October 30, 2012

Curse that rotten anchorer

IN ADDITION TO DEATH AND TAXES there is another certainty in life. If you anchor out in some lovely deserted cove, another boat will come along just before nightfall and anchor too close to you.

What to do? Two things — an effigy and a curse.

Make a crude effigy of the offending skipper from modeling clay or putty, and stick push-pins into him as you pronounce this Curse on Those Who Anchor Too Close [1]:

A pox upon you, miserable anchor dropper! (Jab.) May you suffer the torments of the damned. (Jab.) May you rot in hell. (Jab.)

O frightful scum, let there be no sleep for you. (Jab.) O jerk of the first water, let your dreams be nightmares of osmosis, sludge in your tanks, oil in your bilges, and an ever-overflowing holding tank. (Jab.)

May the Coast Guard constantly be boarding you and frightening the very marrow out of your bones. (Jab.)

Yea, let  it be that the jet skis shall find you and plague you with their wakes and deafen you with their exhausts (Jab) and drive you crazy with their banal shouts of joy, until you cry for mercy; and yea, yet shall your cry go unheeded. (Jab.)

O uncomprehending moron, all this and more I heap upon your unperceiving soul (Jab) and may it bring you the sorrows and woes you so richly deserve. So be it.

[1] This is one of several boating-related curses in my book How to Rename Your Boat And 19 Other Useful Ceremonies, Superstitions, Prayers, Rituals and Curses (Paradise Cay Publications).

Today’s Thought
I sent down to the rum mill on the corner and hired an artist by the week to sit up nights and curse that stranger.
— Mark Twain, A Mysterious Visit

“Do you always drink your whiskey neat?”
“No, sometimes my tie goes a bit skew.”

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

October 28, 2012

500 incredible days

IT’S A LITTLE LATE, I admit, but I’ve just read Serge Testa’s book about his solo round-the-world voyage in his 12-foot sailboat, Acrohc Australis. I have been meaning to read it for years, but . . . well, you know how certain things get away from you.

I was in Durban, South Africa, in 1985 when Serge arrived on the first leg of his voyage from Brisbane, Australia, where he lived.  I recognized a good story when I saw one, and I called the pre-eminent American sail cruising magazine, Cruising World.  “Would you like a story and pictures about a man sailing a 12-foot yacht around the world solo?” I asked.

“Oh no,” they said, sounding quite aghast.  “We don’t encourage dangerous gimmicks.”

“This isn’t a gimmick,” I said. “This is a proper seaworthy little yacht.”

“We don’t want other people copying him and getting into trouble,” I was told.

So that was that. Serge was headline news in all the South African newspapers, but I never got to write that story for Cruising World.  Interestly enough, though, some years later, when Serge’s book was published, somebody at Cruising World finally saw the light. The magazine contributed this endorsement of the book for the back cover:

“Serge Testa’s 500 Days is a lively, warm and well-written account of a seamanlike circumnavigation.” 

They still weren’t exactly falling over themselves with enthusiasm for this extraordinary exploit, but it was a far cry from the days when they thought it was a deplorable gimmick.

I’ve always thought Serge would have gotten a better press if he’d given his boat a name English-speaking people could pronounce. Australis is fine, of course, a good Latin word generally understood and very appropriate for a boat born in Australia, but Acrohc?

I guess the best translation is “Southern Thing.” Here’s the gen, straight from the horse’s mouth: 

“I asked my mother what she would call the boat. She answered me in the Italian dialect we often speak at home, ‘What boat? Oh, you mean that thing!’ The translation of ‘thing’ is Acrohc, so my boat became Acrohc Australis, a strange name perhaps but then it was for a strange boat.”

 But Serge was a very modest, unassuming man. Apart from its size, Acrohc wasn’t a strange boat at all really. It was simply the heaviest 12-footer anybody has ever seen, with a displacement in ocean-going trim of about 1,700 pounds. It was a proper little yacht, carefully thought out with respect to safety, and had six watertight compartments. Serge designed and built her himself from aluminum sheets just slightly less than 1/8th inch thick.

She was 11 foot 10 inches between perpendiculars and about 5 feet wide. She had a wide fin keel with torpedo-shaped ballast of 265 pounds at the bottom.

She was completely decked over, and designed to be operated at all times from down below — that is, from a sitting position beneath a solid dodger with portlights all round. By shuffling the cushions around, Serge could make a bed long enough to lie down on.

But for days on end at sea, conditions were too rough for him to open the top hatch of the dodger and he suffered badly from skin rashes brought on by the constant dampness down below in the hot tropics.

