May 17, 2011

When not to get mad

ONE OF THE GREATEST VIRTUES connected with sailing is not getting mad when another sailboat overtakes you. It’s not easy to remain calm and let that little smile of insouciance play on your lips. It’s not easy to keep the knuckles from going white while gripping the helm, or the teeth from grinding themselves down to the gums.

But the sailors who can do this most successfully are those who have come to an agreement with themselves about what they expect from a boat. Most often, they are cruising sailors who, knowing that all boats are compromises, have decided that seaworthiness, interior space, ease of handling and seakindliness are more important to them than speed and the ability to point higher than anybody else.

This is not to say that all cruising sailors have the steely self-control not to hurl insults at the boat that overtakes to windward, but on the whole they are more even-tempered than the excitable racing types who, having spent large fortunes on boats and gear with the express aim of going faster than anyone else, may be excused for getting their wimmies in a froth when some rotten so-and-so comes past them.

The point of all this is to know before you buy a boat exactly what you want to do with it, and then to find out what kind of boat will fulfill your requirements. If you omit these vital steps in successful boat purchase you will surely be disappointed, and your boat will join the thousands that sit in their slips week in and week out.

Modern wide, shallow boats with fin keels go fast and have bountiful accommodation. Old fashioned skinny boats with low profiles, pretty sheerlines, and modified full keels, will look after you in a storm at sea.

Fin-keel boats will be faster in light weather, because at low speeds, the majority of resistance comes from skin friction, and they don’t have much skin down there. But at higher speeds, when the wind pipes up, the main resistance comes from making waves, so old fashioned designs are at less of a disadvantage, and in fact will often outperform beamy shallow boats to windward in choppy seas. The skinny oldsters can carry more sail and they can slither snake-like through the chop, while the fin-keelers bang and slam and pound their speed away.

One of the most experienced small-boat seamen was the British ocean racer and publisher, K. Adlard Coles, who said: “A good heavy-displacement yacht is at least as equally able as a light one at sea. I used to be a light-displacement fan, but I have been converted to heavier displacement by Cohoe III, which I have found to be a better sea boat ... the principal difference is the immeasurably improved windward performance in really heavy weather. She can stand up to much higher winds.”

Today’s Thought
The race by vigor, not by vaunts, is won.
— Pope, The Dunciad.

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #200
On average, tacking to a windward destination increases the distance traveled by 40 percent of the straight-line distance. In heavy weather, it also means a decrease in speed of 33 1/3 percent and an increase in crew discomfort of 66 2/3 percent.

“Basil, you’ve been drinking beer again!”
“No my love, not a drop of booze has passed my lips.”
“What have you been up to, then?”
“I’ve been eating frogs’ legs at the club.”
“Oh, sorry, it must be the hops I can smell.”

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


Aaron Headly said...

As the owner of a gaff-rigged ketch, I never have to feel bad as I get left behind on a beat. In fact, the passing boater, in his bland cruiser, often expresses some measure of jealousy.

And when I gobble up the same boat on a broad reach, my cheerful wave tells the whole story. 500 square feet of sail over 8,000 pounds of sharpie hull makes for entertaining reaches and runs.


Chris Harris said...

John, I'm surprised that you haven't commented on the whale that dismasted one of the boats at the start of our little race to Victoria, B.C. I thought maybe you'd follow up on the article you wrote about last July when the same thing happened in South Africa. What's going on with these whales? Anyway, I'm glad no one was killed or injured in the incident. Ironically, the boat's name is L'Orca. They put out a mayday call at the time probably because they couldn't assess the damage immediately. Do you think that was the right call under the circumstances?

John Vigor said...

Chris, I think that only those who were present on that boat could judge whether a Mayday call was justified. I can't really comment because I don't know all the real circumstances.

John V.