October 30, 2011

Simple safety

IT CAN BE QUITE A SURPRISE to see how much safety gear there is aboard some sailboats, and how little aboard others. A lot of it has to do with the owner's philosophy.

During the 1950s, when men such as Marcel Bardiaux and Bernard Moitessier were sailing around the world singlehanded, they spurned even such elementary safety features as stanchions and lifelines.

"They give you a false sense of security," Moitessier once told me. "They catch you below the hip. They can catapult you overboard. Better to learn to cling like a monkey, like me."

Times have changed, of course. There's a lot more nagging now from the people who are trying to save you from yourself and your obviously suicidal ways. It's difficult now to find a boat that doesn't have lifelines.

But the old spirit hasn't entirely vanished. And some of the safest boats have the simplest equipment. It is, however, combined with a thorough knowledge of how to use it should the need arise. After all, it's pretty pointless to own thousands of dollars-worth of lifesaving gear if you and your crew haven't practiced using it.

You should be very cautious, though, when choosing safety equipment. Safety is an emotional subject and manufacturers trade on it. Promise yourself that you will not buy anything you couldn't handle in pitch darkness in a heaving sea on a stormy night.

So what do you really need? You'll have to choose for yourself, of course, since it depends on the boat, the crew, and where you intend to sail. But here are five areas you should consider when the subject comes up. Think hard about each of them and buy the simplest, sturdiest gear that fills the bill:

1. Equipment that will keep you on board.

2. Gear to save you if you fall overboard.

3. Equipment to keep the boat safe (including a reliable engine and sturdy anchor tackle).

4. Gear to attract help if you get into trouble, and

5. Equipment to save you if your boat sinks.

Today's Thought
Rashness brings success to few, misfortune to many.
— Phædrus, Fables.

“What happened to your leg?”
“Broke it jumping over the net.”
“But isn’t that what you’re supposed to do in tennis?”
“Apparently not if it’s table tennis.”

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

October 27, 2011

Apparent wind dilemma

THE APPARENT WIND has been an abiding puzzle for me. In my racing days, especially in one-design dinghies, I was never sure about the best way to go to windward. That is, whether I should pinch or foot.

What always made the decision difficult was the simple fact that the faster you go, the more the apparent wind comes from ahead. And the more the wind draws ahead, the more you have to pull off to compensate, and the faster you go. Conversely, the slower you go, the higher you can point.

It's all very well going as fast as you can, but when the boats around you are going slower but pointing higher, you get a gut feeling about velocity made good, that is, the real progress you are making toward the windward mark. Actually, it's not your gut that does the feeling. It's your brain, but for some reason it manifests itself in your gut.

Your brain says to your gut: "He's mad. Tell him to point up. He'll get to the mark much quicker if he goes slower but points higher." The gut says to the brain, "No, no, the plan is to take the slightly longer route, not point so high but go faster. Cover more ground more quickly."

"Won't work," says the brain. "He always does this, and never wins. He is the epitome of hope ignoring reality. Doesn't bitter experience tell him anything?"

"Don't ask me," says the gut. "I'm just the messenger. I didn't volunteer for this job and I don't get paid for it."

And then, just to confuse the issue, a freeing gust comes along, and naturally I am able to point up. So I do. Can't help myself. But at the same time the boat speeds up, so the apparent wind hauls more ahead, and I have to pull off some more to keep the jib filled. Back to square one.

Meanwhile, the other boats that were pointing up all the time still seem to be pointing higher than me. I ask the crew (my wife) in a perfectly calm voice to make sure the jib is sheeted in as far as it will go, because I don't seem to be able to point properly. And to do it rather quickly if she doesn't mind. She says: "If you scream at me once more I'm going to jump overboard."

So I don't have much choice, really. What it comes down to is that I have to point lower than the others AND go slower than them, too. It's the usual recipe for disaster. VMG gone to hell. Crew grinding her teeth and not speaking to me. The fleet disappearing ahead. And it's all the fault of that damn mysterious apparent wind. Again.

Today's Thought
The way of the Wind is a strange, wild way.
— Ingram Crockett, The Wind.

