February 20, 2011

Lashing Bob to the mast

SOMEONE IN A YACHT CLUB BAR once asked me if I’d ever lashed myself to the mast in a storm.

“Not exactly,” I said, “and not me. But close. If you’ll buy me a drink I’ll tell you the story.”

He bought, and this is how it went.

When I was young I did a walkabout in Europe. I had a temporary job teaching English in Madrid when my old friend Bob Stephen passed through. “Why don’t we buy a boat and cruise the French canals?” he said.

“Because I don’t have any money,” I said.

“I have 100 pounds,” said Bob. “Can we get a boat for that in England?”

Well, we could and we did. It was a small sailboat, a 17-foot wooden centerboarder with a cuddy cabin, and as old as the hills. We sailed it around the English coast to Dover and set out to cross the English Channel to Calais, France.

Halfway across it started to blow and I became concerned about Bob. First, he had never sailed before. Second, he was very clumsy. I was concerned he might fall overboard. So, after I had reefed the mainsail I began to wonder how best to keep Bob and boat together in one place.

We didn’t have much in the way of safety equipment. No lifelines, no harnesses, no tethers. I did indeed think of lashing him to the mast to keep keep him out of harm’s way, but I compromised. I made him sit in the cockpit with a bowline under his armpits and a length of rope tied to the mast.

We arrived safely in Calais, but it wasn’t until a while later that the irony of that situation struck me.

Bob was a good few years older than me. He was a quiet, very modest sort of bloke, a librarian by profession, generous and helpful. Because he had a university degree, he was offered an officer’s commission during World War II but he turned it down. He elected instead to carry his rifle with the troops in the front lines fighting Rommel in the Western desert.

And here I was, a brash, young, uneducated knowall, lording it over him and lashing him to the mast. We laughed about it years later, but Bob, a true gentleman, insisted I had done the right thing.

And he reminded me that in perfectly calm water, while we were later tied up in the inland port of Eindhoven, in Holland, he did indeed fall overboard, nattily dressed in a suit and tie, when his foot got caught in the mooring line. “I was an accident waiting to happen,” he admitted. “And I did. I’m just thankful I didn’t happen in the middle of the English Channel.”

Today’s Thought
He that leaveth nothing to Chance will do few things ill, but he will do very few things.
— Lord Halifax, Works

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #162
If you double the size of your radar reflector, you increase its effectiveness 16 times. That’s because reflective performance is proportional to the fourth power of linear dimension. So, if we take a 12-inch reflector as standard, a 15-inch reflector will be about 250 percent more effective. Amazing, isn't it?

At long last the inventor of The Pill is going to be suitably honored. They’re going to award him the Nobelly prize.

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

1 comment:

Foster Fanning said...

A good story well delivered. Thanks for posting...