December 30, 2012

Too beautiful for human eyes

OBSERVANT BOAT OWNERS will have noticed a growing fad down at the marina: boat burkas.

A recent discovery that nicely varnished teak incites uncontrollable passion in human beings has apparently led to a large-scale movement to cover up all sailboat brightwork.

The latest issue of Good Old Boat magazine features an extensive article explaining how the author sewed Sunbrella covers for the Dorade boxes on her boat.  Apparently the Dorade boxes on deck, so  lovingly sanded, sealed and varnished by her husand, were made of sexy teak and needed to be hidden from public view.

 You may think it strange that someone would go to considerable expense, time and trouble to cover up teak that was sealed and varnished at considerable expense, time and touble with the express intention of attracting the admiration  of passers by. You may think that if a highly polished teak Dorade box were to be hidden beneath a boat burka, it might as well be made from third-grade knotty pine and left unfinished. But you would be wrong.

Apparently there is something you are missing here.  Perhaps beautiful teak Dorade boxes are creating dangerous passions in impressionable people.  Or perhaps there is a deeper psychological reason behind the burka movement — perhaps the owners of covered-up teak have realized that when something is deliberately hidden in this way, the viewer automatically imagines it to be the most beautiful and desirable object he or she has never seen.

I myself have been struck by the sight of a Pacific Seacraft sloop with every bit of teak woodwork above decks carefully burka-ed.  Whole gunwales were covered with Sunbrella fabric, carefully buttoned down with dinky little fastenings every few feet. I was not, however, overcome with a desire to rip it off and feast my eyes. I must admit that what struck me about it was the waste of time doing the varnishing in the first place, and the small fortune the canvas shop must have made from all that fancy work.

I must admit, further, that the meager amounts of well-weathered teak that have adorned some of the boats I’ve owned were never the objects of excited admiration from passers by. Rather the opposite. In fact, hiding them from public view with boat burkas would have been the decent, merciful thing to do. But luckily for me, boat burkas weren’t  in fashion back then.

Today’s Thought
There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.
Francis Bacon

“Do you know a man with one eye called Falconetti?”
“Dunno. What’s his other eye called?”

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

December 27, 2012

Length tells it all

ANYONE WHO SAILS can form a fairly accurate mental impression of a yacht by establishing its length. A 20-footer is probably a daysailer, for instance, and a 35-footer is probably a coastal cruiser.  That’s not always the case, but as generalizations go, it’s pretty solid.

According to author Douglas Hunter, and yacht designer Steve Killing, hull length has such an impact on the cost, usefulness and speed of a boat that it should be one of the first decisions made by the designer and the prospective owner.

In their book, Yacht Design Explained, the two men maintain that boat length permeates the mindset of the purchaser of a boat, and also of the production builder — much more so than displacement or sail area.

Because we all relate far more to length than to any other criterion of yacht design, the relationship between the length and the price of production boats can encourage what the authors call “absurd marketing strategies.”  I think we all know boats that fit that description, with models being given names that don’t reflect their actual size.

“The boat advertised as a Blue Ocean 42 may actually be only 40 feet overall,” Hunter and Killing say, “but the name creates visions of safe and comfortable ocean passages at a reasonable price; conversely, the Zippy 38 (actually 40 feet overall) is promoted as ‘a fast boat for its length.’ Of course it’s easy to be faster than all the other 38-footers when your boat is two feet longer.”

The obvious benefit of a large boat is the space it contains, but the authors warn that there are instances when longer doesn’t necessarily mean better. “A 40-foot sailboat can be much more difficult to handle than a 30-footer. The area and weight of the sails increase, which means that not only are they more difficult to carry up on deck and hoist, but sheeting them in also requires greater force. Jobs like moving the traveler to windward, which can be done by hand on a small boat, require a winch on a large boat. A retired couple might appreciate the below-deck amenities of a larger boat, but could find sailing it overwhelming or at least tiring and inconvenient.

