September 29, 2015

A rumor to disregard

I DON’T KNOW who starts these things, but the rumor about sailing under jib only has been pretty persistent over the years. The rumor, of course, is that sailing under jib only will cause dismasting.

I have no idea why sailing under a jib only should cause dismasting. Like many others, I have sailed hundreds of deepsea miles under jib only.

One of the lovely things about the lone jib is that the center of effort is so far forward that a windvane, which normally struggles on a dead downwind course, is much better able to function properly. You can huddle down below in a gale, for example, nice and warm and dry, with your hands wrapped around a mug of coffee and rum, while your boat flies downwind like she’s on rails.

The only problem with this rig is that if your course is deeper than a reach, your boat will roll from gunwale to gunwale. But all dead downwind work is pretty rolly, anyway, unless you know how to fly twin jibs in a deep V forward, so they act like a cone and resist sideways movement.

Some sloops and cutters will reach wonderfully and even beat under jib only, making good progress to windward. But on the run you need to pole the jib out, of course, and there’s a clever way to do that. I learned it from the Pardeys. The trick is to have a track running up the front of the mast as high as your pole is long. The car that runs on this track accepts the inboard end of the pole. You then hoist the pole up alongside the mast and stow it there.

When you need to deploy the pole, you attach the jib clew, or the sheet nearby, to the bottom, outboard, end of the pole. Then you simply let the pole slide down the mast. As it comes down, the sheet, and the clew of the jib, automatically gets pushed out into position. You never have to handle the weight or awkwardness of the pole.

So don’t be put off. Fly that darn jib on its own if you like, and to heck with the rumor mongers.

Today’s Thought

Rumor travels faster but it don’t stay put as long as truth.

— Will Rogers, The Illiterate Digest


Our local school officials recently gave eighth-graders a test to see what they were best suited for.

It was found that they were best suited for the seventh grade.

September 27, 2015

The path to bliss afloat

THIS IS A QUESTION for the men: Do you have a female partner who is not a mad-keen sailor herself? If so, I have good news for you. I have been handed the answer to inter-gender bliss on board.

First, and most importantly, you must remember that she is not your crew. She is your lady love, the light of your life, your dearest darling, and you are taking her for a nice ride. Consequently, accept that you are singlehanding. Yes, it’s true. You have a passenger. But you are singlehanding.

It’s also true that if you go cruising and find a beautiful quiet anchorage, she will probably offer to make supper, especially if you first serve her drinks in the cockpit at sunset. But you should not rely on her to bring you back if you fall overboard — not because she doesn’t want you back (although, sadly, that may be true in some cases) but because she honestly doesn’t feel capable of getting the sails down on her own, finding the Lifesling, starting the engine, and avoiding running over you with the propeller. That’s not why she came sailing.

She did not come sailing to be shouted at, either. She is not your crew. She is your passenger. Do try to remember that. So you can’t shout at her. You can give no commands. You can give no orders. You’re on your own, remember. She is an ornament. She is your treasure. Treat her accordingly. (True feminists might find this a bit sickening, but let’s pretend it’s okay for the purposes of our argument.)

Thus, you should set up your boat for singlehanding. Invest in an autopilot and a self-steering wind vane if you’re going offshore. Don’t expect your darling partner to grind winches like a deck ape, or reef the gnarly mainsail in Force 8.

Having accepted this arrangement with good grace, you might be surprised when she does spontaneously offer help from time to time, when she takes the fenders in of her own accord, or shortens the dinghy painter when you’re about to back over it, without being asked. You might even be surprised by how much she actually does know about sailing, and how competent she would be in an emergency. But nothing should be taken for granted. You should not expect it, or require it. Let it be a surprise when it happens. And for gawd’s sake show gratitude when it does.

It should also be no surprise to anyone that my wife dictated this column, though I have to say she has stuck with me lo these many decades. I recall only one occasion when she threatened to jump overboard, and that was during a dinghy race when she had more than her usual amount of difficulty with hoisting the spinnaker and she took exception to the valuable advice I was giving her. Otherwise, apart from the remarks about Captain Bligh that escaped on occasions, we have got on very well together on our boats.

