January 29, 2009

Barnacles on my mind

I had meant to write something useful for sailors today. It seems a long time since I did that. I was thinking of doing a piece on how to heave to under sail, or why your magnetic compass often shows a different heading from your GPS. But I overthought and got ahead of myself. I got to thinking about barnacles and slime instead.

The authorities in charge of all living things in the water have banned the use of certain bottom paints for yachts because they are toxic to sea life. Probably the most effective of these anti-fouling paints was based on tin, and that is almost completely forbidden now unless you have an aluminum boat, which is allergic to the ubiquitous copper-based anti-fouling paint.

The latest news I hear is that the bottom-paint police are now considering banning copper paint, too. I don’t know of any viable alternative to copper paint for most of us — and by viable I mean compatibly priced and easy to apply — so it appears our underwater hulls are doomed to play host to great colonies of barnacles. Any hull roughened in that way creates a great deal of resistance to movement through water. Those barnacles will slow our boats drastically under sail, and send fuel bills skyrocketing under power.

Now, there is a point here that the bottom-paint police seem to have overlooked. These sea creatures they’re so concerned about are not helpless. They have a choice. They are not forced to attach themselves to my hull. Nobody tells them they have to live there. They have the whole sea to choose from, billions of welcoming rocks and sunny beaches, concrete seawalls, and lovely wooden piles; and if they have any of the sense of survival that Nature is supposed to have instilled in them, they will carefully avoid the comparatively tiny number of boat bottoms painted with copper paint. Those without that sense of survival (and there do seem to be some) surely deserve what they get, and their suicidal genes should not be passed on to future generations.

It is difficult to perceive what part is played in the great business of life on earth by barnacles, and their cousins, limpets, and their low-life relations, brown and green slime. I seem to remember a hymn about all things wise and wonderful, all creatures great and small, but the voice of experience tells me that not all creatures great and small are wise and wonderful. And that applies especially to the barnacles and slime that attempt to fasten their useless, loathsome, parasitic selves to my boat.

Let us not forget that Whoever or Whatever created barnacles also created copper, and nowhere in the good book does it say the twain shall never meet. Let Nature take its course, I say. Let copper keep my bottom clean. Let all wise and wonderful barnacles go and live somewhere else, and let Nature remove the dumb and unwonderful ones in her own way.

Today’s Thought
Nature is that lovely lady to whom we owe polio, leprosy, smallpox, syphilis, tuberculosis, cancer. —Dr. Stanley N. Cohen, geneticist, Stanford.
(He forgot to mention barnacles. —JV)

“You in trouble with the IRS again?”
“Yeah, they disallowed my medical expenses.”
“What medical expenses?”
“Five hundred dollars for the tooth fairy.”

January 27, 2009

A manual for life

I WAS FOSSICKING around in a used-book store the other when I came across a copy of A Manual for Small Yachts, by R. D. Graham and J. E. H. Tew. It was a 1946 copy, beautifully and miraculously preserved after all those years. I was greatly tempted to buy it because I have that very same edition at home, right down to the purple cover. But my copy is tattered and ravaged from the passage of time. I love it dearly, nevertheless, because, as far as I can remember, it’s the first book I ever stole.

I was 14 years old when I smuggled it off the sloop Albatross, then owned by Harry Pegram, one of the landed gentry from the wine country near Cape Town. It was inscribed “To the Boatswain of the Albatross. From the Skipper, 12/1/47. Thanks a lot.” I never knew who the Boatswain was, and he must have been gone for several years before I came on the scene. I think I replaced him as crew, though, after which the good old Albatross sailed without a proper bosun.

Now, all these decades later, we’re both showing signs of age, the book and I — honorable scars of usage and experience, I like to think. I don’t care what the book looks like now, and I realize it’s worth nothing to anyone else, but we’ve grown up together, we’re like family, that book and I. I have pored over it countless times and it has taught me many useful things you won’t find in modern books on the subject of sailing.

I do have other books, of course, some obscure, some fascinating, some given to me by famous sailors like Bernard Moitessier long before he became famous. And I have clippings from magazines with articles by people like that superb seaman and writer, Miles Smeeton, whose words of wisdom all too often (like Thomas Gray’s flowers) were destined to blush unseen and waste their sweetness on the desert air.

