July 5, 2015

Stand by for an arachnid invasion

OH DEAR LORD, here we go again. As if sharks and octopuses and giant squid and sea snakes and poisonous puffer fish weren’t enough to scare the pants off us, now scientists are telling us that spiders inhabit the oceans of the world, too.

Worse still, they know how to sail. In a new study published in the journal Evolutionary Biology, researchers claim that spiders use their legs to harness the wind so that they can sail just like a yacht.

“We’ve now found that spiders actively adopt postures that allow them to use the wind direction to control their journey on the water,” explained Morito Hayashi, of the Natural History Museum, in London.

The spiders take on postures described as elaborate and acrobatic, raising and contorting their legs in different directions and angles to take advantage of the breeze. (Sounds an awful lot like my old crew trying to raise the spinnaker.)

What’s more, they even use sea anchors to heave to whenever they want. They simply spin a bundle of silk and pay it out on a long line.

The British researchers conducted their experiments with 325 adult spiders collected from small coastal islands, where they presumably had plenty of time and space to practice their yachting skills. So if you’re out sailing and you hear a tiny voice scream “Starboard!” at you, for goodness’ sake go about at once.

And next time you feel something move on your bare leg during the midnight watch out at sea, check to see if it’s a wolf spider, or a black widow. I don’t want to panic you, but you’d better make your will because you’ve got about half an hour to live.

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

Tailpiece
“And what is your name, my good man?”
“James, madam.”
“I’m not accustomed to calling my chauffeurs by their first names. What is your last name?”
“Darling, madam.”
“Very well, drive on, James.”

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

July 2, 2015

Do you disclose all her vices?


AS I LOOK THROUGH the advertisements in Craigslist I am struck by how many boats for sale are described as “perfect,” in “turnkey condition,” ready to step into and be sailed away into the glorious sunset.

It makes me want to ask you a personal question: When you sell a boat, do you confess all its sins? Do you tell the prospective buyer about the leaks, the engine problems, the weather helm, the soft spots on the foredeck?

Do you misremember when the rigging was last replaced? When the bottom was last anti-fouled? Do you have a story carefully made up about why you want to sell this boat?

What I’m really asking is whether you should divulge to a prospective buyer everything you know about your boat. Well now, I beg you to humor me for a moment. If you’re a man, try to imagine it’s your wife or girl friend you’re trying to sell.  That’s not hard to imagine. They have a lot in common.

Let’s be honest. Lovers have secrets. Some things are private, intimate, known only to the two of you. Such things should surely stay secret. There is, after all a code of honor even among the meanest thieves.

And there is a line when you are selling a boat, a line that separates not only truth from  lies, but also separates what a buyer needs to know from what he really can’t reasonably expect to know if he has any sense in his head at all.

You alone will know where that line is. Your conscience, of lack of it, will be your guide. Some of us have a more developed conscience than others, of course. But that’s for the buyer to judge. Nobody said buying a boat was easy.

Personally,  when I’m buying a boat, I never ask if she leaks. I have never owned a boat that didn’t leak somewhere at some time. I don’t want to hear the seller telling me she never leaks. I want to be able believe with all my heart what he said about the engine being brand-new and the sails being replaced only last year.

In the end, I guess the boat seller’s creed could be summed up reasonably this way: Don’t ever tell an outright lie. But tell the whole truth only when sorely pressed.

Today’s Thought
Advertising is the greatest art form of the 20th century.
— Marshall McLuan, Advertising Age, 3 Sep 76

Tailpiece
A man moves into a new apartment and invites a few friends around for a housewarming drink. One of his friends notices an old hammer hanging on the wall. "What's that dirty old hammer doing there?" he asks.
"Oh, that's not a hammer, it's a talking clock. Look, I'll show you."
He picks up the hammer and starts banging it against the wall.
A voice comes from next door, shouting: "Fer chrissake keep it down in there, it's half-past goddam eleven!"

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

July 1, 2015

Small boats also merit respect



THERE IS A LOT OF TRUTH in the saying that the smaller a boat is, the greater the pleasure it provides. I think we all know what that means, especially with regard to moorage cost and maintenance. Furthermore, small gentle voyages can generate as much joy and satisfaction as long adventurous ones

The man or woman who cautiously sails a dinghy along a friendly shore is no less worthy of our respect than the sailor who braves the mighty ocean. We all have our own areas of anxiety, and doubt in our own abilities, and when we conquer our fears it is just as much a triumph to cross the bay as it is for someone of sterner nature to cross an ocean. And yet, human nature being what it is, we tend to judge other sailors by the size of their boats and how far they’ve traveled, their most distant ports, and the length of their voyages

Now it is true that sailors who cross oceans in small boats perform noteworthy feats of seamanship because they sail the same seas as big ships that have large crews specializing in the various skills needed to move people and cargoes across oceans. Sailboat sailors are their own cooks and navigators. They are their own engineers and riggers. They handle the sails and anchors and electrical circuits. And they face exactly the same hazards as large ships, including the storms, the rocks, and even pirates.

