August 29, 2013

Ten rules for anchoring

WHEN YOU OWN a cruising boat, anchoring becomes one of your favorite forms of entertainment. The art of anchoring is science combined with mystery. You can’t see what’s going on down there, unless you’re in the gin-clear waters of the tropics. Even then, it’s unusual, and even the professionals admit that after dropping the anchor they wait in suspense to see what the result will be.

And to tell the truth, just about every boat afloat will drag its anchor at some time or another, for some reason or another, and often it’s not because of any ignorance or mistake on behalf of the skipper or crew.

When Thomas Fleming Day was editor of The Rudder a century ago, he wrote a lot about the art of anchoring.  In fact he drew up 10 rules for anchoring, which newcomers to the boating world will find useful to this day. Here they are, together with Mr Day’s warning that “these rules are not fixed laws, and as such do not bind you to do anything against what judgment, experience, or a present difficulty may suggest.”

1. Never drop an anchor until you have first examined it.

2. Never drop an anchor stock-down.

3. Never drop an anchor from the bows while the boat has headway, except for the purpose of preventing her going ashore or into something.

4. With the wind and sea ahead, give any amount of scope.

5. In a tide-way, give just sufficient [scope] to hold, no more, unless the conditions of wind and sea oblige a long lead; then watch your hawse when she shifts tides.

6. When getting under way in a strong wind, do not shorten [the rode] too much before everything is ready aloft; same when surrounded by other vessels.

7. Be sure when you make fast, that you make fast. Always weather-bit your hawser before turning in. Don’t make fast over an old set of turns when you shorten hawse. Always keep your riding-bits clear of everything but the hawser.

8. Always examine the gear before leaving the yacht or turning in. If she is riding hard, feel if she is fast or dragging.

9. Keep your hawsers or chains leading free of the bowsprit rigging. Look out for chafing and freshen the hawse frequently.

10. Never anchor on rocky bottom without a trip line.

Today’s Thought
Remember this: that the first and all-important thing in anchoring is SCOPE.
Thomas Fleming Day, On Yachts and Yacht Handling

Overheard at the yacht club bar:
“How did the divorce go?”
“We had a 50-50 property split. She got the house and I got the mortgage.”

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

August 27, 2013

Nothing so much worth doing

IT TOOK A WATER RAT, in conversation with a mole, to reveal one of the great human truths, which is that “there is nothing — absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”

The famous quote comes, of course from Kenneth Grahame’s dearly loved classic, The Wind in the Willows. When Mole shyly revealed that he had never been in a boat before in all his life, Rat, who had offered to scull him across the river, was open-mouthed with astonishment. He was moved to ask: “What have you been doing, then?”

Mole didn’t answer. He was experiencing the bliss, the quiet rapture, that grips many humans also upon their first encounter with a boat.

Rat, undeterred, continued to espouse his love of boats. “In or out of ’em, it doesn’t matter. Nothing seems to matter, really, that’s the charm of it. Whether you get away, or whether you don’t; whether you arrive at your destination or whether you reach somewhere else, or whether you never get anywhere at all, you’re always busy, and you never do anything in particular, and when you’ve done it there’s always something else to do ...”

There’s no doubt about it. If you must have an obsession, boating is better than most.

Today’s Thought
Great Estates may venture more,
But little Boats must keep near Shore.
— Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard

“I promise you, I’m never going to work for that rotten so-and-so again. Not after what he said to me.”
“What did he say to you?”
“You’re fired.”

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

August 26, 2013

Watch out for boat pheromones

I WAS WATCHING a question-and-answer show on Canadian TV the other day when the question of pheromones came up. Apparently, living things emit pheromones in an invisible stream as a form of automatic communication. They don’t have any smell, but they seem to be able to affect our physical reactions and emotions.

Having absorbed this complicated information at least partially, it occurred to me to wonder if boats emit pheromones. Wikipedia says plants communicate by pheromones, and there’s lots of wood in boats.