Most of my little collection is well thumbed (OK, pretty shoddy) and largely comprises books picked up cheaply from library sales, given to me for birthdays, and, very occasionally, awarded as a prize for some sailing competition. The only ones that look smart and new are ones that haven’t been opened because I wrote them myself and I already know what’s inside.

Almost every time I approach the bookshelves, my eye falls fondly on A Manual for Small Yachts and in passing I’ll give it a little pat, or open it to some page at random. Last time I picked it up it fell open at the last page of the glossary and there I read: “Way: a ship weighs her anchor but gets under way, but some of you spell it underweigh, which is incorrect until enough people do it often enough to make it right.”

That hasn’t happened yet, but many people, including the worthy editor of a magazine that employs me as a copy editor, insist that a boat gets underway. Why that should be, I can’t imagine. One doesn’t hide undertable when an earthquake threatens. A daring pilot doesn’t underfly a bridge. No, a boat gets under way, separated by a proper honest space, and that’s that.

I shall quote A Manual for Small Yachts in my long-running fight with my intractable editor. Thank you for your assistance Commander Graham. Thank you Mr. Tew. If I ever win that fight I’ll have your lovely little book rebound.

Today’s Thought
When I am dead
I hope it may be said
“His sins were scarlet,
“But his books were read.”
—Hilaire Belloc

A new senator was irritated by poor service on the flight to Washington, DC.
“Do you know who I am?” he thundered.
“No, sir,” said the attendant, “but I’ll make enquiries and let you know.”

January 26, 2009

Judging distance run

MY FAVORITE distance log was one of those old Walker taffrail logs with the trailing line, the propeller, and the whirring dials. It served me well for thousands of ocean miles. It had only two enemies: seaweed that jammed the propeller and sharks that swallowed the propeller.

Nowadays, I get my distance run from a tiny GPS that cost less than half the price of a Walker. It’s magic, but it’s not the same. I miss the ritual of reading the log and streaming it. It took me most of a week to figure out how to bring in that spinning propeller without creating a bird’s nest of twisted line, but in the end I got great satisfaction from doing it right. Somehow, just pressing a button with my thumb doesn’t give me the same pleasure.

However, you don't really need a Walker log or a GPS to find out how many miles you've traveled in a given time. All you need is the number of hours you've been sailing, and the speed of travel.

You can get the number of hours from a watch, of course, and you can learn to estimate speed surprisingly accurately, but there is a better way than just estimating. You need nothing but a piece of orange peel and a small timer/calculator.

Multiply the length of your boat, from bow to stern in feet, by 0.59. Note the figure, and keep it handy for future reference. Now throw a piece of orange peel (or a piece of something else biodegradable) forward of the boat. Start timing when the bow comes abreast of the orange peel.

Now note the time it takes in seconds to reach the stern. Divide the first number by the second to find your speed in knots. If you don't have a good timer, you can simply count the seconds, using the old trick: "one Mississippi, two Mississippi," etc. You'll find it's plenty accurate enough for the speeds at which small sailboats travel.

Today's Thought
Four hoarse blasts of a ship's whistle still raise the hair on my neck and set my feet to tapping. --John Steinbeck.

An odd-job man called at a friend’s house the other day. My friend said, “OK, how much to paint the porch?”
“Fifty dollars,” said the man.
“Done,” said my friend. “Here’s a brush and a bucket of paint.”
Half an hour later the man knocked on the door.
“Finished,” he said.
“Wow, that didn’t take you long,” said my friend.
“Nah, it wasn’t very big,” said the man. “And by the way, it’s not a Porsche, it’s a Mercedes.”

January 22, 2009

Less ugly Americans

I'M HAPPY TO SEE that Mr. Obama is reining in some illegal government activities that flourished during the last few administrations. For a start, he’s closing Gitmo, banning torture, and doing away with illegal wiretapping. I’d be even happier if he’d go one step further and put a stop to warrantless searches of private pleasure boats and commercial fishing boats by the U.S. Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard rides roughshod across the world’s oceans as well as the U.S. coastline in direct contravention of our Constitution. Militaristic armed officers and crews board any vessel they like, including small sailboats, forcing the crew to stand under watchful guard while they search the boat, ostensibly for breaches of the safety regulations. But if they find as much as one marijuana seed or anything that could possibly be deemed drug paraphernalia, they are empowered not only to arrest the whole crew but also to seize the vessel and all its contents.

