November 29, 2015

In praise of beautiful overhangs

I FOUND A PROFILE of a Pearson Vanguard in a boating book the other day and I couldn’t help but be struck by how beautiful she was. That man Philip Rhodes could design a mean sheerline. Combined with low freeboard, Vanguards still look gorgeous 50 years or so after they were built.

The bow, in particular, has a cocky sheer and a rounded profile that seems just right for a seagoing boat, while the stern rises just enough to complement the wonderful curve that sweeps from fore to aft as befits a creature intended to live among waves.

By today’s standards, the overhangs are excessive. The bow and the stern overhangs measure more than 10 feet combined on a boat only 32 feet 7 inches overall. But today’s boats have traded beauty for utility and interior space, which is a compromise not necessarily for the better.

Designers tell us that overhangs enable a boat to go faster. They increase the boat’s waterline length as she heels, and waterline length, as we all know, is the major factor affecting the maximum sustained speed of displacement boats. I have never been convinced of this alleged benefit. Not for any good mathematical reason but just because I can’t believe it makes enough difference in waterline length to matter. I’m even suspicious about the very claim that heeling adds to waterline length. Some boats roll buoyantly upward, out of the water, as they heel. I bet they don’t add much, if anything, to the wetted waterline. And besides, when you’re running downwind, and not heeling, there is no gain in waterline length at all.

In any case, I personally don’t think the Vanguard’s overhangs are excessive. Another famous and very handsome design of that period, the Camper & Nicholson 32, had overhangs totaling 9 feet. Furthermore, L. Francis Herreshoff, the great master, designed what he called “sensible cruising boats” with overhangs very much like the Vanguard’s. His famous H-28 ketch, at 28 feet overall, had a waterline of just over 23 feet.

There’s no doubt, though, that very long overhangs are dangerous at sea. They’re very elegant, but on smaller boats they’re suited only to sheltered waters. They cause pounding at the bow and slamming at the stern.

A friend of mine once took his 30-Square Meter to sea. This was a narrow-gutted formula racing class with very long overhangs, because the goal for naval architects was to design the fastest sailboat you could build with a maximum of 30 square meters of sail area. My friend got caught in quartering seas and found that the leverage afforded by the long stern overhang caused each overtaking swell to spin the boat almost broadside on, into a dangerous broach. Those 30 Squares were gorgeous to look at, and extremely satisfying to sail to weather, but they were lousy seaboats in bad weather.

The Vanguard was designed in the days when the Cruising Club of America (CCA) rule applied, of course. When that rule was superseded by the International Offshore Rule (IOR), the rear ends of racing boats suddenly changed from generous, flowing, callipygian sterns to mean and tight pinched-in haunches, often with unsightly reverse-sheer transoms. This did nothing for seaworthiness or looks. It just helped a boat get a better handicap under the IOR formula.

Manufacturers of cruising boats, like lemmings plunging over the cliff, followed the style of the racers, of course, in the hope that prospective clients would be impressed. So we had a very ugly production run of racer/cruisers in the 1970s and early ’80s. Happily, though, there were the occasional standouts, like Pearson and Philip Rhodes.

I feel thankful to them every time I see a Vanguard.

Today’s Thought
Perhaps the greatest difference between the beautiful yacht and the plain one is the way their crews treat them, for the crew of the beautiful yacht usually gives her tender loving care.
—L. Francis Herreshoff

Overheard at the yacht club bar:
“My dirty bottom is really wreaking havoc with my performance.”
“Yeah, just imagine what that would do to your boat.”

November 24, 2015

Many thanks to many boats

BOATS I HAVE OWNED have taught me a lot in my lifetime. I guess I ought to be giving thanks to them right now. So, OK, thanks to:

My International sliding seat canoe whose name I have happily forgotten. She taught me how ancient Roman army catapults worked. Every time a gust came along I was catapulted off the sliding seat and over the boom into the drink.

Shane, a 14-foot Sprog one-design. My thanks to her for teaching me that having a fast boat doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll win races. It needs cunning and deviousness as well.

M’aidez, an 11-foot International Mirror Class dinghy, for alerting me to the fact that you should never name your boat M’aidez if you ever want to call anybody on VHF radio.

