June 23, 2016

Trial and error for propellers

AN AWFUL LOT is written about propellers in the sailing magazines. I read one article in which it was said that “when you select a propeller, you should match every dimension of that propeller to the hull and the engine driving it to attain maximum efficiency. This makes propeller selection and calculation very difficult for those of us who are not naval architects.”

Well, that’s not completely true in my opinion. The experts in too many fields, such as navigation and splicing synthetic rope, like to spread the word that it’s more complicated than it really is.

There are two ways of selecting a propeller: theory and practice. And even naval architects have to resort to trial-and-error after they’ve tried their best with theory.

Let’s say you’re not satisfied with your boat’s performance under power, and you suspect the propeller is the wrong size. First check the diameter. Go to page 45 of my book, The Boatowner’s Handbook, where there’s a handy little graph. Lay a ruler between horsepower and prop-shaft revolutions, and see where it crosses the column marked “Propeller diameter.”

On page 47 you’ll find another graph that shows you the pitch you need. This points you in the right direction for your prop. It’s about as good a result as the naval architect will get with all his complicated calculations.

So much for theory. Now we come to the practice. This hardly needs any brains at all, so it suits me fine.
Make sure your boat’s propeller is free of barnacles and the hull is reasonably clean. Take her for a run in calm weather. The ideal propeller will allow the engine to reach the manufacturer’s top-rated revolutions per minute (and therefore full power) with the throttle opened fully. And at this stage, your boat should be achieving full hull speed.

Now, if your engine starts to lug, or emit black diesel smoke, before it reaches top-rated rpm, you’ve probably got too much pitch. It’s like trying to ride a bike uphill in top gear.
On the other hand, if your engine reaches top revs too easily — that is, before your boat reaches hull speed — you probably need to increase the pitch. You’re riding downhill in low gear. Your little legs are whizzing around in a blur but you’re not going very fast.

A propeller shop can alter the pitch of most auxiliary sailboat props a couple of inches at a fraction of the cost of a new propeller. For auxiliary sailboats with the usual 2-to-1 reduction gearbox, a decrease in prop pitch of 2 inches will increase engine revs (not propeller revs) per minute by about 300 to 400.
It’s unlikely that you’ll need to change the prop diameter, but you might like to know that for roughly equivalent performance, if you decrease the diameter 1 inch, you should increase the pitch 2 inches.

You don’t need to be a naval architect to check your propeller’s actual performance this way. It’s as much art as science — plus a bit of grunt work to get the darned prop off the shaft to which it seems to cling so determinedly.

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, White House counsel

A pessimist is a person who builds a castle in the air and then locks himself in the dungeon.
An optimist, on the other hand, is a person who fixes your eyes.

June 21, 2016

The bravery of the simple sailor

I CAN’T HELP THINKING that there are a lot of wusses in the sporting world. You know, the weakling, wimpish kind of wuss. Those football players, for example.  Always complaining about head injuries and broken bones — despite all the helmets and padding and armor they wear.

When it comes to bravery and fortitude, people who endure pain and terror without complaint, you have to admire the amateur sailors of the world.

Sailing is a sport conducted in an arena filled with dangers completely unknown to football players. Sailors compete in the same waters as sting rays, electric eels, poisonous puffer fish, sea snakes, moray eels, killer whales and, of course, all kinds of sharks.

A journalist friend of mine called Ivor Wilkins was in his little yacht, Thistledown, on the way to New Zealand once when he ran into a whale at full tilt. He was lucky his boat didn’t sink. On another occasion, a 30-foot Van de Stadt-designed Pionier-class boat was racing across the Atlantic in 1971 when she was attacked by a pack of killer whales. Her keel was so badly damaged that she sank, and it was only by a miracle that an American freighter, forced off course by gales, came across her crew in their inflatable life raft.

People who cruise in the Pacific Northwest can add bears and leeches to the list of nasty surprises, not to mention shellfish poisoning. And, of course there is also the danger posed by the water itself. Few people last more than 20 minutes after falling overboard in frigid water.

Now, what protective gear do sailors wear? Practically nothing, compared with football players and even the genteel cricketers. We are so macho, compared with them. I mean, unlike the cricketers, we don’t wear protective boxes over our manly parts. We let them flap in the breeze, willy nilly, and allow them to fend for themselves against the sting rays and killer whales. What the world of sport needs is less whining about the dangers of football and more appreciation for the bravery of sailboaters. They could learn a lot from us.

