September 30, 2010

Sticking to the basics

ONCE IN A WHILE I get the urge to say something useful, instead of waffling on about sailing in general. This is one of those occasions. I am going to talk about glue.

Too many sailors, like Old Wotsisname with the concrete boat, think epoxy resin is the be-all and end-all of glues. They use it for everything. Well, they are misguided.

Most glues used in boat work fall into one of four categories:

(1) Rubber, natural and synthetic. This includes contact adhesives.

(2) Melamine-urea types. These are water-resistant glues suitable for amateur use, including Weldwood plastic resin glue, Casco urea-formaldehyde, and Aerolite resin glues.

(3) Epoxies. Well-known epoxy resin in its many forms is excellent for much marine work, including laminating new fiberglass to GRP hulls. It fills gaps and forms an effective sealer coat. But most epoxy is not waterproof. Should I repeat that, or were you listening the first time? It’s water-resistant and may be adversely affected by salt water and sunlight.

(4) Resorcinols. The best wood-to-wood glue available for marine use is resorcinol. It’s fully waterproof and not affected by sunlight. It comes in two forms. One needs temperatures of 70 degrees F (21 degrees C) or higher to cure. The other, an imported version made by Ciba-Geigy (Aerodux or Cascophen) will cure in temperatures as low as 50 degrees F (10 degrees C). The latest versions are also gap-filling. The American product is made by Weldwood and is available at the best marine hardware stores.

Some modern bedding compounds are almost as adhesive as glue and might be considered glues in their own right. I’m thinking of 3M 5200 and its peers.

Polyurethane sealants form strong, long-lasting adhesives with gap-filling ability. They do not require clamping and are easier to clean up than epoxy is.

You probably know already, but may have forgotten, that plastic materials used on boats fall into two groups:

(1) Thermosetting plastics such as polyester resin, Formica, and melamine.

(2) Thermoplastics such as PVC, acrylic glass substitutes, nylon, and polypropylene.

When you heat them, thermoplastics soften and melt. Thermosetting plastics do not. They become permanently hard and unmoldable after their initial expose to heat.

So watch out, because some glues, sealants, and bedding compounds will melt certain plastics. Always read the manufacturers’ fine print.

Today’s Thought
Because something is possibly possible,
It doesn’t follow that it is necessarily necessary.
There are sea-going Folk and then there are
Those shore Bastards.
— Thomas E. Colvin, Naval Architect

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #101
A hook is likely to be the weakest part of any fitting. The old rule of thumb to find the working load of a hook in tons is diameter squared divided by 2, where diameter is in inches of the metal at the back of the hook.
For a D shackle, the working load is diameter squared times 3.
Bow shackle: Diameter squared times 2.5
Ring bolt: Diameter squared times 2.
Eye bolt: diameter squared times 5.

The mall security man came across a little boy in tears. “I’ve lost my dad,” the boy said.
“What’s he like, young feller?”
“Beer and blondes.”

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

September 28, 2010

How average are you?

THE WHOLE OUTSIDE BACK COVER of the latest issue of BoatU.S. magazine is taken up with an advertisement for West Marine. This is significant because West Marine is the biggest marine retailer in the United States and presumably this ad was designed to appeal to their average customer — or what they would like to be their average customer.

Now West Marine has a reputation for being expensive. But it does have a wider choice than any other marine store and, to its great credit, it does not quibble about returned goods. If you buy something from West Marine, you can be certain that they will give you your money back, no questions asked, if there’s something wrong with it.

However, having blown their trumpet for them without compensation, I’d like now to investigate further this business of their average customer. Do they have it right? Do you see yourself as WM’s ideal customer? Well, let’s look at their ad.

It shows a man and a woman, probably in their mid-twenties or early thirties, sitting to leeward in the cockpit of a modern plastic sailboat. It’s heeling toward the camera under sail. The make is not identified, but it looks an awful lot like a Hunter 27 to me. The man has one hand on a large steering wheel. His right arm is draped casually over the cockpit coaming. The woman, in front of him, has one hand on a dog dressed in a strange-looking lifejacket. He is a thin, rangy kind of dog with long legs, the kind of hound you see in drawings of ancient ceremonies in Egypt, or the dogs you see snapping up scraps at medieval banquets. He, like the two humans, is looking forward with great expectancy, although I should point out that he is the only one with his tongue hanging out.

The woman’s right arm is also draped casually over the cockpit coaming. The man and the woman are, in fact, identical in their poses and their clothes — red sailing jackets and khaki shorts — except that the woman, with refreshing modesty, displays longer shorts than the man.

