May 30, 2010

The weather misforecast

SOMEONE ON TELEVISION the other night was complaining about the accuracy of weather forecasts. She said she had checked 17 local forecasts and 15 of them had been wrong.

Well, that’s no news to sailors, of course. We’re used to that sort of misinformation. If we believed all the small-craft advisories and gale warnings up here in the Pacific Northwest we’d never have the nerve to leave harbor.

I’ve always maintained that a barometer, common sense, and experience are a sailor’s three best weather forecasters. And perhaps the old, old weather proverbs handed down to us by our forefathers are useful, too — certainly as good as the forecasts we get around here, anyway.

For instance:

When halo rings the moon or sun
Rain’s approaching on the run

The U.S. Weather Service confirms that rain follows about 75 percent of sun halos and about 65 percent of moon halos. Most often, you’re looking at the sun or moon through the ice-crystals of lofty cirrus clouds, and a sky filled with these indicates an approaching warm front and soft, soaking rain.

Beware the bolts from north or west
In south or east the bolts be best.

Um yes, well, duh. Fairly obvious, but also accurate if you live in the north temperate zone where the weather usually travels from west to east. If you spot lightning in the northwest it’s a thunderstorm coming toward you. If it flashes down in the south or east, you can wave it goodbye.

Seagull, seagull, get out on t’ sand.
We’ll ne’er have good weather with thee on t’ land.

That’s a British couplet, of course, but seagulls are much the same the world over. They scavenge on the sea shore when the weather is fair, and they move inland to those delicious waste dumps when it comes over foul.

Regrettably, seagulls don’t seem to be brilliant at forecasting, though. They tend to be more driven by the weather than to anticipate it, so their usefulness to us is definitely limited. Personally, I’d rather rely on the barometer or rings around the sun.

Today’s Thought
To talk of the weather, it’s nothing but folly,
For when it rains on the hill, it shines in the valley
— Michael Denham, Proverbs

Boater’s Rules of Thumb, #58
Dock lines. Your springs should be a quarter longer than your boat’s length on deck. The diameter of your dock lines should be 1/8th inch for every 9 feet of boat length.

Little Johnny’s teacher asked him to spell weather.
He thought about it for a while and then said “W-A-E-I-T-H-R.”
"My goodness," remarked his teacher, “That’s the worst spell of weather we’ve had around here for years.”

May 27, 2010

Rampant Seagull nostalgia

IF YOU READ the boating bulletin boards regularly, you’ll have noticed that every now and then there’s an eruption of nostalgia for British Seagull outboard motors.

They seem to fall into the category of vintage cult machines, along with MGs, Nortons, and Triumphs. The difference with the Seagull, however, was just how low its low-tech was. Nothing could get lower than a Seagull.

I mean, it could have been made on an anvil by a blacksmith. It ran on an oil/gasoline mixture so rich in oil that you didn’t need a compass to find your way back to port. You just followed your outward oil slick.

The Seagull might well have been invented in the Stone Age, even before they discovered bronze. I took one on a long trip through the canals of Europe once, and it vibrated so much that the gas tank fell off. The spark plug oiled up every 20 minutes or so and stopped working. I became an expert at changing a red-hot plug with a large barge bearing down on me and a Dutch skipper bellowing with rage.

My friend Bernie Borland once went to England to buy a Seagull direct from the manufacturer. The owner of the company was a woman.

“I’d like something in the range of 4 horsepower,” said Bernie.

“What size boat are we talking about?” she asked.

“A Mirror dinghy – about 11 feet.”

“No,” said the woman. “You don’t need 4 horsepower. I won’t sell you one.”

He eventually had to settle for a 2 1/2-hp Seagull. In retrospect he was glad because it fitted across the aft deck, but he never got over the way the Seagull lady did business.

I guess it’s lucky that the British Seagull company policy ensured that their product would never multiply fruitfully and cover the earth, otherwise they would have made British Petroleum look like amateurs in the Gulf of Mexico.

But no matter how much you disrespect the Seagull, there will always be a noisy fringe of people singing its praises. Reasoned criticism runs right off their backs. Seagull nostalgia runs rampant.

Today’s Thought
Machines are worshipped because they are beautiful, and valued because they confer power; they are hated because they are hideous, and loathed because they impose slavery.
— Bertrand Russell, Arms and the Man.

