June 30, 2016

There's no silence anywhere

A REPORT ON THE RADIO the other day mentioned that it was almost impossible in many national parks to get away from man-made noise. No matter how remote the parks were, there was always some background noise from distant highways, all-terrain vehicles, and aircraft passing overhead.

I always thought that the best place to find relief from human noise was far out to sea, but that turned out to be only partly true. One day when we were in the tropics, hot and sticky and running in the trades, I heard the faint but unmistakable noise of a jetliner passing high overhead. All I could think about then was how nice it would be to be sitting aboard that plane in cool airconditioning, listening to the tinkle of ice in my cocktail glass.

It occurred to me belatedly that mankind makes plenty of noise out in the deep sea, too. There are not only surface ships making the waters throb with their diesel engines, but also submarines emitting various kinds of pings for highly secret purposes. There is, in fact, a whole network of cables and listening devices spread out over the floors of the oceans to pick up noises made by surface ships and submarines.

I sometimes wonder what the point is, though, since submarines can be as silent as they like, yet satellites can often find them at night with the help of nature alone. When I was the editor of a yachting magazine I once received an official photograph taken by a satellite of a fully submerged submarine cruising at night and brightly bathed in the light of phosphorescence. There was no hiding from the eye in the sky.   

It’s easy to believe that soon there will be nowhere that is safe from human noise, not even Mt. Everest or the South Pole. Noise is simply a part of life, and we must remember that humans are not the only cause of noise. Nature is quite noisy, too.

Today’s Thought
An horrid stillness first invades the ear,
And in that silence we the tempest fear.
— Dryden, Astræa Redux

"How's your glassblower friend?"
"Not so good. He inhaled by mistake and they took him to the hospital with a pane in his stomach.”

June 29, 2016

How to kiss a girl sailor

ONE OF THE MOST interesting queries I’ve ever received came from a Texas reader, Frank Barthwell, who wanted to know how to kiss a girl with a boat. “I seek your advice on a personal matter,” he wrote. “This is the situation: I have met a charming girl and have invited her out on a first date. But she is a keen sailor and lives on her own boat in a marina. I have never sailed so I’m not sure of the protocol here.

“Firstly, where do I kiss her goodnight? At the head of the gangway leading down to the concrete walkways? At the locked gate at the beginning of the walkways? At (but not on) her boat? Or in the cockpit? (I think it’s the cockpit. That hole at the back.)

“Secondly, do girl sailors kiss any different from ordinary girls? I mean, will she expect a peck on the cheek, a brush on the lips, a straight full-court press, or vigorous osculation with labial intrusion?

“Any help in advance would be appreciated.”

Well, I told Frank that I’m no expert on these things. (And I said that not only because my wife reads this column but also because it’s true. Honestly, dear.) Nevertheless, I have met a few woman sailors in my time and one thing they had in common was that they knew what they wanted and were pretty good at getting it.

So I told Frank that he should just relax and be himself and let her do the leading, which I was sure she would do. She must have dealt with landlubbers before. “You won’t be the first,” I assured him. “So if she pauses at the head of the gangway, cocks her head toward you archly, and pushes her lips into a kiss shape, that’s your goodnight signal. She’ll see herself home from there.

“On the other hand, if she keeps going all the way to the boat without stopping, don’t get left behind. Stay close. Wait for the pause and the cocked head just before she steps aboard. That’s goodnight. But ... if she disappears down below without pausing, follow her quickly. That’s an invitation to stay for coffee, after which she’ll undoubtedly offer to show you the Golden Rivet*. Lucky you.”

Now that I think about it, I imagine that kissing techniques vary from woman to woman, but I think it’s safe (according to books I’ve read, dear, not personal experience) to assume she’d be happy to start with normal, gentle, lip-to-lip contact, and if she wanted something more hectic than that, she would show Frank how to do it.

I never heard from Frank again, so I presume it all went well and they’re now living happily ever after.

Today’s Thought
A kiss can be a comma, a question mark or an exclamation point. That’s basic spelling that every woman ought to know.

“As I’ve known you for so long, doctor, I won’t insult you by paying you a fee. Instead, I’ve made generous provision for you in my will.”
“Really? That’s very kind of you – and may I glance at the prescription again? There’s a small alteration I’d like to make.”

