November 29, 2011

On coming last

CAN THERE BE ANYTHING WORSE than coming stone last in a sailboat race?

I had finished way down the list before in all sorts of boats from 30-Square Meters to sliding seat canoes,  but never, ever, had I come last.

But there we were on a perfectly normal day, a nice warm northeasterly blowing 10 to 15, no tide to speak of, flat water in the protected bay and a decent start at the windward end of the line — and everybody started to come past us.

It was the brutal simplicity that attracted me to the Mirror class. My boat weighed a little over 100 pounds, and there were hardly any strings to pull, just a gunter-rigged mainsail and a tiny jib with fixed fairleads.

What it boils down to in international one-design classes like this is the skill of the helmsman and crew — basic  human cunning, strategy, and experience.  It's like a cross between chess and poker on water.

We had always done well before. Won the offshore series outright, in fact. Came second in the nationals. Now this.

A boat skippered by a man we all called The Bumbling Idiot came up astern, then pointed up unbelievably high and promptly started to overtake us to windward.  I luffed him immediately, of course. Pure reflex.  He didn't respond. I hit the moron amidships and shouted "Go home!"   He smiled and shouted, "It's OK, John, don't worry about it. Carry on. I won't protest." 

HE wouldn't protest. For God's sake, HE wouldn't protest! I couldn't believe my ears.  I couldn't believe my eyes, either. He was disappearing ahead of us.

They all came past us on that first leg to windward, singly and in groups, going faster and pointing higher. The last one to overtake us was manned by two very large men, 250-pounders at least. Their jib was sheeted so tight it couldn't possibly contribute to forward drive. Their mainsail was backwinding at the mast and flopping all over the place at the leech. And still they came past, foot-by-foot they came past to leeward , two fat men laughing and chatting to each other and drinking beer out of tall cans, and when they hit our lee they simply bore off, gained speed, got ahead of us, and luffed up again to show us their transom.

By now, things were pretty desperate. "Sheet in the jib," I cried to my wide-eye crew. I slacked the mainsail until it, too, was flogging uselessly like the one ahead of us.  But nothing helped. We fell farther back. We finished last, five minutes behind the boat ahead, when the committee boat was already weighing anchor.

To my dismay, I never found out what went wrong that day. We checked the daggerboard and centerboard for plastic bags and seaweed. Nothing. The sails looked the same as they always did.  We weren't carrying any excess weight. It was a total mystery.  For a long time I  suspected the intervention of some supernatural power. Maybe someone like The Bumbling Idiot had consulted a witchdoctor and put a spell on us.

But it never happened again, I'm happy to say. We eventually won the nationals, and The Bumbling Idiot became the Class Secretary and learned some of the basic rules about overtaking to windward, and best of all we never had to luff him again because he was always behind us.

Today's Thought
If you go directly at the heart of a mystery, it ceases to be a mystery, and becomes only a question of drainage.
— Christopher Morley, Where the Blue Begins.

“I see your husband finally gave up smoking.”
“That’s correct.”
“It must have taken a lot of willpower.”
“Yes, I have a lot of willpower.”

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

November 27, 2011

The overhead problem

PEOPLE CONTEMPLATING buying small sailboats often ask: "Is standing headroom necessary?"

And my answer to that has always been: "Necessary for what? Your question is incomplete."

As is the case with most things to do with boats, it all depends. It depends on what you want the boat for. At least, it mostly depends on that. If you're looking for a boat to live on, and entertain your friends, then of course you need headroom. What would your glittering dinner parties be without full standing headroom? How could anyone pass the Grey Poupon without dipping his tie in the pâté de foie gras?

But if you're wanting a daysailer for pottering around the bay and picnics ashore, you don't need headroom. Unfortunately, though, these answers are often too simplistic because normally sane sailors sometimes fall prey to over-ambitious thoughts. "What if . . .?" thinks the owner of the 22-foot daysailer. "What if I wanted to sail her to Hawaii?"