“And with a larger boat, even the cruising ground is surprisingly altered. The larger boat often will expand the territory, since longer voyages are now possible on larger bodies of water. But what happens when the boat arrives at its destination? A 45-foot cruiser, while spacious and fast, won’t be able to enter many fine little anchorages due to the increased depth of its keel.”

Hunter and Killing say many cruisers find that a boat in the range of 35 to 39 feet offers the best trade-off — small enough to be ably handled by one or two, but large enough for a family of four to cruise with some comfort.

A few feet of extra length in a sailboat make a disproportionate difference in speed and accommodation (as well as price) but they also make a great difference in the stresses and strains of boat handling and the cost of repairs and maintenance. For those reasons I have always advised cruising couples to go even smaller.  For me, 39 feet is getting too big.  My preference is between 29 and 35, with a heavy-displacement 30 or 31-footer being the ideal size for a cruising couple.

But, as Hunter and Killing point out, for every sailor there is an ideal boat length.  And it has been my experience that trying to convince people that I am right, and they are wrong, is a thankless and pointless task.  So I don’t argue. I just bite my tongue and leave them to find out for themselves by making expensive mistakes. 
Things would be so much easier if people would just listen to me and do things my way.

— Yacht Design Explained, Steve Killing and Douglas Hunter (Norton, New York, 1998)

Today’s Thought
The first requisite of any practical boat is safety, the second comfort, and the third speed.
— Edson B. Schock

“Do you know your blood type?” the doctor asked the blonde blood donor.
“Yes, of course, doctor.”
“Well, what type are you then?”
“I’m the sexy type, doc.”

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

December 23, 2012

How little water do you need?

HOW MUCH FRESH WATER do you need on an ocean passage? Or, to put it a better way, how little do you really need?

If you’ve ever spent any time in the desert you’ll be aware that most town-dwellers are profligate users of water. It’s a tendency we have to learn to overcome very quickly when we put to sea because sailboats can’t carry much fresh water. It’s simply too bulky and too heavy.

For as long as I can remember, experts on public health have urged us to drink at least eight glasses of water a day, but I can assure you from personal experience that when you go cruising you can get by on far less, even in tropical climates. According to The Captain’s Guide to Liferaft Survival (Sheridan House) you can last indefinitely on a pint a day in temperate climates, two pints in the tropics.

My family and I once averaged just under half a gallon a day each on a six-month voyage in a 31-footer, and that included water for cooking and bathing, though I should add that we bathed in salt water and then used a small garden spray filled with fresh water to wash off the salt.

Nevertheless, for planning purposes it’s wise to count on a minimum of one gallon per person per day at a speed (for most medium-sized yachts) of 100 miles a day.

You’ll very likely average more than 100 miles a day, and that will automatically give you a welcome reserve and great peace of mind.

Finally, don’t ever be tempted to drink sea water unless you have plenty of fresh water to wash it down with.

Today’s Thought
Whenever someone asks me if I want water with my Scotch, I say I’m thirsty, not dirty.
— Joe E. Lewis, Is Salami and Eggs Better than Sex? (Alan King and Mimi Sheraton)

Festive greetings
HERE’S HOPING you have a Merry Christmas or a Happy Holiday, whatever suits you best.  I hope Santa Claus has been checking out the marine stores and filling his bag with nice little nautical surprises for you. Best wishes to you all, and, with any luck, a peaceful and prosperous New Year to follow.

OUR local police department reports that they found an abandoned car containing a case of whisky bound up in a big red bow. They haven’t traced the owner yet. They’re still working on the case.

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

December 20, 2012

New sails, old materials

THIS IS THE SEASON when sailmakers hope you will bring in your sails for a little tender care. It’s also the season when a lot of us start wondering if we need new sails, and if so, whether we should go the whole hog and order laminated sails made of exotic materials.

In Sven Donaldson’s excellent book Understanding the New Sailing Technology the author points out that the majority of today’s sails are still being made from woven sailcloths that are, at best, only marginally improved over the materials in use during the 1970s.