These warrantless searches by gung-ho gun-toting Coasties have earned the United States the title of Bully of the World’s Shipping. Long before I became an American citizen I was warned about them by round-the-world sailors on small yachts. And in 1987, sure enough, while I was emigrating to the States aboard my own British-flagged 30-foot yacht, I was accosted on the High Seas 250 miles northwest of Puerto Rico by the U.S. Wainwright, a 547-foot-long guided missile cruiser, temporarily doing duty for the Coast Guard. She closed in on us and ordered me and my American wife and son to gather in the cockpit. They grilled us at length by VHF radio and then let us proceed, so we were luckier than most because we weren’t boarded by an armed party; but I can’t begin to tell you how intimidated and insecure we felt, and how resentful afterward that Americans imagined they had the perfect right to threaten, interrogate, board, and search innocent unarmed vessels on the High Seas.

There was plenty of resentment at home, too, and a Californian fisherman named Jim Blaes became a national hero in 1996 when he grabbed his gun and refused to let the Coast Guard board his 36-foot fishboat, Helja. He’d had a gutful of the Coast Guard’s surprise “safety” boardings.

“I was sick of the Coast Guard harassing me,” he said. “I’ve been boarded 40 times in the past nine years and I’ve repeatedly told them the boardings violate my Fourth Amendment rights against unwarranted searches undertaken without suspicion that a crime has been committed.” This time, the Coast Guard backed off, and let shorebound justice authorities take up the case against him.

All these incidents were part of the Bush (41) administration’s campaign of Zero Tolerance for drug runners, of course. It’s still in operation today nearly a quarter-century later. And what success has it had? Well, you tell me. Look around. Has the supply of drugs decreased because of the Coast Guard’s illegal harassment of yachts and fishing boats? I’ll bet it’s no more difficult to buy cannabis or crack now than it was before they started.

And here’s the irony: if Americans didn’t want drugs, if they didn’t buy them, if there were no market here for them, the Coast Guard wouldn’t have to act like the maritime Gestapo. But this is a democracy, right? The people want drugs, right? And one way or another, they’ll get them — just as they got liquor when it was banned.

Of course, it’s only fair to point out that this wasn’t the Coast Guard’s idea in the first place. Zero Tolerance came from Washington, D.C., and our elected representatives, the so-called guardians of the hallowed Constitution. The Coasties are merely doing their duty, even if they do it with unnecessary relish.

It’s unfair, it’s unpopular, it’s illegal and it gives the United States a bad name overseas. It’s time to stop random Coast Guard boardings of yachts and fishing boats; time to respect the Constitution again, and the inalienable rights of the people. Yes we can. And if we can, why don’t we?

Today’s Thought
It has been said of the world’s history hitherto that might makes right. It is for us and for our time to reverse the maxim, and to say that right makes might. —Abraham Lincoln.

Thirty days hath September,
And all the rest I can’t remember.
Why bother my mind with this at all
When the calendar hangs right there on the wall?

January 20, 2009

Measure for measure

THE LOCAL MEDIA are driving me nuts. They announced the other day that a nearby flooding river had risen “one quarter-foot.” Quarter-foot indeed. Three inches, for crying out loud. I guess we were lucky they didn’t try to make it sound even more dramatic. They could have said (if they’d had the sense to think about it) that the river had risen 12 quarter-inches, or even 24 eighth-inches. Wow, take to the hills!

It is apparent to me that modern journalists are not taught their numbers or anything scientific. (They’re not taught grammar either, but let’s not go there for the moment.) Today’s young whippersnapper journalists have a lot to learn. But all by themselves they’re attempting to change our system of measurement.

What they’ve never heard of, apparently, is base units. These are the milestones of our measuring system, so to speak. For example, let’s take units of length. The first base unit is the inch, which you can divide into as many thousandths as you like, but when you get to 12 inches you reach a milestone called a foot. Only the ill-educated and insensitive can stomach a measurement of 13 inches. It’s one foot one inch, dammit. That’s the way God intended it. After three feet, we come to yards and furlongs and miles. And a pox on those heathens who mix them in with each other.

Thanks to the poor example set by our budding journos, backsliders are among us everywhere. Supermarkets sell milk by the quarter-gallon. There’s no such measurement. It’s a quart. Why do they think it's called a quart, for Pete’s sake? Yes, right, it’s a quarter-gallon. Duh! Two pints in a quart, four quarts in a gallon.