I once owned a pretty Santana 22, one of Gary Mull's sweet little club-racing one-designs. I tarted her up and fitted her out for cruising, and told anyone who cared to listen that she was now a sport cruiser, with a bow roller for the anchor, reef points in the jib, and a proper white-oak Samson post on the foredeck. Her sleek lines allowed only sitting headroom down below, of course, and then not even that when I made the mistake of replacing the old 3-inch foam settee cushions with 4-inch ones. But my wife and I went exploring in her quite happily for weeks at a time for several years.  (Quite happily being a comparative statement, you understand.)

The younger you are, the less need you feel for headroom. But even then, I have to admit, it was tedious down below at anchor in bad weather. There was a lot of crab-like shuffling when you wanted to move from one settee to the other. Cooking sitting down, facing sideways, was difficult, and trying to put your jeans on required some rather ungraceful calisthenics.  On many small sailboats there is also an overhead problem in the head itself.  Several manufacturers provide opening hatches above the toilet, so that when you are ensconced on the throne to attend to your business you may stick your head up through the open hatch and survey the foredeck and the far horizon.  This becomes interesting in crowded anchorages in the early morning, when heads pop up all over, trying to look inscrutable, avoiding each others' eyes and feigning interest in some far-off bird or animal. A few coarse old hands will inevitably have the nerve to wave and say hello to friends straining nearby, but they always seem to be men. I've never seen a woman with her head out of the hatch pretending to be checking the weather or looking for lost children.

People will tell you that headroom isn't important at sea. They say there isn't any headroom anyway when the boat's heeled over and you are stretched out sideways.  But I don't believe it. I find it even more difficult to move around in a heeled boat without headroom. You have to scrabble around like a spider in a bathtub.

Headroom is not needed for seaworthiness, nor for speed, of course. And it's questionable whether it's necessary for safety. But it's certainly needed for comfort, and the lack of it can limit the duration of your marriage.  So my advice is to put up with lack of headroom in small boats that perform well under sail.  Go ahead and sacrifice headroom for looks and sailing thrills. Above all, don't buy a small boat with an ugly, unseaworthy hump of a cabintop added simply to gain standing headroom.

But if you really must have headroom because you feel life just isn't worthwhile without it, the answer comes down to money. Buy a bigger boat. Something around 25 or 27 feet will do it, unless you make your money by playing basketball, in which case you might need to start at 35 feet and work upward.

Today's Thought
If you need to stand up, go on deck.
— Uffa Fox

“Doc, my stomach hurts.”
“Let’s see ... hmmm, yes, you’ll have to diet.”
“What color, doc?”

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

November 24, 2011

After-dinner thoughts

WHEN YOU'RE STRETCHED OUT on the couch after your Thanksgiving dinner, and all your blood has rushed to your stomach to sate itself upon the newly arrived turkey and cranberry sauce, your mind does strange things. Mine asks: "How has evolution affected boats sailed for pleasure?"
    This is not the time for such questions, of course, but the mind is strangely insistent. "Are they any better than their predecessors?" it wants to know. "Is Nature on the right track?"
    Well, a few days ago I was reading a Patrick O'Brian novel in which Dr. Maturin comes across a very rare butterfly whose normal markings are completely reversed. This is how evolution works. It occurs with diversions from the norm. Genetic mistakes, in other words. And if the mistake works better, it becomes the new norm. If it's no good, the new species dies out. In nature, "good" refers to the ability of something to reproduce itself, and to eat other things in the food chain, and the ability to rise in the food chain. Or, in the case of plants, the ability to smother your neighbors, to steal their food in the ground, and their sunlight.
    In the butterfly's case, it was immediately pounced upon by Dr. Maturin because of its rarity. ("Oh well," Nature sighs with a shrug of her shapely shoulders. "That didn't work. Too bad. Let's try something else.")
    So how do yachts fit in here? In theory, bad yachts will sink and remove themselves from the gene pool. Or they will be so slow and clumsy to windward that their owners will take an ax and chop them to bits.
    But what distinguishes a good sailboat from a bad one? I can think of seven areas: ease of handling, seaworthiness, comfortable accommodation, seakindliness, speed, weatherliness, and affordability.
ØEase of handling? Lighter, stronger fabrics for sails and lines have made handling easier (along with fancier winches and line stoppers).
ØSeaworthiness? I'd call it a slight improvement.
ØAccommodation? Definitely better.
ØSeakindliness? Probably no improvement on the whole.
ØSpeed? If we leave aside the ultra-lights and multihulls, perhaps just a little improvement.
ØWeatherliness? Much better, through rig and keel design, and better sails.
ØAffordability? Yes, more affordable now because of mass production.      
    So I think we have to agree that on the whole sailboats have indeed evolved for the better. They're living longer, too. Fiberglass is turning out to have a very long life, despite a few outbreaks of bottom pox here and there.
    (Okay, brain? That enough for you? Can I have my snooze now?)