You’d naturally expect boats with wooden hulls and decks to be more powerful in the pheromone department than fiberglass boats. So the question arises:  Do wooden boats, like roses, say: “Look at me, I’m beautiful?”  Would that explain the strange attraction we have for wooden boats, even if they’re more demanding in the way of maintenance and upkeep?

Is this why a mere mortal stands no chance against a gorgeous little wooden lapstrake Folkboat? I’m sure that teak speaks to us. Who can resist all that varnished teak on Cape Dories and Hinckleys?

Do wooden boats really say come hither?  Do they really make themselves look desirable in a man’s eyes? I’m reliably informed that men are not really in control of who they marry. It’s not a woman’s figure or her brilliant mind that drives a man crazy with desire.  It’s her pheromones taking over control of his brain. If those womanly pheromones decide they want a certain man, he’s a goner.

Indeed, there are men, I’m told, who wake up months after the wedding and take a good look at their brides for the first time, and go: “What the heck? What was I thinking?”  Much the same thing can be said about boats, of course.  Such is the mighty power of the tiny pheromone.

And what else might boat pheromones be saying?  “Ouch, the nails hurt.” “My bottom’s dirty.”  “The water’s cold.”  “You don’t care about me any more.”

I wonder, too, if boat pheromones, which are, after all, female, nag?  “My varnish is peeling.” “My seams are coming apart.”  “You never clean my bilge.”

If, through no fault of his own, a man were to fall in love with a boat, would his wife label him as unfaithful?  Perhaps it’s no wonder that so many wives get the hell-in with yachting husbands.  No wonder so many wives develop antagonism toward boats. They sense an affair of the heart and mind, if not of the corpus, in which the man is a stupid, if innocent, dupe.

That’s not quite fair, of course, since men have not yet found a defense against the all-powerful and very sneaky pheromone.

I shall continue to listen to Canadian TV and let you know if the scientists ever come up with an answer.

Today’s Thought
Science is a first-rate piece of furniture for a man’s upper-chamber, if he has common-sense on the ground floor.
— O. W. Holmes, The Poet at the Breakfast-Table

Writers whose works are shot down in flames should take comfort from the fact that the world has far more statues of writers than critics.

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

August 22, 2013

Look at the back of your hands

IF YOU HAVE a tiller-steered boat, take a look at the back of your hands. If you see any small patches of dry, scaly skin, you could have actinic keratosis, the precursor of skin cancer.

It took me a long time to figure out why I have a rough-textured spot of skin on each hand, but now I think I know. It’s the result of sitting for hours with a hand on a tiller. 
Actinic keratosis forms on skin that receives lots of sun, and while I’ve mostly been reasonably careful to cover up with long sleeves and broad-brimmed hats on hot sunshiny days, I’ve never worried about the backs of my hands.

I can’t think why.  It seems perfectly obvious now that they’d be sticking out there, all vulnerable, while the sunshine does its wicked worst. I never even considered gloves.  They were too yachty and pretentious for me.  And now I’m suffering for it.
My skin doctor has prescribed for me some powerful chemotherapeutic ointment that will raise painful blisters for four weeks or so, and then take as long again for the skin to get back to normal.  During this time, apparently, I’m supposed to wear gloves, to avoid the possibility of receiving more harm from sunlight.

Now I live in a part of the world that is not renowned for excessive sunlight (although I have to admit we’ve had a marvelous summer so far this year) but all the same I guess I will have to take the precautions suggested.
It’s going to be hard to wear gloves of any kind, but once I’ve got used to the idea (and the questioning looks of strangers) I shall have to decide what kind of gloves will go best with my Northwest outfit of hoodie, shorts, and sockless sandals.  I’m tempted by a Goth look of black leather and maybe a whip to go with them.  Or how about some white elbow-length dude-ranch gloves with those leather fringes and sparkly bits? Nah. Everybody knows a drug-store cowboy when they see one.  On the other hand I might look good in some demure gardening gloves with little pimples on them and pictures of pansies or something.