"Doctor! Doctor! Help me! I think I'm shrinking!"
"Now calm down, Mr Jones, there's nothing to be done. You'll just have to be a little patient."

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

October 25, 2011

Your own best lifeboat

A READER who is planning to go solo world cruising in a 28-foot sloop wants to know if she really needs a dedicated life raft.  "I really don't have space for one," she says, "and I can't actually afford one anyhow. I am considering carrying a half-inflated inflatable dinghy on deck and keeping a well-stocked grab-bag down below — within arm's reach of the cockpit. Do you think this is irresponsible?"

No ma'am, I don't. I have grave doubts about the usefulness of life rafts on small sailboats. I once edited a book about a large storm off New Zealand that caused havoc among a fleet of yachts heading north, and the only deaths involved a family that took to their life raft. They were never seen again. All the yachts survived, even though some were abandoned when their crews were taken aboard rescue boats.

The committee that investigated the famous Fastnet Race disaster was very critical of the value of life rafts in storm-force winds and seas. Time after time I have read about sailboats whose exhausted crews called for help because they thought their boats were sinking — only to discover days or weeks later that the yachts were still afloat.  Half-filled with water mostly (or more) but still floating, still salvageable, and still affording shelter.

This has led me to the belief that most cruising boats are their own best lifeboats.

There should be a watertight bulkhead up forward, of course, in case of collisions, and you should carry spares for a jury rig — plenty of wire rope and clamps, and as many whisker poles and spinnaker poles as you can find room for.  You may need a way to make an emergency rudder. How about a spinnaker pole and that nicely varnished locker door?

Two bilge pumps are the minimum, at least one of which can be worked manually from the helm. Plus all the usual stuff like a storm jib, and towing warps or a drogue. If you think carefully about it, your personal lifeboat will have a lot more going for it than a dedicated life raft could possibly have.  And yes, keep that half-inflated dinghy on deck somewhere as a last resort.  I suppose lifeboats sink, too, sometimes.

Today's Thought
The storm is master; man, like a ball,
Is toss'd twixt wind and billow.
— Schiller, Wilhelm Tell.

California cops recently pulled over the Bionic Man after they spotted him doing 120 mph on Interstate 5.

He was fined $1,500 and dismantled for six months.

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

October 23, 2011

Multihull vs. monohull

SO MUCH HAS BEEN WRITTEN about the virtues of multihulls that it might be a little out of order even to ask why there aren't more multihulls than monohulls. Whereas a heavy displacement monohull's normal maximum speed is limited to 1.34 times the square root of her waterline length (in knots and feet), a catamaran can often reach speeds twice or three times those of a monohull of the same waterline length. And who in his right mind would rather sail at 5 knots than 15? Well, most people, as it happens. Certainly most cruising people.

A trimaran or a proa has a main hull shaped more like that of a monohull, a broader, roomier hull, and, like a catamaran, it gains the extra stability afforded by an outrigger or amas. This extra stability allows a multihull to spread a greater area of sail. That means more horsepower per ton of weight, and thus, along with more slippery hull shapes, greater speed.

But (and there's always a but where sailboats are concerned) cruising multihulls, especially catamarans, mostly fail to come up to their owners' expectations of speed because their theoretical potential is more severely curtailed by extra displacement than is a monohull's.

Most cruisers are notorious for cramming aboard all the stuff they were trying to get away from on shore, and carting it around with them everywhere they go. Their waterlines climb up the side of the boat inch by inch as the years go by, and nobody cares much because on a monohull this results in very little damage to the boat's average speed and may even improve the handling and stability of some boats.

A multihull, on the other hand, suffers quite badly from overloading, and often becomes more  difficult to handle at sea, being less responsive to the helm. If you have sacrificed comforts such living space and stowage for the thrill of speed, as you might with a catamaran, you might be rather more than disappointed to find that you have inadvertently sacrificed speed as well when you go cruising.