Of course, I realize that advice like this is easier to hand out than to follow, but if it helps prevent a split in the partnership it’s worth persevering with. And while the path to marital bliss never was smooth, you have it within your power to smooth out the sailing bumps. You’re singlehanding. Just accept it.

Today’s Thought
There are only about 20 murders a year in London, and not all are serious — some are just husbands killing their wives.
— G. H. Hatherill, Commander, Scotland Yard, 1 Jul 54

Beware of the man who insists he’s the boss on his boat. He’ll probably lie about other things, too.

September 24, 2015

Earning luck at sea

EVERY NOW AND THEN we hear of a bad storm at sea that affects a fleet of small yachts. Sometimes, they’re racing, sometimes they’re cruising, but all too often some are lost, while others survive. There are always a slew of reasons why this happens, of course, but I always fall back on my Black Box Theory for an explanation.
I’m not going to repeat the theory in toto here because I hate boring people, and many of you know it well enough already anyway, but for the benefit of the new sailors who keep coming along, here is a summary to excite your interest:
I always imagine that every boat has a secret black box that collects the Brownie points you earn for every seamanlike action you take. Every time you check the oil level on the engine, no matter how awkward it is to reach the dipstick, you get a point. Every time you buy a real paper chart of an area you want to explore, you get a point. Every time you get up in the middle of the night and go on deck in the rain to check your anchor bearing, you get a point. For that matter, you also get a point for even having an anchor bearing to begin with. You get points (quite a few actually) simply for imagining what would happen on deck and down below if your boat were turned turtle by a large wave, and doing something about it. And so forth, ad infinitum.
As I’ve said before, good sailors don’t live in the moment. They anticipate what’s ahead.
Now, it can happen to any boat, no matter how well found and well handled, that a time will come when human skill and effort can do no more to rescue it from a perilous position. But if you have points in the black box you can spend them to ensure that your boat will survive. Actually, you don’t have to withdraw the points. They expend themselves automatically as necessary.
Other boats battling the same circumstances as you, but lacking points in their black boxes, are less likely to survive. Those who don’t understand the mysteries of small boats sailing on big waters will say you were just lucky. And, depending on how you define luck, or good fortune, they may be right. What they don’t know is that you earned your luck.
When Virgil said fortune favors the bold, he wasn’t thinking about the sea. On the contrary, good fortune on small sailboats favors the cautious, the organized, and those with enough imagination to wonder what the hell can go wrong next. Because it will.
Today’s Thought
Shallow men believe in luck . . . Strong men believe in cause and effect.
— Emerson, Conduct of Life: Worship
A playboy is a man who summers in Maine, winters in Florida, and springs at blondes.

September 22, 2015

At a loss for words

WHEN I WAS VERY YOUNG and still learning the language of sailors, I was shanghaied to crew on 38-foot wooden racing sloop, a 30-Square Meter, with a bucking jib. To this day, I don’t know how a bucking jib differs from an ordinary jib. The skipper was a crusty old salt who could get over-excited on occasion, so I never found the courage to ask him. Not that I would have known what to ask, in any case.

But I did know that it wasn’t just an ordinary jib, because every time we came charging up to the stone jetty at the yacht club after a day on the water, out of control as usual, he would jump up and down in the cockpit and shout fiercely: “Don’t just stand there, boy! Get that bucking jib down.” Which I did, every time, with great promptitude, fearful of his wrath.

Thinking about this recently made we wonder about the language other sailors use to get their sails down. I mean, you can lower the jib or you can strike it. You can douse it, drop it, take (or haul) it down (or in), and furl it.

A phrase such as “Strike the mainsail!” has a fine ring about it, but I fear not many present-day sailors use it. According to my trusty dictionary, to strike sail meant “to lower one or more sails suddenly, as in a sharp maneuver, approach of a squall, or in token of surrender; also as a salute to a superior ship, a sovereign, etc.”

On any boat I’ve owned we just dropped the sail, but I have heard other skippers use the word “douse.” The dictionary describes douse as: “To suddenly let go, strike, haul down, lower, or take in, as a sail ...”

You’ll notice that once again there is a hurriedness about it, a sense of urgency. There simply doesn’t seem to be a sailor’s word for those occasions when you don’t care how long it takes your wife to get the main down, those nice gentle days when you’re just slipping along quietly with everything under control, and no squalls, sovereigns, or superior ships causing you anxiety.