Although Donaldson’s book was published in 1990, his statement still holds good. The new technology of molded and laminated sails is going strong, of course, but comparatively few sailboats are using sails of Spectra, Kevlar, Mylar and other exotic materials because of their higher cost and reduced life.

Dedicated racing boats are the major customers for high-tech sails because of their greater efficiency. But if you don’t mind dropping behind by a few seconds a mile, cheaper nylon and polyester (Dacron, Terylene) sails will do just fine, accept more knocks, and last longer.

While improvements are being made all the time to the fibers, weave, design, and construction of “ordinary” sails, especially with the help of computers, it’s likely that laminated sails and glued panels will point the way to the future for all sailboats.

But don’t rush things. The future isn’t here yet. Sailors are ultra-conservative, and for very good reasons.

And here’s a final thought to chew on: One-design racing has shown that laminated sails aren’t consistently faster than new sails made from firm-finished Dacron sailcloth.

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, Notebooks

Little Mary woke at 2 a.m., called for a glass of water, and demanded to be told a fairy story.
“Hush, sweetheart,” said her mother, “your father will be home soon and he’ll tell us both one.”

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

December 18, 2012

Heed the call

I’VE JUST BEEN READING Kenneth Grahame’s delightful book, The Wind in the Willows, for the umpteenth time. It is, of course, a paean — a hymn of praise for all that is good and beautiful in the world, and particularly among the little animals and countryside of England. All amateur sailors should know the book because of Mr. Rat’s timeless quote about “messing about in boats,” but it struck me that this book also espouses the philosophy of many cruising sailors who were brave enough to make the break with the comforts and security of modern life in order to fulfill the human soul’s longing for adventure, new places, new faces, and experiences that only comes only to those with the guts to launch themselves into a new life.

In the book, a wandering seafaring rat is describing to Mr. Rat the port toward which he is traveling:

“There, sooner or later, the ships of all seafaring nations arrive; and there, at its destined hour, the ship of my choice will let go its anchor. I shall take my time, I shall tarry and bide, till at last the right one lies waiting for me, warped out into midstream, loaded low, her bowsprit pointing down harbour. I shall slip on board, by boat or along hawser; and then one morning I shall wake to the song and tramp of the sailors, the clink of the capstan, and the rattle of the anchor-chain coming merrily in.

“We shall break out the jib and the foresail, the white houses on the harbour side will glide slowly past us as she gathers steering-way, and the voyage will have begun! As she forges towards the headland she will clothe herself with canvas; and then, once outside, the sounding slap of great green seas as she heels to the wind, pointing South!

“And you, you will come too, young brother, for the days pass, and never return. Take the Adventure, heed the call, now ere the irrevocable moment passes! ’Tis but a banging of the door behind you, a blithesome step forward, and you are out of the old life and into the new! Then some day, some day long hence, jog home here if you will, when the cup has been drained and the play has been played, and sit down by your quiet river with a store of goodly memories for your company.”

Today’s Thought
Journeys, like artists, are born and not made. A thousand differing circumstances contribute to them, few of them willed or determined by the will — whatever we may think.
— Lawrence Durrell

“Johnny, why is your nose bleeding?”
“A boy punched me, Miss.”
“What boy?  Would you recognize him if you saw him again?”
“Yes, of course, I’d know him anywhere. I’ve got his ear in my pocket.”

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

December 16, 2012

When is a boat too tender?

MOST SAILBOATS lacking in initial (or form) stability lose their tenderness as they heel and become progressively (and reassuringly) stiff. But if a boat fails to start resisting heeling after she has reached an angle of 15 degrees or so, and continues simply to lie over and dip her gunwale in reasonably moderate winds, she’s probably too tender for safety. If she won’t stand up to all working canvas in 15 knots or so, don’t hesitate: seek professional help, preferably from a naval architect.

One of the paradoxes of boat design is that the boat that seems to be tender initially will likely be more seaworthy than the one that is stiff to start with. That’s because most capsizes are caused by wave action, not wind, and when a boat is upside down she will recover more quickly if she is reasonably narrow and has a deep, heavy, ballast keel. A wide shallow boat, while stiff to start with, tends to remain upside down a long time if she is capsized by a wave.