Both have clean and shiny hair, the woman’s being longer than the man’s and being swept back into a fetching long ponytail. The man has dark glasses that obscure his emotions, if any. The woman has no dark glasses, no glasses at all, in fact, which allows us to note that while she has a beautiful face and a clear complexion, she unfortunately exudes a hint of upper-class hoity-toity smugness. Perhaps this is an unfair comment on a perfectly sweet and totally unsmug lady, but I can only judge from the photograph.

Her left hand is hidden behind the dog and therefore offers no clue as to her marital status. She doesn’t look like the kind of woman who would do it with a stranger on a Hunter 27 on her first date, but you never know these days, and if I were West Marine I would have had her showing a fake wedding ring, even if she is a photographic model with no sailing experience whatsoever. Call me old-fashioned, but a lot of good Christian sailors will be wondering what sort of morals West Marine is promoting here. Sailboaters, in my experience, are very conservative.

Meanwhile, the cockpit in this picture seems very wide, but only long enough for two-and-a-dog fore and aft. There is a sausage-like lump on one of the wheel spokes. I don’t know what it is, but if it is marking the central position of the rudder, then this boat has weather helm, because the man has the sausage down at nearly 90 degrees from upright. I would expect weather helm with a boat that wide that far back, of course, and I’m sure the Hunter 27 does not disappoint in this respect.

One of the features that really jumps out at you in this photograph is the number of cup holders in the cockpit. Four are clustered around the central instrument pod, and two others cling rather self-consciously to the edges of the fancy little seats in the aft quarters of the pushpit. That’s three cupholders each for the man and woman, or two each if the dog is allowed to share equally.

I deduce from all this that I am not a West Marine average customer. God knows how we ever crossed oceans without cupholders in the old days. How did we ever manage to drink anything at all? Was our hair neatly combed and our faces clean and scrubbed? Did we ever smell as sweet and wholesome and newly showered as West Marine’s models appear to smell?

I’m afraid not. So now I have to ask: If that’s average, what am I?

Don’t answer that. You may not be very average your own self.

Today’s Thought
It is not given to the world to be moderate.
— Goethe

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #100
Hobbyhorsing. A sailboat that rears and plunges in the same spot in the sea while beating can be excessively slow and uncomfortable. She will also make excessive leeway. The rule is to move heavy weights from the ends of the boat (particularly the bows) toward the middle. Weight aloft is another contributor to inertia, the prime cause of hobbyhorsing.

“Allow me to present my wife to you.”
“No thanks. I’ve already got one.”

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

September 26, 2010

Silent Fan problem

A LETTER FROM Ivor Tungin-Cheaque, chairman of Vigor’s Silent Fan Club, says:

O Wise and Wonderful One:

It is with great trepidation, not to say nervous regret, that I have to report the loss of two more members of your Silent Fan Club. As everybody knows, members are forbidden to contact you or praise in any way your unmatched wisdom, your gracious manners, and your unrivalled literary skills. Because membership is automatic until a member is expelled for overtly admiring you, you have the biggest fan club the world has ever known.

Unfortunately, however, the number of your so-called Followers recently jumped from 21 to 23. If I may say so without appearing unduly immodest, I have done exceedingly well to keep the number of Followers down to 23 in the two years you have been writing your Mainly about Boats column.

I have taken the precaution of removing the Followers widget from your blog page. I have made it as difficult as possible for anyone even to know what a Follower is, let alone become one. But your popularity is overwhelming. Despite all the odds, a few determined fans — bursting 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 — somehow still manage to sign themselves on as Followers. Apparently, these misguided creatures fail to realize that their actions result in instant expulsion from Vigor’s Silent Fan Club, a misfortune almost beyond contemplation. They will never learn the secret handshake, the shortcut to Nirvana, or the one and only guaranteed way to cure weather helm.

I am at a loss to understand what caused a sudden jump from 21 to 23 Followers in the past few days. I am therefore appealing to you, Honorable Sir, to lower your standards a little, to tone it down a bit, lest a further sudden onrush of Followers should ensue. Perhaps a little more mediocrity would help. Some spelling mistakes, maybe. Less brilliant discourse and more fuddy-duddy boredom might be the answer. If you could just merge more closely with the mediocre blogger crowd and deliberately dim your shining talent, it would serve to fend off would-be Followers and keep up the all-important numbers of your magnificent Silent Fan Club whose conscientious members never dream of praising you, fawning upon you, or even mentioning your name.

Yours Humbly and Obediently,

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

PS: Please excuse my writing. Now that they tie my hands behind my back in the strait jacket, it gets ever more difficult.

Today’s Thought
The tumultuous love of the populace must be seized and enjoyed in its first transports; there is no hoarding of it to use upon occasions; it will not keep.
— Lord Chesterfield, Account of the Dutch Republic

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #99
Height of eye. If you ever get around to using your sextant, the rule of thumb for the height-of-eye correction level in small boats is minus three minutes (-3’). That equates to an actual height above water level of about 8 feet.

