October 29, 2009

Gastronavigation 3

AS IS ONLY RIGHT and proper, the final column in our Gastronavigation series deals with fellow creatures of the water. They may be fellow creatures, but they’re not as fortunate as we are. These are fellow creatures that we eat. And they’re not even cooked. No, not oysters. Fish.

I first came across Tahitian Raw Fish in Cape Town just before we set off to race across the Atlantic to Rio de Janeiro in a lightweight 33-footer. The chewy little white cubes made a tangy and refreshing appetizer in the hot South African summer.

Here’s a recipe from Florence Herbulot, a talented French sailor, cook, and translator of the Patrick O’Brian books, among many others:

TAHITIAN RAW FISH, from Cooking Afloat, 1965.

For this dish you can use any sea fish as long as it is perfectly fresh: mackerel, whiting, bream.
Place the fish, either in fillets or cut into cubes, in a deep dish. Sprinkle generously with lemon juice; leave to marinate for 1 to 2 hours and then add some olive oil and pepper; marinate for a further 2 hours.

As soon as the fish is really white, with no trace of transparency, it is “cooked,” that is, the flesh has been seethed by the lemon juice just as if it had been boiled in water and vinegar.
The only difference is that it takes longer than cooking, but the flavor is wonderful.

The Latin American version of this is called ceviche, which comes with additional ingredients and many different flavors. One favorite of mine is the Mexican recipe that uses green coriander leaves (cilantro):

CEVICHE APPETIZER, yacht Sangoma, Bellingham, WA, 2009

1 pound fish or scallops
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup lime juice
1 tablespoon diced green chili pepper (jalapeƱo)with seeds removed
1 tablespoon cilantro
A smidgeon of grated green ginger root
Cut meat into small cubes and marinate in juice for three hours, stirring occasionally.

How you serve up your ceviche depends on your imagination. I don’t have much imagination, so I just put it in a bowl and let everybody spear their own bits with toothpicks.

Incidentally, if you can’t catch your own fish, ask the store for frozen Orange Roughy, a deep-sea perch that lives for nearly 150 years. It’s on the threatened list, but we import millions of pounds annually and it’s perfect for these recipes. Just don’t tell the conservationists John Vigor sent you.

Today’s Thought
All men are equal before fish.
— Herbert Hoover, NY Times, 9 Aug 64

“So did you wash your parrot with dish detergent?”
“And what happened?”
“It died.”
“There, I told you not to use detergent.”
“It wasn’t the detergent. It was the spin-drier.”

October 27, 2009

Gastronavigation Part 2

VERY WELL, THEN. Please pay attention now. Here, as promised, is the second column in the Gastronavigation series.

Ten years ago, when my wife June and I were exploring the wilderness of British Columbia in our 25-foot sailboat, we met a couple of cruising Oregonians called Burl and Abigail Romick. They were sailing a C&C 35-footer, a Landfall, called Wind Song.

We came across them near the northern end of Vancouver Island while we were sheltering from a northwesterly gale in Bull Harbor, an area described with some accuracy in the Sailing Directions as “remote.” And very windy, as it turned out, even in summer.

When the weather calmed down, we went our separate ways south, down the “outside” of Vancouver Island, but we linked up with Wind Song again in Barkley Sound. And there the Romicks treated us to a gourmet meal of quite unexpected delicacy. It was built around a delicious dish they called gravlox.

They made it from a salmon they had caught. It was soft, sweet, salty, peppery, and tangy with dill. After five weeks of canned food and cruising rations, it was a sensation. Our jaded tastebuds were clapping their little hands and yelling with delight. Here’s the recipe:

GRAVLOX, from Burl and Abigail Romick, Wind Song, Barkley Sound, 1999

Center cut of salmon, 3 to 3 1/2 pounds, cleaned and scaled.
Large bunch of dill. (Or dried dill, if you’re cruising.)
1/4 cup Kosher salt
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons crushed peppercorns

Slice lengthwise and remove backbone and small bones.
Place half of fish skin-side-down in a glass or enamel baking dish or casserole. Sprinkle dill on top.
Combine salt, sugar, and peppercorns. Sprinkle over dill.
Place the other half of the fish on top, skin-side-up.
Cover with plastic, weighted down and place somewhere cool (refrigerate if possible) for 48 hours. Turn fish over every 12 hours or so and baste with the liquid marinade that forms.

