August 30, 2011

Defining laminar flow

OLD WOTSISNAME’S girl friend, Gloria Mundi, is surprisingly knowledgeable about boats and sailing. Perhaps the most surprising thing about her is that she IS Old Wotsisname’s girl friend, considering how little he knows. But it takes all kinds to make a world. Whereas he has a solid concrete barge, Gloria owns a pretty little 25-foot wooden Vertue which, in a fit of funniness, she named Sick Transit.

Gloria hasn’t been sailing long, but she has absorbed a lot of theoretical knowledge. The other day, out of the blue, she e-mailed me with a simple question: “What is laminar flow?”

Well, we all know what laminar flow, is don’t we? Don’t we? Surely we do. It’s kind of how water or air sticks to the surface it’s flowing past. It’s kind of how friction builds up and slows a boat down. It’s kind of ... well, it’s not easy to explain, actually, so we’ll kind of paraphrase the wise words of the British scientist and sailor, C. Marchaj.[1]

Laminar flow, he says, is the pattern of motion of particles in a zone of water that a yacht draws along the surface of its hull. It’s a pretty thin zone. On the smooth hull of a racing yacht, it may be only 3 mm thick, but it consists of layers of water sliding over each other parallel with the surface of the hull.

On a hull like OW’s, coated with weed and barnacles, and pitted with flaked- off cavities of old anti-fouling paint, this zone is much thicker, and will greatly increase the drag, or resistance to the boat’s forward motion.

Now, the water immediately beyond the laminar flow becomes disturbed and gives place to a much thicker zone of turbulent flow that is also drawn along with the hull.

“It is the drag induced by these layers which causes the resistance to rise so sharply as the speed of a vessel increases,” says Marchaj.

There. That’s exactly what I meant to say, Gloria. He took the words right out of my mouth.

[1] C. Marchaj, Sailing Theory and Practice.

Today’s Thought
What fates impose, that men must needs abide;
It boots not to resist both wind and tide.
— Shakespeare, III Henry VI.

The Bishop, out for a walk, noticed a very small girl struggling to reach the bell push on a front door.
“Allow me to help you, my dear,” he said, ringing the bell for her.
“Outta sight, man!” cried the girl. “Now run like hell.”

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August 28, 2011

Kinds of chain

OLD WOTSISNAME was thanking his lucky stars that his boat is on the west coast, and not in the path of Hurricane Irene, when we got around to talking about all-chain anchor rodes.
“I get confused,” he said. “What’s the best kind of anchor chain?”

Well, he’s not the only one who’s confused. An all-chain rode is very comforting when you’re at anchor in a strong blow, and it has so many advantages over a rope rode that most long-distance cruisers use nothing but chain. Anchor line gets dragged across the sea floor a lot. Chain is resistant to chafe on rocks and coral, and chain can’t be cut by the propellers of those idiots in outboard dinghies who pass too close to your bow in the middle of the night.

There are basically three types of chain, proof-coil, BBB, and high-test.

Proof-coil is made of low-carbon steel and has relatively long links. Its breaking strength is between three and four times its working load limit.

BBB chain is made of the same stuff, but has shorter links. It fits better in windlasses and stows more neatly. It has the same breaking strength as proof coil.

High-test chain is stronger than the first two types. It has a higher carbon content, which makes it more prone to rust. Whereas the first two kinds of chain will stretch and deform before they break, the more brittle high-test is more likely to part without warning when its limits are reached.

All three types are sold with a coating of zinc, of course, which should keep rust at bay for a good few years.

Today’s Thought
A subtle chain of countless rings
The next unto the farthest brings;
The eye reads omens where it goes,
And speaks all languages the rose;
And, striving to be Man, the worm
Mounts through all the spires of form.
--Emerson, May-Day

“I see poor old Flossie is getting divorced.”
Yeah, she was the victim of an air disaster.”
“An air disaster?”
“Yeah — last time her husband went to San Francisco he came back by plane instead of by train.”

(Drop by Monday, Wednesday, Friday, for more Mainly about Boats.)

August 25, 2011

Cruising contemplations

ONCE UPON A TIME in the West Indies I met an ex-airline pilot who was also a sailor. He insisted that yacht cruising was far more complicated than flying a passenger jet.