“I saw the doctor today about my loss of memory.”
“What did he do?”
“Made me pay in advance.”

September 23, 2010

The freethinker’s telltale

THE WINDEX FAD has always puzzled me. How did it come about that a gimmicky and redundant plastic arrow found its way onto the truck of so many masts? What makes this wind direction indicator so irresistible to the majority of sailors?

If you own one, it is, of course, a sign that you are a malleable person who is content to follow the common herd. It marks you as a person who does not bother to think for himself. It reveals to the world that you are a passive follower, not an active leader. It also shows that you have a fair amount of money to waste.

The first thing I did when I bought my last boat was remove the Windex from the top of the mast. I almost didn’t buy the boat because of the Windex. I gave it to a cruiser who was setting off for Mexico, and he told me later that a bird sat on it and destroyed it. A fitting end, I thought. I wish more birds would sit on more Windexes.

The freethinkers among us cannot imagine anything more inconvenient than having to look upward at 180 degrees to see which way the wind is blowing. When you crane your neck like that hour after hour, a Windex is literally a pain in the ... uh, well, neck, I guess.

We freethinkers disdain the common herd and its Windex fad. We use telltales fashioned from 12 inches or so of old casette recording tape attached to the shrouds at slightly above eye level. The tape is light and lively. It glitters and draws attention to itself. And one casette of old tape salvaged from a garbage dumpster will last you a lifetime.

You quickly learn to judge the angle of the wind from experience, and, because you don’t have to squint into the air like a startled duck, you can also see all around you and avoid collisions with other vessels and the shore while you determine the direction of the wind. It’s handy on the backstay, too, for avoiding accidental jibes. Much better, in fact, than a Windex will ever be.

The only problem with magnetic recording tape is that it tends to slide down the rigging. I usually tie it on with a clove hitch, and then do three or four half-hitches above the clove hitch. But once you’ve established the best place for your tape, some silicone sealer allowed to dry on the wire will form a blob that will arrest the natural tendency of the tape to slide down.

Of course, if you’re a tried-and-tested genuine old salt, you can always tell the direction of the wind by the way the hairs bend on the back of your neck; but the rest of us who are not so talented need visible evidence, and that’s exactly what the friendly fluttering tape gives us, without the strain of peering myopically into the heavens for long periods.

Incidentally, I can recommend old Beatles tapes for telltales. Sergeant Pepper, in particular, seems to be very long-lasting.

(Full disclosure: Windex did not pay me to mention their name in this column. No money changed hands. Go figure.)

Today’s Thought
It was much like the Sideburns Fairy, who had been cruising about the city since 1966, visiting youg groovies in their sleep and causing them to awake with sideburns running down their jawbones.
— Tom Wolfe

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #98
Defining headroom. The generally accepted definition of full standing headroom in a sailboat is 6 feet 1 inch under the deck beams or headliner. Clear sitting headroom is adequate at 4 feet 0 inches to 4 feet 9 inches. Anything more, until you reach full standing headroom, is just an invitation to stand and hit your head.

“And what are your grounds for divorce?”
“Incompatibility, Your Honor. I want a divorce and my wife doesn’t.”

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

September 21, 2010

Is kissing safe at sea?

Cleopatra's "barge." After Mark Anthony kissed this topless temptress,  he died. Eventually. So did she. There is surely a lesson here for all sailors.

CAN YOU KISS YOUR CREW and effectively remain in full command of your vessel?

I ask because it is important for the safety of the boat and crew that there should be only one captain on a boat; one person to praise for every successful voyage and one person to blame for every dreadful disaster, no matter who among the crew was actually responsible. That is the way it is and that is the way it has always been.

It is equally important that the crew should spring into action and execute the captain’s commands promptly and without question. There must therefore be a divide between captain and crew. An emotional gap. A wide crevasse in the, um, glacier of intimacy.

But what is a kiss if it isn’t the absolute epitome of intimacy?

For reasons not readily apparent to most of us, the very thin skin covering the lips is furnished with many millions of nerve endings, making the edges of the mouth vastly more sensitive and receptive to the sense of touch than almost any other part of the body.

Now, when you kiss someone — that is, when you place your lips against those of another person, and then press and squirm them according to the widely accepted practice of osculation — you excite those nerve endings. Your heart takes notice, wonders what’s going on, and begins to beat faster, leading to feelings of love, tenderness, and intimacy quite inimical to your position as captain.

