December 31, 2009

Saving the sun

ONCE AGAIN, we in the northern hemisphere have pulled the sun back from the brink. With our candles and flashing lights and the noisy festivities surrounding the solstice, we have persuaded our mother star to abandon its flight to the south. At this very moment it is inching back our way, lengthening our days and bringing back the warmth we so sorely miss.

Happy New Year to you. I myself am happy that its number is 2010. A nice, convenient, twenty-ten instead of the multisyllabic two-thousand-and-nine, or twenty-oh-nine. Or even twenty-aught-nine, as my Idaho relatives used to say, instead of twenty-naught-nine, as is only right and proper. They even spelled aught as “ott,” just the way they said it. But they’re only relatives by marriage, you understand. It’s not in the genes.

So what’s new for the New Year? Well, a cruise to Alaska, for a start. No, not on my yacht. On a real cruise ship. Yes, honestly. I know, I know, I vowed I’d never set foot on one of those floating monstrosities that have more in common with ugly slabsided condominium blocks than shapely ships of the sea. But, see, my sister and her husband are coming from South Africa for a short visit next summer, and they wanted to go to Alaska. So this seemed the quick and dirty way to do it.

I can well remember the trouble we had with cruise ships in the Caribbean, how I cursed them when we were making night passages through the islands in our 30-foot sailboat. They would appear ahead of us, their navigation lights lost in a 10-story blaze of twinkling lights, steaming slowly in wide circles so you didn’t know which way to steer to keep out of their darned way.

They were just killing time, of course, waiting for daylight to enter port and disgorge 1,500 stampeding passengers into a village with one main street and 50 duty-free jewelers’ stores, all owned by the cruise-ship company.

So I’m not expecting too much of the Alaska cruise. We have the cheapest accommodation on board, deep down in steerage, over the props and next to the rudder motors. There is no outside view. I just hope they’ll provide us with bilge pumps to keep the water off the floor -- although I expect to suffer some. It would only be right, considering that I’ve broken my solemn vow.

Today’s Thought
Travel seems not just a way of having a good time, but something that every self-respecting citizen ought to undertake, like a high-fiber diet, say, or a deodorant.
— Jan Morris, “It’s OK to Stay at Home,” NY Times 30 Aug 85

An old bachelor had been visiting an elderly widow every evening for three years. One day a friend said to him: ”Since you two get along so well together, why don’t you marry her?”
“I thought of that,” said the bachelor, “but then where would I spend my evenings?”

December 29, 2009

Reasons for singlehanding

A READER IN SAN DIEGO called Sally M. says her boyfriend is about to set sail on a singlehanded voyage around the world in his Westsail 32. “I know him about as well as anybody,” she writes, “but I can’t figure out why he wants to do this. What is that compels an otherwise sane and reasonable man to set off alone across an ocean?”

You might well ask, Sally. People are strange. There could be a host of reasons motivating your boyfriend, and if I were you I wouldn’t take any of them too personally.

In my book, The Practical Mariner’s Book of Knowledge, I list 10 reasons that were originally compiled by Richard Henderson, a sailor and author with a profound knowledge of the singlehanded psyche. Here they are:

1. Practical purposes: To test a theory or to gather research material for a book. To earn money. To win a race. (Sometimes the practical reason is that the boat isn’t big enough for two, but that doesn’t apply in your boyfriend’s case, Sally.)

2. Self-significance: To find one’s place in the pecking order and acquire a sense of belonging.

3. Curiosity and fulfillment: A desire to see and experience things for oneself.

4. Recognition: Allied to self-significance, this takes things a stage further and involves a desire for fame.

5. Independence: The need for the greatest possible freedom and control over one’s destiny.

6. Escapism: Closely allied to independence. A rebellion against routine and flight from personal and societal problems.

7. Adventurousness: Pandering to the restless spirit, the desire for novelty, travel, and excitement.

8. Competitiveness: This takes many forms, including personal competition with the ocean and one’s inner fears as well as the desire to win races and set records.

9. Solitude: Some people are natural introverts. They like being alone. Others experience a spiritual cleansing that makes them more appreciative of subsequent human contact.

10. The Mother Sea: All life came from the sea. Some deep instinct, some unsummoned fascination, draws many people back.

Well, there you are, Sally. Choose your number, or maybe a combination of numbers. And don’t neglect the fact that he might be doing this for a much simpler reason, i.e., he just likes sailing alone for long distances. Duh.