Yet, at the same time, to take a small boat across a body of water of any size is no small feat. To each his own goals and ambitions. We all set our own limits, and who can gainsay our individual achievements? What we all seek deep down is a feeling of ability, of achievement, of confidence. And sailing a small boat on a small voyage often does generate the confidence we need to deal with the greater troubles the world constantly throws at us

Seamanship is as much a set of the mind as anything else. You are the only judge of your seamanship. We challenge ourselves, we feel fear, and sometimes we get more fear than we bargained for, but we learn and we gain confidence, and are not as frightened quite as much the next time. And there always is a next time for those who challenge themselves

Today’s Thought
Keep your fears to yourself, but share your courage
— R. L. Stevenson

Tailpiece
Mary had a little lamb
That leaped around in hops
It hopped into the road one day
And ended up lamb chops.
(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, for a new Mainly about Boating column.)

June 28, 2015

He who meditates is lost

ONE OF THE PEOPLE out sailing on the Salish Sea right now says he’s trying to decide how much he likes boating. He told a friend of mine that he has never done anything that can take you so fast from pleasure to terror.

My friend understood what he meant. She told him she once had an experience with a kayak that got her dumped in the drink unexpectedly. “I told him it was much like going from a feeling of confidence to incompetence in nanoseconds,” she said.

What’s wrong with these people? They’re the victims of pernicious psychobabble, specifically the oft-repeated injunction to “live in the moment.”

It took me a long time to figure out what living in the moment actually meant. I was not really sure whether I lived in the moment or not. I didn’t know what living in the moment felt like, compared with living outside the moment, either in front of the moment or behind it.

But it occurred to me eventually (I’m a slow thinker) that it was largely bound up with meditation, and that explained to me why people who are not natural sailors can go from happiness to terror in the blink of an eyelid; because, if you are a real sailor, you never live in the moment. You live in the future. And he who meditates is lost.

A real sailor is aware all the time of what could happen next. He or she stays ahead of current conditions and wonders what might happen if this or that occurred. A real sailor who sees a dark cloud on the horizon doesn’t take a deep breath of satisfaction and  think how beautifully it contrasts with the fluffy white clouds overhead. A real sailor imagines what could happen if that cloud is hiding a white squall. What would be the best way to handle the downburst gusts?  Would it be better to double-reef the mainsail right now? Roll the jib, maybe? Are the reef pennants in place? Can someone else steer while you do the reefing?  Are the jib furling lines free and ready to operate? What else might happen?

All the time he or she is afloat, the real sailor is thinking ahead, not living in the moment. There is never a time when you are under way when you can afford not to be living in the future. You must give full rein to your imagination.  That’s why, when the future arrives, you are neither surprised nor terrorized. You are prepared and confident.

On the other hand, those whose heads are idling in neutral, awash with the pleasures of the moment, will certainly experience fear and uncertainty when their surroundings suddenly change into the inevitable fury of the future.

Many of you will recognize this theory as an extension of my own Black Box Theory (quod vide), which, succinctly stated, says “the more I practice the luckier I get,” and explains why some boats survive storms and groundings when others don’t. Take no notice of those meddling non-thinkers who keep urging us all to live in the moment. If you’re a sailor, live in the future, and you’ll probably live longer.

Today’s Thought
The past is behind, learn from it. The future is ahead, prepare for it. — Thomas S. Monson

Tailpiece
“How about a kiss, gorgeous?”
“Certainly not, I’ve got scruples.”
“No problem, babe, I’ve been vaccinated.”

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

June 25, 2015

Some I keep, some I don't

SOMEONE WANTED TO KNOW if I had kept all my New Year resolutions. Well, now that the solstice is past, it seems safe to reveal that I never manage to keep all my resolutions. Heaven knows, I do my best, and some years I come pretty close, but I wouldn’t be human if I kept them all. I’d be some kind of nautical angel. 

To save time and arguments, and for the sake of easy comparison,  I use the same set of resolutions every year. Here they are, and you’ll see why some of them are difficult to keep:

I resolve never to varnish again. I will abide by the John Keats Rule of Varnishing: A Thing of Beauty Is a Job Forever.

I resolve to wear a harness and safety tether whenever my wife is watching.

I resolve never to pee over the side again while we’re sailing, unless:

(a) The head is blocked again, or

(b) The holding tank is full again, or

(c) I think nobody’s watching.

I resolve not to take along a gallon of wine every time we go for a sail, on account of what my wife says happened last time. (However, the cat, an innocent bystander, did recover quite well.)

I promise, when on a cruise, not to eat all the chocolate before we broach any other supplies. The bitter criticism is not worth it.

I resolve not to sail rings around other slower boats, unless severely provoked.

I resolve never again to race people who don’t know we’re racing.