Mother’s Ruin, another Mirror, taught me how to wage  psychological warfare against racing competitors. Old Band-Aids stuck on a brand new mainsail seemed to distract them greatly as I sailed past.

Messy, another Mirror, taught me the valuable lesson that there are various forms of polyester resin, at least one of which will not cure if you don’t exclude air from its surface.  Her taped seams never got hard, never accepted paint, so I deliberately gave her a splodgy paint job and painted her name on her sides with a whitewash brush.

Trapper, a C&C 27, deserves my thanks for raising my social status at the yacht club.  Everybody admired her looks, if not my racing results.  A sweet boat.

Freelance, a Performance 31, by Lavranos, carried me and my family to a new life in America and taught me how to lie ahull in 50-knot winds off the Cape of Storms.

Square One, yet another Mirror, was a wreck I found in Los Angeles. She taught me how to restore a wooden boat in a garage in an apartment block without alerting the tenants directly above.  I learned their habits, and did my banging and sawing while they were showering or listening to loud TV. Nobody reported me to the fierce landlady.

Square One II. Yep, a Mirror again. Another wreck, this time in Seattle. I learned that I could

use an epoxy paste to replace a whole ply of marine plywood that fell off the starboard topsides. I was very proud of that repair job.

Tagati was a Santana 22 that showed us the glories of Puget Sound, the San Juan Islands and the Canadian Gulf Islands. Fast, simple and easily handled. I spent 13 months restoring her and should never have sold her.

Jabula, a Cape Dory 25D, took us around Vancouver Island on a six-week trip and allowed us to to meet an Oregonian cruising couple who gave us their recipe for gravlox salmon, which became our most-requested dish ever.

Sangoma, a Cape Dory 27,  took us around Vancouver Island again and taught me that you can  tow a heavy-displacement full-keel sailboat for two miles behind a small dinghy in a calm if you know how to scull with one oar over the transom. Yes, our engine broke down, but I got her into a small port from which a friendly Canadian boat towed us 10 miles to the area’s only mechanic.

Eclipse, a Cal 20, one of Gary Mull’s finest, taught me that I don’t like outboard engines that work in small wells let into the cockpit. She was a champion sailor, but I couldn’t stand the idea of her propeller protruding beneath the hull and causing drag all the time.

And finally, I have to mention Tokoloshe, a 10-foot, narrow-gutted, fiberglass fishing skiff that served as tender for the last four boats I owned. She was an unfinished mongrel of a boat, but without peer for seaworthiness. We towed her for thousands of miles, including hundreds in the open Pacific, and she never gave us a moment’s worry. Perhaps it was because I warned her that if she ever gave us trouble in a heavy following sea, I wouldn’t hesitate to cast her loose. I give thanks that It was a threat I never had to carry out.

Today’s Thought
So once in every year we throng
Upon a day apart,
To praise the Lord with feast and song
In thankfulness of heart.
— Arthur Guiterman, The First Thanksgiving

"Why did that sailor buy drinks for all those girls?"
"He likes to have a port in every sweetheart."




November 23, 2015

Another strange boat dream

QUITE A LOT OF MY DREAMS involve boats, almost as many as involve beer and/or dancing girls. And so it was the other night when I dreamed I was an interested spectator at a small boatyard.

They had a marine railway for hauling boats out of the water for bottom-painting and repairs, and they were just re-launching a full-keel sailboat of about 25 feet.

She slid slowly down the rails, held upright by a wooden cradle, until she reached the water.  Two workmen were aboard to release her from the cradle when she floated free, one in the cockpit and one on the foredeck. But she didn’t float free.  Still tied to the cradle, she started to disappear as the railway extended into deeper water.

The workmen on board started shouting to the man at the head of the slipway, who sat in a small shed with his hands on levers.  But it seemed he couldn’t hear them, or didn’t want to obey their requests to haul the boat back up the inclined railway.

The men on board jumped into the water and swam ashore as the boat finally disappeared under water, blowing huge bubbles of air from the closed companionway hatch and the Dorade box up forward.

Next thing, two scuba divers appeared and swam out to the mast, which was the only thing still sticking out of the water. They dived and obviously cut the boat free from the launching cradle to which she had been tied.

She suddenly popped up to the surface at high speed and flew into the air some 20 or 30 feet, or so it seemed in my dream, and came down stern first. The cockpit filled with water, which rushed below and filled the cabin. This time, she sank like a brick.