But when last did you drink a pint of beer? No, it’s not the alcohol that has affected your memory cells. It’s the media’s ongoing love affair with the metric system. A beer bottle these days holds 355 milliliters because it sounds much fancier in the news than a pint. Some supermarkets (a pox on them, too) even sell milk by the liter, when everybody knows that American cows give milk in gallons; only French cows give milk in liters, and the milk I drink definitely doesn’t come from France.

And there’s the question of boats. For only the worst reasons, boats in America are measured in pounds. If you own a nice 35 footer it might weigh 12,000 pounds. That’s a huge figure, a number a normal human being can hardly imagine. Ten pounds I can see in my mind’s eye, 150 pounds OK, 350 pounds a sumo wrestler. But 12,000? That’s exactly why tons were invented, to keep the brain calm; 12,000 pounds is 6 tons (or 5.357 tons, depending on how many pounds you think there should be in a ton). Six is a figure my stressed brain can handle. If I feed it 12,000 it’s going to run amok and have a nervous breakdown.

The other night I had a nightmare. In my dream I’m servicing the diesel engine in my boat. I need to change the fuel filter, but to get to it I first have to remove some accessories. As I unbolt the gronkulator, the starboard frobbit falls off. It’s corroded right through, and I obviously need a new one. I can see it’s the size of a half-teacup (quarter-beer mug) so I go to the nearest gronkulator service shop, where a nice man in white overalls looks puzzled when I order my new frobbit.

“We only measure in thimblefuls,” he explains carefully.

Oh gawd, how many thimblefuls in a gronkulator frobbit, for goodness’ sake? How many thimblefuls in a half-teacup? “At least 12,000,” I think carelessly.

I woke up screaming and am now having therapy sessions. I blame the media for this. Quarter-foot indeed!

Today’s Thought
There is measure in all things; certain limits, beyond and short of which right cannot be found. —Horace, Satires.

The trouble with keeping cats is that they’re so unpredictable – you never know how they’re going to ignore you next.

January 18, 2009

Yes you can. But will you?

I know you’re kind of busy right now, but I wondered if I could bend your ear for just a minute. It’s about sailboats. Even a president-to-be has time for sailboats, right?

You see, we sailboaters are feeling a little aggrieved about all the bail-outs for people who have been getting things wrong and setting bad examples.

For example, there seems to be a lot of sympathy in Washington for people who, in a mad rush of greed, bought over-large houses they couldn’t afford. They weren’t conned into doing it. They can read and understand the contracts, the same as the rest of us.

There also seems to be a lot of sympathy for people who lost money, after making bad investments, to less-than-trustworthy brokers and banks whose CEOs worship fervently at the altar of Mammon.

But there is no sympathy for the responsible, patient, frugal people -- the ones who rented apartments and saved up a 20 percent deposit before buying a modest house just big enough for their needs. There is no sympathy for people who shunned life’s luxuries, bought on credit, to build up a small retirement account for their old age. In other words, there is no bail-out for people who acted right, only for people who acted wrong. This is very unfair. It sets a very bad example.

And now, to cap it all, Congress is debating a proposal to pay people to get rid of those old gas guzzlers sitting in their driveways. Drivers could get vouchers of as much as $4,500 to turn in those fuel-inefficient vehicles.

Mr. Obama, why would you want to reward people for making such bad choices? What are you planning to give people who wisely and frugally bought Ford Escorts and Honda Civics? Which kind of people would you rather see in the new America?

And that brings me back to sailboats. There is no greener form of transport than a sailboat. Sailboats don’t pollute the air or the water. They don’t squander our precious resources or add to the national debt for imported oil. They are quiet and don’t demand huge public expenditure on freeways and traffic lights.

People who own sailboats are nice people, thinking people, modest and caring people. They are the solid, sensible, generous heart of America. They’re the kind of people you should be supporting with public tax dollars, Mr. Obama, not the overspenders who show no discipline, not the greedy bankers or incompetent auto manufacturers.

Can you find it in your heart, sir, to encourage sailboat ownership with the same kind of taxpayer handouts you’re giving the greedy and incompetent?

Yes, you can.

I just fear you won’t.

Today’s Thought
What is vulgar, and the essence of all vulgarity, but the avarice of reward? —Emerson, Conduct of Life: Worship.

I coughed a cough into the air,
Germs fell to earth I know not where;
For who has eyes so keen and bright
That he can see a germ alight?