I know there are some very macho and fashionable yachting gloves out there with little bits cut off so your finger tips stick out daintily, the better to press the buttons on the satellite phone or grip your gin-and-tonic, but I still can’t bring myself to buy them.  I’d rather convert the tiller to wheel steering, and avoid the problem in the first place.
Anyway, the message is simple. Don’t forget what damage the sun can do to a hand on a tiller.  If you don’t wear gloves, slather the backs of your hands with a good sunscreen. And repeat every couple of hours. You really don’t want actinic keratosis.

Today’s Thought
When it comes to your health, I recommend frequent doses of that rare commodity among Americans — common sense.
— Dr. Vincent Askey, former President, American Medical Association.

Vigor’s Rules on Rust:
1 — On a saltwater boat, stainless steel isn’t.
2 — Rust delays its appearance to coincide with the expiry of the warranty.
3 — Rust erupts. Absolute rust erupts absolutely.

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

August 20, 2013

Narrow boats are safer boats

EVERY NOW AND THEN, someone who has become imbued with the idea of going cruising asks me: “Isn’t a wide boat safer than a narrow one?”

The answer is “Not necessarily,” but it’s difficult to explain this to a newbie, who, just by looking at it, must justifiably conclude that a wide hull is more difficult to capsize than a narrow one.

Furthermore, a wide hull offers a lot more accommodation down below for the same overall length, which is something the yacht brokers like to emphasize.  Without stretching the truth too far, they can also tell a prospective buyer that a wide boat has tremendous stability.

But that’s only part of the truth. A boat that is excessively wide has a wonderful amount of initial stability, certainly, but what an ocean-going cruiser has to consider is ultimate stability — the ability of a boat to right itself after having been knocked upside down by a breaking wave.

The point is that a very wide boat is perfectly happy to stay upside down; and while it’s inverted water may pour in everywhere — perhaps enough to sink it in a short time.

The narrower the hull, everything else being equal, the quicker and more surely a boat will right itself from complete inversion. It’s very unstable when it’s upside down, Of course, if you’re looking around for a boat capable of crossing an ocean, the yacht broker is not likely to introduce the subject of capsize in extreme conditions. But that’s precisely what every would-be cruiser should plan around.

Everything on deck and down below should be designed and built with a 180-degree knock-down in mind. The chances of it happening to you are, admittedly, remote. But if it does happen, and you planned for it, the chances of your surviving are increased immeasurably.

Today’s Thought
He that will not sail till all dangers are over must never put to sea.
— Thomas Fuller

“Help, there’s a creature destroying my garden. I think it escaped from the zoo.”
“Try to keep calm, madam.  Can you describe the animal?”
“Well, it’s big and gray, with large ears. It keeps picking my cabbages with its huge tail — and I can’t tell you where it’s putting them.”

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

August 18, 2013

Chinese puzzle that's hard to swallow

DID A FLEET of Chinese junks discover America in 1421, long before dear old Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue?  Did those junks complete a circumnavigation of the world in 1423, almost 100 years before Magellan’s expedition claimed the honor?

Gavin Menzies is quite sure they did.  He’s the author of 1421, The Year China Discovered America (Harper, Perennial).  I’m not quite so sure they did, but I have nothing to base my opinion on except the kind of hunch a sailor gets when he reads an unproven hypothesis involving boats and navigation.

In his book Menzies offers a little hard evidence and a wealth of circumstantial evidence. Perhaps too much circumstantial evidence. It almost seems as though he seeks to convince us by smothering us with a mountain of possibilities and conjecture.

He maintains that a enormous armada sailed from China in 1421 to circle the globe. At the center were “the great leviathan flagships, surrounded by a host of merchant junks.”  Surrounding them were squadrons of warships. By the time they reached India, the fleet consisted of more than 800 vessels. He says.

The flagships themselves numbered more than 100 huge junks, each about 480 feet in length and 180 feet in beam. “Great sails of red silk, light but immensely strong, were furled on each ship’s nine masts,” Menzies declares.

Whoa! Let’s pause there for a bit.  Silk sails?  Enough for 900 masts on 100 480-foot junks.  How many silkworms does it take to spin that much silk?  And why silk?  Why not canvas made from flax like everybody else? Did the Chinese have that much money to burn?