Boater’s Rules of Thumb, #57
In clear weather you can distinguish the shapes of prominent lighthouses, or houses, and trees from about 8 miles away. Individual windows in a building are discernible at about 2 miles. A person at 1 mile is a moving black dot without limbs. The movement of a person’s legs, or a rower’s arms, is discernible at 400 yards. You can make out a face, but not recognize its owner, at 250 to 300 yards.

A Press release from the Washington Legal Aid Society says:
“A new partner recently joined the firm of Button, Button, and Button. His name is Zipper. He replaces two Buttons.”

May 25, 2010

Paying the boatman

AUSTRALIAN READER OZTAYLS, who is building a Goat Island Skiff, wants to know what sort of coin he should put under the mast. “Will the gods object if it’s just a penny?” he asks.

Well frankly, I don’t think the gods are in much of a position to argue right now. They’re skint, too. They’re Greek, you see. Been living beyond their means for too long.

The ancient Greeks believed that when you died you were ferried across the River Styx to the underworld by a boatman named Charon. When people died, coins were placed under their tongues to pay Charon’s fee. If they didn’t get across the Styx they were doomed to drift forever and never find peace.

Shipbuilders adopted the principle by placing a coin under the mainmast, a ritual carried on to this very day, even by the U.S. Navy. This presumably is pre-payment in anticipation of the ship sinking. You may well wonder how fair it is for Charon to have to ferry a whole crew across the Styx for one coin under the mast, but that’s the system.

Anyway, OZTayls you might like to know that in the days of wooden ships, when even skilled artisans earned comparatively little, it was regarded as imprudent to use gold under the mast. I mean, how would Charon make change? And how would you be able to spend it if he did?

My suggestion is that you select a modest coin that means something to you, one that was minted in the year the boat was launched, perhaps, or one from the year you were born. That’s plenty good enough for who it’s for, as they say.

Today’s Thought
Money is like muck, not good except it be spread.
— Francis Bacon, Essays: Of Seditions

Boater’s Rules of Thumb, #56
Liveaboard cruisers on extended voyages usually find that an inflatable dinghy has a lifespan of four or five years. Sailors who use inflatables only during weekends and holidays should get 10 to 15 years of good service.

“What time does the day nurse go off?”
“She goes off at six and the night nurse takes over.”
“What does the night nurse do?”
“She wakes you up to ask if the day nurse gave you your sleeping pill.”

May 23, 2010

Polishing the gearknob

YES, IT’S TRUE. A landbubber friend wants to know if I fall on my knees and polish the gearknob before trying to start the engine. Well, yes, of course. I’ve done it with every boat I’ve ever owned that had an engine. How else would the engine start, pray tell. Polishing the gearknob is an essential step in th engine-starting ritual and comes even before opening the seacock. And you must use a clean handkerchief, too. Any hint of snot on the gearknob and your engine won’t start for a week.

I have a friend in Australia who makes handkerchiefs. I think I’ll suggest to her that she makes one specially for gearknob polishing. No nose-blowing allowed. Anyone with a yacht would invest in one.

Landlubbers don’t understand these things. They just climb into their cars, stick in the key and turn it. And that’s that. But boats are different. Boat engines aren’t so easily pushed around. They have character. They’re emotional. And they dearly like having their gearknobs polished. Oh, it spoils them, I know, but the rewards are great. And if you neglect to do it, the punishment is painful.

Of course, this is just one of many rituals practised by old salts. I have to tell you that there’s another one that has been exercising my mind lately. It’s the one about the coin under the mast.

I got sort of carried away one time and placed a real gold coin under the mast of a 22-foot raceboat I owned. I glued it down well with epoxy, so the thieving boatyard hands couldn’t remove it. Well, actually, to tell the truth it wasn’t a coin so much as a very thin coin-shaped piece stamped out of sheet gold. Nevertheless, that was in the days when gold cost $375 an ounce.
To my great chagrin, I saw the other day that gold is selling for over $1,100 an ounce. Now I wish I had my old boat back. I’m pretty sure the gold is worth more than the boat. And it’s gnawing at me.

Today’s Thought
When we have gold we are in fear; when we have none we are in danger.
— John Ray, English Proverbs.

Boater’s Rules of Thumb, #55
Exterior brightwork on a yacht is subject to the John Keats Varnish Rule: “A thing of beauty is a job forever.”