There are also other reasons for the preponderance of monohull cruisers, such as the problem of finding moorage for a multihull in today's congested marinas, and the fact that a multihull is as stable upside down as it is the right way up. There's no doubt that multihulls have many virtues, especially in areas where the water is shallow, or where you might want to dry out on the sand. Charter companies in the Caribbean use catamarans extensively, too, so there's obviously a demand for them.

But on the whole, most sailors, deep-sea and coastal, prefer monohulls — and have trained themselves to grin and bear it when a multihull comes tearing past them.

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

“I have five noses, six mouths and seven ears. What am I?”
“Quite ugly.”

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

October 20, 2011

The smell of a yacht

I WELL REMEMBER the first time I smelled a yacht. I was 14, and because of a lucky meeting on the beach beneath our small-town home, I was the caretaker of a 28-foot, hard-chine wooden sloop called Albatross. Rich people from the big city 30 miles to the north. Weekenders. I had Albatross to myself after school all week.

Every afternoon I'd row out to the moorings in the dinghy and just sit in wonderment in the cramped cabin. It was all new to me, the teak-and-holly sole, the mysterious quarterberths, the V-berth in the forepeak, and the gasoline engine hidden under the companionway ladder.

But it's the smells I remember now, many decades later. It's the smells that jar my memory of that sweet little boat bobbing on her mooring in the hot sunshine.

Tarred hemp from the forecastle, kerosene from the galley, along with denatured alcohol. The subtle aroma of teak bulkheads and old white paint overhead. Faint smells of gasoline from the engine compartment, and that peculiar smell of damp sailcloth that no sailor will ever forget, coming from the V-berth where the spinnaker was stored in its bag. Coffee from the food locker, and a metallic tang from the galvanized anchor chain. And if you pressed your nose to the bronze portholes you recognized a link back through the centuries to the Vikings and beyond.

All these scents mingled with salt-laden sea air in Albatross's cabin and I was entranced and bewitched. It was sheer magic, and I was never to forget it.

And just the other day I was reading Maurice Griffiths, the well-known British sailor and author. He, too, knew about the smell of a yacht:

"There is indeed something about the smell of ship that stirs a man's blood, a seductive, persuasive odour of oak and tarred rope and canvas and paint, of varnish and oil and galley smoke and rust, that exciting scent that clings like an aura to every shapely little schooner with her jib-boom steeved above the quays, and drifts on the breeze from every fishing smack that puts to sea; a haunting smell that goes to a man's head like wine and makes him yearn for a free life, open air and a wide horizon, and above all for the kick of a tiller under his arm and the scend of a stout little ship beneath his feet ... Oh, I know."  

Today's Thought
There is nothing like an odour to stir memories.
— William McFee, The Market.

“You need glasses.”
“How do you know?”
“I could tell as soon as you walked through the window.”

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

October 18, 2011

The Walter Mitty boats

JUST ABOUT EVERY MARINA I've ever seen has had its share of Walter Mitty sailboats. You know the ones. Rugged little boats, classic designs, bronze portholes, bowsprits, full keels, even gaff rigs. In short, boats designed to withstand the rigors of an ocean passage — and owned by people who are never going to take them over the horizon.

Why do such people buy such boats? Why are they content to plod along solemnly half a mile off the coast, being passed by modern light-displacement boats filled with young, laughing crews, and then hightailing it back to port before the light fails?

Why do people fall in love with Flickas and Pacific Seacraft and Westsail 32s when they really should be sailing featherweight fluff like Jeanneaus and Beneteaus?

My guess is that no matter how unlikely it may seem, we like to think we have the freedom to sail around the world if we want to, and we need a boat capable of doing it. It may not be logical, but if ever a really big emergency should arise, these are our escape vehicles. I'm talking earthquake, flood, war, political turmoil, economic disaster, even nuclear warfare.

There is something fascinating about owning a small, self-contained home complete with everything to support life and able to travel away from land, with all its woes, and take you to a safe haven across the ocean.