Today's Thought
I have called this principle, by which each slight variation, if useful, is preserved, by the term of Natural Selection.
— Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species.

Blessed are the pure in mind, for they shall inhibit the earth.

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

November 22, 2011

Giving thanks for boats

WELL, HERE IT IS, coming up to the end of November, and what is there to be thankful for? The usual, I guess. Wives. Husbands. Turkeys. Beer. Football. Television. And boats. Ah yes, boats.
When I was rummaging around in a 100-year-old copy of The Rudder magazine recently I came across a delightful little paean to the sailing ship. It was written by the editor, Thomas Fleming Day, and it was naturally a little one-sided and biased — faults totally eclipsed by the man's passion and his command of the language. I think it ought to be inscribed on a bronze plaque and put on display in a prominent pace to remind everybody, not just the sailors among us but everybody, of what we have lost, and what still remains that we can be thankful for. But judge for yourself:
"Unquestionably the sailing vessel is the most majestic and perfect creation of man. It above all his works embodies those perfections of detail which, taken as a whole, form a beautiful and inspiring object. He has never wrought in any other line a fabric which in its actions so mimics the graceful and delighting movements of a symmetrical and buoyant living thing. It seems to embody the very spirit of enterprise that created it. It confers beauty upon the element that it traverses and takes from every change of the seam sky and air a fresh grace and a more enchanting appearance. And when we realize what it has done for mankind: how in the shadow of its sails empire have sprung up and grown to greatness, how cities have flourished, races been nourished and houses in plenty and splendor; how it broadened the world only to bring its widely parted lands closer together, binding all in the golden bands of trade. When we recall who have trod the decks of these ships, who built, navigated and fought them, the master men of the ages, the welders and shapers of our present civilization. Thinking of these things we cannot but regret the passing of the sailing ship."
To which I can only add, 100 years later, that ships under sail still have not completely passed away, especially small ones, and for that we should be truly grateful.

 Today's Thought
All progress is based upon a universal innate desire on the part of every organism to live beyond its income.
— Samuel Butler
A Seattle sailor has invented a combined corkscrew, can opener, and bottle opener. It saves losing them overboard separately.

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

November 20, 2011

Engines of a by-gone era

From The Rudder, 1911

ONE HUNDRED YEARS AGO, when Thomas Fleming Day was the renowned editor of the equally renowned yachting magazine, The Rudder, there was a lot of interest in maritime engines for launches and sailboats.
Internal-combustion engines for yachts were still in the early stages of development in those days, of course, and manufacturers were springing up all over the place. There were literally scores of different makes of yacht engines to choose from. They weren't shy about proclaiming the merits of their wares, either. It's fascinating to read some of the claims they made.
Here are the texts of two advertisements from a 1911 copy of The Rudder:
No material purchased is too good, no workman is too expert, and no improvement device is too small, not to be utilized in building.
The engine is the heart of the launch, and heart disease in Motor Boats is most frequent, insidious and ofttimes appalling.
In owning a Speedway Engine, you fortify yourself with reasonable insurance against the malady, and


(Gas Engine and Power Co. and Charles L. Seabury & Co., Morris Heights, New York City)

("It Always Goes and Keeps Going until I Stop It")

(They) Are Ideal Yacht Engines

They are silent and powerful in operation and one of the surest and simplest engines to start and run.