A local junior-school teacher was trying to teach the concept of distance. She asked whether her pupils throught they lived close to school, or far away.
Nobody was willing to hazard a guess except little Susan, who was quite adamant that she lived very, very close to school.
“How are you certain?” asked the teacher.
“Well, every time I come home my mother says: ‘Hell, are you home already?’”

May 20, 2010

When oars became bridesmaids

OLD WOTSISNAME with the concrete boat had a question for me the other day.

“I notice you always refer to your dinghy oars as bridesmaids,” he said.

I had to plead guilty. “It’s just habit,” I said. “Don’t even know I’m doing it.”

“But why bridesmaids?” he insisted.

So I had to tell him the rather silly reason. When I was 14 I was the cabin boy aboard the Makoti, a twin-screw sportfisher that was based in Simonstown, south of Cape Town, for the summer.

Makoti’s dinghy was pulled up on the beach just in front of where I lived, and I used to row Makoti’s owner and guests out to the boat moored in the bay. The owner was Harry Pegram, a wine farmer from Constantia, and the very first time I mentioned oars he said, “No, no, not oars — bridesmaids.” And he roared with laughter.

Then he told the story of the Cockney mother and her little daughter who were out walking in London when they came across a wedding. The bridegroom was secretary of a posh Thames rowing club, and the members had formed with their oars a long ceremonial arch, through which the bride and her retinue of attendants were walking.

The excited little girl said to her mother: “Cor, Mum, look at all them oars.”

“Hush, luvvy,” said her mother quickly, “them’s not ’ores, them’s bridesmaids.”

That’s why my oars have been bridesmaids ever since.

Today’s Thought
You can be a little ungrammatical if you come from the right part of the country.
— Robert Frost

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #54
Size of dinghy. The rule for hard dinghies is that 7 feet overall is generally reckoned to be the smallest-sized hard dinghy that can be used as a yacht’s tender for two people.

“Dad, I need a car.”
“What? You think cars grow on trees?”
“No, no, Dad. Everyone knows they come from automobile plants.”

May 18, 2010

Slow boat to nowhere

Warner Ferguson (73) commodore of Cairns Yacht Club in Australia wants to create a world sailing record. He wants to be the oldest person to sail around the world non-stop, alone, and unassisted.

What makes his plan even more special is that Commodore Ferguson wants to do the trip in the very yacht used by Jessica Watson, the 16-year-girl who holds the record as the youngest non-stop solo circumnavigator.

I can just imagine Mr. Ferguson being interviewed in mid-passage by Dan Rather-Knot, of the Sailing Channel:

DR-K: What condition was the boat in when you got her?
WF: What’s that? Speak up, please I’m a little ...”
DR-K: Was she in good order?
WF: Yes, but she was only 16 you know.
DR-K: Not Jessica. The boat.
WF: Oh. I had to paint her. She was pink all over.
DR-K: The boat?
WF: Yes, the boat. Everything pink. Inside, outside, pink. Even the head was pink. Pink is for girls. I painted her blue.
DR-K: Was anything left on board after Jessica’s seven-month epic voyage?
WF: Deodorant bottles. Hair grips clogging the plumbing. Pink toenail varnish spilled over the chart table ... oh, and the boat turned left every time I wanted to go right.
DR-K: She varnished her toes on the chart table?
WF: ’Scuse me one moment, I need a pee ... Okay, I’m back. Where were we?
DR-K: Did anything surprise you?
WF: Yes, no dirty dishes in the sink — a miracle. No dirty socks under the mattress — another miracle. Little bags full of chocolate hidden everywhere. She obviously didn’t find them all. A toy elephant stuffed up the ventilator.
DR-K: How is the sailing going?
WF: Very nice.
DR-K; People are asking why you’re towing a parachute anchor behind you.
WF: To slow me down.
DR-K: But you’re going for the record.
WF: It’s the age record. The older I am when I finish, the better my record will be. So the slower I go now, the older I’ll be at the end.
DR-K: How long have you been going?
WF: I started when I was 73. I’m now 75. I should be 77 when I finish. But I can slow down more if necessary.
DR-K: Yes, I hear there’s an 80-year-old Japanese man setting out.
WF: Yes, but his eyesight’s not too good. With any luck he’ll run into an island and sink.
DR-K: Boy, that’s fighting talk. This is a tough competition.
WF: Yup, it takes guts to do this. Getting old is not for wimps. When you’re 16 it’s easy. You can hear and you can see and you don’t have to get out of bed to pee every 15 minutes. When you’re my age you suffer much more.
DR-K: What’s your most earnest wish?
WF: I’d like to finish just before I die, but not too long before. It’s tricky. If I die first, I don’t get the record. That stupid 80-year-old will get it.
DR-K: If he misses the islands.
WF: I’m praying he won’t. I don’t want to be beaten by an old fart of an 80-year-old.
DR-K: Er, yes, well, thank you for speaking with us, Mr. Ferguson. We wish you well. Travel safe and slow.
WF: What’s that? Safe and what? Hang on, need to go ... I’ll be back ...