In short, if you kiss your crew, you have lost control. There is no hope for you. For example, you may recall Cleopatra, reclining in luxurious splendor, floating down the Nile in her barge with her superstructure provocatively unrigged. Mark Anthony, watching her pass by, was reduced to such a trembling state of passion and desire that he was never able to control himself (or her) thereafter and they both committed suicide. I leave you to draw your own conclusions about that, but I might observe here that undesirable situations like this often start with an innocent little kiss. Crews who have been kissed by captains seem to imagine they have suddenly acquired certain rights of equality, and can now take part in decisions affecting the command of the boat. They think they can argue back, or fall into deep sulks, instead of fending off the dock, or unblocking the clogged head, as ordered.

Therefore I urge you, as captain, to refrain from kissing aboard. You should explain to your wife, paramour, or substitute Cleopatra that it is nothing personal. It is all about the safety of the ship and the crew.

Lives — including hers — may depend on not kissing.

Today’s Thought
Kissing ... in the old days was very beautiful. Actually the two people doing it were barely touching sometimes, in order not to push her face out of shape. You were doing it for the audience to see what in their minds they always think a kiss is. Now you see a couple of people start chewing on each other.
— Ronald Reagan

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #96
Sleep deprivation. Lack of sleep combined with fatigue often causes hallucinations among ocean voyagers. One study showed that 50 percent of the competitors in a singlehanded race across the North Atlantic experienced one or more illusions or hallucinations. The rule of thumb is not to be unduly frightened by hallucinations. They will not permanently harm your brain. They will disappear as soon as you get some decent sleep.

The enraged personal assistant called her boss’s wife.
“Your husband tries to hold me and kiss me,” she complained.
“Oh sure, honey,” said the wife, “he was like that with me when we first got married. But don’t worry, he soon gets over it.”

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

September 19, 2010

Equinoctial compass check

Time to check the compass
THE CEDARS IN THE BACK YARD were twinkling with cool gray mist this morning, a sure sign that the autumnal equinox is almost upon us.

For years, when we lived on Whidbey Island, my wife June and I used to make a short pilgrimage on the date of the equinox. We went to a grassy little west-facing hillside in a quiet state park. We took along a blanket, wine, cheese and crackers, and maybe a baguette. And, of course, our hand bearing compass from the boat.

On the evening of the equinox we watched the sun go down into the sea and checked the accuracy of the compass. This is one of only two days in the year when the sun rises exactly in the east and sets exactly in west. Otherwise, it’s always either north or south of true east and west.

At that magic moment when half the blazing red sun was hidden beneath the sea horizon, I checked its bearing with the compass up to my eye. Every year, the compass proved accurate to within one degree. And at that moment I was flooded with a wonderful feeling of trust.

Cruising under sail is built on trust in so many ways. You trust that the mast won’t fall down, you trust that the engine will start, you trust that the waves in a 20-knot breeze won’t be big enough to sink your boat, and of course you trust that your compass is telling the truth.

We always stayed long after the sun sank into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. We went home cold and happy and damp from dew, and slightly woozy from the wine, holding hands, with our trust in our compass and our boat restored for another year.

And every year I think to myself what a wonderful metaphor this is for life. And I tell myself I must nurture that nascent thought and expand it into a living philosophy and write a fascinating book about it and make a lot of money and get famous and appear on Oprah. But I never do.

Today’s Thought
The west is broken into bars
Of orange, gold and gray;
Gone is the sun, come are the stars,
And night infolds the day.

— George Macdonald, Songs of Summer Nights

Boater’s Rules of Thumb, #97
Hatch dimensions. A hatch opening of 24 inches by 24 inches is adequate for most purposes, but a few inches more in either direction is always welcome. Naval architect Dave Gerr uses this rule of thumb for the minimum size of hatch in square feet needed to pass a sail through:
Racing boats: Sail area in square feet divided by 160.
Cruising boats: Sail area in square feet divided by 200.

Two old salts were talking in the yacht club bar.
“When did you last make love to a woman?” one asked.
“Nineteen forty,” said the other.
“Did you say 1940?” the first asked in astonishment.
“Yeah,” said the other, “and I’m picking her up again at 2145.”

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

September 16, 2010

Sailplans and heeling

EVERY NOW AND THEN I come across a comment in the yachting literature that puzzles me. One that pops up quite regularly is this: a long, low sailplan causes less heeling than a tall, narrow sailplan.

I don’t buy it. I can see where it starts, though. It’s all about leverage. It’s quite obvious that the taller the mast, the longer the lever, and the easier it is to make the boat heel over.

But something deep down inside me keeps saying that’s not all there is to it.

I readily confess that I lack the mathematical and engineering skills to work this out logically. Hell, if I was that clever I’d have a decent job instead of being a writer. But listen up for a moment, will you?

To make a boat heel to a certain angle there must surely be a certain fixed sideways force. It is the combined sum of all the sideways forces experienced by the sails at different levels all the way up the mast. Now I can’t see why it matters whether those sideways forces are generated higher up, as in the case of a high-aspect-ratio racing mainsail, or lower down, as in a gaff-rigged yawl with a long bowsprit.