Liveaboard cruising boats often lose stability imperceptibly as their owners gather possessions over the years. This causes a boat’s ballast keel to become an ever-smaller percentage of displacement.

The situation can be improved substantially by lowering weights wherever possible. These include internal ballast, books, water and fuel tanks, batteries, outboard engines clamped to the aft rail, life rafts, dinghies, provisions, and anything higher than the boat’s center of buoyancy.

Keep your spars and rigging wire as light as possible. That goes for the sails and fittings, too. Hanked-on foresails improve stability more than roller-furling sails because they can be lowered in bad weather.

Incidentally, it pays to lessen weight aloft. Because of the effect of leverage, every ounce off the top of the mast is worth a pound added to the keel.

Today’s Thought
Remember that there is nothing stable in human affairs ...
— Isocrates, Ad Demonicum

Some of us believe a girl’s family tree doesn’t matter, as long as she has the right kind of limbs.

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

December 13, 2012

How best to buy a boat

PEOPLE WILL OCCASIONALLY ASK ME for advice on buying a boat. I can’t understand why. I don’t know anything more about buying a boat than the next man, perhaps a lot less.  What most people don’t realize is that I have twice bought boats by mail, sight unseen (well, just photographs). As a matter of fact, on both occasions the deal worked out fine, but it’s not something I would recommend to anyone else.

What I do urge people to do is find out everything they can about the kind of boat they want, and then go hunting for one.  It’s not necessary to wait until a particular boat is advertised for sale.  The idea is to find the boat first, and then persuade the owner to sell it to you. That’s the method I’ve used for every boat I’ve ever bought, apart from the two mail-order brides.

You need to be patient if you adopt this approach, but it works more often than not.  You simply find out who owns the boat you desire and then you start bugging him to sell her to you.  If you’re confident enough, you can sweeten the offer by agreeing to take her off his hands as she stands.  No haul-out, no survey, no sea trials.  It’s an offer few owners can resist.

The minute you make your first approach, something starts ticking in the owner’s mind.  Consciously or sub-consciously, we all think how nice it would be to own a bigger boat, a faster boat, a better boat, a boat with a new engine . . .  One of the things that stops us is the thought of all the hassle involved with selling our present boat.  If someone comes along and offers to take her off your hands with no fuss, no bother, your scheming mind sees a direct pathway to the boat you’ve always dreamed of. You start looking around. Opportunities arise. Boats you’d never thought of owning before suddenly become possible.

I worked on one owner for six months before he would sell me his pretty little C&C 28-footer. He enjoyed her, and she wasn’t for sale, but that little worm was eating away inside his head , and I encouraged it with the occasional phone call to ask how things were, and if he was ready to sell yet, and if I could have first dibs if he was.

Then one day, out of the blue, he called and said: “Okay, you can have her.” He was a lawyer, and he sent me a letter, written by hand on one page, that was our sales agreement.  I sent him a check, and that was that. It was a wonderful way to do business, and I loved that boat.  I only sold her because I needed a slightly bigger boat to cross an ocean.

I found the one I wanted. The owner was up to his ears in the middle of a refit.  “Will you sell her to me?” I enquired. 

“Can I stop working on her?” he asked. 

“Yes,” I said.

 And once again, that was that.

Today’s Thought
There is no such thing as “soft sell” and “hard sell.” There is only “smart sell” and “stupid sell.”
— Charles Brower, President, Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn.

A New York scent manufacturer has invented a man’s cologne that drives women crazy. It smells like money.

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

December 11, 2012

In praise of full keels

JUDGING BY THE NUMBER of collisions the Vendée Globe racers are experiencing, there seems to be more debris in the oceans than ever before.  With only a third of the race over, several racers have sustained damage and inconvenience from floating junk.  Keels and centerboards have been damaged. Rudders, too. And one brave skipper even had to dive overboard in the frigid Southern Ocean to free his keel from an abandoned fishing net.