And now, before our amazement makes us forget, isn’t 480 feet rather large for a wooden boat?  Did the Europeans ever build a wooden boat that big?  The Great Republic was 335 feet long and 33 feet wide. Caligula’s giant barge was about 341 feet long and had a beam of 66 feet.

And what about the alleged beam of the alleged Chinese junks?  I have a hard time even imagining one with a beam of 180 feet, especially a flat-bottomed boat with a transom bow.

Apparently each of these enormous junks was built in separate water-tight sections, 16 of them in all, each one bolted to the next with what Menzies says are brass fastenings.  I find it hard to believe they’d use brass, which has practically no place at all on a sea-going vessel except maybe for the ship’s bell.  Iron was a lot cheaper, stronger, and readily available.

In one place, the author explains that these junks were hopelessly inefficient at getting to windward.  (That’s easy to believe.)  So they had to plan their routes by running downwind with the prevailing winds.

And yet he claims: “Reinforced bows enabled the vessel to smash through the waves . . .” Ahem.  What waves do you have to smash through when you’re hightailing it downwind all the time?  And it gets weirder:

“ . . . at either side of the bow were channels leading to internal compartments. As the square bow pitched in heavy seas, water was funnelled in; as the bow surfaced above the waves, the water drained out, modifying the pitching motion . . . in a storm, semi-submersible sea anchors could also be thrown overboard to reduce rolling. Even in the roughest weather and sea conditions, pitching and rolling were greatly reduced by these ingenious modifications.”

I’m sorry. I don’t buy it. This is too much for me to swallow. What size sea anchor would you need for a 480-foot junk?  How many men would it take to deploy it?  And, how would it stop rolling?  If Menzies is thinking of giant flopper-stoppers, even if they were feasible you wouldn’t be able to use them at sea.

I’m not alone in voicing doubts about the veracity of Menzies’ claims of course. Some minds far greater than mine have beaten me to the draw in that respect. But the great unwashed public, the hoi polloi who don’t care about the beam of an alleged junk, are falling over themselves to shove money into the author’s hands. New York Times bestseller. Ka-ching!  I guess that’s all that really matters. 

Today’s Thought
In reporting with some accuracy, at times we have to go much further than the strictly factual. Facts are part of the perceived whole.
— Alastair Reid, WSJ, 18 June 84

The woman who thinks no man is good enough for her may be right. But she may also be left.

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



August 16, 2013

They're not all perfect

THERE IS SOMETHING in common between a woman who knowingly marries an imperfect man and a sailor who knowingly buys a boat with bad weather helm. Both are under the impression that they can change things for the better. Both are likely to be disappointed.

Owners of yachts suffering from weather helm are a tight-lipped lot when it comes to discussing their boat’s fault, though they’ll participate quite happily in any critical review of someone else’s problem.

Weather helm is the amount of rudder needed to counter the boat’s tendency to round up into the wind. Anything greater than 4 degrees slows down your progress and generally makes for heavy, unpleasant work at the tiller.

There are many causes of weather helm, most of them interrelated, and there are several things you can do to lessen it, including adding a bowsprit or moving the mast forward, but most skippers resign themselves to suffering in silence.

It’s almost impossible to know at the design stage whether a hull will suffer from excessive weather helm, so those sweet boats that lack it are usually the result of pure luck on the naval architect’s part. There is almost nothing in this world that is perfect. Why should we expect our boats to be perfect?

Incidentally, a boat with bad weather helm should be reefed early and sailed as flat as possible.

Today’s Thought
So who’s perfect? . . . Washington had false teeth. Franklin was nearsighted. Mussolini had syphilis. Unpleasant things have been said about Walt Whitman and Oscar Wilde. Tchaikovsky had his problems, too. And Lincoln was constipated.
— John O’Hara

Confucius say it is better to have loved and lost than to do homework for six kids.

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

August 13, 2013

An arrangement too good to last

A FEW YEARS BACK, when I was visiting the remote South Atlantic island of St. Helena, I came across two men working on a small fishing boat down at the town wharf.

Dougie was in his mid-30s, friendly, open-faced, easy to talk to, and polite. Like many Saint Helenians, he added “sir” when speaking to foreigners.

