February 28, 2010

Sailing simply

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

A COMMENT FROM Nikolay R., who sails a Tartan T30, in Toronto, Canada, says:

I realize this might not be entirely related to the topic ... as much related say, as a pig and a dodo.

But could you write a few entries on using such devices on board as oil-lamps, wind vanes, and foot-operated freshwater pumps? Things that let you be free of using electricity constantly. Tidbits perhaps on how to select the most appropriate ones, what to look for, and any sound advice on installation, usage, and maintenance.

Well, Nikolay, you are preaching to the choir. I have always favored simplicity in sailboats and I have always been parsimonious with electricity. In all my cruising experience, including crossing oceans, I have never felt the need for a wind generator or solar panels or (gawdelpus) a dedicated motor generator. That’s because I’ve never had a boat with a fridge or a fan-driven heater or a watermaker or a microwave or a computer or an anchor winch or pressure water or a macerator or any other of the myriad accessories that suck so many amps from the battery bank.

Every cruising boat I’ve owned has had two normal-sized batteries that were charged by the auxiliary diesel engine and its standard alternator alone. And during ocean crossings, that meant running the engine for about 30 to 45 minutes every second day. I rarely switched on the running lights at night, not only to save electricity but because we always had a person on watch in the cockpit at all times and we preferred to change course ourselves to keep out of the way of ships and fishing boats, even if we had the right of way.

I have no quibble with the vast majority of cruisers who prefer to equip their boats with all kinds of comforts that call for electricity, but I, personally, feel much more at ease without complicated accessories that I can’t repair myself.

It’s a matter of common sense to use things like a self-steering wind vane, an oil lamp, and a hand or foot pump for your fresh water. Especially if your object is passagemaking and efficient sailing, rather than using a yacht as a deluxe mobile condo, you do not need all the comforts of a land-based home. Yachting literature is replete with tales of adventurous circumnavigators whose boats lacked electricity entirely.

There is something elemental about sailboats that favors simplicity in place of fussiness. Many of the legendary yacht designers were known for advocating simplicity and its working partner, economy. William Garden, for example, said:

“In building a small yacht the absence of mechanical items can cut costs substantially, working on the premise that the first rule of economy is deletion and the second rule is substitution.

“Substitution often can be accomplished by using a more primitive wooden component — perhaps one cobbled together at home — rather than a more sophisticated part that carries profits for manufacturing and distribution with tax on top.”

Most modern sailors do not come easily to simplicity. Like jackdaws, they are mesmerized by the glitter. Only later, when they’re cruising on the wilderness of the ocean, do they realize the price they pay for that glitter. If they’re lucky, that’s when simplicity sets in. If they’re not, that’s when they give up cruising and start kicking the tires of those hulking great RVs loaded “with everything” and checking their GPS sets for Wal-Mart parking lots to camp in.

Today’s Thought
Often ornateness goes with greatness;
Oftener felicity comes of simplicity.
— William Watson, Art Maxims

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb #20
Choosing a boat. The basic rule of thumb for choosing a boat is that you must first decide what you want the boat for. If you aim is to entertain bikini girls on the sun deck while popping champagne corks alongside the yacht club jetty, you’ll be disappointed with a tubby, full-keeled, 32-foot sloop designed to be singlehanded across oceans. So choose a boat that honestly suits your needs and pleases you most of the time.

I asked her what her lips were for,
While lying by the hedge.
She said she guessed they kept her mouth
From fraying at the edge.


Anonymous said...

I am very much in agreement with you.
And I would like to start my Self Sufficient boating with oil lamps and a fresh water foot pump.
Any Ideas, suggestions, or recommendations will be highly appreciated. In particular the material from which the lamp is made and the type of fuel. From my looking around, I favored vermontlanterns.com, but I'm not sure if there's a better place to get them.

Incidentally, any chance your website or Amazon will be stocking Small Boat to Freedom anytime soon, because I would very much like to add it to my library.

Nikolay R.
Tartan T30, Toronto

D Parsons said...

I agree up to a point. I sail a hunter 25 (Cherubini)with an outboard. I keep my batteries charged with a small solar panel. This works great if you keep your requirements simple. I found a laptop great as a GPS, to hold a few tunes and to play a DVD on occasion but it was a battery vampire. As a middle ground, why can't someone turn out one of these new 10 inch laptops that runs on 12V and lets me serve several functions while still being energy effecient?

Grog All Round,
Don P.
Hunter 25, NL

Anonymous said...

Hello D Parsons,

I think the point is simplistic reliability, rather than just trying to conserve electricity.

A dose of spray can paralyze any electrical circuit for a long time if not indefinitely.
Meanwhile, sextants provided navigation for several hundred years, barometers and hydrometers weather forecasting, and the Pardey's proved the oil running lights will keep going in 80 mph winds and associated seas.

For me, I'd like to have the manual implements and know how to use them. This way, no cruise, not even a weekend one, will be delayed or put off if all of a sudden my water pump doesn't work.

Nikolay R.
Tartan T30, Toronto

Aaron Headly said...

Nikolay: I bought a copy of Small Boat to Freedom from one of these Amazon resellers without a hitch.

As to saving power, my favorites are LED bulbs for the navigation lights and my hand-cranked coffee grinder.