June 3, 2010

A difficult course

A LETTER to the Editor of the Walnut Street Gazeout (should be Gazette) says:

I understand that a good way to get your loot out of the country is by sailboat. Somebody else’s sailboat, that is.

For the past year I’ve been reading all the sailing books they’ll let me have in here. So now I’m pretty sure I can figure out how to sail a boat. You just pull on the ropes that haul the sails up, and then you pull on the ropes that go to the end of the sails.

But for the life of me I can’t see how a boat sails against the wind. Can someone fill me in?

Lowly Wyrm, Block E, Cell 1505.

Well Lowly, the editor passed your letter on to me, and all I can say is that you’re not alone. A lot of people don’t know how a boat sails against the wind. But the nice thing is that it doesn’t matter. All you need to know is that it works.

Next time you’re speeding away from a heist in your getaway car, stick your arm out of the window. Tilt your hand up and feel how it wants to rise. Tilt your hand down and see how it wants to dive.

Well, that really has nothing to do with how a sail works, but it sure feels funny, doesn’t it?

Actually, I subscribe to the theory of capillary attraction. That’s when water creeps slowly into tiny little spaces for two reasons: (a) just because it can, and (b) to see what’s there.

Now, air does the same thing. It squeezes into the thin space between the jib and the mainsail. Nobody knows why air does this. They don’t know why water does it, either, for that matter. But it does. And as a result it creates suction on the backside — let me rephrase that — on the rear side of the sails. It creates suction because nature abhors a vacuum. (My cat does, too, incidentally. She flees the room every time.)

Anyway, what with the suction and the vacuum and the wind blowing in your face and hair it’s a really healthy lifestyle, Lowly, especially if you head south into the warmer water, and I hope you’ll be very happy with your new sailing life.

PS: Sooner or later you will hear that gentlemen never sail to windward. Ignore it. This doesn’t apply to you.

Today’s Thought
Our knowledge is a little island in a great ocean of nonknowledge.
— Isaac Bashevis Singer

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb #60
Ear infections. Before you go swimming in tropical waters, put two drops of baby oil in each ear to coat the sensitive skin of the eardrum. This helps prevent ear infections, one of the most common complaints among children living on cruising boats and adults who do a lot of skindiving.

The interesting thing about education is that it replaces cocksure ignorance with thoughtful uncertainty.

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