You’ll need a sharp knife to take off horizontal slices, because the meat is quite soft, and you can serve it on crackers or bagels as an hors d’oeuvre, eat it with salad, or simply rip pieces off with your fingers and gobble them down if nobody’s watching.

If you’re at home, you can, of course, buy a ready-filleted center cut of salmon at your grocery store, delicatessen, or fishmonger. It’s not cheating. But if you can, catch your salmon yourself. It will never taste better.

Today’s Thought
The Americans are a funny lot: they drink whisky to keep them warm; then they put some ice in it to make it cool; they put some sugar in it to make it sweet, and then they put a slice of lemon in it to make it sour. Then they say “Here’s to you” and drink it themselves.
— B. N. Chakravarty, India Speaks to America

Two definitions for you today:
Diplomacy — the art of letting someone else have your own way.
Nonchalance — the ability to look like an owl when you have just behaved like an ass.

October 25, 2009

Gastronavigation week

The latest issue of the Walnut Street Gazeout (should be Gazette) poses a question of interest to all amateur sailors. The question comes from Titus Aduxass, who, like several of his fellow inmates, is planning to acquire (hem, hem) an ocean-going sailboat and set off for Tahiti as soon as he gets out of prison.

In a letter to the editor of the Gazeout he asks: “What stuff can you cook under way in a moderate-to-rough sea?”

Well, that inspired me to devote all three columns this week to the gentle art of gastronavigation, about which I know practically nothing. But I pride myself on the fact that knowing nothing about something has never stopped me writing about it.

Thus we plunge boldly into Gastronavigation I, featuring one of my all-time favorite recipes, one that you can prepare in heavy weather with a minimum of effort on one of those little gimbaled single-burner stoves hanging from a bulkhead.

This recipe originated with Commander E. G. Martin, winner of the first Fastnet Race in 1925 with Jolie Brise, a 56-foot converted pilot cutter built of wood in Le Havre, France, in 1913.


Place four medium-large onions, peeled and cut into quarters, into a covered saucepan with 3 to 4 cups of cold water.

Add 2 tablespoons Bovril (or other strong beef stock), 4 ounces butter, a dessert-spoonful Lea and Perrins Worcestershire sauce, a little black pepper, and (when the cooking is nearly done) a small glass of sherry or rather more white wine.

Boil gently for 30 minutes or until the onions have fallen to pieces and are soft, stirring occasionally.

Okay, now for the translation. Bovril. What the heck is Bovril? Well, it seems to be the distilled essence of British cows. It’s black and bitter and it’s still available at my local supermarket. But I don’t use Bovril. I use enough beef stock cubes to make 4 or 5 cups of bouillon.

And 4 ounces of butter? Just reading about it is enough to clog your arteries and give you a heart attack. On land, I use only 2 ounces of butter. It still tastes delicious. But at sea, when a hungry crew needs lots of quick fuel to burn up, give them a full 4 ounces. They’ll love you for it.

Incidentally, Jolie Brise went on to win another two Fastnets, and is still sailing and racing today at the age of 96. Last year she was first in class and first in fleet in the Tall Ships Race from Liverpool, U.K., to Maloy, Norway.

Coming on Wednesday: A West Coast recipe. How to turn a fresh-caught salmon into delicious gravlox.

Today’s Thought
I want a dish to taste good, rather than to have been seethed in pig’s milk and served wrapped in a rhubarb leaf with grated thistle root.
— Kingsley Amis

“Waiter! Take your thumb off that steak.”
“Very well, sir, but if it falls on the floor again it’s your fault.”