June 27, 2016

Small boat survival at sea

IT WAS ALWAYS a source of regret to me that my seagoing sailboats were never big enough to carry a sailing dinghy. I always thought a small wooden dinghy would make an ideal lifeboat if the yacht sank, and I always thought I could sail a small dinghy across an ocean if necessary.

By force of circumstance, we always ended up with a rubber duckie that could be deflated and stowed in a cockpit locker; but the problem with an inflatable dinghy (or an inflatable liferaft for that matter) is that most of them are incapable of sailing anywhere, so you just have to sit there and pray that a ship will come your way and rescue you. Nothing deflates morale quicker. People have been known to die in days because they despaired of ever being rescued, whereas others endured long-lasting hardships simply because they were in charge of their own fate, making progress toward land, however slow, and therefore generating hope.

Because we never had a small wooden sailing dinghy, I never had to do much thinking about the practical aspects of how you survive storms on the open ocean in a small dinghy. It was only years later that I read Frank Dye’s book about his extraordinary voyages from Scotland to Iceland and Norway in his open, wooden, 16-foot, Wayfarer centerboard dinghy.*

On the passage to Norway, Frank and his male crew survived four capsizes in a Force 9 gale in the frigid Norwegian Sea. But ordinary gales never bothered them. The way they dealt with ordinary gales was this:

— They lowered the mast in its tabernacle until the upper end of the mast rested in a boom crutch a few feet above the transom.

— They fastened a cover from gunwale to gunwale over the mast, enclosing all the open cockpit.

— They streamed a parachute drogue from the bows.

— They lay flat on the floorboards to keep their ballast weight low.

The effect of the cover and the drogue was to keep the boat automatically facing into oncoming waves. In fact, the cover, being higher at the stern than near the bows, acted in the same way as a trysail would on a keelboat.

“Under the cover it was difficult to realize that a gale was blowing outside,” Dye remarks in his book with typical British sang froid. The Wayfarer rode well with a slight snatch as the drogue pulled her over each breaking crest. There was a rattle of spray on the cover and an occasional jump sideways as a cross-sea caught her. And in these conditions Dye and his crew even managed to get some rest.

The Wayfarer is a remarkable boat, of course, stable, fast, responsive, and seaworthy. And Frank Dye was an equally remarkable man.

I am grateful to him, because now that I know how to sail a small dinghy across an ocean if necessary, I fervently hope I never have to.

* Ocean Crossing Wayfarer, Second Edition, by Frank and Margaret Dye (Adlard Coles Nautical, London, 2008).

Today’s Thought
Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened.
— Billy Graham

“Why did they transfer your boy friend from that submarine?”
“He has a habit of sleeping with the window open.”

June 23, 2016

Trial and error for propellers

AN AWFUL LOT is written about propellers in the sailing magazines. I read one article in which it was said that “when you select a propeller, you should match every dimension of that propeller to the hull and the engine driving it to attain maximum efficiency. This makes propeller selection and calculation very difficult for those of us who are not naval architects.”

Well, that’s not completely true in my opinion. The experts in too many fields, such as navigation and splicing synthetic rope, like to spread the word that it’s more complicated than it really is.

There are two ways of selecting a propeller: theory and practice. And even naval architects have to resort to trial-and-error after they’ve tried their best with theory.

Let’s say you’re not satisfied with your boat’s performance under power, and you suspect the propeller is the wrong size. First check the diameter. Go to page 45 of my book, The Boatowner’s Handbook, where there’s a handy little graph. Lay a ruler between horsepower and prop-shaft revolutions, and see where it crosses the column marked “Propeller diameter.”

On page 47 you’ll find another graph that shows you the pitch you need. This points you in the right direction for your prop. It’s about as good a result as the naval architect will get with all his complicated calculations.

So much for theory. Now we come to the practice. This hardly needs any brains at all, so it suits me fine.
Make sure your boat’s propeller is free of barnacles and the hull is reasonably clean. Take her for a run in calm weather. The ideal propeller will allow the engine to reach the manufacturer’s top-rated revolutions per minute (and therefore full power) with the throttle opened fully. And at this stage, your boat should be achieving full hull speed.