So wish him well, give him your full support, and be prepared to welcome him warmly when he comes back a better man, which I’m sure he will.

Today’s Thought
There is a need to find and sing our own song, to stretch our limbs and shake them in a dance so wild that nothing can roost there, that stirs the yearning for solitary voyage.
— Barbara Lazear Ascher, Playing after Dark

“Is there someone in the class who can tell me what steps you would take to determine the height of a ship’s mast using only an aneroid barometer?”
“Yes, sir. I would lower the barometer on a piece of string and then measure the string.”

December 27, 2009

Dressing the part

OLD WOTSISNAME, who moors just down the row from me, is getting to be a blight on the neighborhood. His jeans are smeared with Castrol 5W–40 engine oil. They’re frayed around the bottoms. One corner of a front pocket is drooping. There’s a hole just below the left knee. His shirt is missing the second button down and he never fastens the top one, so there’s a wide gap that exposes a dingy grey T-shirt splodged here and there with curry, tomato juice and grease from French fries.

It’s high time we instituted a dress code for sailors, a uniform, if you like, before OW gives all sailors a bad name. I have seen how people in the marina tend to veer off sideways to give him a wide berth. I have seen the fright in their eyes.

We need to present a better face to the public. We need to follow the example of the world’s fighting navies, who insist that their crews be dressed in accordance with discipline, smartness, and cleanliness, the better thereby to promote a proper sense of their rank in society.

I myself rather favor a return to the seamen’s petticoat trousers, which were standard dress aboard ships for hundreds of years. It would be greatly fulfilling to see yachtsmen and women neatly attired in clean petticoat trousers on the verandas of yacht clubs, or the afterdecks of yachts.

The Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea says there was good reason petticoat trousers lasted so long. They offered protection to men working aloft on the yards, and also when rowing in boats, where the petticoat kept off rain and spray.

Most seamen in those days made their own clothes on board because they couldn’t afford to buy stuff from the ship’s store, or slop chest. “Worn canvas sails provided the basic cloth for home-made clothing,” says the Companion. “Almost all seamen of all nations made themselves canvas hats with a brim and coated them with tar to form a waterproof headgear known as the tarpaulin, abbreviated into ‘tar’ as the universal synonym for a sailor.”

Very well, then. I propose we revert once again to the universal seamen’s uniform of petticoat trousers and a jack tar hat. Think how organized and co-ordinated we would look if we all dressed that way. Think how the fashion editors would flock around to photograph us and praise our revived sense of couture.

If you have any influence with your yacht club or your marina friends, please pass on my idea. Meanwhile, I’ll try to break the news to OW. I’m not too hopeful, though. He’s such a reactionary when it comes to wearing petticoats.

Today’s Thought
Fashion is as profound and critical a part of the social life of man as sex, and is made up of the same ambivalent mixture of irresistible urges and inevitable taboos.
— RenĂ© Konig, The Restless Image: A Sociology of Fashion

The shipwrecked man had been captured by cannibals. The cannibal chief asked: “What was your business among your own people?”
“I was a newspaperman.”
“An editor?”
“No, I was just a copy editor.”
“Well cheer up. Tonight you’ll be editor-in-chief.”

December 24, 2009

A Christmas plea

TINKLE-TINKLE, TINKLE-TINKLE. The man with the kettle is reminding us to give, and give generously. Today there will be sailors all over the world who are receiving Christmas gifts from non-sailors. And it is to the non-sailors that this column is directed.

All right, listen up now you lot. What are the traditional gifts a non-sailor like you gives a sailor? I’ll tell you: a couple of battens for the mainsail. A stainless shackle or two for the bosun’s bag. A woolly watch cap for cold weather ... let’s face it folks, I’m sorry, but this is not generous giving. The sailor in your life deserves better.

Now, heavens above, before you protest, let it not be thought that I am a purveyor of ingratitude. I believe as much as the next man that it is more blessed to give than to receive. I, too, believe it’s the thought that counts. I also believe that you should give according to your means and I am an ardent admirer of fiscal responsibility, thrift, frugality, prudence, parsimony and similar human traits that Mr. Roget reminds me of in his thoughtful Thesaurus.