The man in the shed said: “Sorry about that. I was texting. Let’s start over and try again.” But he got down and started to run when the scuba divers came out of the water with their knives drawn.

My dream ended there, so I don’t know what happened to the men or the boat, but I can’t help wondering if there is a message here, or possibly a warning.  My wife says I’d better have my tea leaves read, just in case. But I’m not keen on that. I’ll see if I can find someone who reads beer suds. That might make more sense.

Today’s Thought
Dreaming permits each and every one of us to be quietly and safely insane every night of our lives.
— Dr. William C. Dement, Newsweek, 30 Nov 59

After years of toil and research, Eli Whitney emerged from his workshop one night with great news.
“I’ve just invented a cotton gin,” he declared proudly.
“Big deal,” snorted his wife. “So who needs a fluffy martini?”  

November 19, 2015

Learning a little about a lot

ONE OF THE MOST fascinating things about cruising under sail is the vast extent of knowledge required. By that, I mean you have to know at least a little about a very wide range of subjects. Enough, anyway, to keep you out of trouble.

Maurice Griffiths, a sailor and yacht designer who was editor of Yachting Monthly for 40 years, once described it this way:

“Cruising in small craft embraces a very large field of knowledge, and those older men who have devoted the greater part of their lives to its study have acquired a knowledge that embraces weather lore and sky and clouds, a knowledge of deep water and shallow seas, of tides and winds and currents, of astronomy and geometry in navigation, of ropes and ropework, of canvas, sails, rigging, paints and varnishes, of timber and its infinite variations, of wood preservatives and decay, of theory in the designs of boats, and their construction . . . in short, many subjects that competent seamen can discuss for hours without touching on . . . the actual sailing.”

To that list we can now make additions, of course, including the field of electronics, from GPS and chart plotters to wind, and speed instruments, depth sounders and fish finders, radar, AIS, radios of all kinds and, in the field of chemistry, the various uses of urethanes, polythanes, epoxies, polyesters.  And then there are the fields of diesel mechanics, steering hydraulics, electrolysis, and the fancy synthetic cloths and lines that are now the backbones of modern sails and rigging. In short, there is a lifetime of learning here if you are so inclined, including such subjects as cooking, first aid, anchoring, and much more.

Another famous yachting editor, Thomas Fleming Day, of The Rudder, got everything in perspective, though. He knew very well that no-one can be an absolute expert in every phase of cruising under sail.

“Know this,” he said, “that three-quarters of what you read  in trade papers and technical magazines is written by people who don’t know any more about the subject they write about than you or I do.”

Today’s Thought
The true secrets of the sea cannot be learned upon the shore.
— Captain F. G. D. Bedford, The Sailor’s Pocket Book, 1898

From the Associated Press:
LONDON — A former meerkat expert at London Zoo has been ordered to pay compensation to a monkey handler she attacked with a wine glass in a love spat over a llama-keeper.

November 17, 2015

Where's the promised paradise?

GLOBAL WARMING can’t be all that bad, can it? Can you imagine what Puget Sound, the San Juans, and the Canadian Gulf Islands would be like if we suddenly inherited the climate now enjoyed by Southern California? Sunshine, warm winds, and warm seas are the only ingredients missing from this paradise for cruising boaters.

A little global warming around here would transform our lives. Boating people from all over the world would flock to our palm-fringed shores, white beaches, and warm turquoise water.

Women would be dressing in skimpy sun dresses and displaying those long tanned legs so beloved in California,  and I’d be able to trade in my fur-lined underpants for snazzy new Hawaiian bathing drawers.

The yacht charter business would boom beyond belief, creating jobs and prosperity that would surge right through our economy. Western Washington’s families would flourish in a brand-new American dream. The color would return to children’s faces. Their little bellies would be full, and their happy laughter would become a hallmark of the new, beloved global warming. Tourist dollars would overflow our coffers, and no longer would our poor State Governor have to sob his eyes out over drastic cuts in essential services.

So c’mon you guys, pony up. You promised us global warming. All we’ve got so far is gale-force winds and buckets of freezing rain. Where the hell is global warming?

