials recently gave eighth-graders a test to see what they were best suited for.
They discovered that the eighth-graders were best suited for the seventh grade.

March 1, 2015

No highways, no byways at sea

I WAS SURPRISED to find that Robert Macfarlane had included two chapters on the sea in his popular book The Old Ways (Penguin Books). The ways he’s talking about are the ones on land, the ancient paths, lanes, byways, and roads that restless humans have traveled since before the beginning of recorded history.
“We think of paths as existing only on land, but the sea has its paths too,” Macfarlane declares. He goes on to talk about a network of “sea roads” and the astonishing fact that they carried maritime traffic “dating back at least to the Mesolithic [era], and intense activity for the three millennia before Rome built its roads.”

Well, Macfarlane is a landscape mystic, of course, and not unacquainted with hyperbole. There have never been roads for sailing ships. One of the glories of the open sea is that you are mostly free to go where you want. You find your own way. There are no marked highways that you must stick to. And that’s lucky for us, because a sailboat could rarely follow a road at sea even if there were one.

There are a few straits and channels that funnel ships into narrow waters, it’s true, but even they must be wide enough to tack in, otherwise no sailing ship would dare use them.  Motor ships are better at following shipping “lanes,” of course, but there were no motor ships around in the Mesolithic era, or when Roman slaves were building roads for Caesar’s legions.

What sailing ships follow are “routes,” not “roads.” In fact, roads, as the word is known to sailors, are open anchorages, commonly used in Europe and other parts of the world while waiting for the wind or tidal stream to change direction. Routes, on the other hand, are general directions for making passages between ports, and were originally dictated by the strength and direction of the prevailing ocean winds.

It would seem that some time after Romans were building roads on land, sailors at sea discovered the system of rotating weather systems that allowed ships to cross the Atlantic from east to west by first going far south, and then to return to Europe by first sailing north. Then they found they could take advantage of the Roaring Forties to circle the Southern Hemisphere, and so forth; but I expect the Arabs or the Phoenicians had discovered the handy monsoon winds of the Indian Ocean, which enabled them to trade with East Africa, long before that.

Ships leave no tracks in the ocean. There are no cairns or milestones, or signposts to designate roads. A swirl of wake and a temporary patch of foam, and soon no evidence exists that a ship has passed by here.  Each ship makes its own road in the sea, and immediately the sea erases all signs of its passage.

Anyone who has a boat and access to a branch of the sea anywhere has access to all seas everywhere. That’s the magic of owning boat. You are within reach of all other boats all over the world. And you don’t need a road to get there.

Today’s Thought
I like a road that leads away to prospects bright and fair,
A road that is an ordered road, like a nun’s evening prayer;
But best of all I love a road that leads to God knows where.
— Charles Hanson Towne, The Best Road of All

Last week a local Small Claims Court judge told a nervous woman witness to make herself at ease, and talk to him as if she were talking to her husband or friends.
The case is still proceeding.

February 26, 2015

Why sailing's better than sex

I HAVE ONLY a couple of weeks to clean up my act. The Blogger people, who allow me to post these columns on the Internet for free, have sent me a warning: “On March 23rd, Blogger will no longer allow certain sexually explicit content.”

Well, okay, thanks for the heads-up. While I still have the chance, I’m going to repeat the second of two sexually explicit columns I’ve posted in the past seven years. You saw the first one in my previous post. This is how the second one goes:

THOSE WHO participate in it regularly know that sailing is wonderful, even better than sex. If you’re not a sailor, you might find that hard to believe, but it’s true. Here’s the proof:

• You don’t have to take your clothes off to sail.

• You never have to hide your sailing magazines.

• It’s perfectly acceptable to sail with a professional.

• There’s nothing in the Ten Commandments that discourages sailing.

• When your partner videotapes you sailing, you don’t have to worry that it will show up on the Internet.

• Your sailing partner won’t quiz you about people you sailed with before you were married. Or after.

• It’s quite OK to sail with a perfect stranger.

• When you meet a good-looking sailor in a bar, you needn’t feel guilty about imagining the two of you sailing together.

• There’s no danger that if you sail by yourself you’ll grow hair on your palms and/or go blind.

• You can have a sailing calendar at work without precipitating a sexual harassment suit.