Today’s Thought
Old age isn’t so bad when you consider the alternative.
— Maurice Chevalier

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #53
Diesel exhausts (3). White smoke. This is usually water vapor from contaminated fuel, a water leak into a cylinder, or atomized but completely unburned fuel. Air in the fuel can also cause white smoke.

“I want a nice fancy bra for my wife.”
“What bust?”
“Nothing. The old one wore out.”

May 16, 2010

The non-sport of fishing

IT’S LUCKY FOR FISH that water isn’t more transparent. I think we’d catch a lot more of them if we could see them down there, thumbing their noses at us. Of course, what I do isn’t really fishing. At least, it’s not the sport of fishing. What I do is hook ’em and winch ’em in.

It just so happens that sailboat speed is a good trolling speed for many species of game fish. Five knots or so is a speed that invites a slow-thinking fish to snatch instinctively at bait whisked past his nose. It’s fast enough that he doesn’t have time to think and inspect the lure closely for signs of life. As long as it looks vaguely like something he’s eaten before, and wobbles like something he’s eaten before, he’ll lunge for it. Five knots is also slow enough for him to react. It’s not so fast that the lure doesn’t even register on his tiny brain. Five knots is about right.

As I said, I don’t fish for sport. I simply bolt my Penn reel straight onto the tubing of the aft pulpit, which happens to be about the same diameter as a regular fishing rod.

I just let out 150 feet or so of 50-pound nylon hawser with a flashy lure on the end, and set the ratchet. I used to know the rule for how much weight you need to sink the lure so many feet at which speed, but like so many other things in life, it’s gone now. There’s only so much I can stuff into my cranium, and if I shove something new in today, something from the past will fall out the other side.

So I tow the lure with a big treble hook and I wait for the noise and I winch in my supper. Of course, this doesn’t always happen as planned. Actually, the last fish I caught was a salmon up north on Vancouver Island in 1999. Probably illegally, too, since I didn’t have a license. I think I can safely reveal that now, because the statute of limitations has run out.

Mostly, though, I just tow the lure and clean the seaweed off it every day or two and have soup for supper. It saves a lot of mess in the cockpit.

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

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #52
Diesel exhausts (2). Blue smoke. When the engine’s own lubricating oil is being burned, the smoke is blue. This can be the result of worn piston rings, valve guides, or oil seals. The oil can comes from an overfilled air filter or too much oil in the crankcase.

A tourist on safari in Africa came across a man struggling hand-to-hand with a huge lion. Nearby, the man’s wife stood calmly with a rifle in her hand.
“Why don’t you shoot the beast?” the tourist asked.
“I will if I have to,” she said, “but I’m hoping the lion will save me the trouble.”

May 13, 2010

On the perils of learning

MY FRIEND MIKE REED recently suggested that I apply for a sailing instructor position going at the local community boating center. I told him I wasn’t interested because it’s a paid position. I only teach on a volunteer basis. That way, I can choose my pupils. I can hand-pick them, and they can’t blame me when they end up just as landlubberish as when they started.

But I have to admit that my choice of pupils is not always without flaws. Many years ago I agreed to teach a soldier to sail, a rather highly placed army officer, as a matter of fact.

I took him out in a small dinghy and explained that we were going to learn to beat. Anyone can sail a boat downwind but it takes a modicum of skill to sail upwind.

I trimmed and cleated the jib and told him to steer the boat according to the wind. Let her come up, up, up, slowly, slowly until the jib luff just starts to lift, and then pull off just a little. Up, up, up, lift, full and bye. Up, up, up. Follow the wind as it wavers back and forth. Concentrate on the jib luff, that little rippling bubble lifting right next to the forestay. Concentrate.