I resolve (rather unwillingly) not to get testy and shout a little when my wife refuses to jump a mere 6 feet to the dock with a boathook in one hand and the mooring line in the other. Sheesh, every day on the sports networks you see people who can easily jump 18 feet. Grumble, grumble.

The end

Today’s Thought
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought
— Shakespeare, Hamlet

Tailpiece
Two blondes rented a boat and headed out for the day. They came across a beautiful secluded bay and spent most of the day there topless sunbathing. Next week they decided to go back to the same place.
"Did you mark the spot?" asked Blonde 1.
"Yup," replied Blonde 2. "I put a big X on the bottom of the boat."
"You dummy!" said Blonde 1. "What if we don't get the same boat?"

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

June 23, 2015

Copper is on the way out

THE WRITING IS ON THE WALL for copper-based antifouling paint. Washington has become the first state in the U.S.A. to ban its use on boats, with effect from 2018.

Antifouling paint discourages the growth of barnacles and plant life on submersed hulls. If you have a wooden boat, it also discourages marine borers from eating your planks for lunch. Copper became the most favored biocide after 1988 when Congress banned the use of tin-based paint, which proved to be harmful to shellfish. But now there is growing concern that copper, too, is toxic to many forms of sea life.

It used to be easy to understand how copper worked. It was a poison, pure and simple, and the rule of thumb was that the more copper a paint contained, the more effective an antifoulant it was.

Now, new ecologically safe antifoulants are available, usually at much higher prices, but their modus operandi is not as obvious. There is vague talk of formulations with biopolymers and promises of photo-active technology, but the net result is a paint with a seemingly impossible mission—to discourage barnacles and slime without killing other forms of sea life.

Until 2018, however, unless new legislation changes things, there will still be four basic types of copper-based antifouling:

* Sloughing. This paint slowly dissolves over time, exposing fresh copper as it does so.

* Hard epoxy or vinyl. This is a scrubbable paint that allows the biocide to diffuse slowly through the skin.

* Ablative. This is usually a copolymer paint that acts by hydrolysis, or chemical reaction with water, and the scouring action of water flowing past the hull.

* Permanent coating. This is a coat of resin, polyester or epoxy in which millions of tiny pieces of copper metal are suspended, each one individually coated with a thin layer of resin and thus electrically insulated from its mates. New copper is exposed by scrubbing the hull every few months and it’s possible that this system could last the life of the boat. But application is a job best left to the professionals.

Today’s Thought
A ship is ever in need of repairing.
— John Taylor, A Navy of Landships

Tailpiece
There was an old lady of Worcester
Who was often annoyed by a rorcester.
She cut off his head
Until he was dead,
And now he don’t crow like he yorcester.

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

June 21, 2015

Cross-country by ship

I WONDER HOW THEY’RE DOING over there in Sweden this summer. It’s been so very long since I was there. I must have been in an impressionable mood during that visit because I still remember very vividly how astonishingly beautiful the Stockholm Archipelago looked in the evening sunshine.
I had not anticipated tens of thousands of islands and islets stretching out 37 miles into the sparkling Baltic Sea, hiding 50,000 holiday cottages. But the greatest astonishment was the huge number of small sailboats busily plowing back and forth everywhere. Among them, I could see, were lots of wooden Folkboats with varnished hulls, many of them manned by a girl, a boy, and a dog.

I was told that the calm waters of the archipelago were subject to the Allemansrätt, or Everyman’s Right, a law that gives anyone the right to go ashore or anchor on any shoreline not obviously in the close vicinity of buildings.

It looked to me like a sailor’s paradise, but we had no time to go sailing; my wife June and I were there on journalistic business and we had to travel from Sweden’s biggest city, Stockholm, to the second-biggest, Gothenburg. It was not the usual kind of journey, however. We traveled clean across Sweden from one coast to the other by way of the Gotä Canal and the two large lakes, Vättern and Vänern.

We traveled aboard a wonderful little ship called the Wilhelm Tham, launched in 1912 and designed to squeeze into the narrow locks of the Gotä Canal. She was originally powered by steam, but later was fitted with a 600-hp diesel engine. She is still going to this day and runs on a regular schedule, carrying a maximum of 50 passengers in 25 cabins that are perhaps even cozier than the saloon of a small sailboat. She takes up to four days to complete a one-way run. It was a fascinating passage, a slow and stately procession through gorgeous pastoral landscapes and, on occasion, cruising above a village on an elevated aqueduct.

It was a visit we’ll never forget. And I often wonder what went on aboard those little Folkboats in the Stockholm Archipelago. Good job dogs can’t talk.

Today’s Thought
And the stately ships go on
To their haven under the hill.
Tennyson, Break, Break, Break

Tailpiece
Swaying gently in the farmer’s field, the baby ear of corn turned to the mother ear of corn and said:
“Momma, momma, where did I come from?”
“Hush dear,” said mom, “the stalk brought you.”