What  is needed is a sailorly word or short phrase that indicates to your crew that she can just ease the sail down slowly, gently flake it on top of the boom, tie the gaskets nicely (taking all the time in the world to get the reef knots with their sweet little ends sticking out right) and put the mainsail cover on over everything, laced up and smoothed down, before she rushes down below to pour your gin-and-tonic, start the stove, and get supper ready.

You’d think we’d have a phrase for it by now, wouldn’t you? But no, I can’t think of one. “Ease the main” is already taken and means something else in any case. There’s something unsuitably suggestive about “Gentle the main,” while “Take down the mainsail at your leisure, darling, and fold it gently” is too long and sissy-like.

I simply can’t imagine why no-one has come up with a suitable verb or phrase in all the years that have passed since women were allowed to crew on boats. It’s high time somebody did.

Today’s Thought 
I am under the spell of language, which has ruled me since I was 10.
— V. S. Pritchett

“And how would you like your hair cut, sir?”
“Yes, sir, but what style?”
“What are your prices?”
“Haircut $15, shave $10.”
"So okay, shave it to a short back and sides."

September 20, 2015

Freak waves and tide rips

MOST OF US by now have come to realize that freak ocean waves are not really freak at all. They are real and quite regular, though the chances of meeting one in a small yacht are quite remote. They are the result of waves in regular trains riding on each others’ backs.

In any sea state, there are many wave trains present, each with its own speed, height, and direction. They constantly get into and out of step with each other, and every now and then it just happens that a number of these components will get into synch and produce an exceptionally high wave. The same conditions may also produce an unusually low trough, incidentally, and large ships have often reported dropping into huge holes in the ocean without warning, mostly with severe damage.

As a matter of interest, the probability of occurrence of exceptionally high waves may be calculated mathematically:

Ø It has been shown that one wave in 23 is over twice the height the average wave in a sea state.

Ø One wave in 1,175 is over three times the average height.

Ø One wave in over 300,000 exceeds four times the average height.

But what is not so well known is the fact that it’s not only the deep ocean that can produce “freak” waves in generally moderate conditions. If you’re running in from the sea, and you pass over a shallow bank, you can meet some quite alarmingly large waves.  It doesn’t seem right that larger waves should form in shallower water, but it comes about because a wave “feeling the bottom” is slowed down by friction, and therefore the distance between crests is reduced. The energy in the waves remains the same,  but it’s being compressed into a smaller area, and that energy has to go somewhere, so it extends upwards. In other words, the waves get bigger and steeper. It’s like pushing a carpet along the floor from one end.

Over shallow banks, and, of course, at the beach, the wave activity can be more dangerous than it is farther out in deep water. The same thing happens when waves run into an opposing current, as we know full well around here in Puget Sound, with its various tide rips. It’s interesting to note that a wave will be stopped completely by an opposing current traveling at one quarter of the speed of the wave. That wave literally hits the wall and rears up as a frightening cliff of water.

The Scripps Institute of Oceanography has shown that waves entering an area of opposing currents can quite easily have their heights raised by 50 to 100 percent in currents as low as 2 to 3 knots, creating breaking waves even in the absence of local wind.

The lesson to be drawn from this is that skippers of small yachts cruising for pleasure in coastal waters, and even in comparatively calm waters such as those of the Salish Sea, should keep a good watch for unusual patches and shadows on the water. Stay well clear of them, and keep away from charted overfalls and tide rips. They can be deadly for small boats.

Today’s Thought
Out of sight of land the sailor feels safe.
It is the beach that worries him.                                                  
— Charles G. Davis

“Won’t your mother be angry if she sees you in that skimpy swimsuit?”
"Yeah, I guess so. It's hers."