He was about to add some resin to the bottom of a leaking bait box.

“Do I have to add fiberglass, too?” he asked me.

I had a look and thought it really didn’t matter what he did because the resin wouldn’t stick for long. He really needed epoxy resin, not polyester, the kind he was using. More importantly, he should first have cleaned out the water, oil, and grease before applying the resin. In fact, the right way to do it was to grind down to bare, clean fiberglass. But I didn’t tell him that. No point. He didn’t have a grinder, anyway.

As I watched him and his friend working on the boat we talked about many things, including the magic of the GPS satellite navigation system, which, his friend said, was now even installed in cars in England.

“It tells you which way to go,” he said.

They both paused to consider the impact of that statement. Everybody on St. Helena knew which way to go without the help of satellites in the sky. But it was magic still, they agreed.

Just before I said goodbye it occurred to me that Dougie was wearing a bright orange T-shirt with the large black initials “HMP” on the back. Her Majesty’s Prison.

“What for?” I asked.

It turned out that he’d been found guilty — wrongly, he asserted — of beating up his girl friend. Both of them were drunk at the time. “I gotta drink problem,” he admitted. He added that it was a disease. If you were an alcoholic like him, your body made its own alcohol, he explained.

On St. Helena island, relatively harmless prisoners like Dougie were temporarily released to do some gainful work of their own, rather than rotting in the tiny town jail, and he had been released in the care of his friend.

“I’m responsible for him,” his friend said proudly.

“I hope he doesn’t make trouble for you,” I said.

“Oh no, sir,” said Dougie earnestly. “We understand each other, sir.”

And so I left them and went to find my wife. We understood each other, too. She did the shopping while I loafed around with the guys on the wharf. It was a most satisfactory arrangement, I thought. But, of course, it was too good to last.

Today’s Thought
Whilst we have prisons it matters little which of us occupies the cells.
— Bernard Shaw, Maxims for Revolutionists

“I’m sorry to say, Mr Jones, that the last check you sent me came back . . .”
“Well, what a coincidence, doctor — so did my sciatica.”

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

August 11, 2013

The metrication complication

PEOPLE KEEP ASKING ME to explain the metric system to them, especially as it relates to boats. Well, actually, that’s not quite true.  Only one person has asked me to explain the metric system, and that request was in no way related to boats.

So, you may well ask, why should I devote a column to the metric system when I should be writing about boats? The answer is simple.  Most people who like to read about boats don’t necessarily want to read about boats only.  Sometimes they also want to read about beer or sex or other interests that engage their active minds, including the metric system.

It so happens that I have had years of experience explaining the metric system to newspaper readers, in a biased sort of way.  I make no bones about it.  I don’t like it, and as a columnist I tried to get it banned. I was not successful and that did not make me happy.  I still harbor a grudge against the authorities, the governments and scientific bodies, who thwarted my gallant efforts.

Nevertheless, and I say this with a heavy heart, there are occasions when the intricacies of the metric system need to be translated for the benefit of Americans who have so far avoided contamination by this frivolous method of measuring one thing against another.

So here, for the benefit of those who are luckily not conversant with Le Système International d’Unités , are a few sample conversions that will explain why I spent all that time and effort trying to stamp it out:

Ø  1 Mainsail foot = 5 metric toes

Ø  1 Yardarm = 3 footarms

Ø  1 Backyard = 36 back inches

Ø  1,000 Catalina 30s = 30 megayachts

Ø  1 Inchworm = 2.54 centipedes

Ø  8 Dry pints = 1 parched gallon

Ø  1 Microchip = 2/3 French fry

Ø  1 Foot pound = 16  kilosandals

Ø  1 Lady Giga = 0.5 tinaturners

Ø  1 Fluid Oz = 6 sober Poms

Ø  1,000 painful rpm = 1 hertz-like-crazy

Ø  454 Grams = One pound of grampas

And for the benefit of those of you who are wondering if I’m off my meds again, let me say no, I’m not.  It’s the hot weather. And the beer. And the stupid metric system.

