September 28, 2010

How average are you?

THE WHOLE OUTSIDE BACK COVER of the latest issue of BoatU.S. magazine is taken up with an advertisement for West Marine. This is significant because West Marine is the biggest marine retailer in the United States and presumably this ad was designed to appeal to their average customer — or what they would like to be their average customer.

Now West Marine has a reputation for being expensive. But it does have a wider choice than any other marine store and, to its great credit, it does not quibble about returned goods. If you buy something from West Marine, you can be certain that they will give you your money back, no questions asked, if there’s something wrong with it.

However, having blown their trumpet for them without compensation, I’d like now to investigate further this business of their average customer. Do they have it right? Do you see yourself as WM’s ideal customer? Well, let’s look at their ad.

It shows a man and a woman, probably in their mid-twenties or early thirties, sitting to leeward in the cockpit of a modern plastic sailboat. It’s heeling toward the camera under sail. The make is not identified, but it looks an awful lot like a Hunter 27 to me. The man has one hand on a large steering wheel. His right arm is draped casually over the cockpit coaming. The woman, in front of him, has one hand on a dog dressed in a strange-looking lifejacket. He is a thin, rangy kind of dog with long legs, the kind of hound you see in drawings of ancient ceremonies in Egypt, or the dogs you see snapping up scraps at medieval banquets. He, like the two humans, is looking forward with great expectancy, although I should point out that he is the only one with his tongue hanging out.

The woman’s right arm is also draped casually over the cockpit coaming. The man and the woman are, in fact, identical in their poses and their clothes — red sailing jackets and khaki shorts — except that the woman, with refreshing modesty, displays longer shorts than the man.

Both have clean and shiny hair, the woman’s being longer than the man’s and being swept back into a fetching long ponytail. The man has dark glasses that obscure his emotions, if any. The woman has no dark glasses, no glasses at all, in fact, which allows us to note that while she has a beautiful face and a clear complexion, she unfortunately exudes a hint of upper-class hoity-toity smugness. Perhaps this is an unfair comment on a perfectly sweet and totally unsmug lady, but I can only judge from the photograph.

Her left hand is hidden behind the dog and therefore offers no clue as to her marital status. She doesn’t look like the kind of woman who would do it with a stranger on a Hunter 27 on her first date, but you never know these days, and if I were West Marine I would have had her showing a fake wedding ring, even if she is a photographic model with no sailing experience whatsoever. Call me old-fashioned, but a lot of good Christian sailors will be wondering what sort of morals West Marine is promoting here. Sailboaters, in my experience, are very conservative.

Meanwhile, the cockpit in this picture seems very wide, but only long enough for two-and-a-dog fore and aft. There is a sausage-like lump on one of the wheel spokes. I don’t know what it is, but if it is marking the central position of the rudder, then this boat has weather helm, because the man has the sausage down at nearly 90 degrees from upright. I would expect weather helm with a boat that wide that far back, of course, and I’m sure the Hunter 27 does not disappoint in this respect.

One of the features that really jumps out at you in this photograph is the number of cup holders in the cockpit. Four are clustered around the central instrument pod, and two others cling rather self-consciously to the edges of the fancy little seats in the aft quarters of the pushpit. That’s three cupholders each for the man and woman, or two each if the dog is allowed to share equally.

I deduce from all this that I am not a West Marine average customer. God knows how we ever crossed oceans without cupholders in the old days. How did we ever manage to drink anything at all? Was our hair neatly combed and our faces clean and scrubbed? Did we ever smell as sweet and wholesome and newly showered as West Marine’s models appear to smell?

I’m afraid not. So now I have to ask: If that’s average, what am I?

Don’t answer that. You may not be very average your own self.

Today’s Thought
It is not given to the world to be moderate.
— Goethe

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #100
Hobbyhorsing. A sailboat that rears and plunges in the same spot in the sea while beating can be excessively slow and uncomfortable. She will also make excessive leeway. The rule is to move heavy weights from the ends of the boat (particularly the bows) toward the middle. Weight aloft is another contributor to inertia, the prime cause of hobbyhorsing.

“Allow me to present my wife to you.”
“No thanks. I’ve already got one.”

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


Aaron Headly said...

This is, admittedly, completely off-topic, but it's the only way I know of to send you links, so here goes:

[UK] Sailor crashes boat for 13th time

£30,000 in rescue costs. Sheesh.

Ken said...

Aaron certainly showed us a well above average, litter bug.

The Armed Canadian said...

Snort. I am a West Marine customer and have the rewards certificates to prove it. We need to make that ad realistic...

1) Reality dictates the helmsman is always to windward and his/her hand won't be on the coaming. It'll be bracing him along with his feet, holding onto a rail or on the mainsheet.
2) Helmsman is either bracing in the seat or standing. Sitting casually isn't happening for any period of time if you want to retain control.
3) Woman can be leeward. My wife does it all the time if only to relax using the entire cockpit seat. So that gets a pass.
4) The dog is looking forward because he sees a squirrel. Otherwise in the real world, doggie is down below, in a lap or preparing to leap from the bow with aforementioned woman in chase.
5) No gloves? Must like blisters. A lot. And anyone who's sailed more than twice is usually wearing sunglasses and a hat as well.
6) Need that windblown grimace. The combination of sun, spray and concentration.

I am most certainly their ideal customer. But I sure don't fit the images in the ad. If they want to show truth in advertising, it ought to be a couple with a puking dog in the cockpit, a torn doggie life jacket hanging from the rail where Fido tore it off, an older sailboat with a proper mix of worn-but-cared for and typically dock grime and the woman pointing backwards to head home, both with hair wind tussled, wet gloves and lines draped around the cockpit from use.

Somehow don't see that happening.

Nikolay said...

I'd like to put in my two cents if I may.

I believe, though I could be mistake, that those sausage like object on the wheel spokes are evidence of a folding wheel, such as produced by lewmar (
Hidden hinges on two opposing spokes and on the circumference of the wheel at the base of the spokes either side of the folding ones allow the wheel to fold. When extended, the aforementioned sausage like object screws forward over the spoke hinge thus locking it in place.