September 17, 2015

The heater that iced up

THEY SAY THAT IF you have a heater on your boat, you can extend your sailing season by six weeks or so at each end. I have never been swayed by that argument. Having spent most of my life in the sub-tropics, I have no love of sailing in the cold. Or the cold-and-rain, as happens around here. So I reckon there’s no need for a heater on a boat in this region.
There was one on a little Cape Dory 25D I once owned. We found her on an island in the San Juans, and sailed her home one bitter-cold day in February, when there was ice on deck. We had an overnight stop in a marina in Anacortes, where we ran into an old sailing friend. He offered us an electric heater because he said a cold night was forecast, but we scoffed and turned him away. “We have a nice Force 10 heater installed,” we said.
After a meal ashore, we came back to the boat and lit the heater. It had started life as a kerosene model, but the previous owner had converted it to gas. A small can of propane screwed onto the bottom.
We soon noticed something strange. It didn’t seem to be producing a lot of heat, and what heat it did produce rose to the top of the cabin and stayed there. What was even stranger was the fact that the can of propane was collecting a coat of ice. If we stood up in the cabin, the air was luke-warm from the belly-button up, and freezing cold from the belly-button down. As the layer of ice on the can grew thicker, we shut the heater off, fearing that it was actually producing more cold than heat on average. Our bunks were below belly-button level, so we spent a very cold night aboard, having brought only light-weight sleeping bags with us.
One of the first jobs I did on that boat was to convert the Force 10 back to kerosene heat.
It was a fairly easy job once I’d bought the right tools for flaring the copper tubing and so on. The new burner put out a lot more heat and never tried to make ice, but the hot air still hung around above belly-button level until we bought a 12-volt fan and mounted it where a reading lamp used to be. That stirred the air up nicely, distributing warmth all over the cabin from head to toe.
But we rarely used that heater because the fan used electricity, and I was scared we might flatten the battery overnight and not be able to start the diesel engine on a cold morning.
I have learned over the years that very little is simple on a boat, and the less you have to go wrong the better off you are.
So we never had a heater on any other boat since. And our belly buttons have been very grateful.
Today’s Thought
What is true, simple and sincere is most congenial to man’s nature.
— Cicero, De Officiis
“Who gave you that black eye?”
“My wife.”
"I thought she was out of town.”
“So did I.”

September 15, 2015

In love with a Vertue 25

PEOPLE CAN BE SO CRUEL. Even people who know you well. Even people without a harmful bone in their bodies. The trouble is, they just don’t stop to think how something might affect you.

Two good friends of mine, Sue and Jere, out cruising in the Salish Sea, have sent me an e-mail picture of a gorgeous little wooden boat they came across in Pages’ Resort Marina on Gabriola Island in British Columbia.  I recognized her as a Vertue 25, a British design by Laurent Giles.

She looked brand new, sparkling in the Canadian sunshine with gleaming white topsides and faultless brightwork, but I discovered she was built by the Bent Jespersen boatbuilding firm on Vancouver Island in 1985.

She’s called Sarissa and I fell deeply in love with her at first sight, as, I suspect, my friends knew I would.

What can be more cruel than unrequited love? I can’t afford to buy her, I can’t afford to maintain her, and as far as I know she’s not for sale anyhow. The simple act of sending me her picture has broken my heart.

I’ll get over it, of course. I always do. This isn’t the first time. But each time it takes a bit longer.

I have drooled over the Vertue 25 ever since I first read Humphrey Barton’s book, Vertue XXXV. He singlehanded her around Cape Horn, of course, the smallest boat to double the cape at the time, I believe. And then there was the epic voyage of another Vertue 25 as detailed in that splendid book My Old Man and the Sea, written in alternating chapters by father and son, David and Daniel Hays. A wonderful read.

The Hays’s set out from Britain, sailed south and across the Atlantic to Panama, made their way via the Galapagos to Easter Island, and then plunged into the Screaming Fifties to round Cape Horn and head for home up the Atlantic again.

So what is it about the 25-foot Vertue that affects me so much? Hard to say, really, except that she’s simply a beautiful, sturdy  little heavy-displacement boat that has all the features I love. A transom-hung rudder. A full-length keel. A well-protected cockpit. Narrow beam. Three-inch bulwarks. A cocky doghouse. A simple sloop rig. A sheerline to die for.

Most people these days would describe her as old fashioned and outdated. I don’t care. I’m that way myself. Say what you like, but this is a boat that just wants to be taken to sea, and when you look at her you know that she’s promising to look after you in the bad stuff, tiny as she is.