January 16, 2009

The Lust for Power

THERE ARE TIMES during the dog days of summer when I ache with longing for a sweet little powerboat. When my mainsail is slatting uselessly and the boom is sulkily flinging itself back and forth, it’s inevitable that a powerboat will happen along, looking purposeful and efficient.

I always lie back casually with one foot cocked over the tiller. I compose a blissful smile on my face and rake my floppy sunhat at a saucy angle. I like to make the motorboater feel green with envy.

But sometimes I’m not as patient and content as I look. I’m fascinated by engines, especially the quiet, slow-revving ones, and I love round-bilged, single-screw displacement hulls. There’s also a place in my heart for boats like the hard-chine Maine lobster boat with its planing hull and sharp, clean lines.

One day, when I’m too old to sail, I’m going to get me one of those cocky little Northwestern cuddy-cabin cruisers with a beetle brow to keep the rain off its face and a fierce little diesel heater to chase away the January chill.

And in summer, when I come across one of those becalmed sailors in a saucy sunhat with a leg draped over the tiller, I won’t feel envious at all. No sir. I’ll just laugh in his face and chug merrily on my way.

Today’s Thought
You shall have joy, or you shall have power, said God; you shall not have both. —Emerson, Journals.

Sad story about the commodore of the local yacht club. He went to Victoria’s Secret to buy a birthday present for his wife and was shown some beautiful negligées ranging from $250 to $500. He noticed that the sheerer the negligée, the higher the price, but in the end he opted for the sheerest one, paid the $500 and took it home.

He presented it to his wife and suggested she might like to go upstairs and model it for him.

While she was changing, his wife had an idea. “It’s so sheer that it might as well be nothing. I won't put it on; instead I'll do the modeling naked, return the negligée tomorrow and keep the $500 refund for myself.”

So she appeared naked on the balcony and struck a pose.

“Good grief,” cried the commodore, “you'd think for $500 they would at least iron it!”

He never heard the shot. They’re scattering his ashes at sea next Friday.

January 13, 2009

Virtual ladies’ underwear

THEY SAY THERE ARE thousands of Americans playing the Virtual Vendée Globe game on their computers, but I’m quite sure the great majority of competitors are French. I have deduced this from the names they’ve given to their virtual boats.

Nearly 300,000 players are steering their boats singlehanded in a non-stop voyage around the world. They are following in the wake of the skippers in the real Vendée Globe and competing for prizes worth more than 10,000 euros ($13,400).

For someone like me, who doesn’t speak more than a couple of words of parly-voo, the names in the list of entries sound like those from an alien planet, though now and then you can recognize something that makes at least a little sense, like Le Titanic 38. I don’t know what the 38 might refer to, but I have heard of the Titanic. Luckily, the race committee has set a course free of icebergs.

I can also see some sense in 81bacchus, no doubt a hearty party boat, and certainly in beuf, which I take to be a simple French sailor’s misspelling of his favorite meal, boeuf, or beef. But I don’t know what to make of xtcx8888 (ecstasy something?)or Ew1w1 (eeuw!?). I suppose there is some sense to le virus if you’re playing a sneaky game on a computer, but I notice it’s nowhere near the frontrunners.

Some of the names are commendably short, like Zax, some are long, like Maxarochrispi, and now and then you’ll find a lonely Anglo-Saxon entrant with a name like nowornever. With my senses dulled by deciphering so much French, I first read this as No Worn Ever. English, certainly, I eventually realized, but very puzzling.

As I write this, there is a fierce fight going on among the leaders, who are in the South Atlantic on their way home after having rounded Cape Horn. The first three, in order, are mets du bras, Dhlombre, and le dub, with fumator close behind. Something about the name mets du bras attracted my attention, so I got out my trusty Larousse French dictionary and discovered that mets means a dish (culinary). So presumably the leader of the Virtual Vendée Globe is sailing around the world in a dish of ladies’ underwear. You can’t hardly get more French than that.

Today’s Thought
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
—Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet.

“How do you know that the Muppet frog is Jewish?”
“I just got an invitation to his Kermitzvah.”

January 11, 2009

One strike is enough

ONE OF THE MOST frightening experiences I’ve ever had on a small sailboat was a violent night thunderstorm in the South Atlantic. We were many hundreds of miles from the nearest land at the time and our shiny aluminum mast was the highest thing sticking up in the air from horizon to horizon.