I’ve tried to see why it matters but I have failed. It’s the force that’s generated that matters, not whether it’s generated high up or low down. So I am still very suspicious of any statement that claims a low sailplan leads to less heeling. If, in practice, it does, it can only mean that there isn’t enough sail area in the low sailplan. I think this whole thing belongs in the category of marine urban legend and I wish people would stop repeating it and spreading a misleading myth that makes me mad to think about. Well, not mad, but it does irritate the hell out of me.

I will grant you that a long, low sailplan makes it easier to balance the boat for weather helm. I will grant you that the gaff rig is powerful off the wind and well suited to many offshore cruising hulls. But I don’t want to hear any more about its causing less heeling, if you don’t mind.

The willful perpetrators of this myth presumably think that heeling is bad for a sailboat’s performance, otherwise they wouldn’t bother to crow so loudly about the benefits of a long, low rig. But that’s not altogether true, either. If a boat has long overhangs, heeling helps raise the potential hull speed by lengthening the waterline. On the other hand, as dinghy sailors know full well, heeling spills wind from the sails and robs a boat of some of its motive force.

That’s the trouble with sailing. You never know what to do for the best until someone comes sailing past you with a big smirk on his face. Only then do you know that what you are doing is wrong. But by then it’s too late.

Today’s Thought
We hold rumour
From what we fear, yet know not what we fear.
But float upon a wild and violent sea
Each way and move.
— Shakespeare, Macbeth

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #95
Galley stove gimbals. If your gimbaled galley stove has only one pivoting axis, it should swing sideways, that is from port to starboard. If you install it so that it swings fore and aft, it will incline as the boat heels and everything will slide off. Single-burner stoves gimbaled in both directions don’t have this problem.

Newspapers do all they can to protect the public. They print warnings of storms, floods, tsunamis, twisters, droughts, and epidemics of swine flu. They even print the TV programs in advance.

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

September 14, 2010

Varnishing vs. sailing

WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT of singlehanded cruising I’d like to steal some more of the wisdom of Francis B. Cooke, the English sailor and author. Almost 90 years ago, in 1924, he was concerned with a subject that still affects many of us today: How much should we work, and how much should we sail? How much of our labor should we devote to the way our boats look, and how much to practicality?

Here are his thoughts on the matter, from his book Single-Handed Cruising:

“I am now going to preach what most yachtsmen will, I fear, consider rank heresy. My advice to the owner who contemplates working his craft singlehanded is to concentrate his attention upon the saving of unnecessary labor and let mere appearance go hang.

“I do not mean to suggest that he should keep his vessel in a slovenly inefficient state, but merely that he should eschew such pomps and vanities as white sails, white decks, glistening brass work, and other ‘yachty’ conceits of a like nature.

“It seems to me that if you elect to go cruising alone in a craft of from 5 to 10 tons Thames measurement, the picturesque side of the sport must be eliminated from your programme, for what spare time you are likely to have will be fully occupied in attending to the necessary domestic economy. And after all, one does not keep a yacht for other people to look at and admire, but for use, and her appearance concerns nobody but the owner.

“All the same, it would be horrible to think that your boat looked dirty and uncared for, and what the singlehander should aim at is to fit her out in such manner that she will always look clean and tidy and yet need scarcely any work to keep her so. At a first glance, this may appear a difficult manner, but it is not so in reality. It is merely a question of selecting suitable materials at the start....

“In the first place there is the bright work, by which I mean varnished wood, spars, blocks, etc.... I am prepared to admit that nothing looks nicer than a varnished teak cabin-top, coamings, well lockers, and covering board, but when one has to keep it all in trim oneself, is the game worth the candle?

“Personally I do not think it is. By substituting paint for varnish the boat will have a clean, workmanlike appearance, and if she does not look very ‘yachty,’ well, call her a boat and have done with it.”

Today’s Thought
The final good and the supreme duty of the wise man is to resist appearances.
— Cicero, De Finibus

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #94
Traditionally a sailboat’s galley is placed on the port side. This puts it down to leeward for easier food preparation when the boat is sailing, or hove to, on the starboard tack, when she has right of way.

“Nurse, you’re gorgeous. I’m madly in love with you. I don’t want to leave this hospital. I don’t want to get well.”
“Don’t worry, buster, you won’t. Your doctor is in love with me, too, and he saw you kissing me last night.”

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

September 12, 2010

Gaff vs. Bermudian rigs

(Come back every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

NOT MANY SAILBOATS sport gaff-rigged sails these days despite the fact that the gaff rig still offers many advantages for long-distance cruisers. Not the least of those advantages is the sturdiness of a gaff-rigged mast, which, being shorter, can be stayed much more effectively. If you’re going to be capsized in a storm, your chances of being dismasted increase as your mast grows longer.