“As a cruiser, you have to know so much more in so many different areas,” he said. “A pilot doesn’t have to fix the engines or make sure there’s enough food on board. A pilot doesn’t have to know how to repair or maintain anything. A pilot doesn’t have to worry about finding the right bottom paint. He need know nothing about electrolytic corrosion or the difference between deep-cycle batteries and starter batteries.”

I dare say he was right. One of the many charms of cruising is the way you find yourself learning all the different skills you need to be self-sufficient. It’s a feeling that takes modern men and women right back to the days of the great explorers under sail. Nothing daunted them.

When they were shipwrecked on a foreign shore they felled trees, built boats on the beach, somehow fashioned the thousand-and-one things they needed, and then carried on exploring. They went ashore for months at a time. They cleared land and sowed their seeds. When the crops were ready, they carried on exploring.

The world has changed, and modern cruising won’t make a whole Renaissance man or woman out of you — but it might get pretty close. For that reason I always advise young people to go cruising, even before they settle down in college. I tell them to cruise as far as they can for as long as they can and I assure them they’ll never regret it.

They need to do some homework first, of course, and they need to decide on a definite cruising objective: something we’ve talked about before. Then they should sail away. They’ll find help and friendly people everywhere. They’ll travel vast watery areas of our pretty planet where the voice of mankind has never been heard before, and maybe never will be again.

“Go cruising,” I tell them. “Nothing is more fascinating than cruising. Maybe nothing’s more important.”

Today’s Thought
I been a wanderin’
Early and late
New York City
To the Golden Gate
An’ it looks like
I’m never gonna cease my
— Carl Sandburg, folk-music lyrics recalled on his death 22 Jul 67

“What are you specializing in at medical school?”
“You’re nuts. By the time you graduate some other doctor will have found the cure for them.”

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August 23, 2011

The missing link

SOMETIMES I WONDER if there’s a small part missing from my brain. It’s the part that deals with heeling in a sailboat. Specifically, it’s the part that can understand why a boat with a low, spread-out sailplan should heel less than a boat with a tall, narrow sailplan.

I have read innumerable times that a gaff-rigged ketch with a bowsprit will heel much less in a wind of a certain velocity than will a high-aspect-ratio sloop. And for the life of me I can’t see why.

Now let me say straight away that I understand the extra leverage gained by a long tall mast of a sloop, compared with the stumpy masts of a gaff-rigged ketch. I accept, too, although with some cynicism and doubt, that the wind at the top of a mast blows harder than the wind at the bottom.

However, there can be no gainsaying the fact that it takes a certain amount of energy to move the mass of a sailboat through the water. That energy comes from the wind, and if the wind is abeam, or forward of the beam, it tends to make the boat heel to leeward.

Surely it takes the same amount of energy to make similar hulls heel over to the same number of degrees, no matter whether the sails are high or low, doesn’t it?

Obviously, the higher the center of effort, the less sail area is required to make the hull heel over. In the gaff-rigger, more sail area will be required to achieve the same amount of heel because the center of effort is lower, and the sails don’t have as much leverage.

In other words, the sails of the sloop are more efficient since they create the required amount of heeling energy with less sail area.

Thus, to say a low-lying rig will produce the same amount of energy (which translates to the same sailing speed) with a lesser amount of heel is nonsense. If the gaff rig doesn’t produce as much heel, it also lacks the ability to create energy to move the boat forward. In other words it lacks sail area. And that is surely not something to crow about as if it were the best thing since sliced bread. Whether your sail is tall and thin, or low and wide, it needs to produce the same amount of heeling energy.

If you were to take this questionable theory to its limit, a boat with sails a foot high and 100 feet long would cause no heeling at all. And very little forward motion.

Once a canard like this starts making the rounds, it gets repeated thoughtlessly by a thousand copycats eager to show off their new knowledge, and soon enough it becomes part of the accepted lore of the sea.

I really wish I, too, could accept it. I don’t like to stand out from the mob and be jeered at. But my sadly incomplete brain won’t let me. You won’t believe how I suffer.

Today’s Thought
The flying rumours gather’d as they rolled,
Scarce any tale was sooner heard than told;
And all who told it added something new,
And all who heard it made enlargements too.
—Pope, The Temple of Fame.