 Today’s Thought
Those athletic brutes whom undeservedly we call heroes. 
— Dryden, Fables: Preface

"Doctor! Doctor! Help me! I think I'm shrinking!"
"Now calm down, Mrs. Jones, I’m afraid there's nothing to be done. You'll just have to learn to be a little patient.”

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June 20, 2016

Losing control at sea

IT’S A GREAT PITY that human beings are unable to pass on their lifetimes of learning to future generations. Nature has not provided us with the shortcuts she gives to other forms of life, such as birds, which do not have to learn to peck their way out of an egg or how to build a nest. For them, the knowledge is built in. But humans have to learn practically everything over again from scratch, so the accumulated knowledge of people like Einstein is not available to be built on immediately and taken to the next step.   

I mention this because there are always neophyte sailors who are anxious not to kill themselves at sea. This means that as new generations come along they have to learn the same old things all over again.

This is why, every few years, I find people asking me the same old questions, such as “Why do I lose control of the boat when we’re running before the wind in large waves?”

Well, once again let me say that interesting things happen at sea. Your boat loses stability in broken water, for a start. But do you know why boats so often broach, roll broadside on, and capsize when they’re running before the wind in large waves? It’s because when a wave breaks under your stern you have practically no steering power to keep her running straight. The rudder is suspended in foam, not water, and it can’t do its job. If you’ve ever been dumped by a big breaker while body surfing you’ll know the feeling of not being able to float high enough to get your head above water.

And if your boat heels to 45 degrees, you don’t have much steering ability, either. Think about it. The rudder is trying to lift the stern toward the sky as much as it is trying to turn the boat sideways. And, of course, if you do a 90-degree capsize you can’t steer at all. If the rudder isn’t totally out of the water, as it would be on a tubby light-displacement boat, it will be horizontal and unable to turn the stern either way.

Stability at sea is always a fascinating subject for sailors, whether they actually get away from the sight of land or not, and one of the very basic facts about boats is that stability comes as a cube of the length, other things being more or less equal. This means that a 30-footer is 72 percent more stable than a 25-footer, which explains why a 30-footer can stand up to its canvas so much better. It also explains why a 30-footer costs so much more than a 25-footer. But that’s another subject Some other day, perhaps.

Today’s Thought
It hath been an opinion that the French are wiser than they seem, and the Spaniards seem wiser than they are; but howsoever it be between nations, certainly it is so between man and man.
—Bacon, Essays

Golfer: “You must be the worst caddie in the world.”
Caddie: “Oh come now — that would be far too much of a coincidence.”

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June 16, 2016

Memories are made of this

MANY PEOPLE recall the pleasure of an annual sailing vacation by inviting their friends around to view their video recordings. But long before video became obtainable, G. K. Chesterton, the British writer, critic, and author of verse, essays, novels, and short stories once described how he evoked the emotions of a vacation by calling a cab, piling it up with luggage, and driving to the railway station. Then, having experienced his sensation, he drove home again.

Mr. Chesterton’s little eccentricity was harmless enough, certainly, but most sailors I know would get just as much in the way of belated emotional thrills by perusing the old paper charts of their favorite cruising grounds.

(Incidentally, perhaps I should be more careful about labeling Mr. Chesterton as eccentric. I have literally hundreds of paper charts stuffed under my marital bed and a nearby couch for wont of adequate stowage anywhere else in my home, and I find nothing eccentric about that. I have never owned a boat big enough to accommodate them all at one time. I admit that my dear wife has from time to time mentioned her unease with this arrangement, especially with regard to vacuuming under the bed and its attendant difficulties, but so far the word eccentric has not come into the equation.)

The thing is, paper charts, with their hand-drawn course lines, ancient annotations, recommendations, coffee stains and warnings, are the magic carpets that whisk us away from the banalities of this careworn earth and transport us in the blink of an eyelid to sunny beaches, serene anchorages — and other less enticing places.