I doused all sail and we lay drifting broadside on, heeled over in gale-force gusts while bolts of lightning crashed,flashed, and sizzled all around us like lethal blue strobe lights.

I followed the advice of the British sailor and author, Eric Hiscock. I wrapped a fathom of chain around the backstay, which ran to the top of the mast, and let it trail in the sea astern. I don’t know whether that helped, or whether it was just one of your everyday simple miracles that we avoided getting struck, but I still remember how scared I was for the hour or so until it blew over.

What do you do in these circumstances to calm the intense apprehension, the awful conviction that you’re going to be blown to smithereens at any moment? There’s always the bottle of rum in the medicine cabinet, of course, but I read a better (well, alternative) method on the Cape Dory bulletin board the other day.

Duncan Cameron is a Cape Dory 27 sailor from Montreal, Quebec. He lectures in Strategy at the John Molson School of Business, Concordia University, in Montreal. He once got caught in a series of squalls between Point Judith and Fisher's Island while he was sailing between Rhode Island Sound and Long Island Sound.

“I'm going to guess the swells were up to 10 feet,” he said, “and I had to squint sideways to see in the rain and spray. There was lightning all around, more than I've ever seen, huge purplish forks at times. I fell off a couple of waves, and was clawing off a lee shore most of the way.

“The boat seemed to take the weather pretty well, and I was towing the dinghy too, but that worked out OK. I did wish I had full lifelines and a stern pushpit, because I was worried about trying to stay in the cockpit some of the time.

“As far as the lightning went, I just decided I was an ant in a big field, with a farmer walking around it. That way, I reckoned my chances of getting stepped on weren't that high. But there were times when the farmer walked all around me in me in a big circle, and he was stomping his feet pretty hard at times.”

Duncan was adopting the fatalist’s approach, of course, and frankly I can’t think of a better way to keep calm in the face of calamity — especially if you have saved up a few points in your black box. Remember Duncan’s method next time you get caught out in a lightning storm.

Remember, you’re the ant. The lightning is the farmer. Don’t get stomped on. Good luck.

Today’s Thought
Fate, show thy force: ourselves we do not owe;
What is decreed must be, and be this so.
—Shakespeare, Twelfth Night.

’Twas in the tropic latitudes
While we were talking platitudes,
As any sailor might.
We forgot to take our longitude,
Which was a grievous wrongitude,
So we did not reach Hong Kongitude
’Til very late that night.

January 8, 2009

Beautiful overhangs

I WAS LOOKING at a profile of a Pearson Vanguard the other day and thinking how beautiful she was. That man Philip Rhodes could design a mean sheerline. Combined with low freeboard, Vanguards still look gorgeous nearly 50 years after they were built.

The bow, in particular, has a cocky sheer and a rounded profile that seems just right for a seagoing boat, while the stern rises just enough to complement the wonderful curve that sweeps from fore to aft as befits a creature intended to live among waves.

By today’s standards, the overhangs are excessive. The bow and the stern overhangs measure more than 10 feet combined on a boat only 32 feet 7 inches overall. But today’s boats have traded beauty for utility and interior space, which is a compromise not necessarily for the better.

Designers tell us that overhangs enable a boat to go faster. They increase the boat’s waterline length as she heels, and waterline length, as we all know, is the major factor affecting the maximum speed of displacement boats. I have never been convinced of this alleged benefit. Not for any good mathematical reason but just because I can’t believe it makes enough difference to matter. I’m also suspicious about the claim that heeling adds to waterline length. Some boats roll buoyantly upward, out of the water, as they heel. I bet they don’t add much to the wetted waterline. And besides, when you’re running downwind, and not heeling, there is no gain in waterline length at all.

I personally don’t think the Vanguard’s overhangs are excessive. Another famous and very handsome design of that period, the Camper & Nicholson 32, had overhangs totaling 9 feet. Furthermore, L. Francis Herreshoff, the great master, designed what he called “sensible cruising boats” with overhangs very much like the Vanguard’s. His famous H-28 ketch, at 28 feet overall, had a waterline of just over 23 feet.

There’s no doubt, though, that very long overhangs are dangerous at sea. They’re very elegant, but on smaller boats they’re suited only to sheltered waters. They cause pounding at the bow and slamming at the stern.