That's why the Walter Mitty boats have solid-fuel stoves. You can always find driftwood to burn in them. They have sextants on board in beautifully varnished wooden cases, and copies of Mary Blewitt's book on celestial navigation in case the GPS system goes down. They have wind-vanes for self-steering and high-cut twin jibs for running in the trades. All their standing rigging is a size bigger than normal. They have small cockpits with large drains, and full keels with maybe a hint of cutaway up forward.

Such boats evoke a visceral emotion, a direct connection to the age-old tradition of the sea. Such boats will look after you when the chips are down; and the way things are going these days, you never know when the chips might come tumbling down.

And there's something else. They look good. They look as if they were made to do a job and do it well. They look as if they were shaped by the sea for the sea. And if you ever need to take advantage of that, they're ready, willing, and able.

Today's Thought
We must expect everything and fear everything from time and from men. 
— Vauvenargues, Réflexions

Nothing succeeds like a parakeet with no teeth.
(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

October 16, 2011

Hospital dilemma

MEMBERS OF A SEATTLE YACHT CLUB recently finished a six-month multi-million-dollar fundraising campaign for new wing for a nearby children's hospital. They wanted it to be a surprise, but it presented a unique and unexpected dilemma for the hospital's Administration Committee.
The committee told the yacht club that it was very flattered and highly grateful, but it was not sure a new wing was necessary. After much discussion, the committee decided to ask a panel of doctors to vote on the idea.
The Allergists voted to scratch it and the Dermatologists advised them not to make any rash moves. The Gastro-enterologists had a sort of a gut feeling about it, but the Neurologists thought the yacht club had a lot of nerve. The Obstetricians felt they were all laboring under a misconception.
The Ophthalmologists considered the idea short-sighted; the Pathologists yelled, “Over my dead body,” while the Pediatricians said, “Oh, grow up!”

The Psychiatrists thought the whole idea was madness; the Radiologists could see right through it, and the Surgeons decided to wash their hands of the whole thing. The Internists though it was a bitter pill to swallow, and the Plastic Surgeons said, “This puts a whole new face on the matter.” The Podiatrists thought it was a step forward, but the Urologists felt the scheme wouldn’t hold water.

The Anesthesiologists thought the whole idea was a gas and the Cardiologists didn’t have the heart to say no. In the end, though, the Proctologists left the decision up to some arsehole in Administration.

Today's Thought
The most melancholy of human reflections, perhaps, is that, on the whole, it is a question whether the benevolence of mankind does more harm or good.
-- Walter Bagehot, Physics and Politics

“Can you direct me to a bank, young man?”
“Certainly, sir — that will be $50.”
“Fifty dollars? Isn’t that a lot for a tip?”
“Not for a bank director.”

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

October 13, 2011

Seaworthy keels

MOST modern sailboats are not designed to be the most seaworthy vessels on the open ocean. They're designed as coastal cruisers, whose characteristics make them lighter, faster, more closewinded and often roomier below.

The old rule of thumb is that a boat with a long, traditional type of keel is more resistant to capsize than is a hull with the coastal cruiser's deep, narrow fin keel. At least, that holds true when neither yacht is making way through the water.

A yacht at sea is a dynamic system that receives most of its overturning energy from waves. A traditional keel and hull shape are effective at dissipating this energy gradually, absorbing the blows of the seas more gently.

A fin-keel boat has less underwater area in which to pass the energy on into the sea, and is more vulnerable to capsize when lying still in the water. But a fin-keeler becomes more resistant to capsize if she is kept moving, and can thus dissipate the incoming wave energy into a greater area of water.

A traditional cruising boat, having a more effective roll-damping keel, can better look after herself when lying almost still in the water, or hove to.

Tony Marchaj, a small-boat sailor who is also an internationally renowned aerodynamic and research scientist, says the keel of a truly seaworthy boat should be designed primarily for the survival situation (that is, zero speed) which implies a traditional keel with large lateral area and depth of the hull underbody.
In his book, Seaworthiness: The Forgotten Factor, Marchaj quotes a former editor of Rudder magazine, T. F. Day, who crossed the Atlantic in 1911 in the 25-foot yawl Seabird:

"My long experience in small boats has taught me this: that if a boat is a good boat, when real trouble comes she is best left alone. She knows better what to do than you, and if you leave her alone she will do the right things, whereas nine times out of ten you will do the wrong thing."