While some men enjoy hearing the trip of steel rods, the snap of springs and cams, the smell of burning oil and grease--to one not accustomed to a roaring racket it takes all the pleasure out of cruising.

The nerve-racking moving parts have been eliminated in the LAMB--that's why it is an ideal yacht engine.

The absence of noisy or exposed moving parts is a revelation to many present engine users.

 (Lamb Boat and Engine Company, Clinton, Iowa/Lamb Engine Company of New York)
Today's Thought
Progress is the mother of problems.
— G. K. Chesterton
More sporting definitions:
Sumo wrestling: Survival of the fattest.
Fishing: The eternal try-angle.
Fencing: Getting a sword in edgeways.
Golf: Tee for two.
Surfing: A loaf on the ocean wave.
(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

November 17, 2011

All about props

NOW THAT WINTER is nearly upon us and the water is getting colder, Old Wotsisname is asking every passerby whether he should reduce the size of his prop. This is typical OW. He's just showing off. He wants people to know how clever he is. He read somewhere that because colder water is denser, propeller diameter should be reduced about 1 percent for every 10°F drop in water temperature,  based on a "normal" of 70°F.

I believe this is true. I also read it somewhere. In one of my own reference books, actually. But I don't go around shouting about it. My natural modesty forbids it. However, there's no doubt that many sailors show a serious interest in propellers and many of them go to great lengths to match their propellers to their engines for maximum efficiency and miles per gallon.

If you're one of them, you might be interested in some more propeller bric-a-brac I've collected over a lifetime of frustrating engagements with marine engines and propulsion systems:

Ø Increased diameter absorbs more power than increased pitch.

Ø A decrease of 1 inch in propeller diameter will increase propeller rpm by about 300.

Ø A decrease of one inch in pitch is good for an increase of propeller rpm of about 200.

Ø On auxiliary sailboats, the minimum clearance round the tips of the propeller blades is 10 percent of the propeller diameter.

Ø Powerboats need 20 percent or more clearance to avoid vibration.

Ø After installing a propeller on a shaft, the thinner lock nut should be put on first. This allows the larger nut, with more thread area, to assume the load when it is tightened up against the thin lock nut.

Ø For the greatest efficiency, the pitch-to-diameter ratio should be less than 1.4 : 1, except on high-speed boats doing 35 knots plus.

Ø A large-diameter propeller is always more efficient than a smaller one, except on boats designed for continuous operation at 35 knots or more.

Ø There is disagreement about whether to allow a sailboat's prop to spin when you're under sail only. New York naval architect Dave Gerr says a prop creates less drag when it's free to rotate. British author Eric Hiscock says the opposite: "Experiments made by P. Newall Petticrow Ltd. have shown that a 2- or 3-bladed propeller offers less drag when it is locked than when it is free to spin, and that the drag of a spinning propeller is greatest at about 100 rpm." Another renowned American naval architect, Francis S. Kinney, agrees with Hiscock. 

I myself think it varies from boat to boat, and all you have to do is anchor in a current, attach a fishing scale to your rode, and put the (non-running) engine in and out of gear. (I also have a theory concerning rotor blades on a falling helicopter, which definitely encounter more drag when rotating than when locked, but it proved highly controversial and caused much ill feeling and backbiting on one bulletin board; so I won't dwell on it here.)