A friend of mine once took his 30-Square Meter to sea. This was a narrow-gutted formula racing class with very long overhangs, because the goal for naval architects was to design the fastest sailboat you could build with a maximum of 30 square meters of sail area. My friend got caught in quartering seas and found that the leverage afforded by the long stern overhang caused each overtaking swell to spin the boat almost broadside on, into a dangerous broach. Those 30 Squares were gorgeous to look at, and extremely satisfying to sail to weather, but they were lousy seaboats in bad weather.

The Vanguard was designed in the days when the Cruising Club of America (CCA) rule applied, of course. When that rule was superseded by the International Offshore Rule (IOR), the rear ends of racing boats suddenly changed from generous, flowing, well-rounded buttocks to mean and tight pinched-in haunches, often with unsightly reverse-sheer transoms. This did nothing for seaworthiness or looks. It just helped a boat get a better handicap under the IOR formula.

Manufacturers of cruising boats, like lemmings flowing over the cliff, followed the style of the racers, of course, in the hope that prospective clients would be impressed. So we had a very ugly production run of racer/cruisers in the 1970s and early ’80s. Happily, though, there were the occasional standouts, like Pearson and Philip Rhodes.

I take my hat off to them every time I see a Vanguard.

Today’s Thought
Perhaps the greatest difference between the beautiful yacht and the plain one is the way their crews treat them, for the crew of the beautiful yacht usually gives her tender loving care. —L. Francis Herreshoff.

Overheard at the yacht club bar:
“My dirty bottom is really wreaking havoc with my performance.”
“Yeah, just imagine what that would do to a boat.”

January 6, 2009

The Shame of Secret Racing

OLD WOTSISNAME, who moors just down the row from me, doesn’t look like a racing type. But in fact he was quite a hotshot racer in one-design keelboats in his middle age. After winning a cupboard full of silver mugs and trophies he gave up racing one day when he realized it was obsessing him.

“We used to race on Saturday afternoons,” he told me. “By Friday afternoon my guts was in a knot. I never slept a wink on the night before a race. And by the time we started racing I was a wreck. I survived on adrenaline. It wasn’t worth it.”

OW didn’t lose his love of sailing. He became a cruiser instead, unconcerned about speed, wind angles, and velocity made good. In fact he became a cruiser with a vengeance. He bought himself an old ferro-concrete boat that has deteriorated along with him over the years. It must weigh as much as a minor pyramid, and it possesses similar sailing qualities.

I, too, have a cruising boat for much the same reason. Like OW, I am a recovering racer. But the urge to race is still very strong in me. I always regard it as a sign of maturity, mental stability, and even true wisdom, when I can let another boat go past me without feeling the urge to race it.
But most of the time I’m too weak to resist. Most of the time I will sneakily adjust the jib, tweak the main, and send someone below to make sure the propeller shaft is correctly fixed in the position that makes the boat go faster. All this, while casually looking the other way and pretending not to have noticed the other boat.

It’s a disease. I still suffer from it and I’m not proud of it because I recognize that I’m seeking the self-gratification of winning a race without facing the risk of losing it in public. If, despite my clandestine efforts, the other boat overtakes me, they’ll never have the satisfaction of jeering at me and making rude remarks about my helmsmanship, like the real racers do, because they’ll never know they were racing me.

I admit it: to pursue glory without the risk of failure is morally indefensible. It’s contemptible to believe a hollow victory under sail is better than none at all. It’s a shameful vice, and I’d like to conquer it, but I tell you frankly I’m not hopeful.

OW is not very helpful. He says I should buy a concrete boat because nothing is slower than a concrete boat so there’s no point in your trying to pass anything. But I can’t do that. He is farther along the road to recovery than I am. I fear I shall just have to suffer and be ashamed of myself for a few years more, and then I’ll stop racing. Truly. Honestly I will.

Today’s Thought
Rivalry is good for mortals. —Hesiod, Works and Days.

A baby sardine off the Californian coast was badly frightened yesterday by its first sight of a submarine.

But its mother calmed the little fellow down. "Don’t be alarmed, dear," she said, "it’s just a can of people."

January 4, 2009

Love me tender

CRUISERS UNDER SAIL spend a lot of time searching for the perfect dinghy. A dinghy, for the benefit of those of you who might not know, is the small boat that takes you to shore from your bigger boat. It’s also known as a yacht’s tender.