Now, if your engine starts to lug, or emit black diesel smoke, before it reaches top-rated rpm, you’ve probably got too much pitch. It’s like trying to ride a bike uphill in top gear.
On the other hand, if your engine reaches top revs too easily — that is, before your boat reaches hull speed — you probably need to increase the pitch. You’re riding downhill in low gear. Your little legs are whizzing around in a blur but you’re not going very fast.

A propeller shop can alter the pitch of most auxiliary sailboat props a couple of inches at a fraction of the cost of a new propeller. For auxiliary sailboats with the usual 2-to-1 reduction gearbox, a decrease in prop pitch of 2 inches will increase engine revs (not propeller revs) per minute by about 300 to 400.
It’s unlikely that you’ll need to change the prop diameter, but you might like to know that for roughly equivalent performance, if you decrease the diameter 1 inch, you should increase the pitch 2 inches.

You don’t need to be a naval architect to check your propeller’s actual performance this way. It’s as much art as science — plus a bit of grunt work to get the darned prop off the shaft to which it seems to cling so determinedly.

Today’s Thought
An expert is somebody who is more than 50 miles from home, has no responsibility for implementing the advice he gives, and shows slides.
— Edwin Meese 3rd, White House counsel

A pessimist is a person who builds a castle in the air and then locks himself in the dungeon.
An optimist, on the other hand, is a person who fixes your eyes.

June 21, 2016

The bravery of the simple sailor

I CAN’T HELP THINKING that there are a lot of wusses in the sporting world. You know, the weakling, wimpish kind of wuss. Those football players, for example.  Always complaining about head injuries and broken bones — despite all the helmets and padding and armor they wear.

When it comes to bravery and fortitude, people who endure pain and terror without complaint, you have to admire the amateur sailors of the world.

Sailing is a sport conducted in an arena filled with dangers completely unknown to football players. Sailors compete in the same waters as sting rays, electric eels, poisonous puffer fish, sea snakes, moray eels, killer whales and, of course, all kinds of sharks.

A journalist friend of mine called Ivor Wilkins was in his little yacht, Thistledown, on the way to New Zealand once when he ran into a whale at full tilt. He was lucky his boat didn’t sink. On another occasion, a 30-foot Van de Stadt-designed Pionier-class boat was racing across the Atlantic in 1971 when she was attacked by a pack of killer whales. Her keel was so badly damaged that she sank, and it was only by a miracle that an American freighter, forced off course by gales, came across her crew in their inflatable life raft.

People who cruise in the Pacific Northwest can add bears and leeches to the list of nasty surprises, not to mention shellfish poisoning. And, of course there is also the danger posed by the water itself. Few people last more than 20 minutes after falling overboard in frigid water.

Now, what protective gear do sailors wear? Practically nothing, compared with football players and even the genteel cricketers. We are so macho, compared with them. I mean, unlike the cricketers, we don’t wear protective boxes over our manly parts. We let them flap in the breeze, willy nilly, and allow them to fend for themselves against the sting rays and killer whales. What the world of sport needs is less whining about the dangers of football and more appreciation for the bravery of sailboaters. They could learn a lot from us.

 Today’s Thought
Those athletic brutes whom undeservedly we call heroes. 
— Dryden, Fables: Preface

"Doctor! Doctor! Help me! I think I'm shrinking!"
"Now calm down, Mrs. Jones, I’m afraid there's nothing to be done. You'll just have to learn to be a little patient.”

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

June 20, 2016

Losing control at sea

IT’S A GREAT PITY that human beings are unable to pass on their lifetimes of learning to future generations. Nature has not provided us with the shortcuts she gives to other forms of life, such as birds, which do not have to learn to peck their way out of an egg or how to build a nest. For them, the knowledge is built in. But humans have to learn practically everything over again from scratch, so the accumulated knowledge of people like Einstein is not available to be built on immediately and taken to the next step.   

I mention this because there are always neophyte sailors who are anxious not to kill themselves at sea. This means that as new generations come along they have to learn the same old things all over again.

This is why, every few years, I find people asking me the same old questions, such as “Why do I lose control of the boat when we’re running before the wind in large waves?”