Today's Thought
It is the darling delusion of mankind that the world is progressive in religion, toleration, freedom, as it is progressive in machinery.
— Moncure D. Conway, Dogma and Science.
Some sporting definitions:
Greyhound racing: The curs of the working classes.
Table tennis: The sport of pings.
Polo: Jockey hockey.
Weightlifting: Careless rupture.
Bull-fighting: He who hesitates is tossed.

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

November 15, 2011

Damp conversation

I NOTE WITH CONSIDERABLE INTEREST that there is now a handheld VHF radio that moves and shakes when it gets wet, like a shaggy sheepdog flinging spray everywhere after a swim.
It's an Icom, listed in the West Marine catalog, and it apparently has what's known as an AquaQuake water-draining function. I don't know how it senses that its speaker is waterlogged, but when it does, it shakes, rattles, and rolls until the water has been expelled, so that the glug-glug-glug of the Coast Guard on Channel 16, ordering you to heave to for potty inspection, comes through loud and clear again.
It would be nice to have a shivering radio like that, if only to impress my friends. Very little has evolved in the world of handheld VHF radios since DSC sneaked into operation, and that turned out to be more fanfare than practical use.
Not much fanfare has accompanied the introduction of the AquaQuake, but its significance should not be lost on amateur sailors. This is s radio that moves when it gets wet. It first thinks about things. And then it acts. It shudders until things come right again.
    What next might we expect in the line of electronic surprises like that? Could there be a kettle that will put itself on for tea while I furl the mainsail, or, more muscularly, a mast that will furl the mainsail while I put on the kettle for tea?
   I know there are already electric furlers and winches, but the point is they don't think for themselves. How about an anchor that winches itself up when it feels itself dragging, and resets itself without waking you up? How about binoculars that automatically focus on the yacht where the blonde lady with the long tan legs is obviously bored and looking for lively company? And binoculars that automatically take the shake out of your hand?
   Yes, yes, I know you can get binoculars that do away with a normal, everyday kind of shake, but this is a different kind of shake, an emotional sort of shake, a shake of anticipatory excitement that only special binoculars with testosterone sensors could cure.
Won't need any for myself, of course. Spoken for, lo these many years. I'm just thinking about you youngsters. No, no need to thank me. Always willing to help where I can.

Today's Thought
Women give us solace, but if it were not for women we should never need solace.
— Don Herold

“Have you recently seen a man with one eye named Gustav?”
“I’m not sure. What’s his other eye called?”
(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

November 13, 2011

Not tonight, Josephine

I WAS THUMBING through a sailing magazine yesterday, looking at pictures of boats for sale, when I came across a pretty little Freedom 21 dancing among  lively waves in a fresh breeze.
   She was advertised as a singlehanded catboat, owned by a devoted meticulous owner, and "incredibly upgraded."  If you needed to establish just how incredibly she had been upgraded, you were referred to a website that presumably would supply you with all the fascinating details.
   All you had to do was read the address of the website from the printed advertisement, type it into the address box of your computer's browser and click on "Go!" (Or an arrow or something. You know your browser better than I do.)
   All you had to do ... yeah, right. Here's the address of that website: https//
   I think you have to be pretty desperate to find out more about this boat to try to enter that in your address box, specially if you're a hunt-and-peck typist like me. Is this what the digital age has brought us to? Is this some kind of test of your eye/finger co-ordination, or a test of your powers of your patience and comprehension that you must pass before you can make a bid on this boat and become its new owner?
   In passing, I must note that the magazine charges $21 for 30 words or less for these classified ads. What I want to know is this: Is that website address counted as just one word? If not, how do they break it up?
   But the real point is that we have become so used to pointing and clicking to get the information we need from the internet that we have become quite spoiled. I can't imagine anyone going to the trouble to type that longwinded address into a browser unless they were absolutely desperate, really desperate, to know more.
   The art of advertising, as I understand it, is to snag the interest of the casual passerby who would never have dreamed of buying a Freedom21, and to excite a positive lust for possession that can only be satisfied by drawing out a checkbook and signing your name.
     I'm afraid this ad excites no such lust in me. Not tonight, thank you Josephine. Typing long website addresses gives me a headache.