Achrohc’s mainsail was tall and skinny, set on a high mast with two sets of spreaders. Her headsails did most of the work, giving her a top speed of 5 knots and an average of about 3 knots, guided by a wind-vane self-steering system that Serge designed and built himself.  The vane could be set from down below, and all the sail controls could be handled from Serge’s sitting position, too.

He only had to extend his arms to touch the chart table, the bile pump, the navigation instruments, the galley sink, and the alcohol stove, which caused two fires in mid-ocean, one quite serious that burned his face and neck.

I lost count of the number of storms he endured and the number of times he ran aground. Despite all these setbacks, he persisted until he sailed back to great acclaim in Brisbane (and into the Guinness Book of Records) after 500 days at sea and three years en route

It’s hard for an ordinary person to imagine how things would be on a 12-footer in a storm at sea, but Serge shrugs it off as business as usual.  This is a book of understatement by a sailor of unusual talent and courage who also likes beer and rum and girls, a resourceful charmer if ever there was one.  What more could you want in a sailing book?

Ø 500 Days: Around the World on a 12-Foot Yacht, by Serge Testa.

Today’s Thought
The reason why so few good books are written is that so few people who can write know anything.
— Bagehot, Literary Studies: Shakespeare

“Hey, sweetheart, look at this. I found a green snake.”
“Oh, don’t touch it, darling, they’re just as dangerous as ripe ones.”

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


October 25, 2012

This ship is a dictatorship

THERE HAVE BEEN OCCASIONS in the past when my authority as skipper has been questioned by my nearest and dearest.  Or, if not authority, then the way my authority has manifested itself. The words Captain Bligh have been mentioned.

I have always tried with utmost patience to convince my crews that there can be only one skipper on a boat, only one person who can  make instant decisions regarding the safety of the vessel and the crew. Unfortunately, my seeds of wisdom have not always fallen on fertile ground. For example, my nearest and dearest believes decisions should be shared in a democratic fashion. I have a feeling Emily Pankhurst is to blame for this somehow. There can be no democracy on a boat.

At about the time when Pankhurst and her cohorts were chaining themselves to railings, there was a fellow called Tyrrell E. Biddle who was valiantly standing up for the rights of men, and skippers in particular.  Mr. Biddle wrote books in the 1870s and 80s that must have been very pleasing to the male skippers and yacht owners of the day, and indeed are still helpful, as well as pleasing, to people like me today.

Let me quote Mr. Biddle, so you can see what I mean:

“Never allow any approach to undue familiarity upon the part of the hands: always insist upon the observance of those little points of etiquette without which a good servant always degenerates into a bad master.

“The men themselves have a far greater respect for the owner who keeps his place and makes them keep theirs. There are certain times when a little relaxation of discipline is allowable, but it should be the exception and not the rule, and any attempts to presume upon it must be stopped at once, but firmly.

“At the same time, encourage your hands, by every means in your power, to place confidence in you, not only as master but friend and adviser. This advice may appear a little contradictory, but strict discipline is no bar to a good understanding between owner and crew.”

We don’t have “hands” these days, of course. We have wives and sweethearts. We accept that they are our equals. Ms. Pankhurst won that battle eventually. But even so, the sea has not changed and nor has the way ships are run. Ships are dictatorships, as they always have been and always must be. Sorry Ms. P. but that’s how things stand, and my wife has been informed that her search for some railings to chain herself to is not going to change one whit the attitude of her personal Captain Bligh.

Today’s Thought
Authority intoxicates,
And makes mere sots of magistrates;
The fumes of it invade the brain,
And make men giddy, proud and vain.
— Samuel Butler, Miscellaneous Thoughts

“I hear old Fred made a fortune.”
“That’s right.  He invented a dog food that tastes like a postman’s leg.”

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

October 23, 2012

Post-race reflections

MY RACE IS OVER, and my imaginary 60-foot Open Class boat is sitting at the finish line on the equator. I don’t know what happens to it now, but I expect the organizers of the practice for the Virtual Vendée Globe will take care of it and make it disappear into cyberspace.

I joined the race from the Bay of Biscay to the equator (days late over the line) in 14,399th place and finished yesterday at 8,303th as the French computer put it. So I overtook 6,096 boats, something I’ve never managed to do in real life. There were 35,490 skippers competing in this 15-day race, nearly all French, but including the 20 competitors in the real Vendée Globe singlehanded, non-stop, round-the-world race, which starts next month.