Click on your label
THERE ARE NOW more than 430 Mainly about Boats columns tucked away somewhere in cyberspace, but you can reach all of them by scrolling down to the bottom of this page to the “Labels” section.

There they are all presented alphabetically by topic, so if your particular interest lies in anchors or engines, British Seagulls or St. Elmo’s fire, you have merely to click on the label of your desire. Happy hunting.

“Old Flossie has found the secret of eternal youth.”
“Oh yeah, what is it?”
“She lies about her age.”

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August 21, 2011

Fright in the fog

MONDAY BEING THE 22nd day of the month of Foggust, and having read recently a number of stirring tales by sailors caught in fog on the shores of Washington state, I thought it appropriate to relate today one of my own experiences.

My wife June and I were on the last leg of a circumnavigation of Vancouver Island in our 25-foot Cape Dory sloop. We motored out of the tiny fishing port of Sekiu on the Strait of Juan de Fuca at 3 a.m. to catch the flood to Port Angeles. It was a clear, pretty night with brilliant moonlight. The lights of Sekiu and Clallam shone very bright to starboard as we set course to landward of the shipping lanes. June went below to sleep while I took the helm.

And then, after about 20 minutes, without any warning at all, we ran into thick fog. I slowed down to 3 knots. Thick tendrils of mist came swirling aft. I could see nothing ahead, and I could only just make out the dinghy trailing 75 feet astern.

I reduced speed to 2 knots, so as better to be able to hear signals from other vessels, and we idled along with another 2 knots of current pushing us along our course, as if we were shoving our way through a thick wrapping of cotton wool shining white from the light of the moon.

All of a sudden a dual-tone hooter blared out three times. I got the fright of my life. Without thinking, I immediately reversed course in case we were running to a ship coming our way. Then, after a minute of two, when the adrenaline was starting to wear off, I reasoned that it would be cleverer to head straight for the shoreline, into shallower water.

As I changed course, there were three more blares, and my heart started pounding again. I put the engine in neutral and stared ahead, wondering all the while what three blares could mean. It was the signal, of course, for “My engines are going full astern.” But it didn’t add up. Something didn’t seem right. The signal for a fishing boat or tug is one long, two short. Could this be a submarine or some other naval vessel?

After a while, and hearing nothing, I continued in toward the shore for 15 minutes, and then resumed our old course to Port Angeles, hooting dutifully once every two minutes, with no response.

June came on deck, having slept through all the action and we shared the lookout duty, though there wasn’t much point since the fog was as thick as ever and we had no radar or AIS.

“I bet it was a fishing boat,” she said. “He must have seen us approaching at the last minute on his radar and given three equal blasts in his hurry, instead of one long, two short.”

“Well, he left it very late,” I said, adding that judging by the intensity of the noise we couldn’t have been much more than 100 yards apart, even allowing for the strange effects fog has on noise signals. “If he’d been giving the proper signal, I would have heard him in good time and got on the radio,” I added.

Dawn came soon after, and the sun starting burning holes in the fog. Patches came and went. We found our flood tide running out on us, and soon we were making only 1 1/2 knots over the ground as we neared Tongue Point, west of Port Angeles. I calculated we should not make Port Angeles before the tide turned, but it would be favorable for a dash from there across the strait to Deception Pass; so that is what we did.

The wind was light, from aft, so we motored all the way, getting to Bowman Bay about 8 p.m. after 17 hours of non-stop motoring. We anchored in Bowman Bay near the east beach and collapsed in bed about 10:30 p.m. after having celebrated clinching the circumnavigation of Vancouver Island with a hot meal, a beer for me and a sherry for June.

Today’s Thought
The fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking
over the harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then, moves on.
Carl Sandburg, Fog.

After years of toil and research, Eli Whitney emerged from his workshop one night with great news.
“I’ve just invented a cotton gin,” he declared proudly.
“Big deal,” snorted his wife. “So who needs a fluffy martini?”

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August 18, 2011

That addictive feeling

ONCE IN A WHILE someone asks me if sailing at sea is boring. That’s a reasonable question because it might seem to the uninitiated that the ocean beyond the horizon is dull and featureless, not to mention very, very same-ish. But to tell the truth I have never found it so.
Like many amateur sailors (who, in the true sense of the word, go sailing for the love of it) I used to become totally absorbed and fascinated by the business of guiding a small ship across an ever-changing ocean.