On the other hand, the problem facing us today is that your average sailor does not want a silly hat or another mainsail batten to add to the pile of spares already cluttering the cockpit locker. What he really wants is a couple of gallons of anti-fouling paint at $150 a gallon. Or a 35-pound CQR anchor for $600. Or a new color GPS chartplotter for $800. Or a jib furling system for $2,000. Or a new diesel engine, Yeah, wow, a new engine. That would please him no end. Ten thousand ought to do it. Fifteen, maybe if they have to build new engine beds as well. It sounds like a lot but it’s not really, honestly it’s not, when you consider the huge amount of joy it will bring. A really huge amount of joy.

It’s not too late to correct your Christmas mistake. If you weren’t generous before, you can be generous now. Tinkle-tinkle. Do your bit to make a sailor happy retrospectively. Tinkle-tinkle. Give till it hurts. Tinkle-tinkle. I mean, really hurts. Tinkle-tinkle. On behalf of sailors everywhere, I thank you.

Today’s Thought
Money-giving is a very good criterion … of a person’s mental health. Generous people are rarely mentally ill people.
— Dr. Karl A. Menninger

“What’s that you’re burying?”
“Oh, just one of my chickens.”
“Chicken be darned. That looks like my dog.”
“Yeah, right, the chicken’s inside.”

December 22, 2009

Preserving our freedom

FOLLOWING THE DEATHS of three mountaineers on Mt. Hood, Oregon, there has been a renewed call for all climbers to carry locator beacons. The logic behind this move is unassailable: a locator beacon would guide rescuers precisely to the climbers in trouble. That would mean a great reduction in the expense of helicopters and other search-and-rescue equipment. It would also greatly reduce the risk to life and limb of search parties and rescuers.

So far, the expense of rescuing people who get themselves into trouble on mountains has been borne by the taxpayers. But there are those who argue, with good reason, that climbers who are rescued should pay for the costs involved. Perhaps they should have to take out liability insurance before they are allowed to climb.

I mention all this because exactly the same principle applies to those who sail small boats for pleasure. Sooner or later there will be a public outcry about the expense of rescuing foolish, unprepared sailors who get themselves into trouble on the water. Already, many states are requiring new sailors to attend a course about safety and seamanship. But that is nothing compared with some of the restrictions facing yachtsmen in other countries, where they are required to pass exams, gain experience, and have their boats inspected for seaworthiness before they can leave harbor.

It is all too easy, these days, to push the button on an Epirb, an emergency position-indicating radio beacon, and send an SOS to your nearest Coast Guard center by satellite. The security of knowing they can be rescued from the middle of the ocean may actually encourage people to set off before they are ready, or before they have acquired the experience and equipment they need. And even more encouraging is the knowledge that rescue will cost them nothing.

I agree with the famous British circumnavigator Eric Hiscock, who said that people who sail for pleasure shouldn’t expect to be rescued when they get into trouble. They shouldn’t expect other people to risk their lives and spend their money because of their lack of preparation or foolishness.

If you are a professional seaman or fisherman, then certainly you are entitled to make use of whatever rescue services are available, but amateurs wanting to cross oceans or test themselves in bad weather along our coasts should understand that they do so at their own risk.

Like Hiscock, I have crossed oceans with no way of calling for help, apart from a short-range VHF radio. Some cruisers, over-imbued with the notion of entitlement, have called me foolish for doing so, particularly when modern electronics have made communication so quick and positive, but I stand by the principle.

There is a freedom at stake here. We pride ourselves on our freedoms in this country. But the freedom to sail where you like, how you like, could easily be eroded by the public’s indignation about the expense a selfish hobby incurs.

Today’s Thought
We have confused the free with the free and easy.
— Adlai E. Stevenson, Putting First Things First

New twist on an old gag:
“Who was that lady I saw you outwit last night?”

December 20, 2009

The power of a human

Dear John:
I have a question for you. There’s a bottle of Gosling’s Black Seal rum riding on the answer. It’s like this: I was having an argument with the yacht club know-all in the bar last weekend. We were talking about inflatable yacht tenders, and how hard they are to row when your outboard motor breaks down. He said he didn’t think a human being could produce much more than 2 horsepower with a pair of oars.

I laughed in his face and said: “Only Superman could produce 2 horsepower. A normal man can’t even produce half a horsepower for any length of time.”

