April 17, 2014

Trekka's mystery photograph

ON PAGE 191 of John Guzzwell’s fine book, Trekka Around the World, there is a photograph of the author attending to some small task on the hull of his sweet little 21-foot yawl.  The caption underneath says: “Face-lift in Durban.” And then, to the right of the caption, in type so small that even a spider would need a magnifying glass to read it, it says: “John Vigor.”

That’s me. I took that photograph. But how it got into Mr. Guzzwell’s book is a mystery. I didn’t give him or the publisher that picture. Nobody asked me for it. Nobody paid me for it. It just somehow appeared right there on page 191 as if by magic.

Some time ago I e-mailed the publisher, Fine Edge Productions, and asked how they had got hold of my picture, and how they knew it was me that took it, but those questions were never answered. I don’t suppose I’ll ever know the answers.

I was in Durban in 1958, of course, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to take that picture, and I remember Mr. Guzzwell’s arrival in Durban. It caused quite a stir. His was the smallest boat ever to undertake a circumnavigation and he had completed half of it or more singlehanded by the time he reached the shores of Natal.

Trekka was a wooden boat, and one that he had built himself in Victoria, British Columbia. She had been specially designed for him by the famous British naval architect J. Laurent Giles.

He went on to finish his world-girdling voyage in that light-displacement yawl and held for many years the record for the smallest sailboat to accomplish the feat. He eventually settled in Seattle, Washington, just down the road a way from where I live now, by some strange co-incidence.

If you haven’t read Trekka Around the World, I urge to do so if you have the slightest interest in simple sailing. It is a yachting classic that should never be allowed to go out of print. In those days, there were none of the modern electronic aids to navigation. The author used a sextant and the stars. He didn’t even have a self-steering wind vane or an electric pilot.  Trekka would sail herself to windward quite contentedly, and she would also sail herself dead down-wind under twin jibs.  But she must have needed a bit of nursing from the tiller on reaches.

As a bonus, this book also contains details of Mr. Guzzwell’s experiences aboard the Smeetons’ renowned boat, Tzu Hang, which survived a bad capsize near Cape Horn and limped back to Chile, largely thanks to Mr. Guzzwell’s woodworking skills and seamanship.

Trekka is in a museum in Victoria, B.C., these days, and a sister ship of hers called Tern, built in 1978, is still for sale here in the nearby San Juan Islands. She’s sloop-rigged, rather than yawl-rigged, but otherwise mostly ready to take on the oceans, and in fine condition. All you need is $9,500 and a passion to see the world in your own brave little sailboat.

Today’s Thought
Life ought to be a struggle of desire toward adventures whose nobility will fertilize the soul.
— Rebecca West

“Are you crazy? You tipped the parking attendant 50 bucks?”
“Sure. Look at this nice new Mustang he’s given us.”

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

April 16, 2014

The chain or rope question

ONE OF THOSE QUESTIONS that never seems to be answered satisfactorily is whether you need rope or chain for your anchor line.  That’s because it all depends. It depends on the kind of boat you have and where you plan to go with it.

I always classify would-be anchorers into two groups: those who anchor frequently overnight on coastal or lake passages, and those who are busy sailing around the world.

For coastal or lake cruisers I’d advise an anchor rode consisting of a section of chain as long as the boat, connected to a main anchor line of a few hundred feet of three-strand nylon.  For world cruisers, I’d advise an all-chain rode. Both rodes need chain right next to the anchor because it won’t be scuffed or cut by dragging along the sea bed as the boat ranges around in wind shifts.

The interesting thing about nylon is how much it can stretch without losing too much strength. This elasticity is a great help when the anchorage gets choppy, and your boat starts to snatch at its cable when the bows rise to waves. As the nylon stretches, it takes the jerk out of the sudden snatch, and then gently eases back to its normal length.  It can do this over and over again without getting tired.

Galvanized steel chain also can prevent your cleats from being jerked out by the sudden strains. It does so by forming itself into a downward curve.  It’s the weight of the chain that forms the curve, and as the boat lurches backward with a wave, it pulls against the weight in an attempt to stretch the chain bar-taut. It’s very difficult to make a heavy chain that taut, and the closer it gets to that stage the harder it becomes, so there is a sort of progressive braking until the maximum strain has passed, after which the weight of the chain will form it into a catenary again, ready to absorb the force of the next wave.