There was never a time, when I was lying in my bunk below or propped up in a corner of the cockpit, when I couldn’t feel the hull surging and slipping through the water. I knew instinctively how she would react to a strong puff of wind. I could sense when a sail was not pulling properly and needed to be trimmed. I didn’t need to look at a wind gauge to know when to reef.

Anyone who has been sailing at sea for a while will feel this oneness with the boat, particularly if she is a reasonably small boat — say 40 feet or less in length. It’s like riding a bicycle. After a while, you don’t have to think about what you need to do, your muscles just do it automatically.

It’s a wonderful feeling, and highly addictive. When your little ship is heeled over, and rising and falling among the breaking crests and rolling swells of the open sea, your mind experiences nothing but deep pleasure. Many sailors succumb so entirely to the lure of blue water that having to close with the land and enter port becomes an irritating interruption to the real business of sailing. That is what happened, very famously, to Bernard Moitessier.

Beware. It could happen to you, too.

Today’s Thought
Description is always a bore, both to the describer and the describee.
— Benjamin Disreali, Home Letters

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #237
Today marks the end of the Rules of Thumb series. There are probably many more, but 236 of them seems quite enough, and No. 237 might quite appropriately be: Shut up while the going’s good.

“Blanche, were you faithful to me while I was away in Iraq?”
“Of course, Bert — lots of times.”

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August 16, 2011

The cruising yardstick

I LEARNED YESTERDAY that there is a yardstick whereby you can calculate whether or not you are a successful cruiser. In the modern vernacular, it’s called the fun-to-suck ratio, and the ideal ratio is 90 percent fun to 10 percent suck. (Incidentally, if you’re prone to Spoonerisms[1], you have to be very careful when describing this ratio.)

I found this interesting snippet of information on a blog written by Livia, who cruises with Carol on a 35-foot fin-keel sloop (probably a Wauquiez) called Estrellita 5.10b. Also in the modern idiom, they appear not to have surnames, but I can tell you that Carol is male and Livia is female.

Estrellita hails from Victoria BC, Canada, and is presently in San Francisco, as far as I can make out. Livia and Carol have been cruising for more than 400 days and their plan, according to Livia’s blog, is “to cruise as long as it’s fun. Our definition of fun is at least 80 percent-20 percent on the fun-to-suck ratio, with an ideal fun-to-suck ratio of 90 percent-10 percent.”

Well, far be it from me to criticize, but as a plan it’s not exactly precise. What’s fun, and what sucks, if you’ll forgive the expression, is very individual. I once sailed thousands of miles with a skipper who loved being in the cockpit in the cold and rain. He delighted in the feeling of rain dribbling down his back. For him, that was fun. For me in the identical situation, the fun-suck ratio was 0-100 percent.

The Pardeys, after 14 years of cruising, said that the success rate among people who set sail for a planned cruise of 6 to 18 months was 35 to 40 percent. Among those who declared they were “going off forever,” or said their intention was to sail around the world, the rate dropped to between 10 and 20 percent.

Now there is a difference, sometimes quite subtle, between sailors who set out to cruise, and sailors who set out simply to wander around aimlessly and enjoy the liveaboard lifestyle. I believe the aimless wanderers are much more likely to find themselves ashore, at odds with their companions and crew, in the shortest time.

I have always advised would-be cruisers to have an achievable goal, a concrete objective for the cruise. This saves you from days and weeks of frustrating arguments and “what-iffing” about where to go, when to go, and what to do there. It doesn’t have to be a grandly pretentious goal. You can simply follow in Slocum’s wake. You can collect postage stamps, or seashells, from five continents. You can take temperature measurements in mid-ocean for your local university. Your goal can be to deliver extra-large cooking pots to Pacific-island cannibals. Almost any excuse serves as a goal — one that will eventually end up as a list of ports and dates.

That will give you a feeling of achievement, which I regard as vital on an extended cruise. You’ll know when you’re half-way. You’ll know when you’ve arrived. And in the end you’ll experience the wonderful joy of accomplishment that the aimless wanderer searching vainly for the 90-percent fun will never find.