Today’s Thought
 We have become a people unable to comprehend the technology we invent.
— Association of American Colleges, Integrity in the College Curriculum, NY Times, 11 Feb 85

“You really have an outstanding intellect,”  the lawyer told the witness in a fit of sarcastic exasperation.
“I’m sorry I’m under oath,” replied the witness, “otherwise I’d say the same for you.”

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

August 8, 2013

Beware of barrier coats

IS A BARRIER COAT a good idea to keep your boat’s hull free of blisters? The advertisements say it is . . . but beware. It may be a complete waste of time and money. It may even make things worse.

A few years back I decided to take all the old bottom paint off my 1983 Cape Dory 27.  It consisted of numerous layers of hard epoxy anti-fouling and I had the impression that this job had never been tackled before.

I had a shoulder injury at the time, but I hauled her out and started removing the old paint in small sections, about 5 feet by 2 feet every day.  I used a chemical stripper and a hand scraper. It took me several weeks of hard labor to get down to the gel coat all over.

Then I washed the whole hull down carefully and applied Interlux’s Interprotect barrier coat system, following the instructions to the letter.  I did alternate coats of white and grey epoxy and then I painted the bottom with two coats of Interlux Ultra antifouling.

It all looked very splendid and I was pleased that I had taken the extra trouble to put on a barrier coat, having taken all the old paint off anyway.

But two years later, when I had the boat hauled out for repainting, the bottom was covered with hundreds of small blisters under the barrier coat.  I could have cried. A marine surveyor who looked at it for me just laughed.  It wasn’t a structural problem, he said, just cosmetic.  He advised me to sand right down to gel coat again.

“What made you apply a barrier coat?” he asked.

“I just thought it was a good idea.  Having done all the hard work to get the old paint off, it seemed like an ideal opportunity to protect against blisters.”

“Did you have any blisters before?” he asked.

“No,” I said.

“So she has spent more than 20 years in the water without forming any blisters,” he pointed out.  “What made you think she would suddenly get blisters now?”

“Advertising,” I said.  “The adverts say it’s a good idea.”

After a while, we both had a little chuckle at that.

The lesson I learned is that the fiberglass hull must be absolutely dust-dry before you can apply a barrier coat.  I don’t mean just surface dry.  It has to dry out for months.  If there’s the slightest suspicion of any moisture trapped in the fiberglass it will simply form blisters beneath the barrier coat.

Since then, I have read about many others experiencing the same problem.  “It seems the marine industry is always trying to sell us something,” said one boat owner.  “For some boats, a properly applied barrier coat might be beneficial.  As for the vast majority of boats, I would say if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  I never imagined the prevention I thought I was providing would become the problem.”

I regret to say I know exactly how he feels.

Today’s Thought
Any man may make a mistake; none but a fool will persist in it.
— Cicero, Philippicae

“Did you buy that new book on schizophrenia?”
“Not yet. I’m in two minds about it.”

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

August 6, 2013

Mildew in the overhead

A FRIEND OF MINE who keeps his boat in a sub-tropical climate recently removed the overhead in his thirty-footer. It was a disgusting mess, he said, full of old dead cockroaches and mildew.  Cockroaches, okay, but who would have thought mildew would thrive up there in the dark?

Well, I’ve said it many times before, but mildew can eat almost anything anywhere. These voracious fungi will actually slowly consume the gel coat on the deck of a boat under the right conditions, leaving it pitted and weakened. Down below, in dark, damp, stagnant air, they will reproduce at an astonishing rate, wreaking havoc on furnishings, sails, plastic fittings, and bulkheads alike. Mildew can even etch the glass in binoculars.

About the only thing mildew can’t digest is metal. On anything else, it excretes enzymes that convert complex molecules into soluble compounds capable of passing through its cell walls.

Mildew prefers sub-tropical conditions, but is highly adaptable to colder climates and actually creates its own warmth as it grows, leaving behind that typical musty smell.

Direct sunshine, dry air, and chlorine bleach are the best defenses against mildew. Most commercial mildew removers contain sodium hypochlorite (household bleach). But the best long-term protection is good air circulation throughout the boat to keep ambient humidity low. That means plenty of Dorade boxes, louvered drop boards, and solar-powered vents to keep air passing through and out of the boat.