We were at it for about an hour, just beating to windward, and he did very well. By the time the hour was up he was doing it instinctively, as a good sailor always does. He didn’t have to think about it any more. His eyes just told his muscles what to do, bypassing the brain. He was pretty much a natural and I said so.

He told me afterward (and I say this with a blush) that I was the best instructor he’d ever had. Of course, all his other instructors had been instructing him on soldierly affairs. He’d never come across a sailing instructor before. So I take no credit for my role.

But anyway, two weeks later he committed suicide. Shot himself through the head with his service revolver.

I don’t know what part if any I played in that decision. I said to my wife: “I didn’t notice any suicidal tendencies.”

She said: “He went sailing with you, didn’t he?”

She’s a great one for irony, my wife. Or sarcasm. Or whatever you call it. Anyway, for some reason I found it a great relief that I hadn’t charged him for his lesson. And I’ve never charged anybody since.

Today’s Thought
Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition.
— Jacques Barzun, Dean of Graduate School, Columbia University

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #51
Diesel exhausts (1). Black smoke. The gases should normally be quite clear. Black smoke is an indication that the engine is overloaded, or that the air supply is insufficient, or that an injector is malfunctioning. Improperly burned particles of excess fuel are being blown out of the exhaust.

Definition of the word edible:
Something nice to eat. For example, a worm to a frog; or a frog to a snake; or a snake to a pig; or a pig to a man; or a man to a worm.

May 11, 2010

Talking about engines ...

A READER IN SAN DIEGO says he’s noticed in his travels around the world that almost all commercial fishing boats have just one diesel engine. “Why not two — for safety reasons?” he wants to know.

Well, the simple fact is that two engines are rarely twice as good as one. Twin-screw installations are comparatively wasteful of power. They cost more to start with, of course, they need bigger fuel tanks, they require twice the amount of servicing, and they weigh far more. Two engines side by side are usually very cramped and have poor access, which almost guarantees poor maintenance.

It’s true that the commonest reason for twin engines is safety, but it doesn’t always pan out that way because many planing powerboat hulls are almost unmanageable under one engine in heavy weather.

A boat with two 100-hp engines cannot make the same use of all the available power as a boat with one 200-hp engine. You pay dearly for the added weight, added friction in drivetrains, and added drag from extra struts and rudders. In fact, it’s commonly taken for granted that a twin-screw installation wastes about 20 percent of available power, compared with a single engine of comparable horsepower.

One well-maintained engine is better in many ways than two poorly maintained engines, but if safety is the prime issue, then one big diesel backed up by an outboard “kicker” of 9.9 hp or so is a reasonable compromise for pleasure powercraft.

Today’s Thought
Power, like a desolating pestilence,
Pollutes whate’er it touches.

— Shelley, Queen Mab

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #50
Designing new yachts. The general rule is that in any new design nine-tenths is 90-percent borrowed from existing plans and 10-percent adapted. Of the remaining tenth, 9 percent seems to fit in place by luck, 1 percent is genuine inspiration or “art,” and 90 percent is pure trial and error.

Two monkeys found a loaf of bread.
“Great,” said one, “let’s make toast.”
“How are we gonna do that?” asked the other.
“Simple, I hear that you just stick it under the gorilla.”

May 9, 2010

Please call it quits

IF YOU’VE BEEN FOLLOWING the blog of Abby Sunderland, you’ll have noticed her wariness about approaching land. Abby is the 16-year-old Californian who is sailing alone around the world. She apparently stayed 50 miles or more off Cape Horn. She was obviously scared of being caught on a lee shore with a boat that does not sail well to windward in rough water. Similarly, her approach to Cape Town was fraught with dread about collisions with ships and running into land.

You’ll have noticed, too, her nervousness about running in heavy weather: the way she sails dead downwind under staysail only, when this boat was designed to reach at 15 knots or more, tacking downwind under full sail for the sake of stability.

You may get the feeling, as I have, that she is too often at the mercy of a collection of machines and electronics that she can’t repair if anything goes wrong, a situation that makes for a chronically tense voyage. She’s constantly waiting for the next thing to go wrong. She jumped to the conclusion that her auxiliary engine was ruined when she started it to enter the inner harbor in Cape Town. But the black smoke pouring out of her exhaust apparently was caused by nothing more than overloading from a bunch of weed around her prop.

