August 10, 2010

Don’t build a boat

(Mainly about Boats -- every Monday, Wednesday, Friday.)
DYLAN WINTER gave me some advice the other day. Don’t build a boat, he warned, it’s a way of avoiding sailing.

Well, I seem to remember there was a character called Henri in one of Steinbeck’s books who went to great lengths not to finish a boat because he was afraid to go sailing. Cannery Row, I think it was.

I always presumed Henri was fictional until I met Rob Griffin. Rob was Henri in real life. Rob was of Welsh extraction. He was stocky and sported a neat black beard, clipped short. He was a copy editor on a paper I worked for, and a parliamentary correspondent before that. And before that he was a mercenary soldier, fighting with the legendary Colonel Mike Hoare in what was then the Belgian Congo.

He had a wicked grin and used it often, but he never talked about his time in the Congo. He never talked about another notorious adventure either. He was one of a small “sports team” that landed in the Seychelles with assault weapons at the bottom of their gym kits and almost managed to capture the whole country. So you couldn’t say for sure that Rob Griffin was scared of the sea. He didn’t seem to be scared of anything.

But he started building a big Wharram catamaran on a quiet site on the outskirts of town, and when he heard I was a sailor he would stop by my desk at work sometimes and talk boats. I used to visit his building site and he was always full of talk of the latest boatbuilding materials and techniques. With a cat, he always had to do everything twice.

I invited him to come sailing with me on my boat but he never did. I don’t think he ever went sailing with anybody. He just spent every spare moment of his time out there building his boat.

It soon became apparent to his workmates that Rob wasn’t ever going to sail away over the blue horizon. But nobody ever made jokes about it. After he’d been building for 10 years he had to paint everything all over again. When the 20th anniversary came along he had to paint once more. He now had a brand-new 20-year-old boat.

He was getting quite close to finishing his catamaran when, after 25 years or so of building, he upped and died. He was a nice guy with a strong loyal streak, straight-talking and possessing a well-developed sense of humor. Apart from his forays into the underworld of mercenary soldiers, he seemed pretty normal. Nobody that I know of ever found out why he never launched his yacht. That secret went with him. Perhaps Henri would have known.

Today’s Thought
Fear, the very worst prophet in misfortune, anticipates many evils.
— Publilius Syrus, Sententiae

Boaters’ Rule of Thumb #81
Sailboat freeboard. The average height of freeboard in a classic cruising sailboat is 2 1/3 inches for ever foot of beam. Freeboard is one of the most important features contributing to safety, because high freeboard provides a greater range of stability. On the other hand, too much freeboard (frequently seen on modern designs) adversely affects sailing ability, particularly to windward.

A friend in New York tells me his daughter attended her first cocktail party last week. He arrived a little late and found her sitting on a couch.
“I’ve only had tee martoonis,” she told him, “so I’m not as drunk as thinkle peep I am. It’s just that I fool so feelish because the drunker I sit the longer I get.”

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