July 17, 2011

Breeding the perfect boat

I CAN’T THINK of anything that mankind has made that resembles a living creature more than a sailboat does. When you stop to look at a beautiful sailboat bobbing gently at anchor in a quiet bay, it’s hard to convince yourself that she’s not alive. It’s not difficult to believe that she has a soul — and is frequently as obstinate and hardheaded as any human being you’ve ever known.

Indeed, the language of the sea indicates how much like human beings boats can be. Sailors have always invested their craft with living characteristics, right from the early days of recorded history, when young girls were sacrificed and their heads placed on the bows of new boats at their launching. This was done to provide the boat with a soul, and the belief was that when the head eventually fell off the bow (usually on the maiden voyage, of course) it was a sign that the gods had accepted the sacrifices and the young girl’s soul had entered the ship. After a few centuries of this, and some rather withering criticism from the fairer sex, men stopped using young girls and substituted figureheads instead.

But the practice of regarding the boat as a living creature continued. Boats are still presumed to be female, at least in English-speaking countries, and designers try to draw them with pretty buttock lines. Boats breast waves and naval boats bear arms. Racers sail on different legs of a course. Hulls have bottoms and ribs, and sails have heads and feet. Blocks have cheeks . . . and so on.

All of which causes one to wonder what boats would be like if they were, indeed, living creatures and therefore by definition capable of reproducing themselves. Could we crossbreed different kinds of boats to make our personal favorites?

I mean, your boat might be good and seaworthy, and she might be really capacious and comfortable below. But she might not perform too well to windward and her sheerline might not win any prizes for aesthetics. What if you bred her with a slim, pretty little performer with a slim waistline?

What would we get if we crossed a Westsail 32 with a 30-Square-Meter, for example? How much would a bug-eyed Flicka be improved by an infusion of gorgeous genes from a Folkboat?

The large variety of dogs that have evolved from the basic wolf have shown us what selective breeding can do. And we can all dream, can’t we? Close your eyes and think about it. What two boats would you like to crossbreed to create your absolute favorite?

Today’s Thought
Life seems to me like a Japanese picture which our imagination does not allow to end with the margin.
— Justice O. W. Holmes.

Illiterate R Us
More proof that the people bringing us the news these days are no longer trained as journalists, or even capable of rational thought. Here’s a recent headline from Google news:

“NICE does not recommend ranibizumab for diabetic macular edema.”

I long for the simple days when headlines were comprehensible and the worst mistake was a typo, such as this famous one from The Times, London: QUEEN VICTORIA PISSES OVER BRIDGE

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #223
The ideal number of turns for wheel steering on sailboats, lock to lock, is roughly:
Boats up to 30 feet (if not feasible to fit a tiller): 1 to 2.
Boats 30 to 45 feet: 2 to 3.
Boats 50 feet and up: 3 to 5.
And lock-to-lock, remember, means from 35 degrees port rudder to 35 degrees starboard rudder.

“Why did you shoot your wife with a hunting bow and arrow?”
“I didn’t want to wake the kids, Your Honor.”

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


Aaron Headly said...

As far as wheel spinning goes, hydraulic gear is an interesting option. You sacrifice a little in the 'feel' category (hydraulic steering has, actually, no 'feel' at all), but a world of wheel-spinning options open up before you.

My little ketch has hydraulic gear, and I can — with the twist of a valve — change the responsiveness of the helm to whatever I desire.

On a long beat to windward you might want each tiny nudge of the wheel to change the angle of the rudder by an even tinier amount. So turn the adjuster counter-clockwise. Approaching the slip, coarser adjustments are often preferred. Crank the adjuster hard the other way and you're down to one rotation lock to lock.

So: if you don't mind that your helm is as dead as Morse code, try hydraulics.

Deb said...

Sorry John - I already have the perfect boat...sails great...looks beautiful...fits me...and best of all, it's paid for.

S/V Kintala

Oded Kishony said...

Nothing to do with boats but....
Violins also share human anatomical nomenclature such as: back, belly, neck, neck foot, chin, shoulders. And violins are also often referred to as female. Boats and violins seem to be linked in some mysterious way.

Oded Kishony violin maker