October 22, 2009

What happens at 27 feet

BOB K7 ZULU BRAVO left a comment with my last blog in which he wondered why I seem to have a tendency to like boats around 27-28 feet. He wanted to know what is compelling about that length for me.

Well, it’s difficult (since I own a 27-footer) to protest that I like many different kinds of sailboats from 11 feet to about 35 feet. That’s true, but the fact is that I do prefer my boats on the smaller side. I like the feeling of being in control without having to rely on others for brain power or muscle power, and as I am not over-endowed with either, the smaller the boat, the safer I feel.

But there are limits, of course. There are the usual compromises. Small size means small accommodation. My wife and I toughed it out on a delightful little Santana 22 for several years of exploration in the Pacific Northwest. It was like camping on water in a fiberglass pup tent. Wonderful for young people, but more of a challenge and less inviting as the bones get creakier and the sinews less flexible.

Designers will tell you that interesting things happen when a boat gets to about 27 feet overall. It’s then big enough for four full-length berths. It can accommodate a decent full-size head compartment. It has room for a cabin table and a permanent, if somewhat constricted, galley. And, joy of joys, you can stand up in the darned thing to put your pants on. It has headroom.

At the same time, it’s small enough to singlehand with comparative ease and, when properly designed and built, it’s plenty big enough to sail around the world. There are compelling reasons why one of the longest production runs in the history of yachting, if not THE longest, is the Catalina 27.

The price of buying and maintaining a boat looms large in my equation, too. I don’t believe I could afford anything larger than a 26-year-old 27-footer. The Internet and communications technology have badly affected journalists like me. Unlike the big song companies, I don’t get a royalty every time someone downloads my product. My De-Naming Ceremony is free all over the Net, for example. Sometimes I don’t even get a credit, never mind a check.

Which brings me to Bob’s second query: “Having read these columns for some time now, are you contemplating a book compiled of them in the future?”

I’d love to turn them into a book Bob, with nice line illustrations, too, but think about it: who is going to pay for a book when they can get all these columns free on my blog?

Too many people these days equate First Amendment rights and freedom of speech with free access to the sweat and blood of writers and researchers. It can’t last. Things have got to change. But that’s cold comfort for those of us trapped in the crossfire right now. My mother was right. I shoulda been a plumber.

Today’s Thought
Small things are best: Grief and unrest
To rank and wealth are given;
But little things On little wings
Bear little souls to Heaven.

— F. W. Faber, Written in a Little Lady’s Little Album.

“Mom, is it true that we’re dust before we’re born?”
“Yes, dear, I believe so.”
“And is it true that we’re dust after we die?”
“Yes, dear. Why do you ask?”
“Well, I just looked under the fridge, and somebody’s either coming or going.”

October 20, 2009

Anything to keep the peace

(Tune in here every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for a new Mainly About Boats column by John Vigor.)

I’M A FULL-KEEL MAN, really, but I did once own a fin-keeler for a few years. I dreamed about her last night, as a matter of fact, dreamed of the day I first sailed her. It was a strange dream. It was as if I was watching myself all those years ago, and listening to my brain ticking over:

THIS FOOL thinks I'm interested in buying his boat. I can tell by the smirk on his face that he thinks I'm hooked. What a jackass. I wasn't exactly born yesterday, you know.

"Very handy to weather," he says.

Well, yes, I can feel that. She's a C&C 28, one of their finest. She damn well ought to be good to weather. But that doesn't mean I want her. Entirely the wrong kind of boat. We've agreed on a cruiser, June and I. Something nice and safe and sedate. Lots of room. Comfortable double bed.

If he thinks I'm going to buy this low-slung, lightweight racing machine he's got another thought coming.

"Try her on a reach," he says. "Pull off and I'll ease the sails. See how nicely she tracks?"

Yes, indeed. She fairly flies across the long, lazy swells from the east. Hardly needs a finger on the helm. A real thoroughbred.

Not that it matters, of course. No matter how much he grins, this boat is not for me.

"Pretty sheerline," he says.

