June 1, 2009

Look to your fenders

THERE WAS A FRONT-PAGE picture of a boat in my newspaper the other day. The paper is the Daily Bugle, generally known as the Daily Bungle for obvious reasons. But this time the mistake wasn’t the paper’s. It was the skipper of the boat’s mistake. All his fenders were dragging through the water.

There is nothing that marks a lackadaisical skipper as accurately as a boat far away from its berth with its fenders flopping and splashing alongside. What made it surprising for me was that this pretty little motorboat had just been built by a special school for at-risk kids here in town. (Actually, I’m not at all sure what at-risk kids are, whether they’re likely to do bad things in the future, or whether they’ve already done bad things and are at risk of doing some more.)

No matter, I’m sure messing around with boats is good for them. In years past they built a replica of a longboat used by Captain Vancouver in his 18th-century voyage of discovery in the Pacific Northwest. She’s beautifully constructed, strong and pretty, about 26 feet long, completely undecked, and rigged with sails and oars. I have often seen her out sailing and being rowed by the A-RKs under the stern eye of a skipper/instructor and never once have I seen any sign of a misplaced fender; which is only good and proper, and how things should be.

Most people use fenders to keep their boat clear of the side of the slip. Without fenders, the hull would be rubbing and destroying itself against wood or concrete. And when anchored boats lie alongside each other for a raft-up, fenders are always much in evidence.

But because nothing looks sloppier than a boat under way with its fenders hanging out, the skipper who wants to look as if he knows something about boating will make it a priority to retrieve his fenders as soon as he leaves the dock. It takes time to do that, so many of us just do a quick walk around the boat, quickly and unostentatiously flipping the fenders up on deck. Once they’re all up out of the water, they can be loosened at leisure and tucked away in the aft lazarette or somewhere convenient.

Sailing with your boat festooned in fenders is like attending your wedding with your shirt-tails hanging out. Well, okay, I know people do actually get married with their shirts outside their pants these days, but I’m talking about proper weddings, decent weddings where people wear shoes and the groom cleans his nails.

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but it’s pretty certain that you can judge a boat by its fenders. So I warn you now, never go to sea with a skipper who forgets to take in his fenders. He’s a slob who lacks an eye for detail and a feeling for tradition and virtue. In such a man lurks danger and despair. The sea is a tough enough mistress already. You don’t need that extra freight.

Today’s Thought
Man yields to custom, as he bows to fate,
In all things ruled—mind, body, and estate;
In pain, in sickness, we for cure apply
To them we know not, and we know not why.
—George Crabbe, Tales in Verse

“Why’s old Fred looking so gloomy?”
“He says he’s having trouble with angina pectoris.”
“Omigawd. I hope his wife doesn’t find out about her.”

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