Well, once again let me say that interesting things happen at sea. Your boat loses stability in broken water, for a start. But 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 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, either. Think about it. The rudder is trying to lift the stern toward the sky as much as it is trying to turn the boat 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 Some other day, perhaps.

Today’s Thought
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.
—Bacon, Essays

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 another  Mainly about Boats column.)

June 16, 2016

Memories are made of this

MANY PEOPLE recall the pleasure of an annual sailing vacation by inviting their friends around to view their video recordings. But long before video became obtainable, G. K. Chesterton, the British writer, critic, and author of verse, essays, novels, and short stories once described how he evoked the emotions of a vacation by calling a cab, piling it up with luggage, and driving to the railway station. Then, having experienced his sensation, he drove home again.

Mr. Chesterton’s little eccentricity was harmless enough, certainly, but most sailors I know would get just as much in the way of belated emotional thrills by perusing the old paper charts of their favorite cruising grounds.

(Incidentally, perhaps I should be more careful about labeling Mr. Chesterton as eccentric. I have literally hundreds of paper charts stuffed under my marital bed and a nearby couch for wont of adequate stowage anywhere else in my home, and I find nothing eccentric about that. I have never owned a boat big enough to accommodate them all at one time. I admit that my dear wife has from time to time mentioned her unease with this arrangement, especially with regard to vacuuming under the bed and its attendant difficulties, but so far the word eccentric has not come into the equation.)

The thing is, paper charts, with their hand-drawn course lines, ancient annotations, recommendations, coffee stains and warnings, are the magic carpets that whisk us away from the banalities of this careworn earth and transport us in the blink of an eyelid to sunny beaches, serene anchorages — and other less enticing places.

Nothing sends a frisson down my spine quicker than the word “FOG!!” scrawled on the chart of the San Juan Channel, where, I now recall in the warmth and safety of my home, a Washington State ferry on a collision course with us was swallowed up in thick grey mist. I can laugh about it now, of course, smug in the knowledge that I took the right decision to keep out of his way. At the time, however, it was quite another matter and only the deep handprints I crushed into the varnished tiller bear the true testimony of my feelings then.

And there is my salt-stained chart of Cape Agulhas, criss-crossed with penciled bearings from that powerful lighthouse and the shaky words “Rounded at last.” Our joy at doubling Africa’s southernmost cape against storms and contrary winds comes flooding back — perhaps with even greater evocation than that which Mr. Chesterton managed to wrest from his piles of suitcases.

Today’s Thought
Our memories are card indexes — consulted, and then put back in disorder by authorities whom we do not control.
— Cyril Connolly, The Unquiet Grave

“Doctor, my husband has a dreadful temperature.”
“What is it, exactly?”
“It’s about 150 degrees.”
“Okay, give him two aspirins and call the fire brigade.”

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

June 15, 2016

Gertruda's smelly bilge

I SOMETIMES WONDER if Gertruda ever managed to stop her bilge from  smelling. Gertruda is Danish. She wrote to me some time ago. “My bilge smells,” she said, “I keep it clean and wash it out regularly but it always smells. Is there an answer?”

I gave Gertruda an answer but I never heard from her again. Maybe I upset her. Judge for yourself. Here’s what I told her:

Gertruda, this is something most sailors don’t talk about in public. It’s one of those little secrets: most sailboat bilges smell. It’s the micro-organisms, you see — the really little fellas. The really feisty little bugs.

You actually need a microscope to see what’s going on in your bilge. There are literally billions of crude forms of life down there, all too small for the human eye to see, and all enjoying a non-stop, uninhibited, riotous party.

You might well think that your efforts at cleaning the bilge would rob them of their food, that they would just dry up and fade away, but alas, the mere presence of human beings is sustenance enough for them, especially as they’re not particularly fussy about their diet.

We purposely don’t think about this much, but human beings are self-shucking. Every time a human body moves it sheds millions of tiny particles of old skin. It’s called scurf — little dry scales that pop off as new skin grows underneath. As far as the little fellas are concerned, we are walking clouds of wholesome food that eventually float down to the bilge. It’s followed closely by those minute particle of skin, feathers, and flesh that we call dander.