In shallow water there might not be sufficient depth for a reasonable catenary to form, in which case it’s advisable to attach a suitable length of nylon line to the anchor chain, forward of the bow, and take up the strain on that.

In deeper water and very high winds, you can help prevent jerking on an all-chain anchor cable by sending a heavy weight out forward to help form a deeper curve.

Nylon is lighter than chain, length for length, and this might be a deciding factor for racing boats, although chain usually is able to stow itself in a much smaller and tidier package.  But I regard all-chain as essential for round-the-worlders because they so often have to anchor near coral, which would saw through a nylon rode in no time.

There are also times in crowded anchorages when dull-headed operators of dinghies with outboard motors frequently cut too close across your bows, unaware of how close their propellers come to your anchor line. It’s very nice then to know that you have a chain rode. If they make contact, it’s their propellers that will suffer. Serves them right.

Today’s Thought
In the stormy night it is well that anchors twain be let down from the swift ship.
— Pindar, Olympian Odes

Income tax is the fine you pay for reckless thriving.

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

April 13, 2014

Beware the spy in the sky

IT’S EASY TO IMAGINE that when you go over the horizon in a small sailboat you disappear from the view of other humans. But recently I’ve been wondering if that’s still correct.

What made me wonder was all the pictures we’ve been getting of debris in some very remote parts of the Indian Ocean.  Satellites looking for bits and pieces of the missing Malaysian Airlines jet have been sending us pictures of all kinds of junk floating around in the ocean, including one lump that was later described as seaweed.

If common-or-garden satellites such as these are registering such tiny pieces of flotsam, how could they possibly miss seeing a sailboat 20 to 50 feet long? It makes you wonder why we bother with Epirbs and GPS when we’re under 24-hour surveillance out there anyway. And it’s a fair bet that there are military satellites, with far greater resolution, that we are not yet being told about.

It reminds me that the oceans of the world are already criss-crossed with underwater cable networks — listening devices designed to detect the movement of enemy submarines,  both diesel and nuclear.

If they can pick up the muted sounds of electric motors from subs, why wouldn’t they be able to hear the pings from a downed aircraft’s black box?  Of course, for military reasons, you have to be careful about revealing the efficiency and capability of your spy networks. Even if you did locate a black box on the sea bed, you might not want your enemies to know how fiendishly clever you are.

However, the existence of these formerly secret underwater listening arrays is now common knowledge, even if the specifics of the latest developments are kept secret. The Integrated Undersea Surveillance System has provided the U.S. Navy with its primary means of submarine detection for many years, but I would imagine that sophisticated satellites are increasingly being used also.  I have seen a satellite image of a submarine underwater in pitch darkness. The boat’s presence was revealed for anyone to see from above by a bright outline of phosphorescence, which modern science does not yet seem able to suppress.

Anyway, the point is that the oceans are no longer the watery deserts they used to be. Next time you pee over the side or sunbathe nude on the foredeck, be aware that a satellite in space may well be sending a picture of you back to a giant screen in an office full of scientific boffins on earth. You might even provoke them to laughter or scorn. Nothing is sacred any more.

Today’s Thought
The right of an individual to conduct intimate relationships in the intimacy of his or her own home seems to me to be the heart of the Constitution’s protection of privacy.
— Harry A. Blackmun, Associate Justice, U.S. Supreme Court

"Why are you limping?"
"I went to a seafood disco last night and pulled a mussel."
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April 10, 2014

It's all about the pings

THIS ENDLESS TALK about not being able to find the black boxes from missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 is very irritating. In the first place, the boxes aren’t black. They’re red. Everybody knows that. Why the heck are they called black boxes, and why do reporters tamely repeat the technical jargon when it is so patently incorrect? And why don’t flight recorders float, so you can hear them better and find them more easily?  A little built-in buoyancy, and a couple of small explosive charges to free them from any wreckage are all that’s needed.

And then there are the pings. Everybody keeps talking about the pings. Pings keep popping up in different places hundreds of miles apart. Pings are getting weaker because the batteries are running down. Pings, pings, pings. It’s all about pings. Pings from three miles down in the ocean. No wonder they’re weak.

Why not pongs, for goodness’ sake? Any acoustic engineer will tell you that a pong is audible in water much more easily than a ping and carries farther. A pong has a rich baritone noise about it. Its longer wavelengths more easily penetrate both water and air. A ping is a fleeting tin-can kind of noise, a thin, wussy, boy-alto kind of noise,  with no staying power or ability to punch through its surroundings.