[1]It was Dr. Spooner who came into the room saying: “I must hush my brat, it’s roaring with pain outside.”

Today’s Thought
In all things, success depends on previous preparation, and without such preparation there is sure to be failure.
— Confucius, Analects

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #236
What’s the cost of cruising? Here’s what Lin and Larry Pardey reckon after decades of sailing around the world:

Take all of your everyday onshore living expenses and subtract your automobile costs, two-thirds of your clothing bills, all your rent or mortgage payments and your boat mooring costs. Add 33 percent to your food costs. The result is a close approximation of your cruising costs over an extended period.

Two small boys with fishing poles were peering into a small can.
“Gee,” said one, “How did you get your little sister to dig so many worms?”
“I bribed her,” said the other. “Out of every 10 she dug up, I let her eat one.”

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August 14, 2011

Handling your boat

A REGULAR READER called Nikolay has asked for “suggestions for exercises that can be done in more open water that would prepare one for a possibility of an engine-less pass through a crowded anchorage or marina.”

Well, I’m sure we’ve all experienced that feeling, Nikolay, as we’re approaching a marina or anchorage: What happens if the engine won’t start?

Now, some marinas won’t let you sail within their boundaries, but in an emergency they can hardly prevent you from doing so. I wouldn’t let that worry me.

The first thing to consider is whether you know what faces you inside the marina? Have you been there before? Do you at least have a large-scale chart? If not, you should probably call the harbormaster on VHF 16 or “Any yacht in X harbor” for a tow in, or at least some instructions. In you get no reply, consider anchoring outside, if possible, until someone comes along.

The next things to consider are whether there’s enough room inside the marina to tack, if you have to beat to windward, and which way the wind is likely to be blowing in there. Quite often the winds come in puffs from various directions and there may be large gaps of calms.
Ideally, you need the smallest amount of easily managed sail area that will get you to windward if necessary. If the wind is against you in a sloop, a reasonably large genoa should do the job, or possibly a reefed mainsail only, but not both. Get the main down and furled well in advance. For a ketch or yawl, choose a close-reefed mainsail only.
If the wind is behind you, you should be able to roll up your genoa quickly to slow down, or else ease the sheets so that the headsail flies ahead without filling. If you’re operating downwind under mainsail only, make sure you can drop the sail very quickly, perhaps sheeting first in so that the battens don’t hang up on the shrouds.
If the wind is from ahead, you can slow down more easily by luffing up to a jetty or alongside another boat, and you can slow the boat further by putting the helm hard over, quickly and often, from side to side as you approach.
But before you get anywhere near the marina, place fenders all around. Make ready bow and stern lines to fling ashore, or loop them over the lifelines so they can easily be grabbed from ashore.
Don’t forget, in all this, that a dinghy and outboard makes a good tug that can maneuver your yacht with precision once in calm water, especially if you make it fast alongside on one or other quarter.
Perhaps most important of all, have small anchor ready to drop over the stern, one that will dig in quickly, such as a genuine Bruce or a Danforth. Drop it as soon as you find a suitable spot inside the marina, a place where you can collect your wits and start figuring out your next step. And use it, also, if you find yourself approaching a seawall or jetty too fast.
As far as exercises in open water go, it always pays to practice before you find yourself in an emergency. When you’re away from everything, throw a fender overboard and luff up to it under sail to find out how much way your boat carries. Run down onto it, too, and see how much you can slow your boat down by letting fly the foresail and waggling the rudder. Find some reasonably shallow water and experiment by casting out the stern anchor and slowing the boat by snubbing the rode gently.
See how your boat maneuvers under a reefed mainsail only. Judge how much sail you need to maintain steerage way inside a marina, and how tightly you can turn, and whether you can tack and jibe. Find a combination of sail that will allow your boat to sail slowly, but under control, and practice getting sail down as quickly as possible. Never mind the mess. Don’t bother to furl the main. Just get it down, because that’s what’s pushing you forward.
There may be other considerations if you’re singlehanded, or if there’s a current flowing through the marina, but what all this boils down to, of course, is small-boat handling, something many weekend sailors never even think to practice. It’s a very satisfying skill that will give you great confidence in your ability to dock, or anchor, your boat under sail.