Today's Thought
Extremely foolish advice is likely to be uttered by those who are looking at the laboring vessel from the land.
--Arthur Helps, Friends in Council

Middle age is when you find yourself doing one bend-over to pick up two things.

October 11, 2011

Sailing with pirates

MY COMPUTER has been boarded by pirates again.  I am typing this on a strange borrowed machine and I am unsettled and unable to think of anything to do with boats. Except that the thought of pirates reminds me of little Laura Dekker, the 16-year-old Dutch girl who is vying to become the youngest person to sail around the world alone.

Now that she has left Darwin,  Australia, on her ketch Guppy, her blogs have suddenly stopped giving her position at sea. She says it's for her own security, which might lead one to believe that she is taking the Red Sea route to the Mediterranean. That's where the Somalia pirates lurk, and pirates, as she has noted, can read blogs, specially the ones translated from Dutch to English.

You might also be inclined to believe that Somali pirates don't bother with impecunious yacht owners when they can ransom rich oil tankers and other fat prey; but as we know, such is not the case. Several yachts have been hijacked, and their crews held to ransom if they're lucky, and killed if they're not. Perhaps the pirates know that even if the sailors and their families can't come up with the ransom money, their governments will, even if they swear they don't do that sort of thing.

Even if Miss Dekker doesn't fall foul of pirates, I don't think the Red Sea/Suez Canal  passage is a good choice for a young girl on her own. I hope and pray she's taking the safer Cape route around South Africa, but she certainly hasn't shown any inclination to go that way. I guess it would make better copy for her forthcoming book if she takes the pirate route. She has a definite streak of stubbornness, and there doesn't seem to be much that frightens her, so I fear she may be influenced to go the pirates' way. I can only hope that she, and her advisors, have thought long and hard about this.

Today's Thought
It is when  pirates count their booty that they become mere thieves.
--Bolitho, Twelve Against the Gods

"James, did you give the goldfish some fresh water today?"
"No, madam, they haven't finished the water I gave them last week."


October 9, 2011

Bring back the flags

WE DON’T SEE ENOUGH FLAGS flying on small boats these days. Hardly anyone even flies a burgee at the masthead any more, which is a great shame because that colorful little triangle of fluttering cloth denotes pride of ownership and bestows a disciplined liveliness on a boat.

And as for signaling flags, we might as well be talking about dodos, or pterodactyls, or home-based land-line telephones. And that’s another pity, because there is a huge section of the International Code of Signals devoted to the ancient art of sending messages by flags.

You can signal with one flag, or two, or three. There are literally hundreds of coded messages waiting to be sent, and anybody with a set of code flags ought to be absolutely itching to send a few. I mean, imagine you spot some old friends aboard a far-flung yacht in an anchorage — but you don’t carry a VHF radio (because you don’t have to) and you don’t have their cell-phone number because you never wrote it down like you were supposed to. So now what? Well, code flags to the rescue, of course.

Get out the signal book. Look up the right signal and hoist the flags. Simple. There are codes for every occasion. For example, here’s a handy three-flag hoist: MEG. It means “Bowels are regular.” That’s a message your friends are always happy to receive. And relieved, you might say. Of course, that might not always be the case, so the people who drew up the international code cunningly also provided MJD (“Patient has flatulence.”) and MIO (“Patient has clay-colored stool.”) There are other codes describing sailors with other delicate variations of tummy problems, but we don’t need to dwell on that now. You can look them up for yourself in private after dinner.

One two-flag signal of particular interest is XP. It is not clear why the compilers of the signal book thought fit to include this hoist, since it means “I am in thick fog.” But perhaps they needed a belly laugh after dealing with all that sordid stool business. In any case, if you ever come across a vessel flying XP, if you can read it, it’s already too late.