He then gripped me warmly by the throat. The bar tender intervened and suggested we make a bet of it with a bottle of the basic ingredient for a Dark ’n Stormy. So can you help?
— Manny in Minnesota

Dear Manny:
Jeez, if only you people would buy my books instead of fighting in the bar you’d save yourselves a lot of trouble. Probably a lot of money, too. On page 158 of the Boatowner’s Handbook you’ll find these enlightening facts:

“Human Power
“The average man in good condition can produce about 1/4 horsepower for about 40 minutes. He can produce between 1/6 and 1/7 horsepower for several hours at a time. This is sufficient to row a hard dinghy at a reasonable clip—say 3 to 4 knots—in calm water and no wind.

“The maximum power from a highly trained male athlete for a burst of a few seconds is a little less than 2 horsepower.”

So, Manny, I guess you’re both right, but you’re a bit righter than the club know-all because a burst of a few seconds doesn’t really count. It’s not going to get you very far in your inflatable. So the best thing to do is to sit down, get his hands off your neck, split the bottle, and make friends again. Maybe if you bought my book, Manny, YOU could be the club know-all.

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

“Gimme all the bad fruit and rotten eggs you’ve got in the store, willya?”
“You must be going to see that new comedian in the town hall tonight.”
“Keep it down, willya? I AM the new comedian.”

December 17, 2009

Fog and fear

I’VE JUST BEEN READING Frank Dye’s book about his wanderings in a 16-foot Wayfarer sailing dinghy. Year after year this Englishman returned to the USA to complete various stages of a voyage from Miami to the Great Lakes via Maine and the St. Lawrence River.

I can think of no book more likely to put people off the sport of dinghy cruising. Night after night Dye complains of being wet and cold, wrapped in two sleeping bags and flannel pajamas on the bottom boards of his boat. And when he’s not being wet and cold, he’s being frightened by howling winds, breaking waves, contrary currents, and thick fog.

His book is called Sailing to the Edge of Fear, but he tumbles over the edge on too many occasions for my liking, and often enough it’s because of fog. Fog is very scary stuff. What can you do about it?

Actually, there isn’t much advice to give about getting caught in fog that isn’t covered by common sense. If you see a fog bank forming ahead, and you have a chance to turn back to a safe anchorage, do so. It’s the seamanlike action to take.

Fog is treacherous. Go slowly and listen very carefully. If fog catches you out, try to get into shallow water and anchor there. Oftentimes that’s easier said than done, of course.

You should raise a radar reflector as high as you can so other vessels with radar sets will see you. And you should be meticulous about making the right sound signal every two minutes or less. I have noticed that too many skippers are very lax about this. I have even traveled on a Washington State ferry that made no sound signals in thick fog, presumably relying on radar and clearance from Seattle Traffic Control, which can’t possibly tell the ferry if a small craft, invisible to radar, is in its path.

If you’re sailing, the correct signal is one long blast and two short blasts. That’s also the signal made by a vessel not under command, or restricted by her ability to maneuver. The same signal comes from a vessel engaged in fishing, or towing or pushing another vessel.

If you’re under power, the fog signal (and the signal in any kind of restricted visibility, by the way) is one long blast every two minutes or less.

And one last tip – take along a horn that you can blow into. The fog horns that work off cans of compressed air don’t always work. I can vouch for that. I can also tell you that blowing the damn horn as loud as you can every two minutes is a pain in the you-know-what. You can’t go anywhere or do anything that lasts more than one minute, fifty-nine seconds. It puffs your cheeks out and raises your blood pressure. It makes you dizzy and produces black spots before your eyes. But it’s better than being run down at sea. So do it.

Today’s Thought
He that bringeth himself into needless dangers dieth the devil’s martyr.
— Thomas Fuller, Holy War

“I’ve found out why production has slowed down since you got that second computer.”
“Good. What’s wrong?”
“The big computer’s shoving all the work on to the little computer.”

December 15, 2009

Balancing the hull

THERE ARE MANY DESIGN FAULTS that sailboat owners will admit to, but unseaworthiness is not one of them. A skipper might well shrug off a lack of accommodation. He or she might well agree the boat is slow, or hard on the helm. But nobody wants to own an unseaworthy boat.

Seaworthiness is the happy result of a lot of factors but there is one that is often overlooked. It’s called balance.

According to Tony Marchaj, a sailor, pilot, naval architect, and research scientist, “Almost by definition, seaworthiness cannot be achieved if the boat is badly balanced.”

