September 19, 2010

Equinoctial compass check

Time to check the compass
THE CEDARS IN THE BACK YARD were twinkling with cool gray mist this morning, a sure sign that the autumnal equinox is almost upon us.

For years, when we lived on Whidbey Island, my wife June and I used to make a short pilgrimage on the date of the equinox. We went to a grassy little west-facing hillside in a quiet state park. We took along a blanket, wine, cheese and crackers, and maybe a baguette. And, of course, our hand bearing compass from the boat.

On the evening of the equinox we watched the sun go down into the sea and checked the accuracy of the compass. This is one of only two days in the year when the sun rises exactly in the east and sets exactly in west. Otherwise, it’s always either north or south of true east and west.

At that magic moment when half the blazing red sun was hidden beneath the sea horizon, I checked its bearing with the compass up to my eye. Every year, the compass proved accurate to within one degree. And at that moment I was flooded with a wonderful feeling of trust.

Cruising under sail is built on trust in so many ways. You trust that the mast won’t fall down, you trust that the engine will start, you trust that the waves in a 20-knot breeze won’t be big enough to sink your boat, and of course you trust that your compass is telling the truth.

We always stayed long after the sun sank into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. We went home cold and happy and damp from dew, and slightly woozy from the wine, holding hands, with our trust in our compass and our boat restored for another year.

And every year I think to myself what a wonderful metaphor this is for life. And I tell myself I must nurture that nascent thought and expand it into a living philosophy and write a fascinating book about it and make a lot of money and get famous and appear on Oprah. But I never do.

Today’s Thought
The west is broken into bars
Of orange, gold and gray;
Gone is the sun, come are the stars,
And night infolds the day.

— George Macdonald, Songs of Summer Nights

Boater’s Rules of Thumb, #97
Hatch dimensions. A hatch opening of 24 inches by 24 inches is adequate for most purposes, but a few inches more in either direction is always welcome. Naval architect Dave Gerr uses this rule of thumb for the minimum size of hatch in square feet needed to pass a sail through:
Racing boats: Sail area in square feet divided by 160.
Cruising boats: Sail area in square feet divided by 200.

Two old salts were talking in the yacht club bar.
“When did you last make love to a woman?” one asked.
“Nineteen forty,” said the other.
“Did you say 1940?” the first asked in astonishment.
“Yeah,” said the other, “and I’m picking her up again at 2145.”

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


dylan winter said...

Darn it Vigor - you are a great writer. At my desk this morning - in front of the glowing screen of the baleful beast in front of me - and there I was for a moment or two sitting watching the sun go down with Mrs Vigor, a blanket and a compass. Well done old chap.


John Vigor said...

Dylan, you are too kind -- but I forgive you for it. It is a nice fault to have.

John V.

Ken said...

Speaking of being a great writer, I just received my first John Vigor book in the mail, "The Seaworthy Offshore Sailboat" and am finding it much to my liking. Very clear and easy to understand explanations of important subjects that are often over-explained or not at all. I knew I would enjoy it of course, especially after reading your Black Box Theory, which to me, is the best explanation of being "true" to your boat and yourself for the best chance of staying safe at sea, but had never thought it could be put in words as well as you have. Thank you!

Oded Kishony said...

Very nice bit of writing John. A book is just a collection of these things.
If you put all these blogs together and call it a book.


Kathy said...

Damn, John, at last I've found you in the cyber-sea. What a beautiful piece of writing.
Now how do I go about 'sharing' some of your blog entries on facebook?
We weep for good writing nowadays!
Oceans of love to you and June,
from Kathy across the seas (and years)

John Vigor said...

Well hello Kathy, how wonderful to hear from you. It's been a long time.
As for Facebook, very few people are actually interested in good writing for its own sake these days, so I write only for a small band of dedicated sailors. But if you wish to convert some of the Facebook heathen, go right ahead.


John V.