As a final touch of cruelty, it occurred to me that if I did own a Vertue 25, I would feel compelled to cross an ocean in her. That, after all, is her purpose in life.  But I’m getting too long in the tooth for that sort of thing. However, when I mentioned this to another friend she said:

“I disagree with you, John. The purpose of owning a  Laurent Giles Vertue would be to have a boat that you loved, that made you recall previous ocean crossings, and  admitting that cross-ocean adventures are beyond you now, while enjoying short sails in the protected Gulf Islands. Would you like us to go and have a look at her for you?”

Thanks, Jen, but no. I’m suffering enough already.

Today’s Thought
It is the special quality of love not to be able to remain stationary, to be obliged to increase under pain of diminishing.
— Andre Gide, The Counterfeiters
"I couldn't sleep a wink last night with those curtains wide open."
"Why didn't you close them?"
"I can't reach across the street."

September 14, 2015

Pity the poor otter

SOMETIMES, when I’m feeling emotional, I feel quite sorry for those of you who haven’t yet experienced the delights of the San Juan Islands of Washington state, and their northern continuation, the Canadian Gulf Islands. For some reason, we don’t hear much about this sleepy, largely undeveloped archipelago of state parks and cozy anchorages. It doesn’t generate the publicity some other parts of the country enjoy, despite the fact that boating is big business here. Some of the largest sailboat charter companies in the country are located in the fascinating area known as the Salish Sea, which, of course, includes Puget Sound.

Here and there you’ll come across bustling resort harbors such as Friday Harbor and Roche Harbor where you can refuel, reprovision, and indulge in highly civilized gustation, but in the main the mantle that lies over these welcoming islands is one of peace and tranquility. Here the stars actually blaze at night and the moon throws solid black shadows on the deck.

The air that drifts off the islands smells sweetly of pine. The aspect that greets your eye is almost exactly the same, in most cases, as it was hundreds of years ago, when Native Americans plied these waters in their dug-out canoes. They still do, as a matter of fact, but now only occasionally, and for ceremony and pleasure rather than for a living.

The roiling currents provide a fecund, fertile habitat for a host of sea creatures ranging from whales, orcas, porpoises, and seals to geoducks, mussels, and those famous Dungeness crabs.

We have seen ospreys and puffins, eagles by the dozen, seagulls by the thousand, and even the shy, dainty phalarope. I had wanted to see a phalarope ever since the late Alan Paton wrote a novel called Too Late the Phalarope, and one calm day in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, my wife June and I came across a small tight-knit group of them floating on the water, fluttering and agitated for no reason we could discover, except that they might have been in a feeding frenzy.

But the sight that sticks on our minds right now is that of a tiny otter living on the Canadian side of the border, near South Pender Island. We cruised up to within a few yards of him before we could make out what was happening. He was lying on his back, clutching to his chest a small fish, and trying to take bites out of it. But he was surrounded by half a dozen large seagulls, all floating on the surface, jostling each other, pecking voraciously at his fish and trying to wrestle it away from him. Time after time he would submerge with his meal to get rid of the gulls, but he couldn’t stay under for long and as soon as he reappeared the birds would fly over with great squawks of indignation and continue the assault with their strong, sharp beaks.

I don’t know how that particular battle ended, because we soon drifted away, but we couldn’t help feeling sorry for that sweet little otter, outnumbered as he was. It wasn’t a fair fight, but of course Nature knows nothing about fairness, only survival and extinction, so even if we could have weighed in on the side of the otter it probably wouldn’t have made much difference to the Great Scheme of Things.

It makes me wonder about seagulls, though. They’re such shameless scavengers; rats with wings, really. How is it that they were given such desirable gifts? They’re beautiful to look at. Their flying skill is wonderful to behold. They can swim in water and walk on land.

Something unfair here, surely? Especially if you’re a decent law-abiding otter just trying to eat a peaceful lunch.

Today’s Thought

For nature is one with rapine, a harm no preacher can heal,

The Mayfly is torn by the swallow, the sparrow speared by the shrike,

And the whole little wood where I sit is a world of plunder and prey.

— Tennyson, Maud


“What’s your opinion of bathing beauties?”

“Dunno. My wife’s never let me bathe one.”

September 10, 2015

Writing for sailing magazines

NOW AND THEN someone asks me how to write for sailing magazines. And I reply: “Frequently, and without hope.”

Frequently, because they often ignore or lose unsolicited articles. And without hope because most beginners fail to understand what a particular magazine is looking for.