So what do we mean by balance? That question was answered by a famous British designer, J. Laurent Giles. He said good balance is “freedom from objectionable tendencies to gripe or fall off the wind, regardless of angle of heel, speed or direction of wind.”

He added that a well balanced boat had an easy motion in a seaway, that is, she passed easily over the waves, neither tending to plunge the bow deeply into the next wave ahead, nor throwing her nose high in the air as a wave passed the fore body. She would also unfailingly lift her stern to a following sea.

“One requires of the balanced yacht that she should retain the utmost docility and sureness of movement in manoeuvering at sea, in good or bad weather,” he added. “She must maintain a steady course when left to herself, but must be instantly responsive to her helm so that the heavier seas may be dodged if circumstances permit. She must be capable of being left to her own devices, sailing, hove-to, or under bare poles.”

That sounds like a very tall order to me. What sort of hull has this wondrous quality of balance? Here’s Marchaj again:

“In a narrower sense, this means that the inherently balanced hull does not substantially alter is longitudinal trim, and does not alter its course during the process of heeling and rolling.” In other words, to be well balanced, a hull should immerse about the same volume of topsides forward and aft when she heels.

Marchaj points out that many of the good old boats still sailing now were either designed for, or affected by, the old International Offshore Rule, which produced shallow, beamy hulls with pinched bows. “Usually, when they heel, the stern is lifted and the bow falls. Consequently, these boats are difficult to control by rudder and are unseaworthy.”

If the bow digs in as the boat heels, a boat will try to round up into the wind, of course, not only because of the wedge effect of the forward sections but also because the center of lateral resistance has moved forward while, at the same time, the center of effort of the sails has moved outward and gains more leverage. This is when the person at the helm suddenly finds the tiller up under his chin. Not that it does much good if the boat heels too far and the rudder comes out of the water.

Luckily, most of us don’t often sail in sea conditions that challenge the full seaworthiness of our boats. But if you should be of a mind to cross an ocean or double Cape Horn, balance might be a good thing to keep in mind as you search for the right boat.

Today’s Thought
Everything splendid is rare, and nothing is harder to find than perfection.
— Cicero

“Are you allowed to smoke at school?”
“Are you allowed to drink at school?”
“Of course not.”
“How about dates?”
“Oh dates are fine, as long as you don’t eat too many.”

© Copyright John Vigor 2009. All rights reserved. Not to be copied or published without the express permission of the author.

December 13, 2009

Sneezing on your sleeve

I WONDER WHO THE IDIOT WAS who first suggested that we sneeze into the clothed inner part of the angle made by a bent arm? I refuse to call it an elbow, because the elbow is the outer part of the angle made by a bent arm. The idiot got that wrong, too. You can’t sneeze into your elbow unless you’re built wrong.

It seems to be the swine-flu epidemic that started this. And by this, I mean the disgusting action of sneezing a noseful of snot onto your shirt or sweater and watching it drip down the length of your arm right there in front of everybody. Who in their normal mind would want to do that?

I remember a more sensible era when good Moms used to check that their kids had nice clean handkerchiefs before they set off for school. Among the posters on walls and hoardings there was one from the government that said “Coughs and Sneezes Spread Diseases, Trap the Germs in Your Handkerchief.” How sensible. Those of us schoolkids who forgot our handkerchiefs and surreptiously wiped our noses on our sleeve cuffs in desperation, were disdained by the little girls and chastised by our teachers.

And now, what has happened to the handkerchief? Has it gone the way of the Dodo? Am I now the only one who reaches in his pocket for a handkerchief when he feels a sneeze coming on?

What if you’re in evening dress? Are you going to blow your snot and germs onto your tuxedo all evening, and if you do, will your partner still dance with you and kiss you goodnight? I’m all in favor of birth control, but this seems to be an unusual way to go about it.

And, more importantly, what if you’re bringing your rotten swine flu to my boat? Foul-weather gear is not absorbent, in case you’ve forgotten. The snot and phlegm won’t soak in. It will just drip down in thick, slimy, yellow ropes.

And every time you raise your arm to adjust the topping lift or wave at a passing seagull, a vast cloud of predatory germs will spill out. They’ll settle in the galley, just below the hatchway, and lurk there by the million, waiting for something moist and hot blooded — something vulnerable and delicious (namely, me) — to come past. I can just see them there, wide-eyed, smacking their lips and rubbing their little hands in glee, ready to pounce.

