January 14, 2016

How small boats survive at sea



THIS QUESTION may never have occurred to anyone who grew up with small boats, but it’s one that often puzzles landlubbers: How do small boats survive at sea in storms that sink large ocean liners and freighters?

Winthrop P. Moore gave as good an answer as any in his book Yachts: Their Care and Handling (Dodd Mead, 1936):

“Small boats, offering less obstruction to the action of the waves because of their buoyancy, will float along on the top of everything, while great steamers are hammering into the waves and suffering damage.

“Another important factor is the difference in wave lengths. During a storm the distance from crest to crest of waves may be several hundred feet. This means that the small boat will never straddle waves, nor will she plunge into the trough at the same time that her stern is being pushed up by the passing wave.

“In other words, a small boat will ride on top of big waves, taking no green water aboard, when a larger vessel is finding the going extremely uncomfortable, and must slow down for safety.”

Those of you with a thorough knowledge of small boats and the sea will no doubt find Mr. Moore’s explanation a little simplistic. Perhaps you’re remembering that bigger waves have smaller waves upon their backs to bite ’em, and smaller waves have lesser waves, and so ad infinitum.

But hey, hold on there. Moore’s explanation is surely good enough for who it’s for.

Today’s Thought
The day will come when I will die. So the only matter of consequence before me is what I will do with my allotted time. I can remain on shore, paralyzed with fear, or I can raise my sails and dip and soar in the breeze.
— Richard Bode, First You Have to Row a Little Boat

Tailpiece
If your dog has fleas, simply rub him with raw alcohol and let him roll in sand.
The fleas will get drunk and disappear by throwing rocks at each other.

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

1 comment:

Charles Martens said...

Five days out of Sasebo, while the General Walker troopship was teetering like a see saw on huge waves left by a typhoon, we saw several small fishing boats riding much more comfortably. They seemed to go up and down like they were on elevators, and with little pitch or roll.
So yes, this seems to confirm that small boats can ride big waves. However, huge waves can steepen and break from at least three natural causes, and that is when you probably would want to be in some safer place.