In the early part of the last century, every right-minded cruising yacht bore a gaff rig. It’s fascinating to read what Francis B. Cooke had to say about the subject. He was a prolific British author of sailing books, and this is an extract from his Single-Handed Cruising (London, Edward Arnold & Co., 1924) in the days when the number of yachts listed with Lloyd’s Register was 4,000 or so.

“A rig that is now very fashionable for small racing yachts is the Bermudian, which, by the way is often erroneously termed the ‘Maconi’ (sic) rig, and it is possible that it may be introduced for cruising purposes in the future.

“I have never yet seen it in a cruising boat, but it has proved so successful in racing craft that it is sure to be tried for cruising sooner or later.

“In this rig, the mainsail is very similar to a gunter lug, but the feature of the Bermudian rig is that no yard is employed on the sail. The mainsail is triangular and set upon a very long mast, a single halyard being used to hoist the head of the sail to the masthead.

“It is claimed that by dispensing with a yard a certain saving in weight and windage is effected, and experience has proved that it is the fastest rig that has yet been tried in small racing boats ... Having but one halyard on the mainsail, it is delightfully simple rig and very convenient for reefing, particularly when a roller reefing gear is employed.

“It would seem, therefore, a very suitable one for singlehanded work, but I am inclined to think that in practice it would not be found altogether free from disadvantage. Although the absence of a yard or gaff may save a certain amount of weight and windage aloft in light weather when whole sail can be carried, I doubt whether that would be the case in strong winds when the mainsail was reefed. The enormously long masthead would in such circumstances be a disadvantage rather than a benefit, as it would hold a great deal of wind and the weight would not be conducive to comfort in a rough sea.

“The frequency with which these Bermudian masts have been carried away in racing yachts would suggest that they are far from reliable, probably on account of the difficulty of staying such a long spar effectively. Now, the man who sails alone cannot afford the risk of being dismasted at sea, and until the Bermudian rig has earned a better name for reliability, I think the singlehanded cruiser will be well advised to let it alone.”

And did anyone listen? Of course not. The distinguishing mark of a yachtsman is that he never, ever, accepts advice from another yachtsman. He has to learn for himself the hard way, by bitter experience, again and again. I think it’s probably Nature’s way of keeping the numbers down, so that the anchorages don’t get too crowded.

Today’s Thought
What we call “Progress” is the exchange of one nuisance for another nuisance.
— Havelock Ellis, Impressions and Comments

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #93
Gale frequency. Yachts circumnavigating the globe in a westerly direction through the tradewind belts, in the most favorable seasons, report an average of two sailing days in 100 in ocean gales of Force 8 (34 knots) or higher.

Mary had a little car
She drove in manner deft.
But every time she signaled right
The stupid car turned left.

September 9, 2010

Sleeping problems

MOST SAILORS with reasonably sized boats find themselves singlehanding sooner or later. If their next port of call is more than 24 hours away, they run right into what I consider the singlehander’s biggest problem — when and how to sleep.

In the first place, a singlehander who sleeps for any time at all is breaking the law because he or she can’t maintain the required lookout. But nobody ever seems to prosecute singlehanders, probably because they come off worse in any encounter with a ship, so we’ll ignore that objection for now.

From what I can gather from published interviews with solo sailors, most of them think the best thing to do is nap for 20 minutes at a time. Then they get up, have a look around the horizon, check the course and the sails, and go below to set the kitchen timer alarm for another 20-minute nap. This apparently goes on all night from dusk to dawn. In theory, if they get 10 minutes of actual sleep in each 20-minute period, they’ll get 30 minutes of sleep in every hour, or six hours during the night.

Then, during the day, they can take a longer nap, justifying it on the grounds that a collision is less likely during the day because a sailboat is then easier to see and avoid.

Why 20-minute naps? Well, there seems to be a theory that 20 minutes is how long it takes a ship to move from just below your visible horizon to the spot where you will be in 20 minutes’ time.

Now the deepest part of sleep, the part we need most, apparently, if we are to avoid fatigue and hallucinations, is called REM sleep, named after random eye movement. It’s not normally the first part of our sleep patterns, but it seems many singlehanders have managed to train themselves to fall into REM almost immediately they lie down, and they get 10 minutes or more of REM in every 20-minute sleep period.

It usually takes about a week to get into the routine of instant REM, so if you’re planning a solo voyage you’d do well to practice in advance.

Not everybody follows the 20-minute nap routine, of course. Many optimists just sleep the night through as if they were safely in port, getting up only to shorten sail or answer the summons of an off-course alarm. On the whole, I can’t help thinking they’re probably just as safe as the 20-minute nappers. It seems to me that a sleeping singlehander is more likely to run into another sleeping singlehander than to collide with a ship manned by a regular crew and maintaining a proper lookout. And serve the two of them right.