Yes, everybody at the club has mentioned that at one time or another. Delicate. Goes perfectly with that reverse stern. She was one of the last really pretty IOR racers. Now they've all gone fat and funny and ugly.

We run home. He raises the spinnaker and I trim from the helm. She holds up her head and sends spray flying, millions of tiny drops glittering in the afternoon sun.

"Like her?" It's almost a leer, that grin of his.

"She's okay,” I say non-commitally. “Not what I'm looking for though, I'm sorry to say." He's not going to catch me like that.

June's waiting at the slip when we get in. She takes me aside and says: "You're going to buy her, aren't you?"

"What do you mean?"

"You've got that silly look again."


"You're in love. It's written all over your face."

I don't know what she's talking about. Sometimes she's very obtuse.

Then the cunning owner invites June below. Good luck. No room to swing even half a cat down there.

She sticks her head up. "She's got the sweetest little galley,” she says brightly. “Sure you don't want to buy her?"

"Well … if that’s what YOU want."

"No, it's YOUR decision."

"I guess so, then, if it makes YOU happy."

Strange creatures, women. We agree to buy a decent, solid cruiser and now suddenly she's urging me, begging me on her knees, to buy this beguiling courtesan, this seductive, curvaceous little beauty that sails like a witch.

Well, okay. I'll go along with her. Anything to keep the peace. Just wish that fool of an owner would stop grinning, though.

Today’s Thought
Many a man has fallen in love with a girl in a light so dim he would not have chosen a suit by it.
— Maurice Chevalier

Did you hear about the peasant in Afghanistan who was handed a sealed ballot at the polling booth? He started to tear it open, but an official screamed: “What do you think you’re doing?”

“I just wanted to see who I’m voting for,” he replied.

“Are you crazy?” the official exclaimed. “Don’t you know this is supposed to be a secret ballot?”

October 18, 2009

Weight on my mind

I NOTE WITH INTEREST that my boat seems to have sunk deeper in the water every time I happen to look at the boot-top. This has been going on for the seven years I’ve owned my 27-foot sloop, but I’d never stopped to give it serious thought until last weekend when I discovered two dozen cans of Heineken stuffed into a little-used locker, and wondered what they weighed.

My mind drifted back two-and-a-half years to an annual haul-out, when the crane driver leaned out of his cab and yelled over the noise of the diesel engine: “Nine thousand pounds.”

“Nah,” I thought, “can’t be. Her displacement is 7,500 like Mr. Alberg said. As designers go, he was no fool.” I dismissed it as inaccurate instrumentation on the crane, a built-in safety factor to prevent overloading.

But the same thing happened last May when I hauled out. “Exactly 9,000 again,” said the crane driver. I laughed it off. “Sure,” I said. How could she be 1,500 pounds heavier than her design displacement?

Well, I had a good look around last weekend and I must admit to being surprised by the amount of “stuff” on board, stuff that must have crept aboard at nighttime over a period of years, because I sure don’t remember carrying it on.

Take galley equipment, for example. We have mugs for six, about 50 pounds of assorted stainless-steel knives, forks, and spoons from the thrift store, a whistling kettle, heavy skillets that we hardly ever use, saucepans, and a host of gadgets for doing things to food and cans that I suspect were smuggled aboard by the First Mate when I wasn’t looking.

Water is darn heavy, of course. We always have full tanks, plus lord knows how many two-liter bottles of fresh water tucked away up forward, just in case there’s an earthquake and the house falls down and we have to go and live on the boat.

For the same reason, there’s a bunch of food, good heavy long-lasting food, sorted out in plastic bags by meals, all of it left over from a six-week summer cruise. It’s surprising how much it weighs. You wouldn’t suspect it, just to look at it.

Then there are the charts, about 100 of them, that I needed for that cruise. They never got taken home again because, heck, you never know when you might have to flee from an earthquake and head for the Alaskan wilderness. And I swear they absorb water because they seem much heavier now than when I first brought them aboard.