Today’s Thought
Global warming — at least the modern nightmare vision — is a myth. I am sure of it and so are a growing number of scientists. But what is really worrying is that the world's politicians and policy makers are not.
— Professor David Bellamy, environmentalist

Don’t worry if your job is small
And your successes few . . .                                        
Remember that the mighty oak
Was once a nut like you.
(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

November 16, 2015

Christmas presents for your boat

I KNOW we haven’t even had Thanksgiving yet, but that’s not my fault, and I maintain that you can never prepare too far ahead for Christmas. Furthermore, I have heard it said by both sexes that it’s very difficult to buy Christmas presents for men. That being the case, perhaps we men should do our bit to make this task easier, and, incidentally, thereby help the economy along.

One way to do this would be to make up a list of the Christmas presents we’d like to receive, and hand it out to friends, relatives, co-workers, and passers-by.

Some of you will think this is a very crass thing to do, but it has occurred to me that a wish-list of this sort would be completely acceptable if it were presented in the form of a request for items for your boat.

You might think this a little strange at first, but it’s not really. It moves the guilt factor away from you to a third party. And people (even landlubbers) know instinctively that boats have souls. They realize that there are strong emotional ties between sailors and their boats that stop short only of kissing and hugging. Well, in most cases, anyway.

Now, you may be saying, “But people will surely query why a boat would need a new flat-screen, Internet-ready, 72-inch, plasma TV with icemaker.  Or a case of Johnny Walker Red Label whisky; or a five-year subscription to Playboy. How do you answer them?”

Well, use your common sense. Close your eyes slightly. Look wise and mysterious. Say: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Explain that the bond between a man and his boat is intimate and very private. Tell them you have this intuitive, exclusive insight into your boat’s true needs and desires.

And make sure they realize that every boat knows the difference between real Johnny Walker and the cheap hooch they distill up in those scruffy hills in Arkansas.

Today’s Thought

Ever since Eve gave Adam the apple, there has been a misunderstanding between the sexes about gifts

— Nan Robertson


He asked her for a burning kiss;

She said in accents cruel:

“I may be called a red-hot babe

“But I’m still nobody’s fuel.”


November 13, 2015

Falling down below

THE ESTEEMED early-20th-century boat designer William Atkin once designed for himself a 29-foot wooden sloop that was remarkable in my eyes for one particular thing — she had no companionway steps.

“If you drop down into the cabin of Ben Bow (and you will have to drop down because there is no companion ladder) you will find the bunks aft, then the galley, then two pipe berths, with a water closet near the foot of the mast,” Atkin wrote in his book Of Yachts and Men.

“As I have just mentioned, in Ben Bow we do not have a companion ladder. Sort of a man’s boat she is. We are not yet so old or stiff as to be unequal to scrambling in or out her cabin.

“Just two steps does it, one being a projection shod with a bit of brass on the bulkhead, the second being a corner of the starboard locker top. And so we are rid of a ladder, a piece of furniture which is always, I feel, too much in the way.

“The ladies? Well, God bless ’em, we might lower them away on the end of a rope. Somehow women generally do not love boats. Think they are a little jealous of them, just a little. Or perhaps their natures are too much alike . . . uncertain sort’a, and feminine, and — well I suppose I shall have to admit it — lovely.

“The cabin has among other features, one wide berth on the port side set high from the floor and with large lockers underneath. Even our old friend Abel Brown, who tells racy tales about berths, cannot quarrel much with the dimensions of this one; ‘big enough for perfect comfort under any situation,’ he might have remarked.”

It was surely a strange aberration that made Atkin omit a companionway ladder on his own boat. It wasn’t something he normally did on the hundreds of other boats he designed. It’s true that the darned ladder does take up precious space on a small boat, but if you’re a man who wants to share the pleasure of sailing with a wife or lady friend it is surely an act of gallantry to provide decent access from the cabin to the cockpit. Sort of like flinging your cloak into a puddle, so Her Majesty can keep her dainty slippers dry. Only more permanent. And a definite investment in marital bliss.

Today’s Thought
The hardest step is that over the threshold.
— James Howell,  Proverbs. No. 7

Groucho Marx once opened a drawer by mistake in a friend’s home. He found a Colt automatic pistol surrounded by several small pearl-handled revolvers.
“My God,” he said, “This gat has had gittens.”