I WAS WATCHING a car review on television the other day when it struck me that there are no bad cars any more. And that made me wonder if there are any bad boats.
The car in question was a smallish family sedan, nothing special, but the reviewer had lots of good things to say about it.
My wife, a former journalist, pointed out the obvious: “They won’t let you drive their cars if you give them bad reviews.”
Well, that explained why there are no bad cars. But if you have an ear attuned to the special language of car reviewers, you can read between the lines. You pick up the subtle hints.
“Car enthusiasts might want a little more feedback in the corners,” he said cautiously. That meant the steering was sloppy, the suspension was soft, and you had no idea how much you could twitch the steering wheel before the darned thing fell over on its side.
“Acceleration is adequate for a car in its class.” That meant it was slow and underpowered. That’s what you call damning faintly, with praise just strong enough to win you another car to review next month.
Now when it comes to sailboats, who can remember when last they read a magazine review panning a new boat? Where does someone, specially someone unfamiliar with boats, go for advice about the virtues and vices of a particular model? Where are the waterborne Edsels lurking these days? Who’s churning out the yachting Yugos? Are there really no bad boats?
Those of us who follow these things know there are new production boats whose keels fall off from time to time. I know of one hull that split right down the middle at sea. I read about one whose engine fell off its mounts when the boat turned turtle in a storm. And we know that there are certain boats with well-known reputations for susceptibility to hull blisters.
In my book called Twenty Small Sailboats to Take You Anywhere, I list all the faults I could find out about each boat. These faults were mostly to do with sagging cabin tops under deck-stepped masts, rotting plywood or balsa cores in decks, or weak-kneed rudder fittings. But they were all old boats, well used boats, cheap boats, not models straight off the showroom floor. And the reaction from sailors who already owned those boats was interesting.
There were big headlines on the Internet when I aroused the wrath of owners of 20-foot Flickas. "Vigor is an Idiot," they said. It wasn’t because I criticized the boat in my book. In fact, the Flicka got a very favorable review. It was, after all, one of the favored 20 out of the many hundreds of boats I had to choose from. No, they objected because I mentioned that she was tubby and boxy, and because I characterized her as pug-ugly. Love is blind, of course. All boats are sleek and beautiful to their owners, and those who think otherwise are patently idiots.
My wife now suggests I write a book to help newcomers to sailing. She has the title already. Twenty Small Sailboats to Avoid at All Costs. I’m not biting, though. It’s still my opinion that there are Yugo yachts out there, but — and I’m actually ashamed to admit this — it will take a braver man than I am to point them out in print.
I have never found, in a long experience of politics, that criticism is ever inhibited by ignorance.
— Harold Macmillan
Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #144
When is your boat overloaded? The average displacement sailboat may safely be allowed to rise above, or sink below, its designed waterline by an amount equal to 1 percent of its waterline length. Thus, a boat with a 30-foot waterline can sink 3.6 inches.
“What happened to that horse you bought?”
“Did you sue the guy you bought it from?”
“Nah, too much fuss and bother. I raffled it.”
“But didn’t people complain when they learned it was dead?”
“Only the winner, and I gave him his money back.”