When I hear of these mishaps, I am reminded of one of the great benefits of the old-fashioned cruising yacht with its full keel and attached rudder: the fact that it will ride over a net, or a large clump of weed, and not get tangled with it.

A few years ago I was returning under power to my home port at night in my 27-foot Cape Dory, a very traditional Carl Alberg design.  With only a mile to go, I discovered  to my astonishment and dismay that the entrance to my marina was totally blockaded by a dozen or more fishing boats with long floating nets strung out. Apparently, the September salmon run had begun.

I was tired after having had to motor all day, and keen to get home after a long singlehanded cruise.  I was also angry at the arrogance of fishermen who presumed they could disrupt other traffic when and where they wanted.

Their nets were badly lit and there was no way to tell how they lay in the water. So I thought “To hell with it,” and I kept steaming straight toward them.  My arrival caused no little excitement among the fishing boats.  Bright lights started flashing at me and loud shouts of concern came floating over the water.  I don’t doubt they were busy on the VHF, too, but I wasn’t switched on. I didn’t care.

That good old Cape Dory rode over all their nets under power at 5 knots, dragging her 10-foot fiberglass dinghy behind her.  No nets got caught up on the keel.  No nets got tangled in the propeller.  No harm was done to anybody or any thing. When I passed the last fishing boat and they turned a searchlight on me, I’m afraid I stood up and gave them the stiff finger. It made me feel a lot better.

God knows how long I’d have been hove to outside my home port, waiting for that band of brigands to haul their nets and clear a path,  if I’d been in one of today’s sailboat designs, with a fin keel, detached rudder, and exposed propeller. Sailboat design has moved on in many ways, but there is still a lot to be said for the old-fashioned full keel.  And the ability to face fishing nets with impunity and give fishermen heart attacks isn’t the end of it.

Today’s Thought
What we call “Progress” is the exchange of one nuisance for another nuisance.
— Havelock Ellis, Impressions and Comments

“Johnny, did you give your goldfish some fresh water?’
“No Mom, they haven’t finished the water I gave them last week.”

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


December 9, 2012

A salt and battery

 AN OLD SALT IN FLORIDA says he wants to go cruising in The Keys with his 20-foot daysailer, which he had used so far only as a round-the-buoys racer. “I want to add a tiller autopilot,” he says, “and of course that will mean putting a battery somewhere. Where, do you think?”

Well, on a small boat like yours a battery weighing 50 pounds or more is probably best amidships where it won’t put the boat down by the bow or the stern. But batteries are always a problem to place on a boat. The trouble is, they need to kept as low as possible to maintain stability, but they also need to be kept as high as possible to avoid bilge water and engine heat (if you have an inboard) and to be accessible.

Batteries need some babying, too. They need to be protected from extreme cold, salt spray, and hot sunshine. They need to be in an area that is well ventilated so if any explosive hydrogen gas is generated during charging, it will dissipate quickly.

Because batteries like to make sparks, they should be kept well away from areas where cooking gas or gasoline fumes can collect. And, naturally, you must be able to fasten them securely so they don’t shift when your boat heels or (gawd’elpus) turns turtle.  They must also be kept in a container that is proof against acid spills, otherwise you might find unwanted holes in your hull.

A battery used to start an engine is another problem. Because of the high current draw of the starter motor, the feed cable should be short and fat. In other words, the battery should be as close to the starter motor as possible.

It should also be as close as possible to its charging source, so that constant small charges from solar panels, for instance, don’t get absorbed as heat in long runs of thin wiring.

On top of all the other requirements, a battery needs to be available for easy inspection, testing, and (if needed) topping up with distilled water. As you will have gathered, it’s impossible to fulfill each and every one of these requirements, so you have to fall back on the age-old sailors’ solution:  compromise and common sense. I wish you good luck.