Today's Thought
Advertising may be described at the science of arresting human intelligence long enough to get money from it.
— Stephen Leacock

Dekker in Durban
By e-mail from Chris Sutton, my man in South Africa:
   "A veritable armada of internationals has arrived in Durban. Many are slightly shellshocked by having to change their plans from transiting the Suez to the Cape of Good Hope. Hopefully they will enjoy South Africa and its attractions.
   "Laura Dekker, the 16-year-old Dutch girl arrived last week. I spoke to her yesterday when I went down to do some work on my boat. I asked her if she needed assistance with anything and all she wanted was to know where the nearest laundromat is. I didn't spend long enough with her to get much of an impression, other than that Laura is very self-assured and seems to be enjoying herself."

   * Well, I'm glad to hear Ms Dekker heeded my advice not to take the Red Sea route. She'll be much more at home going around the Cape, and much safer, at least as far as piracy is concerned. They also speak English in South Africa. Dutch, too. Sort of.

“I hope I didn’t say anything in my sermon to offend your husband, Mrs. Smith.”
“Oh no, you mustn’t pay any attention to him. He’s been a sleepwalker since he was kid.”

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

November 10, 2011

Laura's stowaways

WHAT A SURPRISE for young Laura Dekker at sea between Australia and Africa: she discovered an infestation of ants on board. She says they came aboard in Darwin, Australia.
   Laura, who is chasing the record for the youngest solo circumnavigator, is probably right about that. You can always tell Ozzie ants. They're the ones who line up, hold hands, and sing Waltzing Matilda when you take down the ensign at sunset. Like most Ozzies they are charming in their way and not at all reticent about expressing their views.
   Interestingly, they all disappeared for several days when Laura's boat hit rough weather. But when the wind and swells died down, "they came crawling out of hiding from every hole and crack imaginable," she wrote in her daily blog. "I find them in the most unusual places, like on my computer keyboard or on my maps ... Argh!"
   Argh, indeed. There is little more disturbing to the human stomach than the sight of hundreds of seasick ants throwing up all over the place. I don't know how she survived.
   And I don't doubt that when those ants recovered from seasickness the first thing they did was to send scouts out searching for the grog locker. I hope that Laura has one, and is willing to share. In the first place, Ozzie ants can be a dangerously surly lot when deprived of alcohol for more than two hours. Secondly, there is not a lot to fear from drunken ants, even if they end up in a riotous brawl, and it's better by far to be shipmates with happy ants than with spiteful ones just waiting to nip you in the billabong when you aren't looking.
   Finally, I must admit to one niggling fear: can Laura's claim to a record be in jeopardy? I mean, she's supposed to be sailing solo — and here she's openly admitting that she has hundreds of stowaways on board. I'm glad I don't have to be the judge of that.

Today's Thought
Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.
— Old Testament: Proverbs, vi, 6.

Only some of us can learn from other people’s mistakes.
The rest of us have to be the other people.