Sneezing on your sleeve is not just disgusting, it’s totally unhygienic. I’m not surprised swine flu is spreading so fast. If, for some reason, fashion or plain stupidity has dictated the demise of the handkerchief, then the least people could do would be to wear an absorbent bandage around their arms. There is probably a fortune to be made by someone who invents a Velcro-fastened, throw-away elbow patch. Or maybe, just maybe, if this epidemic goes on long enough we will come to our senses and realize that handkerchiefs were not mere fashion accessories but a truly sensible way to prevent the spread of disease.
Today’s Thought
Human beings are the only creatures who are able to behave irrationally in the name of reason.
— Ashley Montagu

“Dad, why do they throw the meat to the lions like that? Why can’t they serve it nicely?”
“Well, son, the fact is, lions are lousy tippers.”

© Copyright John Vigor 2009. All rights reserved. Not to be copied or published without the express permission of the author.

December 10, 2009

Where is global warming?

WHILE THE SCIENTISTS AND POLITICIANS in Copenhagen prattle on about global warming, we in western Washington state are experiencing record-low temperatures. It was 14 degrees here in Bellingham early this morning and I am wondering whether I should have winterized my boat more thoroughly.

She’s afloat in salt water, of course, and that water is about 40°F, so in theory she should be warmed from the bottom. But, in practice, an icy northeast wind blows in through the louvers in the companionway drop slide and freezes any bottles of water left lying in the galley.

Where is global warming when you need it, I say -- if there is such a thing as global warming. I read an online article in the German newspaper Der Spiegel the other day that said scientists are at a loss to explain why AVERAGE global temperatures have NOT gone up at all in the past 10 years. So global warming seems to be the wrong description. It’s a convenient political description.

What’s really happening is regional warming. There’s no doubt that some places, such as the Arctic region, are getting warmer. But there’s equally no doubt that others are getting colder.

The fact that the scientists are puzzled doesn’t surprise me. The earth does strange things, all on its own. Fossils tell us that there have been warming and cooling cycles over billions of years, long before man made any contribution to carbon dioxide build-up. We even know that the magnetic poles reverse themselves from time to time. The north magnetic pole was once the south magnetic pole.

I am always skeptical when I hear that temperatures have risen by one degree in the past 100 years. Can anyone be sure that a thermometer in use 100 years ago would relate with such precision to one made this year? Accurate to within one degree? Hmmm.

Anyway, a little global warming would be greatly appreciated around here right now. I could be very happy anchored in water warm enough to swim in, beneath skies of Caribbean blue, with a few coconut palms doing their little bendy wind dance on the white sandy beach just over yonder. I have sailed with ice on deck, and I tell you, I didn’t like it. I prefer it when the ice is tinkling in my drink, and the sweet lazy harmony of steel drums comes drifting across from the shore as I lie back in the cockpit.

Today’s Thought
Knowing how hard it is to collect a fact, you understand why most people want to have some fun analyzing it.
— Jesse L. Greenstein, Chairman, Dept. of Astronomy, Calif. Institute of Technology

Time flies like a speeding arrow.
Fruit flies like a rotten banana.

December 8, 2009

Seaworthy small boats

SOME TIME BACK I helped construct a seaworthiness quiz for Small Craft Advisor magazine. The quiz was designed to give the owners of small sailboats a reasonable idea of how seaworthy various designs might be. And, perhaps more importantly, it demonstrated for them the desirable qualities that add up to seaworthiness in very small craft.

But now and then someone comes along and says: "What were you thinking? How can such small boats be seaworthy?" Well, they say that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and that’s what most of these someones are equipped with.

It’s quite obvious that dinghies and their ilk can’t meet all the qualities necessary to claim seaworthiness for larger vessels, ones that can accommodate people in the shelter of a cabin. But sailing dinghies can indeed provide two of the most important qualities: to stay afloat and to keep their crews alive.

If these someones had done their homework, they’d know that tiny open boats have made remarkable ocean voyages that demonstrate their seaworthiness. I could mention Captain Bligh, for a start, and Webb Chiles, who singlehandedly sailed his open, 17-foot, Drascombe Lugger, Chidiock Tichborne, almost all of the way around the world. And then there was Frank Dye, who sailed his 16-foot Wayfarer dinghy hundreds of miles across the North Sea from Scotland to Iceland, and to Norway.