One signal you might want to memorize is SN. It means “You should stop immediately. Do not scuttle. Do not lower boats. Do not use the wireless. If you disobey I shall open fire on you.” Heavens, what a vicious and belligerent message for two little flags to convey. The only reply I can think of is MEG flown in reverse order, which should be read as “My bowels are NOT regular.” Not now, anyhow.

The international code does not deal with flags alone, of course. All other forms of signaling by sea are covered, including the use of the human voice as transmitted by radio waves. It seems that radio waves may sometimes distort the human voice so much as to make it intelligible without the help of the international code. Now I fear very few of my sailing friends practice this, but it’s not sufficient to say “One, two, three and four” over the radio. The code insists that you say unaone (oo-nah-wun), bissotwo (bees-soh-too), terrathree (tay-rah-tree) and kartefour (kar-tay-fower.) In fact, here is the full list, just in case you want to impress the Coasties when they ask to come aboard and inspect your potty arrangements:

Figure spelling table

Figure or Mark to be Transmitted

(Code Word Pronunciation)











Decimal point


Today’s Thought
What harm in getting knowledge even from a sot, a pot, a fool, a mitten or a slipper?
— Rabelais, Works

The luckiest man is the one who has a wife and an outboard motor that both work.

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

October 6, 2011

First scratch ceremony

IF YOU’VE EVER owned a brand-new boat, or a newly painted old boat, you must have wondered when then first scratch would come. It’s a time of tension and trepidation as you do your best to protect that beautiful but vulnerable paint job, knowing full well that in the end the first scratch will definitely come, and all that’s really uncertain is just how bad it will be.

You can worry your little guts out for weeks and months while bracing yourself against the inevitable and wondering when the dastardly deed will occur, and who will be the dastard that does it.

This is why I invented the First Scratch Ceremony. It’s one of 19 useful maritime ceremonies, superstitions, prayers, rituals, and curses contained in my book How to Rename Your Boat. And this simple ceremony will relieve you from all the pain of this period of tension and fretting because you yourself are deliberately going to put the first scratch on your boat’s new finish. You’ll do it in some inconspicuous place, of course, where it won’t be seen in a casual glance. And then, when some thoughtless idiot finally ravages your paintwork, you won’t be consumed by rage because it won’t be the first scratch. It won’t be such a shock. You will bypass all those feelings of anger, revenge, gloom, and despair.

Furthermore, this ceremony offers you a perfect excuse to invite your sailing friends to a party.

What you need is a single scratch about an inch long. Use masking tape to mark off a small rectangle, maybe up under the gunwale where it will not be too obvious, and find yourself a suitable instrument to scratch with. Choose it carefully. You don’t want to be embarrassed in front of your guests because the old nail you found won’t penetrate the hard surface of your new Awlgrip.

Now here’s the wording of the ceremony, which you should read aloud:

O Aphrodite, worthy guardian of love and beauty, we seek your kind favor.

Grant us this day your help in preserving the loveliness of this far vessel. Guard her against disfiguration, we beseech you, that she may always be admired and respected by mankind.

We pray for your help to preserve her from misadventure and calamity, so that her looks shall neither be marred nor spoiled.

And yet, even as we beg this favor, we humbly acknowledge that there are times when the gods are too fully occupied to prevent all possible catastrophes to which this vessel will be exposed.

We therefore implore you to recognize the first scratch that shall be made here today in the knowledge that it will spare us the agony of the endless wait — the awful anticipation that keeps honest mortals awake at night, staring into the darkness, wondering when the wonderful new finish will first be violated.

Please bless our first scratch, O Aphrodite, and grant us your help in preserving this lovely vessel from future accidents and collisions that may injure her good looks.

In return for which, we confirm our devotion to thee with a libation offered in the hallowed tradition of the sea.

Now make your scratch and pour or spray champagne over it. Don’t stint. Use the whole bottle. Serve yourself and your guests from separate bottles, and when they’ve all staggered off home, remove the masking tape.

Today’s Thought
There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.
— Francis Bacon.

Money cannot buy happiness, but it’s more comfortable to cry in a 40-foot Hinckley than a 26-foot McGregor.

