September 23, 2010

The freethinker’s telltale

THE WINDEX FAD has always puzzled me. How did it come about that a gimmicky and redundant plastic arrow found its way onto the truck of so many masts? What makes this wind direction indicator so irresistible to the majority of sailors?

If you own one, it is, of course, a sign that you are a malleable person who is content to follow the common herd. It marks you as a person who does not bother to think for himself. It reveals to the world that you are a passive follower, not an active leader. It also shows that you have a fair amount of money to waste.

The first thing I did when I bought my last boat was remove the Windex from the top of the mast. I almost didn’t buy the boat because of the Windex. I gave it to a cruiser who was setting off for Mexico, and he told me later that a bird sat on it and destroyed it. A fitting end, I thought. I wish more birds would sit on more Windexes.

The freethinkers among us cannot imagine anything more inconvenient than having to look upward at 180 degrees to see which way the wind is blowing. When you crane your neck like that hour after hour, a Windex is literally a pain in the ... uh, well, neck, I guess.

We freethinkers disdain the common herd and its Windex fad. We use telltales fashioned from 12 inches or so of old casette recording tape attached to the shrouds at slightly above eye level. The tape is light and lively. It glitters and draws attention to itself. And one casette of old tape salvaged from a garbage dumpster will last you a lifetime.

You quickly learn to judge the angle of the wind from experience, and, because you don’t have to squint into the air like a startled duck, you can also see all around you and avoid collisions with other vessels and the shore while you determine the direction of the wind. It’s handy on the backstay, too, for avoiding accidental jibes. Much better, in fact, than a Windex will ever be.

The only problem with magnetic recording tape is that it tends to slide down the rigging. I usually tie it on with a clove hitch, and then do three or four half-hitches above the clove hitch. But once you’ve established the best place for your tape, some silicone sealer allowed to dry on the wire will form a blob that will arrest the natural tendency of the tape to slide down.

Of course, if you’re a tried-and-tested genuine old salt, you can always tell the direction of the wind by the way the hairs bend on the back of your neck; but the rest of us who are not so talented need visible evidence, and that’s exactly what the friendly fluttering tape gives us, without the strain of peering myopically into the heavens for long periods.

Incidentally, I can recommend old Beatles tapes for telltales. Sergeant Pepper, in particular, seems to be very long-lasting.

(Full disclosure: Windex did not pay me to mention their name in this column. No money changed hands. Go figure.)

Today’s Thought
It was much like the Sideburns Fairy, who had been cruising about the city since 1966, visiting youg groovies in their sleep and causing them to awake with sideburns running down their jawbones.
— Tom Wolfe

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #98
Defining headroom. The generally accepted definition of full standing headroom in a sailboat is 6 feet 1 inch under the deck beams or headliner. Clear sitting headroom is adequate at 4 feet 0 inches to 4 feet 9 inches. Anything more, until you reach full standing headroom, is just an invitation to stand and hit your head.

“And what are your grounds for divorce?”
“Incompatibility, Your Honor. I want a divorce and my wife doesn’t.”

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


Aaron Headly said...

Amusingly, Davis makes a high-tech version of the cassette-tape tell-tale. $7.07-$13.72 a pair. They're orange, and they do gimbal, so I guess you're getting something for your money.

Ken said...

...guilty as charged...

They came with both boats.

Unknown said...

Must admit I like to have both. My cassette of choice for the past 15 years or so has been Led Zeppelin. The broken pink case has provided tape for many an ill-equipped racing boat.