These sailors provided an element of seaworthiness that their small craft lacked, of course. They were all expert seamen. In fact, when faced with storms at sea, Dye, in his unballasted, centerboard dinghy, would take the mast down, set a sea anchor so that the boat faced into the oncoming seas, and then lie down on the floorboards and go to sleep. “There’s nothing much else to do,” he said. Except pray, perhaps.

In coastal cruising, much of the seaworthiness of a dinghy like the Wayfarer lies in its ability to run for shelter close inshore, to maneuver closely among rocks, and to land on a beach and be pulled up out of harm on inflatable rollers. Larger, less nimble yachts with deep keels would not dare close a shore like that in heavy weather; their only recourse then is to seek deep water offshore, where their seaworthiness will be well tested.

In at least one way, the smaller the sailing dinghy, the more seaworthy it is. That is when the worst happens and the boat capsizes. The smaller the boat, the easier it is for the crew to right her.

The well-found camp-cruising dinghy cannot sink — she has built-in buoyancy. With a sealed mast and boom for flotation, she cannot turn completely turtle, and so the crew can stand on the centerboard to right her. She will also have self-bailers that will draw all the water from the cockpit once she comes upright again and gains way.

So there’s no doubt in my mind that small boats can be seaworthy. They can’t provide the shelter and comfort of a larger vessel, admittedly, but their closeness to the water provides delicate insights and thrills unknown to those lofty someones who batter their way through the seas in their seaborne chariots, carefully insulated from both the sea’s danger and its intimate secrets.

Today’s Thought
There are many advantages in sea-voyaging, but security is not one of them.
— Sadi (Emerson, English Traits: The Voyage)

“That’s a funny-looking dog you’ve got there.”
“What? I’ll have you know I paid $1,000 for this dog. He’s part terrier and part bull.”
“Which part is bull?”
“The part about the $1,000.”

© Copyright John Vigor 2009. All rights reserved. Not to be copied and published for commercial purposes without the express permission of the author.

December 6, 2009

The silence of the fans

IVOR TUNGIN-CHEAQUE, chairman of John Vigor’s Silent Fan Club, writes:

Most Honorable Sir,

Since March 22, 2009, when you were last kind enough to publish my humble scribblings, things have taken a nasty turn.

It is with great concern and no small alarm that I have to inform you that you now have eight (8) “followers.” It is my belief that these so-called “followers” are being secretly trained to write to you, expressing their delight and appreciation for the pearls of wisdom and delicate witticisms that flow so freely and generously from your mighty pen.

This, of course, is a direct contravention of the rules of your Silent Fan Club, which state that anyone who praises you in any way shall henceforth be expelled from the club.

While you still have millions — nay, billions — of fans worldwide who cleave solidly to their commitment never to contact you (I might mention with great admiration and respect such names as Angelina, Madonna, Reese, and Shania) it is nevertheless very worrisome that your “followers,” although a small and impotent group at present, might in time gather enough strength to spell the doom of what must undoubtedly be the largest fan club in the whole wide world. I therefore urge you to keep careful watch, and to repel, with force if necessary, any attempts to contact you, to curry favor with you, or to flatter you in any way.

On another matter, I have to report that we have successfully diverted the attention of millions of your devoted fans who might have been tempted to write letters of praise to you. I was able to persuade a Mr. Tiger Woods, a golfer, I believe, to run his car into a fire hydrant and a tree in the early hours of one morning, while his wife ran behind him wielding a large club. This, I assured him, would buy him the kind of publicity he seems to crave – exactly the kind of publicity you seek to shun. I was correct. The tabloids were soon spreading sensational rumors that Mr. Woods had knocked himself out after attempting three holes-in-one. I hope he appreciates our efforts on his behalf.

I close with admiration for your sage-like utterances, your ready wit and charm, the subtle thrust and parry of your sparkling repartee, and the wisdom, Solomon-like, that graces your princely brow.

Yours Humbly and Obediently,

IVOR TUNGIN-CHEAQUE (Chairman, John Vigor’s Silent Fan Club)

P.S. Once again, please excuse the crayon — they still won’t let me have anything sharp in this place.