You can test this for yourself by standing on one side of a wooden door and having your wife or girl friend make a ping on the other side by tapping a knife against a drinking glass. Then have her tap a heavy spoon against a glass beer mug to produce a resonant pong. You will note how much louder the manly pong is, compared  with the wimpish ping.

Red, buoyant, flight recorders emitting pongs instead of pings would save the search and rescue people millions, perhaps billions, of dollars in their futile quests to locate missing aircraft at sea.

And as for the elusive debris field we keep hearing so much about, maybe there isn’t one after all. Captain Chesley B. Sullenberger didn’t leave a debris field when he put US Airways Flight 1549 down nice and gently in the Hudson River. Maybe the captain of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 did the same when he suddenly realized he was way off course and running out of gas.

Maybe he relied on the pings to bring him the rescuers he needed. If only the engineers had given him pongs instead of pings, this whole tragedy might have been averted.

Today’s Thought
No sound is dissonant which tells of Life.
— Samuel Taylor Coleridge, This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison

“Do they let you smoke at your school?”
“Are you allowed to drink?”
“Of course not.”
“How about dates?”
“Oh dates are fine, as long as you don’t eat too many.”

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April 8, 2014

Where are today's scurvy knaves?

FOR SOME REASON, the number of scurvy knaves in our society seems to have decreased. I can remember that,  in the days of my youth, there were many references to scurvy knaves, and not all to do with quotes from Shakespeare. I recall that they were mainly to do with fathers whose nubile daughters had been badly treated by some scurvy knave or other. So what happened to them? Where are the scurvy knaves nowadays? Have they all been run out of town?

I was set on this train of thought by a reader who is planning a circumnavigation. He wanted to know what people are doing these days to prevent the scourge of scurvy, the plague of knaves and seafarers in olden times.

We now know that scurvy is caused by a lack of vitamin C. It’s easier to contract than you might imagine, especially on long, tropical ocean crossings on boats without refrigeration. The symptoms to watch out for include a general feeling of weakness. The flesh on the legs may become flabby and erupt with sores. Gums can become spongy and start bleeding, and the mucous membranes can become bloody, too.

By law, U.S. vessels were required to provide “lime or lemon juice and sugar daily, at the rate of half a pint a week for each member of the crew.” British ships had a similar requirement for limes, which led to British sailors (and now most Brits) acquiring the nickname Limeys. In fact, though, lemons turned out to be much better at providing vitamin C than limes did.

Other valuable sources of the vitamin are fresh fruit, vegetables and most of the makings of salads. Potatoes are very good, too, particularly when they’re cooked in their skins. But small yachts usually can’t keep fresh fruit and salads for long in the tropics, so my advice to anyone contemplating a circumnavigation is to take along a large stock of vitamin C in capsule or tablet form.

I am also inclined to believe that beer is a good source of the vitamin that prevents knaves from going scurvy. If anyone queries this, tell them it’s the hops. They’ll believe you.

Today’s Thought
The great secret of doctors, known only to their wives, but still hidden from the public, is that most things get better by themselves; most things, in fact, are better in the morning.
— Dr. Lewis Thomas, President, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research, NY Times 4 Jul 76

"What did her father say when you asked him if you could marry her?"
"He darn near broke my arm."
"Did he hit you?"
"Hell no, it's just that he was shaking my hand so hard."

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

April 6, 2014

The rough's better than the smooth

THOSE OF YOU who roll your own antifouling paint on the bottoms of your boats will know how difficult it is to get a really good finish. Racing skippers who insist on finishes like glass spend many man-hours and many bags of money to achieve less underwater resistance this way. But they may be wrong.
I have mentioned this before but, sigh, nobody takes any notice of what I say:  Years ago golfers discovered that balls with dimples in them have better aerodynamics and travel farther than smooth round balls.  I have therefore always held that the dimpled (well, all right, rough) surface of my antifouling paint actually makes my boats go faster.

Now some high-powered scientists are finally, finally, agreeing with me. Here’s a fascinating piece from a very smart website at  www.sciencerecorder.com

“When it comes to moving rapidly through water, smooth is generally considered better. That’s why ships have smooth hulls and swimmers shave their legs. However, a new study published in the journal Physics of Fluids suggests that smooth might not be best and that some rough surfaces can reduce drag.