• There are no known sailing-transmitted diseases.

• Sailing never made anyone pregnant.

• When your sailing partner insists upon your bringing protection, any old anorak will do.

• Nobody expects you to sail with one partner for the rest of your life.

• Extra-marital sailing is not grounds for divorce.

• You never have to wonder next morning if your sailing partner still loves you after a one-night sail.

• It isn’t considered kinky to sail with three or four people at a time.

• Nobody slaps your face if you ask: “Do you sail?”

• Your sailing partner will never say, “Not again! We just sailed this morning, for goodness’ sake! Is that all you ever think about?”

Today’s Thought
No office anywhere on earth is so puritanical, impeccable, elegant, sterile or incorruptible as to not contain the yeast for at least one affair, probably more. You can say it couldn’t happen here, but just let a yeast raiser into the place and the first thing you know—bread!
— Helen Gurley-Brown, Sex and the Office

A small-town vicar was asked to lecture the local young girls’ club on Christianity and Sex. But because his wife was very strait-laced, he told her he was going to lecture on sailing.
A few days later, the vicar’s wife met one of the girls in the street. The girl said the vicar’s lecture had been very interesting and informative.
“Huh,” the vicar’s wife snorted, “I can’t imagine what he knows about it. He’s only done it twice. The first time he got sick. The second time his hat blew off.”

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


February 24, 2015

Boat porn -- a quick reprise


OH, WOE IS ME! The Blogger people who host my blog have announced that they are about to clamp down on adult material. No more porn, they say. If you want to talk dirty, go elsewhere. Well, as a proponent of free speech and the First Amendment and all that, I find it incumbent upon me to give you the chance to appreciate high-class boat porn before it's too late, before they censor all talk of grease nipples and sweet buttock lines and dirty bottoms and stuff. 

Therefore, before Blogger pulls the plug, I'm going to repeat some adult content from past columns of mine so you can copy it and hug it to your chest (or something) in times of need. Here's the first one: 

THIS BEING A FAMILY COLUMN, we do not often talk openly about sex on small boats. Regrettably, this subject is also much neglected by the yachting media in general. It was obviously also neglected by yacht designers in the past. Aboard those narrow-gutted, full-keeled little cruisers there was never room to swing even half a cat, never mind roger a woman. The priority in those days was to make boats efficient at sailing, rather then reproducing the human race. Imagine that.

Nevertheless, to get back to the original point, if we intend to live in a democracy that defends our constitutional right to free speech and plentiful sex, then sex on small boats needs to be discussed with openness, frankness, and dignity. If the kids are offended, just send them off in the dinghy to play on the beach somewhere until we’re through.

It is perhaps not irrelevant to this discussion that the latest revision of Lin and Larry Pardey’s long-running book, The Capable Cruiser, shows Lin topless on the dust-jacket cover. She is perched on the main boom at the mast, pointing to something on the horizon, dressed only in a long wrap-around skirt, the kind known as a Polynesian pareu. I have noticed that Lin is not averse to telling people how much she enjoys sex aboard their small motorless cruiser, Taleisen. (Incidentally, the picture above is not of Lin Pardey but of a young woman in Rimatara, French Polynesia, in 1887. She is wearing a pareu.)

It’s all very well for the Pardeys, of course. They don’t have any kids. How do couples with kids manage on a small boat, I wonder, the kind that doesn’t have a double stateroom aft. You can’t send them off in the dinghy every time you feel the urge.

Traditionally, and in the absence of passion-killing ankle-biters, the V-berth was the passion pit. But most V-berths on small yachts are difficult to get into. You have to back in and fold yourself in half like a pocket knife. By the time you’ve got your limbs sorted out you’ve sprained two sacroiliac tendons, you’re exhausted, and the last thing on your mind is a bit of nookies. When people who live on small boats talk about safe sex, it’s not disease they’re thinking of, it’s broken bones, pulled muscles, and strained backs.

I suppose that if you’ve ever made love in the back of a car, you’ll probably find a V-berth roomy enough. Maybe. I’m not sure. To tell you the truth, I grew up in a country where cars were small. Back seats of cars had room only for a large grocery bag; so I have never had the pleasure, if it is a pleasure. I now do have a car with a large back seat, but I’m not as flexible as I used to be and my bones are more brittle. I can’t do the athletic contortions that I’m told are necessary. So I guess I’ll never know.