Today’s Thought
Those who are silent, self-effacing and attentive become the recipients of confidences.
— Thornton Wilder, The Eighth Day

“Psychoanalysis is a lot of hokum.”
“What makes you say that?”
Well, I’ve been having analysis for six weeks and my shrink says I’m in love with my umbrella.”
“That’s just nuts.”
“That’s what I told him. Admiration, possibly--and I must admit we have built up a sincere affection for each other--but love? That’s crazy.”

December 3, 2009

Poor old Frigga

FRIDAY IS UPON US. Frigga’s day. Frigga, the Norse goddess of love and fertility, the wife of Odin, the most powerful of all the gods.

In olden times, Frigga’s day was regarded as a lucky day. Northerners held their nuptials on that day. And all was smiles, and happiness ever after — until the Christians came along.

As they spread their gospel, they also spread the calumny that Frigga was a witch. Because of this false testimony, Friday became regarded as an unlucky day, a day on which no right-minded sailor would set sail, for fear of bad luck at sea.

That old superstition still holds sway among those intending to set out on long voyages in small boats, and even among those who man the warships of countries with large navies. No-one who depends on the sea for his or her livelihood scoffs at this superstition.

So what to do, if you simply must sail on a Friday? Well, there is a way to set sail on Frigga’s day without attracting bad luck, if you know how. And here’s how:

Start your voyage on a Wednesday or Thursday. Go a mile or two purposefully, and then return to your mooring or slip to attend to some problem that seems to have arisen. Perhaps the cook forgot to buy matches. Perhaps the bosun has discovered a stay starting to strand. Perhaps the skipper left his chronometer on his bedside table at home. There are many convincing causes that would require a prudent crew to return to port.

Now you can set sail on Friday without the burden of bad luck hanging over you, because you are not actually setting sail on Friday, but merely continuing a voyage that started on Wednesday or Thursday.

And if a Christian should challenge you, and accuse you of deception, you can say: “You’re a fine one to speak of deception, my man, after what your people did to dear old Frigga.”

Today’s Thought
And on Friday fell all this mischance.
— Chaucer, The Nonne Preeste’s Tale

Men don’t make passes
At girls who wear glasses
Girls who should, but don’t, wear glasses
Will never know if men make passes.

December 1, 2009

The wonderfullest mystery

DEAR BRETHEREN AND SISTEREN. My text for today comes from Proverbs 30, Verse 19:

"There be three things which are too wonderful for me, yea, four which I know not:
"The way of an eagle in the air; the way of a serpent upon a rock; the way of a ship in the midst of the sea; and the way of a man with a maid."

Well, science has made great progress since those words were written. We can explain an eagle’s flight with aerodynamics. Herpetologists now know how a snake slithers across a rock. Dr. Phil understands all too well the wicked way of a man with a maid, and spares us no details. And that leaves the ship in the midst of the sea, the most wonderful of all the mysteries.

Little ships, and especially little sailing ships, conduct themselves in many different ways in the waves of the sea. You have probably experienced them all without giving any particular motion a name or a definition. But one man made a list for us to wonder at.

He is the well-known American naval architect and author, Francis S. Kinney. He held that there were eight motions of a sailboat at sea:

Broaching: Accidentally swinging broadside on to the wind and sea when running free.
Heaving: Rising and falling as a whole with the seas.
Pitching: Plunging and scending, so that the bow and stern rise and fall alternately.
Pitchpoling: Accidentally tumbling stern-over-bow in a half-forward somersault.
Rolling: Inclining rhythmically from side to side.
Surging: Being accelerated and decelerated by overtaking swells.
Swaying: Moving bodily sideways.
Yawing: Lurching and changing direction to either side of a proper course.

I note that the discreet Mr. Kinney refrained from mentioning wallowing and foundering, which has happened in boats I’ve sailed. The foundering in a small dinghy, luckily. Perhaps his designs never did those things. But he might well have included heeling, which is simply deliberately arrested rolling.

So next time you’re out there, take note of what your boat is doing, and at all costs avoid pitchpoling. That’s the most dangerous motion of all.

Today’s Thought
I would rather live in a world where my life is surrounded by mystery than live in a world so small that my mind could comprehend it.
— Harry Emerson Fosdick, “The Mystery of Life,” in Riverside Sermons

A man rushed into the dining car of a train. “A lady just fainted next door,” he cried. “Anyone got any whiskey?”
Several flasks were offered. He grabbed the nearest one and drained it in one gulp.
“Thanks a lot,” he said, “it always upsets me to see a lady faint.”