One last tip: Open all locker doors and bilge hatches before you leave the boat for any amount of time, and prop up bunk mattresses so air can circulate underneath.

Today’s Thought
Nothing which we can imagine about Nature is incredible.
— Pliny the Elder, Natural History

“And is your punctuation good?” the editor asked a would-be cub reporter.
“Yes, sir, it is,” he said. “I’ve never been late for work in my life.”

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

August 4, 2013

Are you a drunken operator?

NOW THAT WASHINGTON STATE has introduced new laws about drunken boating, I’m wondering if you can be arrested and carted off to jail for excessive drinking on your boat while she’s safely at anchor somewhere.

New restrictions and penalties on the use of alcohol by Washington boaters came into effect on July 28, 2013. You’re considered to be “under the influence” if, within two hours of operating a vessel, you have an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher, as shown by a breath or blood analysis.

The actual legal language says that it is “unlawful to operate a vessel while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, marijuana, or any drug.”

Now there are two definitions needed here.  First of all, what is a “vessel”?  Secondly, what does “operate” mean?

A vessel, apparently, is “every description of watercraft on the water . . . capable of being used as a means of transportation on the water” with the illogical exception of seaplanes, inner tubes, air mattresses, sailboards, and small rafts or flotation devices or toys customarily used by swimmers.

Thus, in the eyes of the legislators, your dinghy is a “vessel” and if you have too many drinks in the club before rowing the dinghy back to your yacht, the cops can nab you for drunken boating.

The answer, it seems, is to paddle back to your boat on an inner tube or small raft.  You can get as drunk as you like then, and the fuzz can’t touch you. At least, not under these laws.

And then there’s the original question:  Are you “operating” a boat if she’s at anchor and you’re down below knocking back the medicinal brandy?  Unfortunately, I think there’s a very good case for saying that you are still the operator of the boat, the one who would have to take the decision about weighing anchor if the wind should come up and force you to move.

The captain of a ship is always the captain, even though he or she cannot be on duty 24 hours a day. The responsibility for everything that happens on the ship is ultimately the captain’s, even though it’s the subordinates who might be at fault.

I don’t want to spoil your evening sundowners in the cockpit while you’re at anchor in some nice cove in Washington state, but from now on if I were you I’d hide the beer if I saw the police or Coasties coming my way.   

Today’s Thought
There is far too much law for those who can afford it and far too little for those who cannot.
— Derek Bok, President, Harvard, Report to Board of Overseers, 21 Apr 83

“I want a divorce.”
“On what grounds?”
“My wife called me a lousy lover.”
“That’s not grounds for divorce.”
“Yes it is. How does she know the difference?”

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

August 1, 2013

The facts about salvage

IF YOU COME ACROSS a boat in trouble, maritime law says you have to try to save the lives of its crew. But there is nothing to compel you to save the vessel.

If, however, you decide to drag her off the rocks, or put out the fire, or pump her bilges and tow her to a safe harbor, you may qualify for a reward.

Ø Firstly, the boat must have been in grave danger of being lost or badly damaged.

Ø Secondly, you must have volunteered your help.

Ø Thirdly, you must have risked your life or your property in your bid to aid the stricken boat.

Ø And fourthly (and always a little unfairly I’ve always thought) your efforts must be successful. You’ll get nothing if you can’t manage to deliver what’s left of her to a safe harbor, even if you’ve worked on her for days.

How much can you claim for salvage? Admiralty Court awards are usually based on how much your efforts contributed to saving the boat. To qualify at all, your efforts must have been “substantial,” compared with any other help the vessel might have received.

Finally, take no notice of the old fairy tale that handing your towline to another boat entitles you to claim salvage. It’s not automatic.

Today’s Thought
After the verb “To Love,” “To Help” is the most beautiful verb in the world!
— Baroness von Suttner, Ground Arms

“I think you should divorce your husband.”
“What? I’ve lived with that bum for 20 years — and now I should make him happy?”

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