The self-inflating life jackets, combined with safety harnesses and tethers, are quite heavy. They are an example of why small boats suffer more from extra weight than big boats. No matter how big your boat, you only need one life jacket for each person, and a life jacket is a much larger part of a small boat’s displacement than a large boat’s, if you see what I mean. There are many other things like that, including an inflatable dinghy, whose weight would scarcely be noticed on a large yacht.

Did I mention the beer? Okay, but there’s also port. Bottles of port mature particularly well on a small boat. I’m told that the Portuguese used to ballast the Grand Banks fishing fleet with bottles of port. So we carry port also. Nice with cheese and crackers at sunset or after the evening meal. I discovered that we are down to one bottle, though, and now I don’t know whether to get another or not.

Perhaps if I get rid of some of the extra fuel it will balance out. There’s never enough fuel tankage on a small boat, so we always carry another five gallons in plastic jerry cans. I’m not saying it doesn’t weigh anything, but I still think 9,000 pounds is a lot of hogwash. Or maybe I’ll throw out some of the six extra containers of engine oil.

Okay, okay, I’ll grant you that the toolbox has expanded almost exactly as my store of tools in the garage has diminished. I don’t know how that came about, but it sure is nice to have five different-sized screwdrivers and three Vise-Grips, because they fall overboard so easily, you know.

I suppose the boots for hiking ashore weigh something but not as much as the first-aid kit the First Mate keeps adding to every time I turn my back. I swear we could remove an appendix or even carry out a colonoscopy if we had to.

Then there’s the spare sails, the anchor lines, the dedicated tow line, and hundreds of feet of
odd bits and pieces of line no longer than 9 inches long. I can’t bring myself to get rid of them because you just never know when you’ll need an 8-inch line.

I haven’t checked on the engine spare parts yet. The locker is so chock-full that I haven’t had the heart to explore in there. I’m afraid it will probably weigh just as much as the bosun’s spares stuffed into the locker opposite, many of which, I hasten to explain (especially the heavy galvanized shackles and things) were inherited with the boat.

I’ll admit that I was the one who added a self-steering wind vane on the stern that had to be balanced by two large lead bars in the bow anchor locker, but that doesn’t explain everything.
In fact, I can’t find any reasonable explanation for a 1,500-pound increase in displacement. She certainly doesn’t look any fatter from the outside, which I’m sure she would if that crane driver was correct.

Today’s Thought
What difference does it make how much you have? What you do not have amounts to more.
— Seneca

A sailor with laryngitis knocked on the clinic door. A pretty nurse answered.
“Is the doctor here?” he whispered.
“No,” she whispered back, “come on in.”

October 15, 2009

A night of cold comfort

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 don’t have a heater on my boat.

There was one on my last boat, however, a little Cape Dory 25D. We found her on an island in north Puget Sound, and sailed her home one bitter-cold day in February, when there was actually ice on deck. We had an overnight stop in a marina in Anacortes, where we accidentally 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 don’t have a heater on our present boat, which is a very handy excuse for not sailing when the weather gets cold. And our belly buttons are 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.”

October 13, 2009

Still searching for words

WHEN I WAS VERY YOUNG and still learning the language of sailors, I was invited to crew on 38-foot wooden racing sloop 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 rather 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, he would jump up and down in the cockpit and shout: “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 yesterday 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 my boat we just drop 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.

You need a sailorly word or short phrase that indicates to her 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 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’m stumped. If you can think of a good phrase, let me know.

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.”

October 12, 2009

Marital bliss on board

FOR THOSE SAILING COUPLES who have been constantly clamoring, I have the answer to marital bliss on board. I have been handed the most wonderful advice for men whose female partners are not mad-keen sailors themselves.

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 with a passenger.

It’s 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, 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.

So 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 up, 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.

It should also be no surprise to anyone that my wife practically dictated this column, though I have to say she has stuck with me lo these many decades. I recall only one occasion when she seriously threatened to jump overboard and swim to a nearby sandbank, and that was during a dinghy race when she had rather a lot of difficulty with hoisting the spinnaker and she took exception to the valuable advice I was giving her. Otherwise, apart from the occasional remark about Captain Bligh, 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 divorce 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.

