April 2, 2014

Spaghetti in the cockpit

LIKE ANYONE who is interested in boats, I often look through the advertisements to see what’s for sale these days. In the first place, it’s always interesting to see how other people’s boats compare with yours, and in the second place somebody might be offering the boat of your dreams at a price you can actually afford.

It’s also interesting to see how sellers rate the importance or desirability of certain features on their boats. All too often I see near the top of the list of wonderful attributes the familiar sentence: “All lines led aft.”

The fact that so many lines end up in the cockpit is apparently cited with unbridled pride. It’s obviously offered up as a special juicy tidbit that no potential buyer can resist, and hallooed abroad for all to know and take notice of. It’s almost as if Sisyphus has finally rolled his rock to the top of the hill and got it to stay there.

 All lines led aft, indeed.  Of all the attributes I look for in a sailboat, this must be at the bottom of the list. In fact it’s not on the list at all. It seems to be one of those fads that sweeps the sailing world from time to time, and then lies dormant until some fool resurrects it years later.

Admittedly, there are certain lines that should be led aft, especially on a boat designed to be singlehanded.  Foresail sheets, the mainsheet, a downhaul for the boom, and perhaps a topping lift are plenty enough to turn the cockpit into a bowl of tangled spaghetti, with the ends and loops of lines doing their damnedest  to snag winches and block scuppers.

But when it comes to reefing lines and tweakers and Barber haulers and halyards and uphauls, it’s madness to try to control them from the cockpit, where you’re already fully occupied with the tiller or wheel.

It’s not often admitted, but many modern skippers seem to be reluctant to leave the cockpit and stand on deck to hand and reef. Our obsession with safety (and government’s role in this) might have something to do with it, but it might also be due to the fact that fewer sailors than ever know how to make their boats heave to.  Or, if they do, then modern designs, with their minimal underwater surfaces, are too finicky to heave to with any reliability.

When you’re dousing the mainsail, for example, even if you can free the halyard from the cockpit, you’re got to get up on deck and go to the foot of the mast to furl the sail.  You might as well make the halyard fast at the mast in the first place. And you can make any decent boat heave to and look after herself while you fiddle around with reefing and furling the sails.

Sooner or later you’re going to have to quit cowering in the cockpit and get up on deck to do something, so the more often you do it the more natural it will seem, and the better you will get at it.

Of course, “All lines led aft” is not the only fad that gets my wimmies in a froth. Fully battened mainsails will do it, too, along with dripless propeller shafts, pressurized water in the galley, and hard dodgers. But don’t mind me. Ignore me. We old curmudgeons are used to it.

Today’s Thought
It seems to me much harder to be a modern than an ancient.
— Joubert, Pensées

“And how would you like your hair cut, sir?”
“Yes, sir, but what style?”
“What are your prices?”
“Haircut $25, shave $15.”
“So, okay, shave it to a short back and sides.”

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

1 comment:

jrraines said...

I saw this on slashdot.org
Navy Creates Fuel From Seawater
Soulskill (1459) posted 3 hours ago | from the no-blood-for-seawater dept.
Transportation 54
New submitter lashicd sends news that the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory has announced a successful proof-of-concept demonstration of converting seawater to liquid hydrocarbon fuel. They used seawater to provide fuel for a small replica plan running a two-stroke internal combustion engine.
"Using an innovative and proprietary NRL electrolytic cation exchange module (E-CEM), both dissolved and bound CO2 are removed from seawater at 92 percent efficiency by re-equilibrating carbonate and bicarbonate to CO2 and simultaneously producing H2. The gases are then converted to liquid hydrocarbons by a metal catalyst in a reactor system. ... NRL has made significant advances in the development of a gas-to-liquids (GTL) synthesis process to convert CO2 and H2 from seawater to a fuel-like fraction of C9-C16 molecules. In the first patented step, an iron-based catalyst has been developed that can achieve CO2 conversion levels up to 60 percent and decrease unwanted methane production in favor of longer-chain unsaturated hydrocarbons (olefins). These value-added hydrocarbons from this process serve as building blocks for the production of industrial chemicals and designer fuels."

Couldn't the navy just filter seawater with a T shirt and get 'hydrocarbons MUCH more efficiently?