Today’s Thought
Practice is the best of all instructors.
— Publilius Syrus, Sententiae

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #235
There are eight motions of a sailboat at sea, according to naval architect and author Francis S. Kinney:
Broaching: Accidentally swinging broadside to the wind and sea when running free.
Heaving: Rising and falling as a whole with the seas.
Pitching (and scending): Plunging so that the bow and stern rise and fall alternately.
Pitchpoling: Accidentally tumbling stern-over-bow in a half-forward somersault.
Rolling: Inclining rhythmically from side to side.
Surging: being accelerated and decelerated by overtaking swells.
Swaying: Moving bodily sideways.
Yawing: Lurching and changing direction to either side of the proper course.

If boiling point is 212 degrees and freezing point is 32 degrees, what’s squeezing point? Two in the shade, of course.

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August 11, 2011

Defining the cruising sailor

EVERY NOW AND THEN someone will ask me what it is that defines a cruising sailor. And I will say:

Stand on a beach in Baja California at sunset and you'll observe human beings arriving in small craft, attracted like moths to a large fire of driftwood. These are examples of Homo sapiens, hairless vertebrates, mammals walking upright on two legs, engaging in a ritual of bonding and feeding on meat burned over glowing embers and drinking the fermented juice of mashed barley and rye.

These are not the hunter/gatherers of bygone years. These are the wanderer/spenders. A few are wanderer/spongers, but mostly they use what is called money — a way of storing work done in the past. These are, in short, cruising sailors.

The younger ones, when the flames of the fire grow low, will pair off and disappear into the bush where they will eagerly divest themselves and copulate. The older ones, particularly the males, will continue to drink from containers of glass or metal, talking all the while and rhythmically rocking on their heels until they fall over sideways in the sand, whereupon their grumbling females will drag them off, tumble them into their small boats and transport them back to the mobile floating shelters they call yachts.

This scene repeats itself on popular beaches in tropical regions all over the world — the Bahamas, the Florida Keys, the West Indies, the islands of the South Pacific, the lagoons of Madagascar and South Africa; wherever there is warm water deep enough to float a yacht.

This peripatetic subspecies of Homo sapiens is known to naturalists as "yachtsmen" and "yachtswomen" or "pleasure boaters."

They are an ingenious race. Like the Portuguese man-of-war and other lowly invertebrates, they have evolved a way to travel away from trouble, toward a more favorable environment, by using the wind. Over aeons they have developed a crude wing akin to a bird's, although neither as cunningly engineered nor as effective. It is, however, unique in the world of natural science in that it is held vertically rather than horizontally, conveying advantages unknown to the man-of-war, which is destined forever to drift downwind.

The yachtsman's wing, like a bird's, develops what aeronautical engineers call "lift" — a partial vacuum that sucks the boat forward and allows it even to sail against the wind. Thus, wherever the wind blows, and the water is warm, and sufficiently deep, cruising sailors abound.

And the thing that defines them, the thing that sets them apart from all other sailors, is simply that they don’t have to go back to the marina at the end of the day. They are where they are. And they don’t have to go to work tomorrow. Tomorrow they will be right where they want to be, waiting for someone to light the fire on the beach.

Today’s Thought
Perfect freedom is reserved for the man who lives by his own work and in that work does what he wants to do.
— R. G. Collingwood, Speculum Mentis

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #234
How big should a yacht’s storm sails be? The famous naval architect Olin Stephens, writing in Heavy Weather Sailing, says:

“The storm sails should not be too large. No more than one third of the mainsail area is suggested for the storm trysail and about five percent of the forestay height (squared) for the storm jib.”

Courtship is when a girl refuses to show her hand until you ask for it.

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August 9, 2011

Curing the cruising scruples

TO MOST SAILORS’ ASTONISHMENT, there are still some old-fashioned women who insist on being given a wedding band, or at least an engagement ring, before they will embark on a cruise for two under sail.

It therefore behooves every male skipper to keep handy a medium-sized ring of some metal resembling gold, fit for the wedding finger of the left hand of a female exhibiting a case of pre-cruise scruples.