Today’s Thought
You shall have joy, or you shall have power, said God; you shall not have both.
— Emerson, Journals

Two oldtimers met in the yacht club bar.
“Saw a school friend of yours the other day,” remarked one. “Asked to be remembered.”
“Who was it?” asked the other.
“Can’t recall his name. Doddery feller, grey hair and long beard.”
“He’s an imposter! I never went to school with anyone with grey hair and a beard.”

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

December 6, 2012

Ethics of singlehanded ocean racing

LESS THAN A MONTH into the race, at least seven of the 20 Vendée Globe round-the-world singlehanded racers have fallen by the wayside.  So far there has been no loss of life, but I can’t help wondering how long this class of boat will last, considering the lack of seaworthiness.  Among the casualties suffered by these multi-million-dollar racers were a dismasting and one case where the keel simply fell off.  And there were two of these Open 60 class sailboats that collided with fishing boats while their skippers were sleeping, one in the cockpit and one down below.

Technically, the whole race is in contravention of the International Rules for the Prevention of Collisions at Sea, which require every vessel to keep a proper lookout. That’s something a singlehander can’t do, for he or she has to sleep some time or other. So I would imagine that an Admiralty Court would award substantial damages to any boat engaged in fishing that was struck at 20 knots by a sailboat.  I hope the sponsors of those racing boats have deep pockets.

Sleep is definitely a problem for the Vendée Globe sailors, especially in the early days of the race, where shipping lanes are congested.  Several boats were penalized for transgressing the international rules regarding one-way traffic systems and causing hazards to other shipping, but I would imagine they were there because sleep deprivation had affected their ability to make rational decisions.

With practice, I’m told, you can get sufficient sleep in short stretches. Many singlehanders sleep for 20 minutes at a time, keep watch for 20 minutes, then sleep another 20 minutes, and so on.  On a normal cruising yacht, 20 minutes is taken to be roughly amount of time for a vessel appearing on the horizon to reach you, but, of course, if you’re doing 20 knots or more yourself, as the Vendée boats often do, the collision time is greatly shortened.

To state it briefly, lack of sleep on a singlehanded sailboat is dangerous. Recklessly dangerous, possibly, because without sleep you lose efficiency.  Your temper becomes frayed and decisions are difficult.  All this makes you a danger to others at sea and those who might be sent to rescue you if the worst happens.

I think there ought to be a lot more discussion about the ethics of singlehanding, particularly singlehanded racing.  Much as I admire the guts and determination of the Vendée Globe racers, there is something else that needs to be discussed:  in the old days, if a singlehander caused a collision, his or her own small, slow-moving  craft was likely to come off the worse. So breaking the Rule of the Road was largely condoned. The rule was rarely, if ever, enforced.  But nowadays, we have flat-iron-shaped 60-footers moving at lethal speeds under autopilot only and capable of wreaking all kinds of havoc and damage.  We need to think about whether this makes sense.

Today’s Thought
No one when asleep is good for anything.
— Plato.

Two sweet young things were returning home late after a party when they discovered they’d lost the key to their apartment. They found a ladder, though, and put it alongside an upstairs window that had been left open.

One of them started climbing up the ladder and chirruped: “You know, I suddenly feel like a fireman.”

“Oh for goodness’ sake!” hissed her friend. “Where are we going to find you a fireman at this time of night?”

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

December 4, 2012

Writing about cruising

MANY WORLD CRUISERS, especially the younger ones, start sailing before they have enough money in the cruising kitty. So they’re always looking for ways to earn a dollar or two in a foreign port. Now and then somebody will ask me if it’s possible to write articles and books about cruising, to pay for a round-the-world trip. 

Well, it’s possible. A handful seem to manage it at any one time, but I’d say it’s next to impossible. Lin Pardey, one of the best known modern cruising authors, once told me she reckoned you’d need six or seven books in print before you could live off the proceeds.

If you write a book that sells for, say, $15 you’ll likely receive publisher’s royalties of about 10 percent. A boating best seller in the USA is generally taken to be one that sells 10,000 copies or more. So the most a new author is likely to make, over a number of years, is $15,000 a year. And remember, the field is very crowded with would-be authors willing to accept less than you, just to get their names in print.