All this is like steak and potatoes to the little fellas but they get plenty of dessert, too. Sweat and dirt from human body parts flow into the bilge after showers. Slimy water from the ice-box drains into the bilge. There are delicious drips of diesel fuel and engine oil. There is spilled beer that starts yummy yeast plants growing, bits of gloriously rotted hamburger, marvelous mixed grills from under your toenails, tasty gobs of fish bait that got stuck to your shoes, and a host of other toothsome morsels — thanks to gravity, it all ends up in the bilge. And if you mix in a little water, you have a real witches’ brew.

Now, I know this is a delicate subject, Gertruda, but none of these little fellas uses underarm deodorant. None of them knows where the bathroom is. None of them cares. They just do it right where they are. None of them uses mouthwash and all have halitosis. They constantly burp and pass wind. No wonder the bilge smells.

Gertruda, the only way to prevent odors is to keep the bilge perfectly dry. In drought mode, the little fellas hibernate and don’t cause any trouble. The problem is that it’s not possible to keep the bilge absolutely dry on most boats. There’s always a little moisture down there somewhere. So the bilge will always smell, and in polite company nobody will mention it. And that includes you, Gertruda, okay?

Today’s Thought
All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.
— Shakespeare, Macbeth. Act v, sc. 1

“Anything to declare, Mr. MacTavish?”
“Och, I dinna think so. It’s all clothing.”

“Aha — and what’s this bottle of whisky, then?”
“Hoots mon, that’s ma nightcap.”

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

June 13, 2016

Captain Nat and his cat

EVERY NOW AND THEN somebody new to sailing will try to assure me that catamarans are the latest, fastest things in the yachting world. Now, I don’t know much about multihulls, not half as much as I probably should, but I do know that’s wrong with that statement. Multihulls have been around an awfully long time.

My own experience with reasonably large cats is limited to a Caribbean cruise I did from Grenada years ago on assignment for Cruising World magazine. She was a 38-foot Lagoon, and wonderfully luxurious compared with anything I’ve ever owned; but I wasn’t much taken with her performance under sail.

I readily admit I am biased. I grew up with small monohulls and I like the way they feel, the way they can tack on a dime, the way they respond to the helm when your jib starts telling you you’re pointing too high. In half a second the jib is quiet again and doing the work it is paid to do. I didn’t get that feeling on the Lagoon, which responded much more slowly.

I also found it very strange that when a sudden gust came along, the Lagoon would simply sprint forward and not heel. Heeling is one of the parameters I use to judge when spilling wind, or reefing, is necessary. I get a very uneasy feeling when that parameter is removed.

And I guess I was put off multihulls at an early age when I learned that they were building escape hatches in the bottom of the boats as a matter of course, so you could scramble out and wave your arms for help when you capsized.

As for racing cats, it was way back in 1870s that Nat Herreshoff designed, built, and raced a catamaran called Amaryllis. She easily won the second race of the 1876 Centennial Series against some of the fastest boats in the country. She had at least one of the faults still causing trouble for today’s multihulls, though. In June, 1877, Amaryllis drove her bows under at high speed, and pitchpoled during a match race.

Monohulls do that sometimes, too, of course, but perhaps not as often. And in any case an outside-ballasted monohull will tend to right herself promptly, whereas a multihull is more stable upside down than she is the right way up.

The multihull’s advantage is that, lacking the heavy keel, she will float until the seacows come home, or at least at until some keen-eyed rescuer comes along. I personally wouldn’t like to try living in or on an inverted multihull. I was very glad I didn’t capsize the Lagoon, though I suppose Cruising World would have missed me after a few weeks and sent out the search-and-rescue troops. That’s what I like to think, anyhow — though I may be sadly misguided.

Today’s Thought
For the actual sailing, I enjoyed these craft [catamarans] more than any I ever owned.
— Nathanael C. Herreshoff

“Hey I just realized why I keep winning at poker and losing on the horses.”
“So why is it?”
“They won’t let me shuffle the horses.”

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

June 9, 2016

Frightening off the aliens

A READER who signs himself “Still Waiting” wants to know if my friend ever finished the science fiction novel he was writing. I’m afraid not. That was about six years ago, and he hasn’t added a word to it since. He says it’s writer’s block, but I think it’s woman trouble. You can’t write science fiction if you’re having woman trouble.

