October 18, 2009

Weight on my mind

I NOTE WITH INTEREST that my boat seems to have sunk deeper in the water every time I happen to look at the boot-top. This has been going on for the seven years I’ve owned my 27-foot sloop, but I’d never stopped to give it serious thought until last weekend when I discovered two dozen cans of Heineken stuffed into a little-used locker, and wondered what they weighed.

My mind drifted back two-and-a-half years to an annual haul-out, when the crane driver leaned out of his cab and yelled over the noise of the diesel engine: “Nine thousand pounds.”

“Nah,” I thought, “can’t be. Her displacement is 7,500 like Mr. Alberg said. As designers go, he was no fool.” I dismissed it as inaccurate instrumentation on the crane, a built-in safety factor to prevent overloading.

But the same thing happened last May when I hauled out. “Exactly 9,000 again,” said the crane driver. I laughed it off. “Sure,” I said. How could she be 1,500 pounds heavier than her design displacement?

Well, I had a good look around last weekend and I must admit to being surprised by the amount of “stuff” on board, stuff that must have crept aboard at nighttime over a period of years, because I sure don’t remember carrying it on.

Take galley equipment, for example. We have mugs for six, about 50 pounds of assorted stainless-steel knives, forks, and spoons from the thrift store, a whistling kettle, heavy skillets that we hardly ever use, saucepans, and a host of gadgets for doing things to food and cans that I suspect were smuggled aboard by the First Mate when I wasn’t looking.

Water is darn heavy, of course. We always have full tanks, plus lord knows how many two-liter bottles of fresh water tucked away up forward, just in case there’s an earthquake and the house falls down and we have to go and live on the boat.

For the same reason, there’s a bunch of food, good heavy long-lasting food, sorted out in plastic bags by meals, all of it left over from a six-week summer cruise. It’s surprising how much it weighs. You wouldn’t suspect it, just to look at it.

Then there are the charts, about 100 of them, that I needed for that cruise. They never got taken home again because, heck, you never know when you might have to flee from an earthquake and head for the Alaskan wilderness. And I swear they absorb water because they seem much heavier now than when I first brought them aboard.

The self-inflating life jackets, combined with safety harnesses and tethers, are quite heavy. They are an example of why small boats suffer more from extra weight than big boats. No matter how big your boat, you only need one life jacket for each person, and a life jacket is a much larger part of a small boat’s displacement than a large boat’s, if you see what I mean. There are many other things like that, including an inflatable dinghy, whose weight would scarcely be noticed on a large yacht.

Did I mention the beer? Okay, but there’s also port. Bottles of port mature particularly well on a small boat. I’m told that the Portuguese used to ballast the Grand Banks fishing fleet with bottles of port. So we carry port also. Nice with cheese and crackers at sunset or after the evening meal. I discovered that we are down to one bottle, though, and now I don’t know whether to get another or not.

Perhaps if I get rid of some of the extra fuel it will balance out. There’s never enough fuel tankage on a small boat, so we always carry another five gallons in plastic jerry cans. I’m not saying it doesn’t weigh anything, but I still think 9,000 pounds is a lot of hogwash. Or maybe I’ll throw out some of the six extra containers of engine oil.

Okay, okay, I’ll grant you that the toolbox has expanded almost exactly as my store of tools in the garage has diminished. I don’t know how that came about, but it sure is nice to have five different-sized screwdrivers and three Vise-Grips, because they fall overboard so easily, you know.

I suppose the boots for hiking ashore weigh something but not as much as the first-aid kit the First Mate keeps adding to every time I turn my back. I swear we could remove an appendix or even carry out a colonoscopy if we had to.

Then there’s the spare sails, the anchor lines, the dedicated tow line, and hundreds of feet of
odd bits and pieces of line no longer than 9 inches long. I can’t bring myself to get rid of them because you just never know when you’ll need an 8-inch line.

I haven’t checked on the engine spare parts yet. The locker is so chock-full that I haven’t had the heart to explore in there. I’m afraid it will probably weigh just as much as the bosun’s spares stuffed into the locker opposite, many of which, I hasten to explain (especially the heavy galvanized shackles and things) were inherited with the boat.

I’ll admit that I was the one who added a self-steering wind vane on the stern that had to be balanced by two large lead bars in the bow anchor locker, but that doesn’t explain everything.
In fact, I can’t find any reasonable explanation for a 1,500-pound increase in displacement. She certainly doesn’t look any fatter from the outside, which I’m sure she would if that crane driver was correct.

Today’s Thought
What difference does it make how much you have? What you do not have amounts to more.
— Seneca

A sailor with laryngitis knocked on the clinic door. A pretty nurse answered.
“Is the doctor here?” he whispered.
“No,” she whispered back, “come on in.”


Nikolay R. (Toronto, Ontario) said...

Morning John,
I think there's another reason boats gain so much weight, and I've been noticing it more and more recently.
Gadgets! yes, gadgets. And I don't mean just the electronic du-das that are so overly abundant on the majority of today's boats, requiring more batteries and higher output alternators or larger generators etc. (I think that in itself is the sailor's version of insanity: bringing more and more electronics on board and expecting it to work perfectly even if it goes in the drink, but that's a different story). But there's more to it I think, there's also the variety of mechanical implements crowding the chandler's shelves - all intent on making it easier, or faster to perform one task or another. For example: instead of selling a book or two about ropes, knots and splicing, the local chandler has at least a dozen plastic duhikis - anything from a lifeline clip for your fenders (never mind that it's the wrong place to hang fenders from) to a weird looking gizmo that helps you hang coiled line and several different clips to form an eye - anything to not tie a knot or do a splice (the books go unnoticed near the back shelf collecting dust). I think today's minds have been corrupted by reliance on technology and off-the-shelf-solve-all-your-problems products that the skills that sailors have depended on for centuries are waning. And when the wind pipes up and their plastic thing-a-mabober snaps or falls overboard (perhaps with their favorite set of vice-grips or binoculars), they'd wish they'd bought the book and learned to do a simple eye splice...

I'm not even sure it's a generation gap, perhaps more of a mindset difference. I'm in my early 20's and have been in love with sailing ever since my first friday afternoon venture on a catalina 40 in the Med about 10 years ago, and to me learning the boat-building and rigging skills are just as interesting as the art of sailing.

Perhaps you can write an entry about this?

Annie said...

My partner, Jim Murrant, had a solution for this. He was asked by a skipper for suggestions to reduce the yacht's weight.

"Take all the cupboard doors off," he said.

To which the skipper immediately replied, "But all the contents would ... Oh!"

The penny dropped!

Schpankme said...

What your saying is that you need a boat with a 27 feet, Length of Water Line (LWL). Best regards