When I was much younger and more flexible I fantasized about sex with those lascivious blonde Swedish girls who (rumor had it) were always cunningly letting themselves be chased through the woods by randy young men waving birch branches. Coincidentally, a male friend with similar dreams bought a 17-foot dinghy in England. It had a small cabin on it. So I met him over there, and we set sail for the woods of Sweden via the English Channel and the continental canals.

But, alas, because of too much non-sexual dallying on the way, it took us three months to get from France to Holland, and the onset of winter drove us back to England, broke and very frustrated. We never did pause to wonder where we would make love if we actually caught one of those lovely Swedish nymphs. There wasn’t room on our boat for the birch branches, never mind the nymphs.

On really small boats you have to do it standing up with your head out of the hatch. In a crowded anchorage, that means you have to assume a look of calm nonchalance while you ostensibly scan the horizon for signs of storm clouds or something. In the interests of maintaining this little deception, you should not scream or roll your eyeballs too far back in your head. Other nearby sailors, the crafty devils, are very quick to notice things like that and make their own deductions.

In these modern times, while the hoi polloi are concentrating on safer sex, small-boat sailors are still searching for better sex. It’s a sad reflection on the state of yacht design. The naval architects have failed us. Maybe WE should go ashore in the dinghy, find some friendly bushes, and strand the kids on the boat while we fumble for the solution.

Today’s Thought

Sex, a great and mysterious motive force in human life, has indisputably been a subject of absorbing interest to mankind through the ages.
— William J. Brennan, Associate Justice, U.S. Supreme Court, 24 Jun 57

“Sorry lady, bad news. I just ran over one of your roosters in the road out there. I feel real bad about it and I’d like to replace him.”
“Well sure, just as you wish, mister. You’ll find the henhouse next to the barn.”

February 22, 2015

Take time to soak the anchor

HAVE YOU LET your anchor “soak” lately? I ask because it’s a very frustrating experience when you drop anchor in a spot that the chart shows to be good holding ground, and then, when you apply astern power from the engine, the anchor simply drags and skips over the surface and you have to start all over again.

It took me a while to learn that too much astern power, applied  too soon, is the problem. It’s a mistake to try to dig the anchor in immediately by pulling hell-for-leather in reverse. The anchor needs to “soak.” It’s not a word you hear mentioned a lot, but once you know it and use it, soaking will improve your anchoring success.

It works this way:  Take all way off your boat and lower the anchor overboard as she begins to gather sternway slowly. Pay out the rode and let the boat take up the slack.  When her head comes around to point into the wind, put the engine into astern gear and give her a quarter throttle, no more, for 10 or 15 seconds.

Do not give her an extended full-throttle blast of reverse immediately.  You must let the anchor soak first, that is,  let it nudge and wiggle and ease its way slowly into the bottom mud or sand with the aid of little jerks from the boat as she tugs at the rode.

After half an hour or so you can give her full throttle in reverse and really dig the anchor in if the wind hasn’t done so for you already.  The heavier the anchor, the quicker it soaks. There’s nothing like sheer weight to help it settle into the bottom and get down to where the resistance is greater. In fact, I can’t see how some of the lightweight anchors on the market manage to dig in at all. Once their flukes have penetrated the surface they’re fine, of course, but getting to that stage is a very iffy business.

Weight also helps when an anchor has to reset and soak itself in the middle of the night after the wind direction has changed 180 degrees.  Some anchors are better than others at this, of course, but if you want to sleep peacefully you’ll set out two anchors, so that neither will be dug out of the ground by a change of wind direction.

Today’s Thought
Have more strings to thy bow than one; it is safe riding at two anchors.
— John Lyly, Euphues

“I’ve taken up freelance journalism as a career.”
“Great. Sold anything yet?”
“Yes — my watch, my camera, my iPod, my car ...”

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

February 19, 2015

Shoes for walking on water

I HAVE NOTICED in my wanderings that some of the most macho sailors don’t wear shoes on board. They go barefoot. I have never been a macho sailor, but I do know that hardly anything feels as good as warm teak deck planks underfoot, especially if the owner of the planks knows his stuff and has not oiled them or (heaven help us) varnished them.