Today’s Thought
It is a common experience that a problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it.
— John Steinbeck

Boater’s Rules of Thumb, #92
Gaff mainsail. In the unlikely event that you want to convert to a gaff mainsail, here are the traditional rules of thumb for proportions:
Luff: Between 2/3 and 4/5 of the foot.
Head: Between 3/5 and 2/3 of the foot.
Gaff: About 35 degrees from vertical — but a gaff on a tall, narrow sail needs to be more horizontal, like that on a schooner’s foresail, otherwise it sags to leeward.
Boom angle: The height of the mainsail clew above water level should be 1.4 times the height of the tack above water level.

I don’t know how much truth there is in the medical theory that everybody is slightly taller in the morning than they were in the evening, but I can tell you this: all my life I noticed a pronounced tendency to become short toward the end of each pay period.

September 7, 2010

Anchoring without harm

LAST YEAR ABOUT THIS TIME I was pulling up the anchor on my boat when I injured my back. I herniated a disc. It was my own fault, I guess. What actually happened was that the shackle that joins the chain to the rope got stuck in the bow roller. I was in a hurry to get the anchor up, because we were too close to another boat, so I impatiently gave an extra-hard jerk on the line instead of leaning over to ease it through by hand. The shackle popped through and at the same time a vertebra in my lower back went pop, too. It pressed against a nerve, and my right foot went numb.

I’m happy to say that my little injury has now mostly cured itself, as most injuries to the body do, given time; but I still give much thought to the universal problem of raising the anchor, especially when you’re singlehanded.

You can use a winch to extract the anchor from the seabed, but as soon as it comes free, your boat will start to drift, most likely sideways into the anchored boat alongside you. The winch is just too slow for the distance the anchor must travel from the seabed to the bow roller. You need to be at the tiller and mainsheet or engine controls immediately the anchor comes unstuck. So you have no option but to haul it up by hand as fast as you can.

But the answer is simple. It was suggested in a conversation I had the other day with the owner of a MacGregor 26. It is the lightweight anchor. The very lightweight anchor. Not one of those aluminum things.

I have refined the concept and invented the Vigoranka Collapsible Anchor. It weighs almost nothing. It saves space. You can fold it up or crush it into a tiny space without harming it. It is going to revolutionize anchoring as we know it.

The Vigoranka© works on the principle that water is very heavy in air but light in water. So all you have to do is lower the sturdy plastic Vigoranka into the water and let it fill. It will hold 75 pounds of water. Now when you consider that a 35-pound CQR will hold a 32-foot sailboat in almost any conditions, you can surely see the advantage of using an anchor that weighs more than twice as much.

But you can easily raise it to the surface by hand, and as it comes out of the water you simply flip a little switch and all the water drains back out into the sea, allowing you to bring the Vigoranka aboard with one hand and no strain whatsoever.

Frankly, I am amazed that no-one has thought of this before. But then, no-one thought of Twitter before Twitter was invented, and now the world is just full of tweets everywhere. Which just goes to show you.

Today’s Thought
The wonder is always new that any sane man can be a sailor.
—Emerson, English traits

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #91
Fuel tanks. Deep, narrow tanks aid in stability when your boat is rolling. The long dimension should lie in a fore-and-aft direction. Large tanks need internal baffles to stop fuel sloshing forcefully from side to side.

“How’s the bird breeding going?”
“Great. I just crossed a homing pigeon with a parrot.”
“What for?”
“If the pigeon gets lost it can ask the way home.”

September 5, 2010

Science and Hinckleys

IF YOU CAN BELIEVE the newspapers, the world’s most eminent theoretical scientist, Stephen Hawking, has declared that the universe was created from nothing, without God’s help.

In his brand-new book, The Grand Design, which was written in conjunction with Leonard Mlodinow, Hawking explains two vital ingredients of modern science that led to his startling conclusion: quantum mechanics and relativity.

He describes quantum mechanics by using a formulation devised by the late Nobel Prize winner, Richard Feynman. Feynman's method of quantum mechanics explains that the probability of an event — say, an electron moving from where you are to the door of your room, for example — is calculated by adding up the probabilities of all the ways it could happen. It could move in a straight line, circle the room a couple of times, or even (with very small probability) visit Mars on its way to the door.

As for relativity, there is still nothing to beat Albert Einstein’s explanation. He taught his secretary-housekeeper, Helen Dukas, how to deal with members of the public who wanted a simple explanation of relativity.

“Tell them,” he advised her, “that an hour sitting with a pretty girl on a park bench passes like a minute, but a minute sitting on a hot stove seems like an hour.”