October 8, 2009

Sailing under jib only

The yachting hoi polloi is abuzz with a rumor that sailing under a jib only will cause dismasting. It’s one of those rumors that surfaces for a while, dies a natural death because of its inherent stupidity, and then miraculously is reborn, to start the cycle again.

I have no idea why sailing under a jib only should cause dismasting. I have sailed many hundreds of deepsea miles under jib only. I have sailed a long way around the Cape of Storms like that. Yes, in storms.

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 dead downwind, is able to guide you through the storm with ease. You can huddle down below, nice and warm and dry, with your hands wrapped around a mug of coffee and rum, while your boats goes 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 and do very well 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 sheet 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 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.

October 6, 2009

An alternative to navigation

DAVID BURCH, of the Starpath School of Navigation in Seattle, Washington, once wrote a fascinating book called Emergency Navigation: Pathfinding Techniques for the Inquisitive and Prudent Mariner. It is designed for use by any deep-sea sailor who has somehow lost all normal means of navigating – electronics, sextant, watch, compass, and nautical almanac. This is a book that helps you find your way back home from the ocean wilderness.

There is only one thing wrong with David Burch’s book. It must somehow be available on board when all that other stuff has disappeared. It must survive the catastrophe that destroyed everything else.

It might be appropriate here to mention that David Burch is a former Fulbright Scholar, a Ph.D. in physics. That means he remembers things. Now, I can’t speak for you, but I don’t.

For example, Mr. Burch talks in his book about errors in the makeshift prescription for the Equation of Time. (Yes, yes, you know what that is. Think, man, think. It’s how you find your longitude with nothing but bare hands and sharp eyes.) “For 82 percent of the year, the values are accurate to within 60 seconds. The maximum error is 95 seconds, which occurs during 4 percent of the year.”

Yeah, right. He’s referring, of course, to a diagram you should have memorized while reading the book. There’s nearly 250 pages of stuff like this, plus tips on how to steer by the wind, the sun, the stars, and even by commercial airliners passing overhead.

But for people like me, whose brain cells choose to store only information connected with the immediate everyday aspects of living, such as where the damn car keys have got to, or the location of the nearest cold beer, there is no hope.

Luckily, however, there is an alternative. You could study survival techniques instead. The ability to catch fish, trawl for plankton, and gather rainwater, might be worth a lot more than a sketchy and ill-remembered knowledge of emergency navigation.

By my reckoning, if you go due east or west for long enough you have got to hit land. Christopher Columbus proved that. It may not be the land you were originally aiming for, but someone there will probably be able tell you what country it is, and where to get a decent shower.

So it boils down to common sense and survival. Oh, and maintaining a good lookout so you don’t bump into the land too hard.

Today’s Thought
If you will be a traveller, have always the eyes of a falcon, the ears of an ass, the face of an ape, the mouth of a hog, the shoulder of a camel, the legs of a stag, and see that you never want two bags very full, that is one of patience and another of money.
— John Florio, Second Frutes.

It was midwinter in Maine and grandma was feeling the cold, so she had a nip of whisky before going upstairs to bed. She entered the bedroom of her little grandson to say goodnight, but he recoiled when she tried to kiss him.
“Jeez, grandma,” he said accusingly, “you’ve been using Dad’s scent again.”

October 4, 2009

The Sheep talks back

IF YOU’VE READ Capt. Joshua Slocum’s account of his voyage around the world, you’ll surely remember how the “Pilot of the Pinta” came to Slocum’s rescue when he was incapacitated from food poisoning.

People who sail small boats across oceans say you hear voices like that when you’ve become totally exhausted. But you don’t have to be totally exhausted. Just partially will do. Ask Felix Knauth, of Houston, Texas.

