December 12, 2010

A curse on big wakes

LIKE MOST PEOPLE who travel slowly in sailboats, I have often been angered by the irresponsibility of powerboaters who drag large, dangerous wakes behind them.

Let me say straight away that this is not a rant against powerboaters per se. There are considerate powerboaters and inconsiderate ones, and while I’m quite sure the former vastly outnumber the latter, the memories of the latter are what stick in my mind.

I’ll never forget something Robert Hale of Seattle once wrote. He is the well-known and respected publisher of the annual Waggoner Cruising Guide for the waters of the Pacific Northwest of the USA. In the 2003 edition he wrote:

“Shortly after going from sail to power, I came to understand what I call the First Rule of Powerboating: Never Look Back. Because, if we powerboat skippers would look back, we would be appalled at what we do to other boats.”

Coming from a powerboater, that was a very honest and refreshing statement. It actually inspired me to invent a curse for sailors to use when faced with enormous wakes that inconvenience other boats and even threaten to capsize or swamp smaller vessels.

It’s a curse that might help you to vent your fury harmlessly in circumstances where you might otherwise be tempted to reach for your rifle and let Nature take its course. This, in fact, is one of four examples in a chapter devoted to curses in my book How to Rename your Boat — and 19 Other Useful Ceremonies, Superstitions, Prayers, Rituals, and Curses.

By the way, I do understand that this is not the best season for serious cursing. I do understand that I should be spreading bonhomie and the warmest of Christmas greetings in a touchy-feely sort of way, but I’m not quite that much of a hypocrite yet. I don’t wish a Happy Christmas to obnoxious creators of dangerous wakes, or a happy anything else for that matter. This what I wish for them:

Woe to you, thou beslubbering speedhog!
May your filters choke and your injectors freeze.
May every ill befalling a boat bring you to your knees.
May you run out of whisky, and ice cubes, too.
May there be no more pleasure for you or your crew.
May all your bronze tarnish and your varnish all flake.
May your batteries die and your propellers shake.
May your anchors drag and your bilges overflow.
May you rot in a hell where they make you go slow.
Curse you! Curse you! My curse be upon you wherever you go!

Today’s Thought
I sent down to the rum mill on the corner and hired an artist by the week to sit up nights and curse that stranger.
— Mark Twain, A Mysterious Visit.

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #132
Boats are not tied up. They are made fast to the shore. The old rule of thumb states that a boat makes fast alongside a jetty, pier, or wharf. She makes fast in a slip, and to a buoy or pile.

It’s too bad that by the time we get old enough not to care what anybody says about us, nobody’s saying anything about us.

(Come back every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


Matt Marsh said...

I'm a powerboater, John. And I agree completely.

You see, my powerboat only weighs about half a tonne, crew included. She's flat bottomed. So every time 45 feet of gold-plater goes past at 17 knots (they never cruise fully on plane, of course, because that would require looking up from the chartplotter now and then) we have to slow to idle, change course to take the 4' breaker on the bow, dry off the bow crew and check for parts that got rattled loose.

I have encountered some very considerate big-powerboat folks, though. They'll give a horn signal (one or two whistles) a few hundred metres back, then they'll either slow to idle and pass a few boat-lengths away or speed up (fully on plane, where the wake is much smaller than at 17 knots) and pass a hundred or two metres away. I wish more were like this.

I do see one problem with your curse- many of these ills automatically befall such boats, which frequently seem to have high-strung, finicky engines crammed into tight spaces, and with build cost pressure leading to corner-cutting in any place you can't see. (The whisky thing, of course, remains a valid curse.)

Ken said...

I was single-handed making my way north motor sailing about 10 miles offshore, when a strong diesel stench wafted from down below, it was about 11:00PM. A quick look showed me the return line had a pinhole burst. I was directly outside Ocean City, Maryland so I decided to go in, anchor, do a repair and get some sound sleep. Ha!

After a rubber gasket and hose clamp quick fix I headed in. The entry buoys and lights were all in front of an amusement park under full swing. Yikes, that was tough finding the jetty. After I got in and turned the corner I found about a 3 knot current wanting to sweep me into a bridge. Dropped primary anchor quickly praying my engine didn't fail. I started dragging, maneuvered over and dropped second anchor all the while a neighboring boat is yelling at me that I'm to close.

I seemed to be holding so I checked the tides and realized they shouldn't turn for about another 4 hours so I ignored him let out a little more scope and did a marine-tex repair on the return line.

Now it's about 2:00 AM I'm beat, I nodded out for maybe an hour in the cockpit. I was so scared of that bridge when I woke up, I needed to move. The marine-tex hadn't had a lot of time so I decided to wrap my repair back in rubber and a hose clamp and get out of Dodge.

With the muddiest anchors I've ever pulled up in my life partially secured to the fore deck, I figured I'd rinse when I got in the channel, I headed out.

Your post was about big wakes right?

In the channel, one after another, maximum wake speed they came. These were 40 and 50 foot giant Hatteras fishing boats going out for the day. They showed me, a little 30' sailboat, not one split second of mercy in that channel. Muddy chain, rode and anchors were banging and thrashing all over the foredeck. I could barely stay in the cockpit. At one time, two boats, one on each side were racing to get buy me. Their wake put my mast over so far that it almost smashed into the next boat that was passing me. I was screaming bloody hell and at any time I had a free finger it was flying towards them. They can be thankful I wasn't armed.

That, is my big wake story!