August 3, 2010

Starboard tack for me

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

A COUPLE OF DAYS BACK we were talking about which sailing records might be broken next. A reader in Australia called OZTayls commented: “Mmm, a really good one would be to circumnavigate the globe with a boat that can’t change tacks. That would really impress me. Which tack would you choose?”

Why, starboard tack, of course, OZTayls. Then I’d have the right of way over everything. Starboard tack would also get you to some good places in the northeast and southeast trades. Of course, there are a few spots, like Cape Horn, and Cape Agulhas, where you might have trouble rounding on starboard only.

But it’s funny you asked because I once knew a singlehander who was stuck on one tack (can’t remember now which one) halfway between Mauritius and Durban, South Africa, when one of his stays gave way. He was an Australian and his boat was a wooden, 52-foot, tiller-steered cutter named Active. He couldn’t trust the remaining stays to keep the wooden mast up on that tack, so he had to sail on one tack only, and wait for the wind to change to allow him to get close enough to Durban to motor in.

It was because of Active that I became a journalist. I was still a teenager when I walked out of a job with a big insurance company because of sheer boredom, and I was trying to be hired by Durban’s biggest daily newspaper, the Daily News. But there were no vacancies.

Then the skipper of the Active advertised for crew to sail with him to England. Three of us signed up, and one, Oscar Tamsen, was a reporter with the Daily News. Oscar duly resigned his job, but just before we were due to sail, one of the sheriff’s men came marching down the jetty and nailed a writ to Active’s mast. The skipper apparently owed some huge sum in taxes in Australia and the boat was to be seized and auctioned. Our trip was off.

Oscar decided he wasn’t going back to the newspaper, he really wanted to move to Johannesburg. So I rushed around to the Daily News, collared Ronnie Tungay the news editor, and said: “I know you’ve got a vacancy now. How about it?” They took me on as a cub reporter and I was made second lieutenant to the Shipping Reporter. I never looked back. Never looked forward either, unfortunately, so here I am all these years later, still writing about ships and the sea.

Today’s Thought
The plain truth is that the reporter’s trade is for young men. Your feet, which do the legwork, are nine times more important than your head, which fits the facts into a coherent pattern.
— Joseph W. Alsop Jr.

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb #78
Flag etiquette. When a yacht is racing she does not wear an ensign. When outside U.S. territorial waters, only the Stars and Stripes may be worn — not the special U.S. Yacht Ensign allocated to Coast-Guard documented vessels. The ensign is hoisted at 0800 and lowered at sundown. But if you leave port earlier, it may be hoisted before 0800 provided there is enough daylight for visibility. Incidentally, flags are worn by a yacht. They are flown by the owner.

If your wife is overweight, it’s all your own fault according to a sociologist at the University of Michigan. Overweight wives, he said, are caused by overbearing husbands.
He’s right, of course. What he’s saying is that the women are driven to eat by the men they drive to drink.


Anonymous said...

always enjoy your hackery - didn't see that one coming though


AnnieR said...

What serendipity! Great story, John. And the idea of tiller steering on a 52 footer sound like hard work!