Nothing sends a frisson down my spine quicker than the word “FOG!!” scrawled on the chart of the San Juan Channel, where, I now recall in the warmth and safety of my home, a Washington State ferry on a collision course with us was swallowed up in thick grey mist. I can laugh about it now, of course, smug in the knowledge that I took the right decision to keep out of his way. At the time, however, it was quite another matter and only the deep handprints I crushed into the varnished tiller bear the true testimony of my feelings then.

And there is my salt-stained chart of Cape Agulhas, criss-crossed with penciled bearings from that powerful lighthouse and the shaky words “Rounded at last.” Our joy at doubling Africa’s southernmost cape against storms and contrary winds comes flooding back — perhaps with even greater evocation than that which Mr. Chesterton managed to wrest from his piles of suitcases.

Today’s Thought
Our memories are card indexes — consulted, and then put back in disorder by authorities whom we do not control.
— Cyril Connolly, The Unquiet Grave

“Doctor, my husband has a dreadful temperature.”
“What is it, exactly?”
“It’s about 150 degrees.”
“Okay, give him two aspirins and call the fire brigade.”

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June 15, 2016

Gertruda's smelly bilge

I SOMETIMES WONDER if Gertruda ever managed to stop her bilge from  smelling. Gertruda is Danish. She wrote to me some time ago. “My bilge smells,” she said, “I keep it clean and wash it out regularly but it always smells. Is there an answer?”

I gave Gertruda an answer but I never heard from her again. Maybe I upset her. Judge for yourself. Here’s what I told her:

Gertruda, this is something most sailors don’t talk about in public. It’s one of those little secrets: most sailboat bilges smell. It’s the micro-organisms, you see — the really little fellas. The really feisty little bugs.

You actually need a microscope to see what’s going on in your bilge. There are literally billions of crude forms of life down there, all too small for the human eye to see, and all enjoying a non-stop, uninhibited, riotous party.

You might well think that your efforts at cleaning the bilge would rob them of their food, that they would just dry up and fade away, but alas, the mere presence of human beings is sustenance enough for them, especially as they’re not particularly fussy about their diet.

We purposely don’t think about this much, but human beings are self-shucking. Every time a human body moves it sheds millions of tiny particles of old skin. It’s called scurf — little dry scales that pop off as new skin grows underneath. As far as the little fellas are concerned, we are walking clouds of wholesome food that eventually float down to the bilge. It’s followed closely by those minute particle of skin, feathers, and flesh that we call dander.

All this is like steak and potatoes to the little fellas but they get plenty of dessert, too. Sweat and dirt from human body parts flow into the bilge after showers. Slimy water from the ice-box drains into the bilge. There are delicious drips of diesel fuel and engine oil. There is spilled beer that starts yummy yeast plants growing, bits of gloriously rotted hamburger, marvelous mixed grills from under your toenails, tasty gobs of fish bait that got stuck to your shoes, and a host of other toothsome morsels — thanks to gravity, it all ends up in the bilge. And if you mix in a little water, you have a real witches’ brew.

Now, I know this is a delicate subject, Gertruda, but none of these little fellas uses underarm deodorant. None of them knows where the bathroom is. None of them cares. They just do it right where they are. None of them uses mouthwash and all have halitosis. They constantly burp and pass wind. No wonder the bilge smells.

Gertruda, the only way to prevent odors is to keep the bilge perfectly dry. In drought mode, the little fellas hibernate and don’t cause any trouble. The problem is that it’s not possible to keep the bilge absolutely dry on most boats. There’s always a little moisture down there somewhere. So the bilge will always smell, and in polite company nobody will mention it. And that includes you, Gertruda, okay?

Today’s Thought
All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.
— Shakespeare, Macbeth. Act v, sc. 1

“Anything to declare, Mr. MacTavish?”
“Och, I dinna think so. It’s all clothing.”

“Aha — and what’s this bottle of whisky, then?”
“Hoots mon, that’s ma nightcap.”

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

June 13, 2016

Captain Nat and his cat

EVERY NOW AND THEN somebody new to sailing will try to assure me that catamarans are the latest, fastest things in the yachting world. Now, I don’t know much about multihulls, not half as much as I probably should, but I do know that’s wrong with that statement. Multihulls have been around an awfully long time.

My own experience with reasonably large cats is limited to a Caribbean cruise I did from Grenada years ago on assignment for Cruising World magazine. She was a 38-foot Lagoon, and wonderfully luxurious compared with anything I’ve ever owned; but I wasn’t much taken with her performance under sail.