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

November 8, 2011

Allowing for leeway

I SOMETIMES WONDER how many of the sailboat skippers I see blithely cruising among the San Juan Islands are making any allowance for leeway. If you don't make any allowance, there can be a surprising difference between your chosen arrival point and the actual place where you end up. And that's even without taking the tidal current into account.
  Leeway is sideways drift, of course, caused by the wind hitting the side of the boat and sails. All boats make leeway to some degree on all courses except two: when the wind is either dead ahead or dead astern.
  You can assume that a close-hauled sailboat will make between 3 and 5 degrees of leeway in a 7-knot breeze, and 8 degrees or even more in 20 knots. So, if you want to maintain a set course over the ground, to avoid reefs and rocks, you must head your boat toward the wind to offset leeway.
   It's not always easy to estimate how much leeway you're making, but you'll get a fair idea if you look aft along the centerline of the boat and compare that imaginary line with the line of the wake. If you have a hand bearing compass it will give you the difference in degrees, so you'll know how much correction to apply next time.
   Powerboats often make more leeway than sailboats because they present a greater area of topsides to the wind, compared with the amount of hull under water. But it doesn't affect their course over the ground so much because the sideways component is mostly a small percentage of the powerboat's forward speed.
   In any case, it's wise to be aware of leeway because it means your boat is not actually going in the same direction she's pointing at. It's not at all obvious, but she's actually crabbing along to leeward, and if you don't compensate by pointing higher, you might be in for a nasty surprise.

Today's Thought
To be conscious that you are ignorant is a great step to knowledge.
— Benjamin Disraeli, Sybil.

Little shots of whisky
Little drops of gin
Make a lady wonder
Where the hell she’s bin.

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

November 6, 2011

Gas or diesel?

IS IT WORTH buying a new auxiliary engine for your good old boat? Or should you just put up with the constant need for spares (if you can get them) and ever-more-costly  repairs? And if you buy a new engine, should it be gasoline or diesel?
   Well, the average gasoline boat engine runs for 1,500 hours before needing a major overhaul. The average diesel engine runs for something approaching 5,000 hours under the same conditions — that us, roughly three times as long.
   Of course these are very general rules of thumb because the life of an engine depends on how it's used, abused, and maintained. But I should add that these estimates come from a man whose full-time job it has been for many years to persuade boaters to replace ailing used engines with new ones.
   Cynically, therefore, we may assume that his figures concerning the life of engines are a little conservative. According to the same man, the typical gasoline boat engine gets a "good" 1,000 hours of operation. During the next 500 hours, minor troubles become increasingly likely, turning into major troubles as the 1,500-hour mark approaches.
   It's interesting to note that an automobile engine runs an average of about 3,000 hours — about double the running time of of a gasoline boat engine — before requiring an overhaul at 100,000 miles. But most of the time, boat engines work harder than do car engines, and under worse conditions.
   A well-maintained gasoline boat engine run under the best conditions might indeed run for more than 1,500 hours without a major overhaul, but many will get fewer hours than that because of the atrocious conditions they suffer — salt air, damp bilges, intermittent operation, and all too often, pure neglect.
   Diesel engines are built more heavily, and to finer tolerances, than are gasoline engines. They thus accept more abuse and often deliver 8,000 hours of hard work in  fishing boats before requiring major surgery. At this rate, in theory, a well-maintained diesel auxiliary will last the life of the boat, because the average boat owner logs 200 engine hours a year.
  Unfortunately, in practice things are rather different. Engines like to run long and steadily. The shorter the running time between stops, and the longer the idle time between runs, the fewer the hours they deliver before needing to be carted off to the engine emergency room.

Today's Thought
Life too often presents us with a choice of evils, rather than of goods.
-- C. C. Colton, Lacon

“What jobs are hippies best fit for?”
“Holding on your leggies.”