In addition, the well-prepared skipper will keep handy the following script, which is to be read aloud in the privacy of the saloon before the cruise starts:

“Now hear this; now hear this. To all whom it may concern, let it be known that under the powers invested in me by the Merchant Shipping Connubial Bliss Act as captain of a vessel engaged in peaceful commerce and flying the flag of the United States of America, I do take this woman, Flossie Splendid, to be my lawful wedded wife, with all the duties that implies, for just so long as this voyage shall endure. I may now kiss the bride.”

The skipper should sign and date this script. It would be as well to make a copy for the lady, too, in case you are boarded by the Coast Guard, so she can demonstrate that everything is above-board. Once a lady has caught the scruples, she needs all the paperwork she can get.

Today’s Thought
If a man wants to leave a toothbrush at my house, he can damn well marry me.
— Michelle Triola Marvin. (On winning court case against common-law husband Lee Marvin.)

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #233
It’s a widely respected custom that if you anchor with two anchors you are moored, not just anchored. This is especially so if your anchors are arranged on separate rodes in such a way as not to be able to foul each other. There may be occasions when it would be legally beneficial for insurance or other purposes if your boat were moored rather than anchored.

How’s you love life been lately, Ethel?”
“Terrible. Either I get a man who’s so slow I want to scream, or else a guy who’s so fast I HAVE to.”

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August 7, 2011

When it just goes “click”

CRUISING SAILBOATS are rarely pure sailboats these days. There are very few that do not carry engines of one sort or another. The reason for this is that small-boat harbors and marinas have become so congested that most are not navigable under sail in anything much over 20 feet in length.

It is actually possible to maneuver a boat in a crowded harbor by warping and kedging, or even sculling, as sailors have done for centuries, but we have either lost the skill or the will, and certainly the patience, so we now find ourselves far too dependent on the engine to get us out to where we can use the wind to sail.

And to get the engine started in the first place, too many of us are dependent on the electric starter motor. It would be a great relief if we could start our engines by hand, instead of having to rely on electricity, and indeed a few inboard diesels can be started by hand, but they are necessarily of low horsepower and fit only for small yachts.

Now, there are other ways to start engines. One way is to use a small hand pump to pressurize a tank of air that will spin the engine vigorously for a couple of minutes. Think what a blessing that could be when your battery is flat or your solenoid has passed on to its final resting place. There are clockwork engine starters, too, that you can wind up slowly and easily before releasing them to spin the motor over.

But these mechanically simple starting aids are not common and they are therefore expensive, so the great majority of sailors are stuck with electric starter motors. They are obviously not ideal for boats, but because most boat engines are derived from the ones landlubbers build in huge numbers for their cars, tractors, and generators, so we are stuck with their method of starting them.

The one thing you can say for electric starters is that they don’t draw much energy from your battery. Surprisingly little, in fact, if the engine is working properly. For example, starting a medium-sized diesel will draw about 4,800 watts. That sounds like a lot, and it is, but even if you crank away for 20 seconds you’re taking only 2.5 amp-hours from the battery. That’s about half of what a dedicated CD player would consume if it were running 4 hours a day. And even with a modest 30-amp charge, your alternator will replace that energy in less than 10 minutes.

Nevertheless, this is not the best way to start a marine engine. Salt water and electricity don’t get on well together, and most of us could well do without that sickening feeling in the pit of the stomach when you turn the key and nothing happens but a little “click” that foretells all kinds of trouble and frustration to come.

Today’s Thought
Simplicity, most rare in our age.
— Ovid, Ars Amatoria

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #232
Just what is a yacht, exactly? Perhaps this is as good a definition as any. It comes from Chapman’s Piloting, Seamanship, and Small Boat Handling, and has the distinct advantage of brevity:

A yacht is a power or sail vessel used for recreation and pleasure, as opposed to work.

“Dr. Livingstone, I presume.”
“Yes. Do you have insurance?”

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

August 4, 2011

The great sea highway

A QUERY FROM A READER who signs himself (or herself) “Interested” says:

“Dear John, If I bought that nice little seagoing yacht you were talking about the other day, where would I be able to sail her to and what are the best things to see?”

Well now, if you’re really interested, let me explain something. When you place a boat in salt water she is on a highway that leads to every continent in the world. The road isn’t as obvious as a freeway, but it’s there all the same and waiting to be used.

