October 5, 2014

Some rules for style points

A BOAT WITH STYLE POINTS is a lovely thing to see. Everything happens so smoothly and looks so right. There is never any shouting or panic when approaching the dock and nobody ever falls overboard while trying to get into the dinghy.

There are those who insist that if you have to ask what style points are, there is no hope for you. They say it’s in the genes, that you have to inherit style. But I have not found that to be true. I believe you can generate style points by following certain rules and by behaving like a civilized human being, that is, one who, amongst other things, doesn’t condone advertising on his clothing.

The rules are basically simple, though comparatively few people, alas, seem to follow them voluntarily. For example, there are people who leave port with their fenders still hanging over the side, sloshing back and forth in the waves and thumping on the topsides. Such a sordid display marks the boat’s crew as a bunch of thoughtless slobs. On a stylish boat, the crew whips the fenders in at the speed of lightning as soon as the boat leaves the dock. Just like bra straps, they do a good job, but they are not meant for public display.

It goes almost without saying that no lines should ever trail overboard and that there should never be any washing drying on the lifelines. The experienced boat watcher will also judge your boat’s style by the way you hang your mainsheet when the boat is docked. There are ways to do it so that the bitter end does not extend beyond the body of the coils, and if you don’t know how to do it you should learn very quickly.

And while we’re talking about lines you should be aware that no style points are awarded for Flemish coils, either in the cockpit or on the dockside. They are too infra dig, too twee, too pretentious, and too easy to do. Very few things to do with style come easily, and Flemish coils are a form of cheating, of trying to score points on the cheap.

The same goes for captain’s hats with gold braid and fried egg, and even those hokey Tilley hats with the little pocket in the roof for your passport and spare pot. Floppy sun hats are de rigueur aboard the stylish yacht, preferably ones that come from thrift stores and look well used.

Loads of style points are allotted to boats that wear burgees at the masthead instead of those tacky plastic wind-direction indicators. In fact, flags in general are a very important part of creating stylish boats. You should know where to fly a courtesy flag and an ensign. You should also know that you should strike the ensign at dusk and break it out again at 8 a.m.  Most of all, you should know better than to fly one of those vulgar flags that invites people over for cocktails. Boats with style don’t have to appeal to the general public to come and help drink their cocktails.

 There are many other little rules that will become apparent if you take the trouble to make a close study of a boat well known for style, some dealing with the number of coats you need for a proper varnish job and some with how often you, or your hired hands, should scrub the teak deck.

And finally there is the golden rule that marks every stylish boat: the color of the hull. Capt. Nat Herreshoff, a yacht designer renowned for great style, put it well when he said there are only two colors to paint a boat, black or white — and only a fool would paint a boat black.

Today’s Thought
And the Devil said to Simon Legree:
“I like your style, so wicked and free.”
— Vachel Lindsay, A Negro Sermon

“Do you really believe kissing is unhealthy?”
“Definitely. My husband is watching.”

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


jack said...

I too am an admirer of all things shipshape in bristol fashion without designer labels and it being thrusted down one's throat. So when I read,
" Just like bra straps, they do a good job, but they are not meant for public display", regarding fenders, I laughed out loud, and sprayed coffee over the confuser screen!
With your permission I will use that analogy when sighting such un-seaman likeness in the future.

Sixbears said...

Best rule is a "no yelling" boat. Even if things aren't going perfectly, the lack of yelling and panic will fool people into thinking things are fine.

John Vigor said...

Jack, you're welcome. I'm not sure that bra straps are unseamanlike, but I have never worn any, so who am I to judge?


John V.

Anonymous said...

John I've got to tell a story about a friend of ours who was coming into his slip under sail and it was a little gustier than he first thought but his slip was partway down the fairway and he was now committed. He had a few other people on the boat and there were a few people at the marina as well as a group of campers onshore. Well he realized he was going to fast to make his slip so he sailed past it did a loop in the fairway sailed into another slip and with his way taken off stepped onto the finger and tied his boat off. The group on shore applauded his perfect landing and the friends on the boat thought he was the best sailor their was. Nobody knew he went in the wrong slip and later when no one was around he moved his his boat to his own slip. He handled it so calm with no fuss.