Tenders are like wives or husbands. None is perfect. There are always others that look more attractive from a distance. But as soon as you try them out you discover that they’re just as full of faults as the one you’ve already got.

After all is said and done, lusting after another one never did anybody any good. It’s more sensible to get used to the one you’ve got and make the most of it.

Let’s face it, you can’t do without one, unless you’re prepared to swim ashore every time you anchor out. But very few of us acquire the one of our dreams. Usually, we just end up with one we can tolerate. Mine, for example, came with a boat I bought. (Yes, yes, tender, not wife.)

But if you don’t have a tender yet, the world is your oyster. There are two major groups, hard or soft, solid or pneumatic. Some are sleek and glamorous and attract a lot of attention, but they’ll cost you an arm and a leg.

What you really need is a sturdy, beamy little workhorse able to carry a large anchor or a week’s provisions with ease. She should be able to take a great deal of abuse and snuggle quietly on your cabin trunk when you’re through with her.

And, of course, there’s no reason why she shouldn’t also be cute and good-looking, in a snub-nosed kind of way.

Today’s Thought
Great Estates may venture more,
But little Boats must keep near Shore.
–Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard.

A sailor, a doctor and a priest were waiting for a particularly slow group of golfers.
“What’s taking these idiots so long?” the sailor asked.
“I’ve never seen such terrible golf,” grumbled the doctor.
“Here comes the greens keeper,” said the priest. “Let’s ask him.”
“Oh, that’s a group of blind firefighters,” the keeper explained. “They lost their sight saving our clubhouse from a big blaze last year, so we always let them play free any time they want.”
The priest said: “That’s so sad. “I’m going to say a special prayer for them tonight.
The doctor said: “Good idea. I’m going to see if there’s anything I can do for them or their families.”
The sailor said: “Why the hell can’t they play at night?”

January 1, 2009

How to choose a boat

Happy New Year to you. I hope 2009 brings health and happiness to your life. And I hope it makes you content with your choice of boat.

This is the time of year when sailors suffering from winter cabin fever hie themselves off to boat shows and start lusting after new boats. It’s a strange thing, but an extraordinary number of boat owners start feeling the seven-year itch after only a couple of years. They start feeling unhappy about their choice of boat and some — the ones with finer feelings — might even begin to feel guilt and remorse about wanting something younger, faster, more attractive, and more accommodating.

New York naval architect Dave Gerr says one of the most common requests he gets is to take a given hull and make it either larger or smaller. Which leads me to ask: Why are people so seldom satisfied with they’ve got?

The answer, it seems to me, is that they did things in the wrong order. They first bought the boat, and only later decided what they wanted it for.

For beginners, especially, it’s difficult to know what boat will suit you best, and even experienced yacht brokers will occasionally try to sell you an unsuitable boat for reasons of stupidity, cupidity, or both.

When you think about it, there are boats dedicated to a wide variety of uses, and a boat that’s best for one thing is often not even adequate for other uses. So someone itching to buy a boat should first scratch himself and find out why he wants a boat. Here are a few possible reasons:

—Board sailing/fishing/gunkholing and exploring/kayaking and canoeing.
—Making a lot of irritating noise, speeding in small circles, jumping other people’s wakes, and generally showing off.
—Motor-sailing/power cruising/power racing.
—Rowing or paddling for fun.
—Rum running/drug smuggling/illegal immigrant conveyance.
—Sail racing/sail cruising/sail camping/trailer sailing.
—Scuba diving/water skiing/sunbathing/bikini displaying and cocktail drinking.

There are boats specially designed for all these activities — and these are only the major categories. When it comes to fishing, or sailing, for example, there are many sub-categories designed for special purposes, and they’re very different boats.

Happiness comes from having the right boat for what you want to do, and the single most important step to selecting a boat is to deliniate clearly your personal and financial constraints, and the kind of boating you hope to do, now and in the future.

Chuck Gustafson, author of How to Buy the Best Sailboat,says: “If you take this first step seriously, you will dramatically increase the probability of a good match between your boat and you.”

So if you’re planning to divorce your present boat, do the clever thing. Before you find yourself in the same bind a second time, do your homework. Think first. Act later. The more work you do now, the longer the bliss that will follow.

Today’s Thought
The difficulty in life is the choice. –George Moore, Bending of the Bough.

The Federal Bureau of Statistics reports that the average time between throwing something out and needing it again is two weeks.