It was an interesting ride, and for last few days I had a private match race with one of the few other boats flying Old Glory, one called Santosha.  I don’t know whether he was aware of my presence or not, but his resumé revealed that he was very experienced in this kind of racing so I assumed he was a worthy competitor. And so it turned out.  He was also a sneaky competitor because he changed course in the middle of the night. 

That’s what you do if you’re really serious about virtual sailboat racing, and in fact that’s what I did for weeks in the last Virtual Vendée Globe four years ago, until I came to my senses and abandoned my boat and let her find her own way across the Southern Ocean on a fixed course. I paid for it, of course.  I finished in position 91,801, which is something else I never dreamed I’d do in a yacht race. 

Anyway, I didn’t get up in the night this time.  I now perceive a greater need for beauty sleep, so I just left my boat to her own devices at night.  In any case, I managed to fend off Santosha very simply by staying five miles ahead of him and maintaining the same course and speed as him. He actually finished 3.4 miles behind me in position 8,566, or 263 places behind, which gives you an idea of how densely packed the racers are.

The highlight of the race for me was a day’s run in a windy streak I discovered near the African coast when I overtook 5,000 boats in 12 hours. It was a suicide run, of course, because it landed me in the doldrums where I sat glumly the next day while 4,000 boats scooted past to the west with cocky French grins on their dials.

But I consoled myself with the thought that this business of staring at a computer screen is not really sailing.  Someone called it a game of chess on water, but that’s doing a disservice to chess. This is much slower and much simpler. This is mankind versus a computer programmed by other mankind.  You don’t need to know anything about sailing to compete in this game.

You don’t even need to know how to spell, either. The official chart names the North Antlantic, the South Antlantic, the Caranies islands and Capo Verde.  And nobody told the computer that ordinal numbers in English end in st, such as 1st, or nd (2nd) or rd (3rd), so all the results ended in th, as in my own — 8,303th.

But I shouldn’t be critical. I don’t even know the French for North Atlantic. Not that it matters. The only language you need speak to take part in these races is computer.

Today’s Thought
The wind rules the aspects of the sky and the action of the sea.
— Joseph Conrad

"How's that book on anti-gravity?"
"It's great. I can hardly put it down."

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

October 21, 2012

The best obsession

MY DICTIONARY defines obsession as “... a persistent idea, desire, emotion, etc., especially one that cannot be got rid of by reasoning.”

People aren’t warned when they take up boating that they may become obsessed, but it does happen to a lot of them.

The famous author and sailor, E. B. White was one.

“Waking or sleeping, I dream of boats--usually of rather small boats under a slight press of sail,” he wrote in a delightful essay entitled “The Sea and the Wind that Blows (from Essays of E. B. White, Harper-Collins, New York).

He said that so much of his life had been spent dreaming of small craft that he wondered about the state of his health, for he’d been told that it wasn’t a good sign to be always voyaging into unreality, driven by imaginary breezes.

But he concluded: “If a man must be obsessed by something, I suppose a boat is as good as anything, perhaps a bit better than most.”

A lot better than most, actually. Obsessing about boats keeps you out of most trouble, as long as you remember to be polite to landlubbers and (especially) as long as you can control the spending urge.

And, come to think ot if, if obsession can’t be got rid of by reasoning, what’s the point of fighting it?

Today’s Thought
Passion overcometh sober thought;
And this is cause of direst ills to men.
— Euripides, Medea

“Can you help me? I’m looking for someone. Do you have a Sexauer here?”
“Mister, we don’t even have a lunch-break here.”

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

October 18, 2012

Harnesses can kill

IT’S HARD TO KNOW how many sailors’ lives have been saved by safety harnesses. No disinterested authority seems to keep the relevant statistics. But I know for a fact that a harness killed one sailor and would have killed another had his boat not run aground.

The fatality occurred in a storm off the South African coast when a racing fleet was overwhelmed by a sudden southwesterly “buster.” A fairly beamy 26-foot sloop was capsized by a large wave and stayed upside down a long time. One of her cockpit crew couldn’t release the tether of his safety harness and drowned before she righted herself.

Yukio Hasebe, a singlehanded Japanese circumnavigator, almost drowned when he fell off his 30-foot sloop and was dragged alongside the hull. He couldn’t pull himself aboard. The boat sped on for hours, steered by her wind vane, while Hasebe fought for breath and got badly scraped by barnacles. He was bleeding profusely and almost exhausted when the boat grounded on a reef off Australia. He lost the boat but his life was saved.

Lessons: make sure you can detach your tether at your breast, even under strain; and think hard about how to get back on board if you go over the side.

And one last, but rather important thought: Whenever you can, use a tether short enough to prevent your falling overboard in the first place.