I readily admit I am biased. I grew up with small monohulls and I like the way they feel, the way they can tack on a dime, the way they respond to the helm when your jib starts telling you you’re pointing too high. In half a second the jib is quiet again and doing the work it is paid to do. I didn’t get that feeling on the Lagoon, which responded much more slowly.

I also found it very strange that when a sudden gust came along, the Lagoon would simply sprint forward and not heel. Heeling is one of the parameters I use to judge when spilling wind, or reefing, is necessary. I get a very uneasy feeling when that parameter is removed.

And I guess I was put off multihulls at an early age when I learned that they were building escape hatches in the bottom of the boats as a matter of course, so you could scramble out and wave your arms for help when you capsized.

As for racing cats, it was way back in 1870s that Nat Herreshoff designed, built, and raced a catamaran called Amaryllis. She easily won the second race of the 1876 Centennial Series against some of the fastest boats in the country. She had at least one of the faults still causing trouble for today’s multihulls, though. In June, 1877, Amaryllis drove her bows under at high speed, and pitchpoled during a match race.

Monohulls do that sometimes, too, of course, but perhaps not as often. And in any case an outside-ballasted monohull will tend to right herself promptly, whereas a multihull is more stable upside down than she is the right way up.

The multihull’s advantage is that, lacking the heavy keel, she will float until the seacows come home, or at least at until some keen-eyed rescuer comes along. I personally wouldn’t like to try living in or on an inverted multihull. I was very glad I didn’t capsize the Lagoon, though I suppose Cruising World would have missed me after a few weeks and sent out the search-and-rescue troops. That’s what I like to think, anyhow — though I may be sadly misguided.

Today’s Thought
For the actual sailing, I enjoyed these craft [catamarans] more than any I ever owned.
— Nathanael C. Herreshoff

“Hey I just realized why I keep winning at poker and losing on the horses.”
“So why is it?”
“They won’t let me shuffle the horses.”

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June 9, 2016

Frightening off the aliens

A READER who signs himself “Still Waiting” wants to know if my friend ever finished the science fiction novel he was writing. I’m afraid not. That was about six years ago, and he hasn’t added a word to it since. He says it’s writer’s block, but I think it’s woman trouble. You can’t write science fiction if you’re having woman trouble.

But never mind that. He says you can claim the beginning and finish it yourself if you want. Anyone is welcome to give it a go. So here it is once again:

In the opening chapter, aliens in a low-flying spacecraft spot a yacht at sea.

“What is it?” asks 1!@#.

“I don’t know,” says 2$%^. “But it has life. It flies. It swims.”

“It is a bird – it has wings in the air.”

“But it does not fly. It must be a fish — it has fins in the water.”

“But it does not dive,” 1!@# points out.

“Look, it has two large parasites. They have four limbs each. One is in its stomach, devouring something,” says 2$%^. “Another is outside and torturing it by pulling hard on its wings with strong winches. Now he twists its back fin with a large wheel.”

“Don’t get too close,” warns 1!@#. “Those parasites look dangerous to me.”

“Me, too,” says 2$%^. “We’re outta here.”

Well, it’s quite a promising start, I think, though I find those alien names a little difficult to pronounce. I would be interested to see how somebody develops the theme. I think maybe my friend was going to blame yachtsmen for Earthlings’ lack of contact with aliens, but I’m not sure. Like most writers, he didn’t care to talk about where he was going with this book, mostly because he didn’t know.

He was actually going to write a factual book called In the Wake of Ulysses but he was a little slow. He woke up too late, and that great sailor Hal Roth beat him to it with We Followed Odysseus. So he decided to write fiction instead, reckoning that nobody could beat him to that.

Anyway, what with woman trouble and all, he got stuck. Permanently, it seems. He did what writers always do: he stared at the computer screen and waited for inspiration.

Been there, done that. Do that regularly, in fact. It’s hell, but somebody has to do it.

Today’s Thought
Writing stopped being fun when I discovered the difference between good writing and bad and, even more terrifying, between it and true art.
— Truman Capote

“I hear your new car was recalled by the dealer.”
“Yeah, there was a defect in my bank account.”

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