Well there, now that we understand all about quantum mechanics, relativity, and how the universe was created, I have a question:

Why can’t I have a nice yacht created from nothing?

It seems a small thing to ask when you consider how much bother it must have been to create from nothing a whole universe complete with quantum mechanics and relativity and everything. Would it be asking too much for a tiny favor like a yacht? Something like a Hinckley, perhaps, traditional full keel, and ready for ocean cruising? And maybe something like a Lamborghini to go with it, something my grandson would describe as a chick magnet. What use is science, I say, if it’s all theory and nothing practical?

So how about it, Hawking, old chap? How about focusing that mighty brain of yours on creating a Hinckley for me? And if that tires you out, I’ll make it easy on you. I’ll take a Lexus instead of the Lamborghini.

Today’s Thought
There are people who will say that this whole account is a lie, but a thing isn’t necessarily a lie even if it didn’t necessarily happen.
— John Steinbeck, Sweet Thursday

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #90
Fuel reserves. Earmark one third of your fuel capacity to get to your destination. That leaves on third to get back, and one third for your emergency reserve.

“What’s he being arrested for?”
“Bigotry — he’s got three wives.”
“No, no, you said three. That’s trigonometry.”

September 2, 2010

Sailing and philosophy

SAM PSMYTHE (silent P as in bath) tells me he wants to write a book. He wants to write about The Philosophy of Sailing. So he comes to me for help. He’s heard I’ve written books, which is true.

Now I have to say straight off, Sam, that this sounds like a rather grand concept. It’s not a book you can write off the top of your head. First you have to consider all the categories that sailors fall into: gypsy liveaboards; amateur racers; people going somewhere for some reason; weekenders and vacation amusement; charterers; singlehanders; record breakers; seekers after publicity; and professionals such as charter skippers, delivery masters, America’s Cup crew, etc.

Next you have to be perfectly sure what you mean by philosophy. Webster’s New World describes it as the “theory or logical analysis of the principles underlying conduct,” and “a particular system of principles for the conduct of life.” Now that sounds like pretty wooly stuff to me. A man’s brain can’t get a good grasp of words like that. I do understand that it seems to be all about principles. But what are principles? Mr. Webster explains: “The ultimate source, origin, or cause of something.”

Okay, cause. That’s a word I understand. So, Sam, if you ask about the philosophy of sailing, what it boils down to is: What causes people to sail? Or even simpler: Why do people sail? You want to write a book about why people sail. And you ask ME the question?

Well, shoot, how would I know? There are probably hundreds of reasons.

And are those reasons really going to be interesting to anyone? What I’m getting at is this: Are you going to sell any books?

Then there was Thoreau, of course. In 1986, Don Casey and Lew Hackler wrote a delightful book called Sensible Cruising, the Thoreau Approach: A Philosophic and Practical Approach to Cruising. (Yes, indeed, a long and very unThoreaucratic title.) But this was a book for people who had already decided to sail. It told them how to do that simply, cheaply, and effectively, as Henry David Thoreau might have done if only he’d been less interested in life in the woods and more interested in cruising under sail. But the book didn’t explore their reasons for wanting to sail, as you seem to want to do, Sam.

And yet, perhaps there is a chance for your book, albeit a slim one. I have noticed that people like to be reassured about their personal choices. They like to read about others who have made the same choices as they have and come to the same conclusions. They like to hear about people who sail for the same reasons. That makes them feel normal — or at least less abnormal than ordinary people, who don’t sail.

Now, Sam, what do you think the answer would be if you asked 100 people why they sail?

Surely the vast majority would say: “Because I like it.” Wasn’t it George Mallory who offered the famous phrase “Because it’s there” as his reason for wanting to conquer Mt. Everest? He wasn’t going to divulge to a prying public the innermost secrets of what drove him. Besides, he probably didn’t even know himself what made him want to climb. There may not have been any grand reason, overwhelming passion, or compelling desire. Maybe he just liked climbing. That’s a reason most of us simple sailors can understand.

I wish you well with your book, Sam, but I don’t expect to see it on the best-seller list any time soon.

Today’s Thought
The great books can only repeat what they have to say, without furnishing the clarification we desire.
— Catalog, St. John’s College, Annapolis, MD

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #89
Fuel consumption, gasoline. Four-stroke inboard engines need about 1 gallon per hour for every 10 horsepower generated. You can also find the number of gallons consumed per hour by multiplying horsepower used by 0.100. Outboard gasoline motors, especially two-strokes, are thirstier than four-stroke inboard engines.

“Do you prefer American girls, Canadian girls, Mexican girls, French girls, or German girls?”

September 1, 2010

Hit the rocks

Sorry, folks, but my computer ran on the rocks. Normal service will be resumed as soon as we get it patched up.  Shouldn't be long -- back tomorrow with any luck.


John V.