Today’s Thought
Oh pilot, ’tis a fearful night!
There’s danger on the deep.
— Thomas Haynes Bayly, The Pilot

Overheard at Starbucks:
“You wouldn’t think it now, but Fred used to be the same age as George Clooney.”

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

October 16, 2012

Grounded in cyberspace

I RAN AGROUND yesterday on the African coast at the southern end of Western Sahara.  Despite the inhospitable desert surroundings, it wasn’t the worst grounding I’ve ever experienced because I could get free at the click of a button.  Or so I thought.

Actually, it took two clicks of the button but I didn’t find that out for about an hour, by which time I’d lost 1,000 places in the Virtual Vendée Globe practice race, from France down to the equator.

I joined the race late, as usual, and  the French computer inserted me into the field at place number 14,399. Two days later, when the field of skippers had swollen to more than 27,000, I had wormed my way through the mob into position 9,000-and-something. But yesterday I was back to 10,000-and-plenty.

I had found a narrow channel of stronger winds alongside the West African coast and was busily jibing down the windy lane while my competitors, overwhelmingly French, were sleeping back at home and their boats plowed along on fixed courses under autopilot.

But I cut things too fine and grounded for exactly 68 seconds before jibing out to sea again. I set the new course, making 16 knots in a breeze of 17.8 knots, and then I went for an hour’s walk in the woods.

When I got back to my computer it was telling me that I’d now been aground for an hour and 68 seconds.  I should have checked before I went out, because while I was walking, about 1,000 French boats came trundling past me.

This is a computer game in which small errors add up to enormous changes in position — and the rivalry is intense. Each of the 20 entrants for the real Vendée Globe singlehanded round-the-world race, which starts next month, was given a boat in this virtual game, and I found myself among a couple of them before my grounding.  But I learned to my surprise that when Vincent Riou, sailing PRB, was about 6 miles to starboard on a parallel course of 211 degrees, in the same wind of 17.8 knots, he was doing 12.6 knots while I was doing 12.1 knots. At first I thought the French computer was being kind to the stars of the real Vendée Globe, giving them a half-knot advantage to prevent loss of face, but I later discovered that you can buy speed in this game.  If you’re prepared to flash your credit card, you can buy a special suit of sails not available to freeloaders like me.  There are other paid advantages, too, such as autopilots and automatic sail changes to suit wind conditions.

None of this matters, I guess, if you and a bunch of friends agree to be freeloaders with no paid privileges, and simply race against each other, but the commercial aspect has rather put me off entering for the full-length Virtual Vendée, a game that lasts about two months.

No matter.  I’ll stick it out to the finish of this practice race, which ends at the equator, about two weeks away.  Last time I looked, the leading boat, Ricard 34, was 454 miles ahead of me, and the Vendée Globe experts were trailing along behind him.  The first of the "experts" was Safran Sailing Team, coming 139th, and Samantha Davies, one of three British round-the-worlders, was third among the experts and 621th (as the French computer puts it) overall.

If you haven’t tried racing under sail on a computer against 30,000 opponents, you might like to take a look at the official race site.  There’s no charge to play simply, and you might get hooked.

Today’s Thought
The only competition worthy a wise man is with himself.
— Mrs. Anna Jameson, Memoirs and Essays: Washington Allston

“What would you be after having there in that bag, O’Flaherty?”
“How many?”
“I’m not saying.”
“Well then I’ll guess how many — and you can give me a prize if I’m right.”
“I don’t have a prize. But I tell you what — if you get it right you can have both of them.”

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

October 14, 2012

Heavy weather practice

YESTERDAY I WAS READING a manuscript of a book to be published next year that deals with tragedies connected with small boats.  One of the themes of the book was how easy it is for a sailboat crew at sea to become dangerously exhausted and incapable of rational decisions or even necessary sail changes.

It struck me then, as it often has before, that too many sailboat skippers simply don’t know how to handle heavy weather. They have never bothered to find out how their particular boat will behave in high winds and rough seas so that she will tend to herself safely without human help, and give her crew a chance to snatch a bite to eat and catch up on some vitally needed sleep.

One way to do this is to heave to, a catch-all phrase for any number of methods of slowing right down and letting your boat bob over the waves while you shut yourself securely down below.  Hulls of traditional design, that is to say hulls with full-length deep keels, will often heave to under a backed storm jib and a deep-reefed mainsail or a dedicated trysail. You can adjust the angle at which the sails catch the wind so that your bows are pointed more, or less, toward the oncoming swells.