Here are just a very few fascinating places the great sea highway leads to, and the most important things to look out for:

England: Villages like Loose Chippings, Cheatem Krooly, and Lesser Badmouth-in-the-Dell; fish-and-chips; and warm Newcastle brown ale.

Scotland: Haggis; bagpipes; men in skirts with hairy knees; and Orkney Blast.

Australia: Beach barbies; fearsome flies; and fine Foster lager.

New Zealand: Sheep; Pardeys; and Steinlager.

South Africa: Wild animals of course; and apart from the national rugby team, other wild animals in game reserves; braaivleis; cold Castle lager.

Holland: Cheese and clogs; botters and boeiers; and Amstel lager.

Germany: Sour krauts; happy Hamburgers; and Becks beer.

Mexico: Refried beans; sombreros; and Dos Equis.

Canada: Rockies; Mounties; and Molson.

Today’s Thought
After nine days ... I’d gotten used to the horizon, to the orderly rhythm of the shop, and all of a sudden the world came flooding back. I found myself looking at Nova Scotia and thinking about my mortgage.
—Sarah Ballard, Sports Illustrated, 1 Oct 84

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #231
Ever wanted to write about sailing? Here are the guiding principles, according to W. P. Stephens, boatbuilder and author of Traditions and Memories of American Yachting:

“A yachting writer should possess some sense of honesty and common decency, and he should first of all be a practical yacht sailor, familiar with handling and the rules. He should have a thorough knowledge of yachting history, as the present means nothing unless compared with the past; he should have some knowledge of the principles of yacht design and also of construction.”

Twinkle, twinkle little star,
How I wonder if you are
(Up above the footlights’ sheen)
Forty-nine or seventeen.

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

August 2, 2011

The joy of reefing

ONE OF THE LOVELIEST aspects of sailing concerns being in full charge of a boat in heavy weather. It’s wonderful to be at the helm of a responsive boat in a gale of wind, a boat that responds with fingertip control, rising buoyantly and firmly to oncoming waves, or surging confidently downwind on a white blanket of foam. In both cases, it’s the correct sail area for the strength of the wind that determines the amount of control you have, and therefore the ability to reef or changes to smaller sails.

And yet I can hardly believe the number of sailboats I see with no reef points on the mainsail — or, if they have rows of points, no reefing lines reeved, ready for action.

I am not talking about dedicated club racing boats, of course. They never reef if they’re just racing around the cans. And they are therefore never fully in control, either. The number of broaches and pitchpoles confirms that. No, I’m talking about family daysailers and ordinary weekend cruisers.

This lack of ability to reef always worries me. I regard reefing as an essential safety factor, especially in boats that normally carry a lot of weather helm. Many boats require to be sailed fairly upright if they are not to be overwhelmed by weather helm, but all too often, instead of properly reefed mainsails we see skippers simply spilling wind from the mainsail, using the so-called “fisherman’s reef,” allowing the sail to flog mercilessly and strain the mast and rigging to breaking point. It’s panicky, heartstopping stuff, and you can’t carry on for long like that.

Because of the problems with reefing the mainsail, many skippers start by rolling up the jib. In most cases, that shifts to center of effort aft, thus adding to weather helm and lessening what control the helm has left.

The ability to reef the mainsail quickly and easily is, as I said, an important safety feature, especially for singlehanders. And, without it, you’ll never experience that snug feeling in heavy weather of quiet power and control, that wonderful feeling of being in charge of a calm, powerful, and almost-sentient being when Nature is throwing its worst at you.

Today’s Thought
He that will use all winds must shift his sail.
--John Fletcher, Faithful Shepherdess.

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #230
Longitudinal cracks in wooden spars do no appreciably weaken a mast or boom. They are a sign that, in fact, that the wood is not “dead” or abnormally brittle. The rule of thumb is that if you want to fill the cracks for aesthetic reasons, do not use any material that sets hard, and make sure the wood is perfectly dry before you apply it.

“You should give up smoking.”
“It takes years off your life.”
“Nonsense. I’ve smoked since I was 16 and I’m 60 now. What do you say to that?”
“Well, don’t you see? If you’d never smoked you might be 70 by now.”

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