If I may say so without boasting, I have written for many of the biggest sailing magazines, and I’ve worked as managing editor of a nationally circulated  powerboat magazine, so I have labored on both sides of the aisle.

As a professional writer, trying to earn an honest penny, I have been ignored by the best of them. Even if they’ve published you before, even if you’re well known, it makes no difference. Both Sail magazine and Cruising World have taken more than a year to reply to proposals or articles I submitted. One day, I guess, in an emergency, they shuffled through the slush pile to find something usable, and accidentally came across my stuff. There was rarely an apology or an explanation. Just some mumbling in the background about my submission “falling through the cracks.” Again.

When I became a managing editor myself, I made it my business never to keep a writer waiting longer than one week for a decision. I may not have been a good editor, but I was very popular with my writers.

One day I’ll tell you the best way to go about writing for sailing magazines, but meanwhile, if you are serious about earning money by writing articles, I’d suggest you find a more lucrative field than sailing. Almost any subject from gardening to gangrene will find you a wider audience and better compensation. You’d be better off writing about herbaceous borders. Or babies. Or knitting. Anything but sailing.

Today’s Thought
With pen and pencil we’re learning to say
Nothing, more cleverly, every day.
--William Allingham, Blackberries

“What caused the fire on Fred’s yacht?”
“The investigator said it was spontaneous combustion — a $20,000 policy on a $10,000 boat.”

September 8, 2015

Mischievous mice vs rubber ducks

ONE OF THE ASPECTS of sailing that has always fascinated me is the wide range of disciplines involved. Sailing as a sport touches on so many other facets of social and scientific life that it’s almost impossible to list them all.

Perhaps that’s why sailing has always fit in with my former calling as a newspaperman. Competent journalists must know at least a little about a very wide range of subjects, and a whole lot about at least a few. The same goes for amateur sailors.

And now it’s that time of year again when we have to remember how to thwart mice intent on turning rubber dinghies into Swiss cheese.

New Englander Carl Thunberg wrote an impassioned plea on the Cape Dory bulletin board. He said he owned a Cape Dory 30 called Leona Pearl. “Our very expensive 11-foot rigid inflatable boat is riddled with mouse holes,” he said. “Does anyone know of a reputable business that repairs holes in inflatable dinghies within a reasonable driving distance of Portsmouth, New Hampshire?”

And how do mice come to eat holes in a rubber dinghy, you ask? Well, many sailors in the Northeast haul their boats out of the water for winter. They deflate their dinghies and store them in garages or barns.

This doesn’t exactly explain why mice would want to chomp holes in them, but believe me, they do. Exactly the same thing happened to Carl’s previous rubber dinghy.

Perhaps Carl’s mice have discovered a new form of winter entertainment, sort of like a spooky fairground haunted house, in which you eat a hole through a layer of rubber dinghy, squeeze through, and run around inside the pitch-dark chamber until you have scared yourself out of your little mouse’s wits, and then you quickly eat your way out again.

Perhaps they have developed a genuine epicurean liking for salted inflatable-dinghy fabric, or maybe the dumb critters are hoping that by creating the holes the boat will magically turn into a giant Swiss cheese.

In any case, Carl’s experience is not unique. Other Cape Dory owners offered suggestions from their own experience, the main one of which is to strew the dinghy liberally with a fragrant fabric softener known as Bounce. Rubber dinghies that have been Bounced seem to be immune to rodent chomps.

There are other methods to protect stored rubber dinghies, of course, including barn cats, mouse-proof steel boxes, and, failing all else, the use of hard dinghies instead of rubber ones. But nothing is as cheap and easy as Bounce.

I must make a note of it. I wonder if it works on seagulls?

Today’s Thought    
Consider the little mouse, how sagacious an animal it is which never entrusts his life to one hole only.
— Plautus, Truculentus

The problem with the person who has an hour to kill is that he inevitably wants to spend it with someone who hasn’t a minute to spare.

