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.)



SailFarLiveFree said...

Right on, John! I too am a big fan of full-keelers for many of the reasons you mentioned. I only wish their there were more made today.

The Unlikely Boatbuilder said...

My Blue Moon Yawl is a full-keeler (and a wooden boat, to boot) and I wouldn't want to sail anything else.

Jack said...

Yes full-keelers unite! As the the worlds oceans are close to being a floating garbage dump, any one venturing offshore would be shortsighted not to seriously consider this. Not to mention the sea-kindliness of the vessel !

mgtdOcean said...

John your logic is unassailable. I'm so convinced I went out yesterday and bought a 1961 Pearson Triton! Well actually I'd been looking for a little while:)

Sometimes on the South River(just south of Annapolis MD) the crab pots are so thick only a dinghy could avoid them. What ever happened to leaving open a navigable channel?

Doc Häagen-Dazs said...

I'm a racer and no fan of full keels. But I hate crab pots littering my water. I'm thinking of equiping a crew member with a machete to cut those damned things loose.

dbostrom said...

A little late to the party here, but I'll just mention that last July I woke up at 2am with our 40' bareboat charter (fin keel w/bulb) heeled about 10-15 degrees, broadside to a 28 knot breeze with little seas crashing against the side and no prospect of further sleep. Jumping on deck I found our (large) mooring buoy nowhere to be seen but with our bridle stretched stupid tight down the hull and out of sight. Dark and blowy with a reef to lee not so far so nothing to do but make sure as best as possible we're ready to motor but without actually going in gear due to the uncertain situation below the boat vis-a-vis the vanished buoy and prop.

Next morning the wind mostly died and even better had shifted offshore but we were still "stuck." A quick dive showed the prop and rudder clear but the buoy hard up against the fin bulb with the mooring rode wrapped around the whole affair. What to do? In the end no problem; we slipped the bridle and after a couple of minutes the mess unwound itself.

Point is, I don't think this could happen with a full keel.