“’A properly designed rough surface, contrary to our intuition, can reduce skin-friction drag,’ said John Kim, a professor in the mechanical and aerospace engineering department at UCLA, in a statement obtained by EurekAlert.

“Scientists had previously tested the idea of using rough surfaces in water with limited success. More recently scientists have started working with rough surfaces that are very hard to wet, a property called superhydrophobicity, the National Monitor explains. In theory this implies that the surfaces can snare air bubbles, producing a hydrodynamic cushion, but in practice they frequently lose their air cushions in chaotic flows.

“The researchers modeled the fluid flow between two surfaces coated with small ridges. They used a superhydrophobic surface design that another UCLA team had already observed could keep air pockets entrapped, even in choppy conditions. The surface was blanketed with tiny ridges arranged in the direction of flow.

“The researchers tested the model in both laminar and turbulent flow. To their surprise, the drag-reduction was greater in choppy conditions.

“The irregular fluctuations and swirling vortices in turbulent flows on smooth surfaces generally increase drag, Kim noted. However, the air cushion generated by the superhydrophobic ridges changed the turbulent patterns near the surface, reducing their effect.

“Drag-reducing surfaces may one day cover the undersides of both cargo and passenger ships. ‘It could lead to significant energy savings and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions,’ Kim explained.”

Today’s Thought
The best scientist is open to experience and begins with romance — the idea that anything is possible.
— Ray Bradbury, LA Times 9 Aug 76

“And you, madam, what’s your husband’s average income?”
“Well, on Friday nights, when he goes to the yacht club, it’s usually between 2 and 3 a.m.”

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

April 3, 2014

A box of Turkish delight

THE UPS MAN left a box on my front step a few days ago. Inside were three large hardcover books that looked strangely familiar and eerily strange at the same time. Each bore on its cover the title Pratik Teknecilik Ansiklopedisi and my name. It turned out that they were Turkish translations of my magnum opus, The Practical Encyclopedia of Boating, published under the auspices of what I believe to be the Amateur Boating Federation of Turkey.
I was, to say the least, astonished. In the first place I had no idea my book was being translated. Nobody in the publishing business seems to care about keeping authors informed these days. In the second place, of all the people in the world who might be interested in buying that book, I would have placed the Turks very near the bottom of the list.

Flipping through the pages was a strange experience, too. If the book had been in German or Dutch, French or Spanish, or even Portuguese, I would have been able to recognize the odd word here and there that would have enabled me to glean a faint idea of what was going on. But written Turkish is exceedingly foreign. Although it uses almost the same Latin alphabet that we do, the words are so totally different that they might as well have been in Japanese or Chinese characters for all the help they were to me. The thought kept striking me: “You wrote this stuff, you must know what it’s about.” But no, Turkish offers no clues to the English-speaker.

Of course, I have to admit that my knowledge of Turkey, and the amount of boating they might do over there, is shamefully limited. I know more or less where the country is, and that it somehow was named after a large, awkward-looking, flightless fowl, a sort of cross between a chicken and an ostrich. However, apart from that, and the fact that Constantinople became Istanbul in a popular song, I confess enormous ignorance.

According to Wikipedia, Turkey was somehow mixed up with the old Ottoman Empire, which had nothing to do with selling living-room furniture, as I had imagined. As you can tell, I never was much good at history. I also thought the Ottomans rampaged all over Asia, led by Othello the Hun, but I no longer think that’s correct.

In any case, I don’t know how much yachting took place in the Ottoman Empire, but I do know it had a fleet of warships that was destroyed by an Allied Fleet of British, French, and Russian ships at the Battle of Navarino in 1827.

At that time, the Europeans saw the Russian empire’s aggressive, long-running expansion into the Black Sea region as a major threat. They feared the establishment of Russian hegemony in the Balkans and the Near East. Does that sound familiar to anyone?

But never mind that. I expect Mr. Putin will sort it out eventually. Meanwhile, I don’t expect miracles, but I hope that whoever translated my book will be rewarded with good sales in Turkey. And if anybody finds any mistakes, please don’t blame me. Contact the translator. It’s all his fault. Or hers. I can’t tell. The name’s Turkish, you know.

Today’s Thought
Let foreign nations of their language boast,
What fine variety each tongue affords;
I like our language, as our men and coast;
Who cannot dress it well, want wit, not words.
— George Herbert, The Sun    

Mary had a little car,
She drove as best she might,
But every time she signaled left
The stupid car turned right.

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