Magazine articles are a total crapshoot. I have sent articles to two of the largest sailing magazines in the United States and waited more than a year for a reply. Even though I’m an established professional writer, and even though they’ve used my stuff before, my submissions went into the slush pile.

The payment magazines offer for an article of 2,000 words with pictures varies from $100 to $1,000, depending on the publication’s prestige, circulation, and bankroll.

If I were to set off cruising the world, I’d try to master in advance a marketable skill more likely to produce a cruising income.

Among these skills are the ability to repair diesel engines, fridges, watermakers, SSB and satellite radios, computers, and electronic instruments, together with general yacht repairs, deliveries, sailmaking and canvas work, and even varnishing. Fiberglass repair and rigging skills are always in demand. And here’s a skill not to overlook, says cruiser and author Don Casey — cutting hair for fellow  cruisers.

Today’s Thought
A month of days, a year of months, 20 years of months in the treadmill, is the life that slays everything worthy of the name of life.
— Roy Bedicheck, Adventures with a Texas Naturalist

“My girlfriend thinks I'm a stalker."
"Say what? Your girlfriend thinks you’re a stalker?"
"Yeah, well, she's not actually my girlfriend yet."

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




December 2, 2012

A bunch of free submarines

NEVER IN THE THOUSANDS of columns I wrote for family newspapers did I mention the word condom. It still makes me uneasy, but I have to steel myself and move with the times. Condoms are now front-page news everywhere.

Apparently, the U.S. government gave away more than 560 million condoms to various foreign countries in one recent year, and not all Americans are happy about it. The government is getting lots of complaints.

My first contact with a condom came when I was about 8. My cousin Walter and I found a sausage-like balloon half filled with milky water. It was just barely afloat in a rock pool at the beach. Fascinated, we pressed it into service as a submarine.

It was round-nosed, with a knot in the end and a ringed cone at the stern that looked just like a real submarine’s propeller housing. It plunged and rose very satisfactorily.

Back home, my mother and Aunt Peggy clutched at each other and nearly died laughing when we told them. They never explained what it was, though. It was years before we figured it out.

But, to get back to the government: let us contemplate for a moment that pile of 560 million condoms representing, say, 559,994 sex acts, allowing for the half-dozen idiots who will inevitably put them on backwards or swallow them or something.

At an average of two acts a week, this would take one couple 279,997 weeks. Alternatively, it would take a whole country the size of South Africa, with 44 million people, 0.006 weeks, or 0.04 days, or 1.07 hours or 64 minutes. Just think of it: the whole of South Africa could be at it simultaneously for 64 minutes, thanks to the U.S. government.

No wait. Now I come to think about it, only 22 million actually wear the condoms. So double the time. That’s 128 minutes’ worth of sex for the whole country.

But I’m told that few sex acts last 128 minutes, or 2.13 hours. I’ll admit, of course, that it all depends on who you ask. Women, being more realistic, tend to think in terms of 30 to 90 seconds. Men’s estimates tend to be four or five times (or even 10 times) longer, depending on how prone they are to lying.

In any case, time, to men in a sex act, is probably as elastic as a condom. And what would men know anyway? How many men take stopwatches to bed with them? Even if they did, when would they start timing?

Sometimes, while fumbling in the dark, it can take five minutes or more to place the condom on the right protuberance. In the heat of frenzied passion, toes and thumbs and things get in the way.

Anyway, if we allow two minutes as a reasonable average, that’s 64 acts a year, or 1.23 acts a week. So if the U.S. government were to give all the condoms to South Africa alone, it would keep that entire country smiling happily for a whole year. And the kids would have a bunch of free submarines to play with. Who could complain about that?

Today’s Thought
Litigation takes the place of sex at middle age.
— Gore Vidal

Two homeless men helped a limping nun across the street.
"What happened to your leg?" asked one.
"I twisted my ankle in the bath," said the nun.
After she'd gone, one man asked: "What's a bath, then?"
"Jeez, don't ask me," said the other. "I'm not a Catholic."

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