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

November 3, 2011

Dump that roach

ONE OF THE PEOPLE I taught to sail once asked: "Why do mainsails have battens when foresails don't?"
   I replied with the shocking truth. "To make more money for sailmakers," I said.
   The fact is, you don't need battens in a mainsail. You only need battens if the sail has a roach. So what's a roach? Well, if you draw an imaginary straight line from the masthead to the outer end of the boom, any sail area that protrudes aft of that line is a roach. And the problem with a roach is that it's floppy. It has to be kept in line with the rest of the mainsail by stiff battens of wood or plastic, otherwise it will do no work, flap in a breeze, and generally drive you crazy.
   But it's not necessary to have a roach. Your jib or genoa works perfectly well without a roach. It has a slight scoop in the opposite direction, as a matter of fact.  It's what's known as a hollow leech. So why don't mainsails have hollow leeches?  Well, some do, actually, and they're usually found on cruising boats. Racing boats have roaches because they want that extra sail area up high where the wind blows harder, and they benefit mostly from the roach when they're sailing off the wind.
   But there are good reasons why you shouldn't have a roach. It's not needed when you're beating because the great majority of the sail's lift then is generated at its leading edge, the strip next to the mast. And boats that generate weather helm on the beat will positively benefit from losing some sail area so far aft. They will not suffer at all from having no roach and no battens.
   But most sailmakers are driven by racing boats and racing rules, which also affect the design of cruising hulls, of course. So the great majority of coastal and deep-sea cruisers end up with battens in their mainsails simply because it's de rigeur for racers.
   Sailmakers confirm that battens add considerably to the maintenance costs of any sail. Short battens crease and bend the cloth just forward of the pocket, where persistent chafe and flexing wear out the sailcloth. Full-length battens, besides adding considerably to the cost of a mainsail, put considerable stress on the leech and luff ends of their pockets.
    It's easier to handle, stow, and bag a hollow-cut mainsail, and you don't have to worry about the roach clearing the backstay when you jibe.  Next time you're considering a new mainsail, give some serious thought to dumping the roach. Your sailmaker might have more difficulty making his Mercedes payment, but you won't be sorry.

Today's Thought
Cut your cloth, sir, according to your calling.
— Beaumont and Fletcher, The Beggar's Bush

“Waiter, do you serve crabs here?”
“Sit down buddy, we serve anyone.”

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

November 1, 2011

Tuning the rig

EVERY YEAR toward the end of the sailing season Old Wotsisname makes the same request. He wants to borrow my Loos tension gauges. After twelve months of straining to keep his masts upright, his shrouds and stays have stretched somewhat, and he wants to set about screwing up the turnbuckles to the correct tension.
   Now, while I admit I don't like lending my best tools, I'm not a total curmudgeon about it. I do lend my expensive gauges to OW, and I do eventually get them back after I've nagged a few times. But there has to be a limit.  Why should I be the perpetual sucker? How many years is this going to go on?
   Perhaps not many more. I have found a method of tensioning a sailboat's standing rigging that doesn't need gauges. It may well take a few years to soak into OW's rather dense gray matter, but there is hope on the horizon.
   It's a convenient fact that that the elastic stretch of stainless-steel wire increases in rough linear proportion to the load, up to about half of the wire's breaking strength. Therefore, stretch is a good indication of load.
   In fact, when a 33-foot-long 1 x 19 wire (of any thickness) is loaded to half its breaking strength, it will stretch 2 inches. Little wonder, then, that the leeward shrouds sometimes look a little slack.
   Nevertheless, you can use this principle to tune your rig. Here's how:
   Take all the load off a wire and mark on it as accurately as possible with tape or a marking pen a length of 1,980 mm.  Do this anywhere along the wire, where it's most convenient.
   Now tighten the turnbuckle and measure the length again as you do so. You will find that every extra millimeter of stretch (up and above 1,980 mm) induces a load in the wire of 5 percent of its breaking strength.  In other words, an increase of 2 mm, with a space between your marks now of 1,982 mm, indicates a 10 percent load.
   You can find out the breaking strength of the wire from the manufacturer's or retailer's catalog, and from that you can calculate the load in actual pounds or kilograms if you like. But it's just as easy to reckon that a moderate pre-load for the average rig is about 25 percent of the breaking strength.  In which, case, you need to stretch your marked length by 5 mm to 1,985 mm.
   That's it.  All you need is a tape marked in millimeters. I think I'm going to have to buy one for Old Wotsisname.
Today's Thought
Often ornateness goes with greatness;
Oftener felicity comes of simplicity.
— William Watson, Art Maxims.
“Doctor, I think I’ve got water on the knee.”
“No problem, I’ll just give it a tap.”
(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)