But never mind that. He says you can claim the beginning and finish it yourself if you want. Anyone is welcome to give it a go. So here it is once again:

In the opening chapter, aliens in a low-flying spacecraft spot a yacht at sea.

“What is it?” asks 1!@#.

“I don’t know,” says 2$%^. “But it has life. It flies. It swims.”

“It is a bird – it has wings in the air.”

“But it does not fly. It must be a fish — it has fins in the water.”

“But it does not dive,” 1!@# points out.

“Look, it has two large parasites. They have four limbs each. One is in its stomach, devouring something,” says 2$%^. “Another is outside and torturing it by pulling hard on its wings with strong winches. Now he twists its back fin with a large wheel.”

“Don’t get too close,” warns 1!@#. “Those parasites look dangerous to me.”

“Me, too,” says 2$%^. “We’re outta here.”

Well, it’s quite a promising start, I think, though I find those alien names a little difficult to pronounce. I would be interested to see how somebody develops the theme. I think maybe my friend was going to blame yachtsmen for Earthlings’ lack of contact with aliens, but I’m not sure. Like most writers, he didn’t care to talk about where he was going with this book, mostly because he didn’t know.

He was actually going to write a factual book called In the Wake of Ulysses but he was a little slow. He woke up too late, and that great sailor Hal Roth beat him to it with We Followed Odysseus. So he decided to write fiction instead, reckoning that nobody could beat him to that.

Anyway, what with woman trouble and all, he got stuck. Permanently, it seems. He did what writers always do: he stared at the computer screen and waited for inspiration.

Been there, done that. Do that regularly, in fact. It’s hell, but somebody has to do it.

Today’s Thought
Writing stopped being fun when I discovered the difference between good writing and bad and, even more terrifying, between it and true art.
— Truman Capote

“I hear your new car was recalled by the dealer.”
“Yeah, there was a defect in my bank account.”

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

June 7, 2016

A little squirting from aloft

MY FRIENDS Sue Hodges and Jere Montague are wandering around in the wilds of British Columbia in their 30-foot Sundowner tug powerboat, Gold Star. The weather is unpredictable up there at the northern end of Vancouver Island, but they’re hoping for the best. And the best, I’ve assured them, is to be pooped on by a bald eagle in Bull Harbour. Rumor has it* that the weather always improves after that.

Bull Harbour, on remote Hope Island, is a mystic sort of place, inhabited only by a handful of First Nations people and an eagle with a devastatingly accurate aim.  It’s a lovely landlocked little bay with good holding and trees along its fringes where eagles watch the comings and goings of boats that anchor there, waiting for the right weather conditions to cross Nahwitti Bar and round Cape Scott.

Once when I was there in my 25-foot Cape Dory sailboat I took the dinghy and sculled quietly around the edges of the little harbor.  I love to do that in new harbors. The place where the land meets the sea is always fascinating. It’s one of the few places where the water is shallow enough for you to see what’s going on down there, but deep enough to shelter a host of marine life.

I noticed a bald eagle high up in one of the tall trees along the edge, and I presumed he would fly away as I passed underneath him. But no. Just as I was right below him, he let loose with a great curving splodge of white that landed squarely on my shoulder.

I couldn’t get mad at him. I have always admired the old western cowboys who sat in saloons and squirted their tobacco juice into  spittoons with great accuracy and enough force to make them ring. Well, it seemed that Bull Harbour had bald eagles like that, only  they neither squirted tobacco juice nor did they squirt it from the front end. Nevertheless, I had to admire their skill.

I noticed, too, that there was an immediate improvement in the weather. Fishing boats that had been bottled up in Bull Harbour for days started to weigh anchor and head out to sea. The scurrying clouds broke up into white blobs of cotton and the sun came peeking through eagerly.

We enjoyed good weather all the way down the west coast of Vancouver Island and toasted our feathered friend every evening.  “Here’s to eagle poop” we’d say, lifting our glasses of port. “Long may it squirt.”   

* I started it. The rumor, that is.

Today’s Thought
 When thou seest an eagle, thou seest a portion of Genius; lift up thy head!
— William Blake, Proverbs of Hell

Only a few of us can learn from other people’s mistakes.
The rest of us have to be the other people.

