February 23, 2010

Toyota Syndrome, Part II

(Remember Monday, Wednesday, Friday: new columns by John Vigor.)

WE’VE ALREADY DISCUSSED what to do about the Toyota Syndrome when it affects your sailboat engine. Yes we have. You really must learn to concentrate. When your engine accelerates out of control, you have to kill it with a carbon-dioxide extinguisher. You don’t remember that? Sheesh, I sometimes wonder why I waste my time here.

Anyway, what I wanted to say was that it’s now time to deal with the Toyota Syndrome Part II — faulty brakes. This is a problem to which sailboats are particularly prone.

Braking a sailboat under sail is accomplished by turning the boat dead into the wind. After a distance that no normal person can estimate in advance, the boat will stop. That is, it will stop very briefly before the bow blows off to leeward and she goes charging off again on a new tack. If, at that exact aforementioned moment when she comes to a standstill, there is someone standing on a dock within arm’s length, and if you can pass him or her your bow line, and if he or she has the sense to take a turn with it around a cleat, your attempt to stop the boat will have been successful. Unfortunately, this doesn’t often happen.

Old Wotsisname, who moors down the row from me, has been caught short too many times. That is, he has all too often luffed up into the wind too soon, so that his great concrete monstrosity stopped short of his goal. The bow blew off and mayhem reigned. So now he just comes in at full speed, rams the jetty, and knocks another chip out of his bow. “It’s easy to fill the holes with a bit of concrete,” he says.

He only does this because his old diesel engine usually won’t start when he needs it most. Almost all of the rest of us prefer to come in under power. It’s wimpish, but it’s safer because you can use the engine in reverse to brake the boat. Well … sometimes, anyway. I once rammed the dock mightily when the cable to my gearbox fell off and the gear was stuck in forward. I put her in astern gear and gave her full throttle to stop her, and she leaped forward even faster to smite the concrete at the head of my slip. Luckily (perhaps) my fiberglass dinghy was in the way, so we smote that instead, which was kinder for my boat but almost lethal for the dinghy, which leaks to this day.

Most sailboats will swerve one way or the other when you use the engine as a brake. With a right-hand prop, the stern will swing to port as soon as you put it in reverse gear. Thus, if you are trying to come alongside a dock to starboard, you’ll find the back half of the boat is suddenly too far away from dry land for anyone to leap ashore. I personally never rely on reverse gear any more. I rely on very slow speed and heavy doses of prayer.

There is one good way to stop a sail boat in the congested quarters of a marina, though, and that is to throw an anchor over the stern. You shouldn’t do it too far away from your slip, of course, otherwise you’ll run out of anchor line. And you shouldn’t do it too close, otherwise the anchor won’t have time to bury itself. Nevertheless, apart from the fact that it’s almost impossible to get the distance right, this is the best way to stop the boat — unless the sea bottom is foul with mooring chains and stuff, in which case you’ll never get the anchor back unless you hire a diver, which might not be worth it.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that if Toyota owners think they have a brake problem, they ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Today’s Thought
To avoid all mistakes in the conduct of great enterprises is beyond man’s powers.
— Fabius Maximus

Boaters’ Rules of thumb #18
Blocks. If you’re using fiber rope, the diameter of the sheave in your block should be at least eight times the diameter of the rope. For wire rope you need a much larger sheave – at least 20 times the wire diameter, and preferably 40 times.

Was sick.
In his delirium
He mentioned Miriam,
Which was an error
For his wife was a terror
With the name
Of Jane.

1 comment:

Mostthingsonce said...

Hi John; Saw your comments on Jessica's blog and decided to check out yours. Refreshing to say the least. I have never heard of the Toyota Syndrome, however, I am willing to learn. To talk about brakes when referring to boats is like relying on friction when trying to climb a greased pole. The theory and reality are too far apart.
As for Jessica, I think you are going to have to wait for the book to get an answer to your question. Sincerely, Alfred
Vancouver, Canada