In addition to all this, she is no doubt disappointed that she no longer qualifies for a non-stop voyage around the world. The only title she’s chasing now is that of the youngest person to circumnavigate, a record that is no longer recognized by any world authority because it encourages ever younger kids to enter a competition that must eventually end in calamity.

Team Abby’s decision to have her make a stop at Cape Town for repairs has been described as a failure, but in my view the failure lies not with Abby but with the boat; and the blame belongs to whoever chose it. It is the wrong boat for the purpose. My earnest wish is that she should call it quits right now, the whole thing. She has already earned the glorious title of the youngest person to double Cape Horn. Let it stay there.

To continue this voyage from Cape Town with that boat is the greatest folly. Her parents know full well the dangers that face her in the Southern Ocean as she falls more and more behind schedule. What kind of parent sends a child down there, with winter fast approaching, in a boat as vulnerable as an Open 40, a boat built for nothing but speed, a boat whose extreme design gives it little chance of righting itself in case of a capsize?

Let’s not pretend this attempted voyage was all of Abby’s doing. Since when can a 16-year-old schoolgirl indulge her fantasy and afford to buy a million-dollar boat to sail around the world?

I fear for her autopilots. I fear she won’t be able to generate enough electricity. I fear for her safety. I wish the adults behind her record attempt (all safely on dry land, thank you very much) would step up to their responsibility and call it quits right now in Cape Town.

Abby is a brave and resourceful sailor. But she is also a kid. She deserves better guidance.


Today’s Thought
I give the fight up: let there be an end,
A privacy, an obscure nook for me.
I want to be forgotten even by God.
— Robert Browning, Paracelsus

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #49
Scrubbing bare teak. Whatever you use to clean your bare teak, don’t scrub up afterward along the grain with a stiff-bristled brush. Always rub in a circular motion or across the grain with the rough side of a plastic scouring pad or something similar. In that way, you’ll avoid digging out the softer summer grain and leaving unsightly ridges of harder grain.

“Does your husband drink much?”
“Well, last time we went to Mexico we had to pay excise duty to get him back through Customs.”

May 6, 2010

Going slow in the Gulf

NOW THAT PEOPLE in Louisiana and Mississippi can’t go sailing because of the oil spill in the Gulf, they’ve got plenty of time to consider how fast their boats would go if they could sail.

The basic rule for displacement sailboats is that their maximum speed in knots, known as hull speed, is the square root of the waterline length in feet multiplied by 1.34. If you are of the metric persuasion, hull speed in knots equals 2.43 times the square root of the waterline length in meters.

Now this isn’t strictly true all the time. Non-planing boats can in fact go faster than their hull speeds for short times, such as when they’re surfing down the face of a big swell. But for most practical purposes, this rule holds good.

Planing powerboat hulls, ones that can surmount their own bow waves and skim over the surface of the water are not bound by that rule. The speed of a planing hull is determined mainly by the power available.

Your average planing hull can do 25 knots if there is about 40 pounds of weight (boat, crew, fuel, stores — everything) for every horsepower delivered to the propeller.

That speed can double to 50 knots (presuming the hull is strong enough) if the weight per horsepower drops to about 10 pounds. Pretty difficult, but plenty of boats manage it.

To a certain extent, the maximum speed of a planing hull is self-limiting because the more powerful the engine, the more it weighs and the more fuel it needs. The hull also has to be beefed up to take the strain of pounding at high speed.

However, for many sailors in the Gulf, all this is moot right now. I can only hope things change for the better soon.

Today’s Thought
Nothing is more vulgar than haste.
— Emerson, Conduct of Life: Behavior

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #48
“The original rule of thumb was probably the principle adopted by shipmasters that they would never approach a danger nearer than the distance that corresponded to a thumb’s-width on the chart in current use. Thus, they could navigate closer to dangers with a large-scale chart with plenty of detail than would be prudent on a small-scale chart with less.”
— Geoff Lewis, The Small-Boat Skipper’s Handbook

The body of a woman murdered 600 years ago has been discovered in an Irish peat bog.
Donegal police are now looking for a 643-year-old man who may be able to help them with their enquiries.

May 4, 2010

What’s wrong here?