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

June 6, 2016

Panic strikes at sea

IT STRUCK ME the other day that there must be a lot of feelings that a sailor experiences that are unknown to your average landlubber. And one of those feelings is the anxiety, verging on controlled panic, you experience when land should appear, but doesn’t.
It happened to me once long ago. After 16 days at sea in my 30-foot sloop I was approaching the Caribbean island of St. Vincent, specially chosen as my landfall because of its height and therefore its visibility from a great distance.
This was in the days before GPS, and when my calculations showed I was within sighting range, there was nothing but blue sea and sky. Hour after hour went by as I fussed with my navigation and did my sums over again and again. My alarm was contagious. My crew started to worry alongside me. Ten miles to go, and no St. Vincent.
With sinking feelings in our stomachs we wondered out loud. Could the compass be wrong? Were we completely lost? Was the sextant giving false readings? Was our chronometer acting up? Were the charts wrong? Did we have enough food and water to find some land somewhere, anywhere?
Five miles to go. Nothing. Had there been an earthquake? Had St. Vincent been blown off the face of the earth? If so, wouldn’t we see some trees and wreckage? Our minds  ran amok with reasons for our worrisome situation.
Suddenly there was a flash of light high up to starboard. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was sun reflecting off a car on a mountain road. We were about to run into St. Vincent. I was so startled, I automatically jibed and reversed our course.
In the next few minutes, the whole island revealed itself and we were, in fact, about four miles off, dead on course. Oh, what a relief. You can’t imagine our joy. The island had been hidden by a sea mist that had blended on the horizon to make one seamless view of the blue sea and sky. So much for the pilot books, and their tall tales of how far away St. Vincent is visible.
I have to tell you that we all felt physically drained after the gamut of emotions that had wracked our minds and stomachs for so many hours, so perhaps the landlubbers are, after all, quite happy to be spared that particular experience.
Today’s Thought
“We are lost!” the captain shouted,As he staggered down the stairs.
-- James Thomas Fields, Ballad of the Tempest
Tailpiece “Who’s the gorgeous girl over there?”

“She must be the village belle.”
“How do you know?”
“She’s wringing her hands.”
(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for another  Mainly about Boats column.)

June 2, 2016

Fog: all you need to know

I DON’T KNOW anybody who has seen a fogbow, and I’ve never seen one myself, but I’m prepared to believe they exist because fogbow is one of the terms that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) uses when describing different types of fog.

A fogbow, according to NOAA, is a rainbow that has a white band that appears in fog, and is fringed with red on the outside and blue on the inside. I think you’d know it if you’d seen one.

NOAA seems to be well informed about fog in general. Here are some other terms they use, and their descriptions:

Ø Advection fog — Fog that results from the advection of moist air over a cold surface, and the cooling of the air to its dew point. The most common type of fog in coastal regions.

Ø Dense fog — Fog in which visibility is less than one-quarter mile.

Ø Fog — Water that has condensed close to ground level, producing a cloud of very small droplets that reduces visibility to less than 3,300 feet. (Why 3,300 feet, you ask. Sorry, I just don’t NOAA.)

Ø Ground fog — Fog that’s less than 20 feet deep. It’s produced by the cooling of the lower atmosphere coming into contact with the ground (or, presumably, cold water). It’s also called radiation fog.

Ø Ice fog — It’s composed of minute ice crystals suspended in the air, or water droplets at temperatures below 0°C, down at surface level and restricting horizontal visibility. It’s also known as freezing fog, and usually occurs at minus 20°F and below.

Ø Mist — Mist is very much like fog, being composed of tiny water droplets suspended in the air. The difference is that it doesn’t reduce visibility as much as fog does.

Ø Overrunning — This is a combination of low clouds, fog, and steady light rain. It comes about when a comparatively warm air mass moves up and over colder, denser air on the surface.

Ø Shallow fog — Fog in which visibility is 5/8 of a mile or more, viewed from 6 feet above ground (or sea) level.

Ø Steam fog — That is what happens when very cold air drifts over comparatively warm water. It’s also known as sea smoke.

Today’s Thought
The fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking
over the harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then, moves on.
— Carl Sandburg, Fog

As I was laying on the green,
A small English book I seen.
Carlyle’s Essay on Burns was the name of the edition,
So I left it laying in exactly the same position.

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