January 8, 2012

Taming that halyard

IF THERE'S ONE NOISE that drives me mad at night, it's the slap of a halyard against a mast. It has never happened on any boat of mine, because I take good care to tie the halyards back to the shrouds. But not everyone is so finicky, and there have been many times at anchor and in marinas when the maddening clank-clank-clank of a neighbor's halyard has woken me.

If I hear it before I climb into my bunk, I will go over and ask the skipper very nicely if I can help him stop the noise. Often they are surprised that I am affected. How people can ignore that noise on their own boats I don't know, but there seem to be plenty who can.

I'm not one of those who can sleep through noise. I wake up if the wind changes direction, or the current swings us around. I wake up if there are strange splashes outside on a dead-calm night. I know it's probably fish jumping, but I have to get up and have a look. If I don't get up, I keep listening — my ears are my night-time eyes — and if all the sounds seem right I go back to sleep.

I have to admit there are a few things I can tune out. The slap of the wires inside my own  my mast is one of them It takes me a couple of nights at the start of a trip, but after that it's okay. And yet the faintest slap of a neighbor's halyard always drives me mad.

Many a time I have climbed aboard a stranger's boat in a marina to silence a clanking halyard, and each time I've wondered about the ethics of it. I know I'm taking chance in a society that is trigger-happy about suing, but I plead in mitigation that it is unneighborly to leave your halyards flapping so that they will annoy neighbors. I also offer myself the solace that it is the seamanlike thing to do, as it would be to rescue a flapping roller jib in a windstorm, or to push back a fender that had popped up, so that the hull was rubbing against the pier.

I myself would be thankful if someone saved my jib or my hull for me, and I wouldn't dream of suing if something went wrong in a sincere attempt to put things right. The Good Samaritan laws can be tricky, I know, but there are a couple of things you can do to protect yourself if somebody's mast falls down after you tied back his halyards. First of all, make sure no-one sees you in action. If there are other people around, wear a wig, a ski-mask, or a balaclava helmet. Secondly, don't leave fingerprints. Wear gloves. I find the best kind are those gardening gloves with the little pimples.   

Today's Thought
As for doing good, that is one of the professions that are full.
— Henry David Thoreau, Walden.

An apple a day will keep the doctor away.  Well, at least your insides will be healthy if the insecticide is working.
(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


Mike Taylor said...

I’ve often gone on board other boats for this reason.

To hell with the ethics.

I will happily leave muddy footprints and use the tattiest, horrible, bits of brightly coloured string I can find to tie their frapping halyard.

Reed Smith said...

You sound exactly like me. I probably got a reputation as a curmudgeon for my activities tieing off halyards.

Salty Bob said...

John: Feeling like a dummy here. I don't have slapping halyards but I also can't picture your solution. "Tie them back to the shrouds?" Maybe use Bungee cords to pull the halyards toward the shrouds??

John Vigor said...

@Salty Bob:
I'm talking about outside halyards that are hauled reasonably tight and then cleated at the base of the mast. I take a small piece of line (or brightly colored string, like Mike Taylor), and, standing on the cabin-top and reaching as high as I can, I draw the line tightly from a shroud, around the halyard, and back to the shroud again. The idea is simply to pull the halyard out away from the mast.

I never use bungee cords for this. I have a thing about bungee cords. Don't like 'em. Don't trust 'em.

John V.

S/V Mrs Chippy said...

Sailors who complain about the sound of clapping halyards in marinas are sailors who are blessed with an enormous amount of time to sail.
For those of us lucky to get to the marina once or twice of month, the sound of the halyards brings an instant smile to our faces. It sounds as pure as the wind itself to me.
If I could play a CD of the sound at my desk or while I'm rocking one of my young children to sleep, I would.

Anonymous said...

John,do you remember how Don Street described slapping halyards? As skeletons copulating...