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

October 4, 2011

When might isn't right

USS Wainwright
AUSTRALIANS cruising under sail have developed a well-earned reputation for contempt of authority. One lovely example I came across recently involved an Aussie yacht and an American warship.

Not many of us realize it, but American warships roam freely over all the oceans of the world, bossing other vessels around, including small sailboats.

I myself was highly indignant when, in a British-flagged 30-footer, I was stopped by a U.S. guided missile cruiser while I was minding my own business in international waters 200 miles off Puerto Rico, en route from the British Virgin Islands to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I was sailing with my wife and my 17-year-old son.

The 548-foot-long USS Wainwright came roaring down on us out of the path of the sun and scared the life out of us. They made us all line up in the cockpit and grilled us about who we were, where we were going, what passports we held, and a whole lot more. They had no good reason to stop us, and they had no right to ask those questions. We were angry and resentful, but we were so intimidated we didn’t even dare take a photograph of them.

But the Aussies, aboard the 45-foot steel ketch Hinewai[1] in their own waters, weren’t so easily intimidated. Here’s what they reported on a sailing bulletin board the other day:

“We were off the Queensland coast, just outside the exclusion zone for a joint Aussie/U.S. landing exercise — just around dinner time. The weather was pretty dull so we decided to heave to for the meal and watch the show by eye, night-vision glasses, and radar.

“All of a sudden, ‘American Warship 123’ challenged us on Channel 16 by name, warned that we were close to the exclusion zone and that the boat would be seized if we entered it — and asked our intentions.

“We thanked them for the call, explained we were half a mile from the exclusion zone, hove to, and were in fact slowly moving away from the zone.

“With respect to our intentions, we then advised that we were still considering what pudding to have, but that we would definitely be having coffee afterwards.

“They don’t have a great sense of humour.

“I must admit we were a little miffed that we, an Australian-flagged yacht in Australian waters, could be challenged by a U.S. warship.

“But the scariest thing was, they must have been close enough to read our name on the bow (in the dark), yet we never saw them — no lights, no radar return near-by and nothing through the night vision.”

Today’s Thought
He who is too powerful seeks power beyond his power.
— Seneca, Hippolytus

“Have your eyes ever been checked before?”
“No, doctor, they’ve always been brown.”

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

October 2, 2011

A handy document

CRUISING COUPLES don’t like to think what might happen if the worst were to occur, but there’s one document you could carry aboard your boat that would be a great help in stressful times — a power of attorney.

Here is the basis of a document you can amend to suit your own circumstances, one that could help bypass some unpleasant bureaucratic tangles at a time of great stress. This example is based on a suggestion by Lin and Larry Pardey in The Capable Cruiser:


To whom it may concern:

I, ____________, sole legal owner of the vessel __________, registered in__________, registration number __________, registered tonnage ______, do hereby solemnly swear that in the event of my death, incapacitation due to illness, or absence through any cause, determined or undetermined, it is my wish that all my rights and powers as owner and captain of the said vessel shall be ceded unconditionally to __________.

He/she shall have the right to operate the said vessel and make whatever arrangements he/she shall deem necessary for its normal or abnormal operation, including shipment by road, sea, rail, or sea.

He/she shall be empowered to place the vessel in storage or safekeeping, to leave the vessel and return at will, without relinquishing any of the powers granted under this document.

He/she shall have the right to hire another competent captain to carry out his/her instructions.

His/her signature shall, in the event of my death, incapacitation or absence, be accepted in the place of mine on any legal documents pertaining to the ownership, operation, and movements of the aforementioned vessel, under any and all national and international laws that might apply.

► Get legal advice before you leave your home port about how this document should be signed, witnessed and/or notarized. And you might think about having a legal translation done in say, Spanish or French.

Chances are, you’ll never need to use this document, but if the worst happened it could prove invaluable.

Today’s Thought
He who is not prepared today will be less so tomorrow.
— Ovid, Remedorium Amoris


“So you want to be a ship’s surgeon?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Well, what would you do if the captain fainted?”
“Bring him to, sir.”
“Very good. And then what?”
“Bring him two more, sir.”