September 4, 2015

The sailor's major virtue

I MAY HAVE MENTIONED this before but you probably don’t remember it. Besides, it bears repeating: One of the most valuable assets a sailor can cultivate is patience, followed closely by serenity.
Imagine that you’re nicely tucked into a snug anchorage on the rugged west coast of Vancouver Island. You got in just before the wind really started howling, and now the rain is starting to pelt down.
The VHF, tuned to the British Columbian weather forecast, is relaying a doleful message:
“ ... mostly awful with occasional ghastliness ... periods of low depression followed by unremitting rain ... wind from the southeast at umpteen knots ... large-boat advisory for tonight and all day tomorrow ... wind-waves 15 feet ...”
Your course is southeast, of course. So, if you have any sense, you’re stuck.
Well, then, what did sailors do with themselves in the Great Age of Sail when they were anchored in open roadsteads waiting for the wind to change? How did they pass the time? If they were in the navy, I expect they painted the anchor cable and holystoned the deck. But how do people stop themselves from going crazy on smaller boats? What would you do with yourself while waiting out bad weather, especially in places where you can’t get cell phone service or browse the Internet?
You can only sleep or play Patience for so long before you go nuts. You might take the opportunity to change the engine oil or do some all-day job like grinding the valves — but what if the forecast is wrong? You wouldn’t want to miss a good sailing day with bits of engine spread all over the cabin.
You can’t spend days at a time doing nothing but listening to Beethoven or the Beatles, and if you spend all day cooking you’ll have to eat it all and you know what that’s going to do to your waistline.
I guess you could call the Coasties on Channel 16 but I suspect that even the nice, friendly Canadian Coast Guards would get kinda grumpy if you just want to chat and tell them how depressed you are.
You could make love, I suppose, given the right circumstances, but I’m told that the average is eight minutes, which doesn’t take up an awful lot of the day.
For these reasons, yachtsmen cooped up in port — and fearful of being criticized for wimpishness — often try to make a break for it despite the bad weather. And all too often that’s a very bad idea unless you have an exceptional boat and an exceptional crew. If you do that, you might find yourself talking to the Coasties again pretty soon, and not just for fun.
If ignorance and ill preparation are the parents of adventure, then patience and serenity are the parents of safe cruising. They don’t come easily. They have to be cultivated, like most other sailorly pursuits. Learning how to extend your love life might be a good way to start.
Today’s Thought Patience, n. A minor form of despair disguised as a virtue. — Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary
Tailpiece Ms. Smith, your work during your trial period indicates a standard of mediocrity, inadequacy, and chronic incompetence.” “Oh thank goodness. I had a silly feeling you weren’t satisfied with me.”

September 1, 2015

This is how we trim sails

MANY YEARS AGO, when I was being taught how to teach people to sail, my instructor, Captain Corinne Mattingley, played the part of a puzzled beginner. She asked: “Why does the jib have two sheets when the mainsail only has one?”

I was taken aback by that simple question. I ummed and aahed while my brain struggled to pull itself together. Eventually she took pity on me. “The mast is in the way of the jib sheets,” she explained. “You need one on each side.”

Well, I knew that, of course. Just never thought about it. People like me who have sailed from childhood often sail by instinct without knowing the reasons for things. For instance, it took me a long time to figure out the answer to the question: How do you know when your sails are correctly trimmed?

The point I had always overlooked here is that there are two “modes” of sailing. The first is when you’re trying to sail to windward as efficiently as you can. The second is when you’re not trying to sail to windward as efficiently as you can.

In the first case, you trim your sails for a beat, and then you cleat them and steer the boat left and right to keep the sails filled correctly. You luff or fall off as the case may be, steering a weaving course as the wind direction changes. In other words, you’re trimming the sails by moving the rudder.

In the second case, on all courses from a close fetch to running dead before the wind, you steer the boat steadily at the spot you’re aiming for and you keep changing the trim of the sails to suit the changing wind. Now you’re trimming the sails by tightening or loosening the sheets.

So when you’re beating you constantly steer the boat to suit the wind; and when you’re sailing free you sail a steady course and constantly trim the sails in or out to suit the wind.

In practice, of course, most of us don’t bother to keep fine-trimming the sails because the wind usually tends to switch back and forth slightly, so we trim for the average. But if you want to race it’s important to react more quickly to wind changes, and even if you’re cruising it’s reassuring to know the theory — so you could go faster if you really wanted to.

Today’s Thought
We’re drowning in information and starving for knowledge.
— Rutherford D. Rogers, librarian, Yale

Here’s some advice for the semi-adventurous: Don't join dangerous cults; practice safe sects.