Felix wrote to me the other day with an anecdote that reminded me immediately of Capt. Slocum. Here are his words:

“From 1987 to 1997 I owned The Black Sheep, a Tom Gillmer Aries 32 that I rescued from a slow death in Sausalito. She was a beautiful design but poorly constructed in Taiwan, so she usually sailed below her capability (to my dismay).

“Anyhow, in 1992 I was singlehanding off Nova Scotia; dark was coming on; the weather was getting nasty; I was more than a bit fearful—and frustrated because I could not find a slant that she liked.

“Wind—I guess maybe 20 plus; waves, short and quick and choppy. She would try to go straight but the waves kept slamming into either quarter, pushing her stern off course. I sat there in the cockpit trying this and that but the stiff chop seemed to be in charge.

“ ‘Aha,’ I thought, ‘let’s try trailing a long loop of warp.’ I went below and pulled 300 feet of spare anchor rode into the cockpit, hard-laid 3/4-inch nylon; tied two ends together; shortened up my tether; took a deep breath, stood up facing aft, and threw the tied ends over the Monitor vane. I let it out and tied if off port and starboard.

“Her response was immediate—it was like I had put her on rails, straight and easy at last.

“Now here’s the part that in the clear light of days later may not actually have happened, but at the time I could have sworn to it. A calm, pleasant voice said: ‘Well, good work, Felix, but it did take you a while. Now go below, make cocoa, and get some rest.’

“I did just that, feeling terrific. I guess The Sheep and I had reached a rapprochement—neither one of us was going to get the other into trouble.”

Today’s Thought
How nice the human voice is when it isn’t singing.
— Rudolf Bing

Then there was the kangaroo that went to see the psychiatrist.
“You’ve gotta help me, doc,” he said, “I don’t feel jumpy any more.”

October 1, 2009

Let's hear it for burgees

IT’S VERY DISAPPOINTING that nobody takes any notice of the colorful triangular burgee that I habitually fly from the top of my mast. I mean, it’s unusual. It’s intriguing. It’s splendid.

People are supposed to ask: How do you do that? Doesn’t it hang up on your VHF antenna? What club does it represent? Why don’t you fly it from the spreaders, like everyone else? How beautiful it looks up there. How very clever of you.

But no. Nobody asks.

I put it down to jealousy. I don’t think they’d have the faintest idea how to fly a burgee from the masthead, specially among the array of electronic sensors and antennas and lights that seem to breed on top of sailboat masts these days.

When I grew up, long ago and far away, everyone flew a burgee from the truck. It had its own halyard and it swiveled on a varnished pigstick. It not only showed which direction the wind was coming from, it also showed what yacht club you belonged to. It kept seagulls from perching up there and bombing the deck. It added color and movement to the mast when you were at anchor, and nicely balanced and echoed the flutters of the national ensign flying from the stern.

But this is the age of the ubiquitous Windex, a sterile plastic wind vane that just sits up there and stares down accusingly at you, a humorless, colorless artifact lacking all vestiges of passion.

Practically my first action when I bought my present boat was to remove the Windex and fit a burgee halyard. A proper halyard for a proper burgee. If I had my way, people would go down on one knee and salute my burgee when they come past. It is, after all, a direct connection to the pennants and flags of sailing craft stretching back through countless ages.

But no. The modern children of Windex ignore me.

My proud little burgee obviously makes them feel uncomfortably inadequate and disconnected from the nautical heritage that should stir deep in their souls. Just as they no longer know how to arm the lead, or handle a sextant, so have they forgotten how to fly a burgee.

Long may they suffer, I say. Long may it serve them right. If they choose to defile Nature by affixing a lump of soulless black plastic to the masthead, they deserve all the discomfort they get.

Today’s Thought
Take thy banner! May it wave
Proudly o’er the good and brave.
— Longfellow, Hymn of the Moravian Nuns of Bethlehem.

The drunk shuffled into court again. The judge sighed. “I thought I told you I didn’t want to see you in here again.”
“Yes, you did,” the drunk replied, “and I told the cops, but they wouldn’t believe me.”