So I console myself by catering to the newbies, the neophytes who are anxious to learn how not to kill themselves at sea, the ones who have not yet been bored by my ravings. And interesting things happen at sea, believe me.
So, in this vein of dispensing help for the unwitting, I ask: Do you know why boats so often broach, roll broadside on, and capsize when they’re running before the wind in large waves? It’s because when a wave breaks under your stern you have practically no steering power to keep her running straight. The rudder is suspended in foam, not water, and it can’t do its job. If you’ve ever been dumped by a big breaker while body surfing you’ll know the awful feeling of not being able to float high enough to get your head above water.
And if your boat heels to 45 degrees, you don’t have much steering ability, in any case. Think about it. The rudder is trying to lift the stern toward the sky as much as it is trying to turn the stern sideways. And, of course, if you do a 90-degree capsize you can’t steer at all. If the rudder isn’t totally out of the water, as it would be on a tubby light-displacement boat, it will be horizontal and unable to turn the stern either way.
Stability at sea is always a fascinating subject for sailors, whether they actually get away from the sight of land or not, and one of the very basic facts about boats is that stability comes as a cube of the length, other things being more or less equal. This means that a 30-footer is 72 percent more stable than a 25-footer, which explains why a 30-footer can stand up to its canvas so much better. It also explains why a 30-footer costs so much more than a 25-footer. But that’s another subject for neophytes to learn about. Some other day, perhaps. Class dismissed.
It hath been an opinion that the French are wiser than they seem, and the Spaniards seem wiser than they are; but howsoever it be between nations, certainly it is so between man and man.
Golfer: “You must be the worst caddie in the world.”
Caddie: “Oh come now — that would be far too much of a coincidence.”
(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)