ALL RIGHT CLASS, please open your latest BoatU.S. Magazine to page 69. Observe the full-page color picture of what the magazine calls a cruising sailboat. It’s a Beneteau First 40 under full sail, happily manned by one young man at a gigantic wheel aft, and one young woman relaxing carelessly in the cockpit.

Very well, then. What’s wrong with this picture?

No, no, it’s not that the young woman is almost fully covered in a Breton striped shirt and long white pants instead of a skimpy bikini. It’s something else.

C’mon now, look closely. Okay, okay, you’re very slow today, so I’ll give you a clue. Look at the cockpit. What do you see? Lines, disappearing lines. Count the lines coming back over the deck into the cockpit. I make it 16, 17, 18 in all. No, 19, if that’s not a shadow.

And where are the ends of those lines? Where is the spaghetti? They’ve hidden it, see, they’ve hidden all the ends so the cockpit would look neat and tidy for the photograph.

About a dozen of them have simply been thrown down the main companionway. God help anyone who puts a foot down there. Other ends have been carefully tucked into the ports under the cockpit seats. The rest just sort of dribble in and try to hide on the cockpit floor. This is a $222,000 boat with no place for its lines.

Now class, for homework tonight I want you to write a short essay on why this is not a cruising boat as BoatU.S. and Beneteau seem to think. (Hint: 19 lines. Two people. No dodger. Big hole in transom for waves to wash into cockpit. Sail controls out of reach of person at helm. No protection for person at helm. And the clincher: no baggywrinkle.)

Class dismissed.

Today’s Thought
For better or worse, editing is what editors are for; and editing is selection and choice of material. That editors—newspaper or broadcast—can and do abuse this power is beyond doubt ...
— Warren E. Burger, Chief Justice, U.S. Supreme Court, 29 May 73

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #47
Streams and currents are described by set and drift. Set is the direction they’re moving toward, and drift is their speed over the ground in knots.

“Did you ever use those water skis you got for your birthday?”
“Nah, I never did find a lake with enough of a slope.”

May 2, 2010

Where toilets go to die

THE BIG DUMPSTER that sits at the head of the gangway to our marina docks is mercifully hidden from public view by high walls. I say mercifully, because it is flanked at the moment by two old marine toilets, something no mariner of delicate sensitivity would want the public to see.

People put things beside the dumpster, rather than in the dumpster, when they judge the stuff they’re throwing out to have some residual worth, something that might be of use to someone else.

I don’t know what fortune it bodes to have two porcelain heads flanking the dumpster. I have heard that a single ring around the sun bodes rain in 24 hours, and I know for sure that if you see a double ring around the moon it means you’re outside when you should be in bed.

But I also happen to know that a used marine toilet is worth about as much as an ice cube in Alaska. I know this because there was a time when I, too, threw the plumbed head off my 22-foot race boat in favor of the much lighter bucket-and-bag-it system.

I took it down the road to the local marine consignment store.

“I have a porcelain head,” I told the man. “Good working condition.”

He sighed. “Let’s see it,” he said warily.

I led him outside and threw open the trunk of my car. The head crouched there innocently on a piece of blue tarpaulin, clean and bright and trying to look hygienic and attractive.

“OK,” said the man. “Bring it in.”

He guided me through the store and down some stairs to a basement room. And there, to my astonishment, stood rows and rows of pre-owned white porcelain toilets, wall to wall as far as the eye could see. It was like the Arlington National of boating bathrooms.

“This is where marine toilets come to die,” said the man lugubriously, waving an arm at a veritable elephant’s graveyard of maritime plumbing. “Yours might take a while to sell,” he added unnecessarily.

I guess people have given up taking their old toilets there now. They’re just leaving them beside the dumpster. I’m not surprised. It was about 10 years ago that I left my old toilet at the consignment store. I still haven’t had a call saying they have a check for me.

Today’s Thought
Let not the eyes be dry when we have lost a friend, nor let them overflow. We may weep, but we must not wail.
— Seneca, Epistulae ad Lucilium

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #46
Streams and currents. A current is a steady and permanent horizontal movement of water, like a river running through the ocean. A tidal stream is also a horizontal movement of water but it varies frequently and regularly in speed and direction according to the state of the tide.

A VA doctor was examining a man back from a long spell in Iraq.
“Do you pass water normally?” he asked.
“Yes, sir.”
“Don’t go more than usual?”
“Um — no, sir.”
“When you go, does it burn at all?”
“Don’t know, sir. Never tried to light it.”