Nevertheless, I have rarely gone barefoot on long passages away from land for fear of injuring my feet. It’s very easy to stub a toe, or even break a bone, on a cleat or some other hardware you find on sailboat decks.

The question is: if you’re non-macho wimp like me, what kind of foot gear should you wear?

Sandals are tempting, but still leave toes vulnerable to stubbing,  and the tops of your feet  can still get sunburned, if you’re lucky enough to find some sun. Sandals are good for going ashore,   however, when you have to step out of a dinghy into water at the beach.

What about boots, then? Well, they’re very practical in cold climates, but not so good in tropical waters, where they tend to be sweaty and clunky. They also have to be several sizes too big so you can kick them off if you go overboard. It’s not easy to swim in boots.

In the dim and distant past when I used to race dinghies I wore Dunlop Magisters. They had navy-blue, lace-up canvas tops — and they probably had rejected car tires on the bottom. Although I looked like a Blue-Footed Booby, they were absolutely de rigueur at the time. In fact, when they were new they were very much admired by the ladies on the yacht club veranda as I sauntered past. But, alas, after a couple of weeks in my locker (having been put away wet) they smelled like a pigsty right before mucking-out time,  and they no longer attracted feminine interest.

Right now, I own some half-price-bargain West-Marine-brand boat mocs, sort of lace-up moccasins with lots of grooves in the sole to whisk away water from underfoot. I also have two standby pairs, very similar, that my wife bought for me in a thrift store for about one-fifth of the price I paid for my new half-price ones.  One of the standby pairs is Polo, by Ralph Lauren, and is almost unwearable. I suppose they would be totally unwearable by anyone but me, because the leather has dried out and cracked open wherever there was a crease, so they now let water in and won’t let it out. The other pair claims to have been “Engineered by Rockport.” It is in better shape, but looks worse, because the suede leather uppers have been discolored by years of dousings in sea water; so in deference to the feelings of the ladies on the verandah, I don’t wear them in public any more. Incidentally, despite their noble brand names, both were made in China. I imagine they’d look very nifty on a sampan.

Today’s Thought
My shoes are special . . . shoes for discerning feet.
— Manolo Blahnik

“You’re an hour late for work.”
“Yes, sorry boss, but I fell down the stairs and hurt myself.”
“A likely story!  Since when does it take an hour to fall down some stairs?”

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

February 17, 2015

How Frigga got a bad rap

FRIDAY IS coming right up. Frigga’s day. Frigga, the Norse goddess of love and fertility, the wife of Odin, the most powerful of all the Northern gods. Also, some people say, the same person as Freyja, or Freya.
In olden times, Frigga’s day was regarded as a lucky day. Northerners held their nuptials on that day. And all was smiles and happiness — until the Christians came along.
As they spread their gospel, they also spread the calumny that Frigga was a witch. Because of this false testimony, Friday became regarded as an unlucky day, a day on which no right-minded sailor would set sail, for fear of bad luck at sea.
That old superstition still holds sway among those intending to set out on long voyages in small boats, and even among those who man the warships of countries with large navies. No-one who depends on the sea for his or her livelihood scoffs at this superstition.
So what to do, if you simply must sail on a Friday? Well, there is a way to set sail on Frigga’s day without attracting bad luck, if you know how. And here’s how:
Start your voyage on a Wednesday or Thursday. Go a mile or two purposefully, and then return to your mooring or slip to attend to some problem that seems to have arisen. Perhaps the cook forgot to buy matches. Perhaps the bosun has discovered a stay starting to strand. Perhaps the skipper left his chronometer on his bedside table at home. There are many convincing causes that would require a prudent crew to return to port.
Now you can set sail on Friday without the burden of bad luck hanging over you, because you are not actually setting sail on Friday, but merely continuing a voyage that started on Wednesday or Thursday.
And if a Christian should challenge you and accuse you of deception, you can say: “You’re a fine one to speak of deception, my man, after what your people did to dear old Frigga.”
Today’s Thought

And on Friday fell all this mischance.
— Chaucer, The Nonne Preeste’s Tale

Men don’t make passes
At girls who wear glasses;


Girls who don’t, but should,

Wear glasses,

Will never know

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