The tiller or wheel should be lashed to leeward, so that if she starts to drive forward too fast, the rudder will automatically head her up into the wind again and slow her down. Forward speed in general depends on several things, of course, including the strength of the wind and the amount of canvas you’re spreading, but is usually in the region of 1 1/2 to 2 knots.  Your course over the ground will be roughly at right angles to the wind, which is something to make you wary if there is any land close at hand. Some traditional hulls will adopt a nice hove-to position 60 degrees or so off the wind under a deep-reefed mainsail only.

Unfortunately, the only way to learn how best your boat will heave to is to take her out in strong winds — preferably 25 knots or more — and experiment.  If you have a fin-keeler, that can be interesting because while some fin keelers are completely docile and easy to heave to, others of less displacement and higher freeboard tend to be skittish and less predictable in their behavior.

In fact, many light-displacement fin keelers, perhaps the great majority, are better off in heavy weather if they’re kept moving at a reasonable clip of three-quarters hull speed or so.  This gives the fin keel a chance to dissipate the rolling energy from waves into a greater area of sea water.

I mentioned the need for strong winds for your heaving-to experiments because I once undertook to show a friend with a light fin keeler how to heave to. The weather was very light, 5 knots tops, and no matter what I did with sail areas and angles, the damn boat would not heave to. She spun around slowly in dainty circles, cocking her snoot at me, while my friend looked on cynically, obviously not impressed with my prowess at basic seamanship. I discovered then that boats behave very differently in light winds, and in fact each boat behaves differently in heavy winds, too, so you just have to go out when it’s blowing and find out for yourself how your boat likes to be handled in a gale.

Once you have worked that out, and practiced a few times, you will have earned much peace of mind.  Your knowledge of how best to face gales so that you can get some rest while the boat looks after herself, will do wonders for your morale and for the safety of the boat and her crew.

Today’s Thought
Experience is the best of schoolmasters, only the school-fees are heavy.
— Carlyle, Miscellaneous Essays

“Return ticket, please.”
“Yes, sir. Where to?”
“Back here, you idiot.”

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

October 11, 2012

No comfort under 40

A MAN I ONCE KNEW wanted very badly to sail around the world with his wife and young family of a seven-year-old boy and a five-year-old daughter. But his wife was worried about seasickness and wanted to be assured that any sailboat they bought would be “comfortable in a choppy sea.” So he asked me what I thought. I told him not to expect much comfort in a choppy sea in any boat under 40 feet, and I’m afraid that dashed his hopes of a circumnavigation because he couldn’t afford a boat that big.

It’s an unfortunate fact that the very qualities necessary to ensure survival, such as maximum buoyancy and fast reaction to changing water levels, result in the kind of quick, jerky motion that causes seasickness and difficulty in moving about — sometimes even difficulty in staying put.

That said, some designs are kinder to humans than others. The well-known naval architect Ted Brewer, who invented a formula for a “comfort ratio,” says that quickness of motion, or “corkiness,” is determined mainly by two factors: the beam of the hull and the area of the waterline.

What this translates to is that it’s more comfortable to sail in a boat that’s comparatively narrower, deeper, and heavier than another of the same length.

Most classic full-keel designs fulfill those requirements. They’re slightly slower to react to waves and swells because of their increased inertia. They’re less likely to be capsized by a breaking wave and it’s safer to work on the deck of such a boat, though they may be wetter. Comfort naturally increases with size, but it increases more quickly with displacement than with length.

So there you have it. Comfort is subjective. The very word means different things to different people, and the amount of discomfort the human body can endure is quite remarkable. Most people get used to the motion of a sailboat at sea sooner or later, and the arbiter then, as the boats become smaller and lighter in displacement, is whether you can actually endure the physical punishment of being bodily thrown around in bad weather.

Judging by the number of people sailing around the world in boats of 30 feet and under, it’s not a problem if you take the calmer tradewind routes and pick your seasons with some forethought.

Today’s Thought
It is often a comfort to shift one’s position and be bruised in a new place.
— Washington Irving, Tales of a Traveller

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

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

October 9, 2012

Farewell to simplicity

WE SAILORS are a strange lot. We love bright and shiny things, especially bright and shiny things with batteries (and digital cameras built in).

We trust stainless steel, fiberglass, and chrome. We mistrust rope and wood. We love electronics. We love fridges, microwaves, hot showers, ovens, and even electric heads that save us the effort of waggling the handle for a few moments. In short, we took one of the simplest forms of transport in the world and made it complicated.

Many of the fittings and systems aboard our boats are there purely for our creature comfort and have nothing to do with their suitability for sailing, especially long-distance cruising.

We don’t need mainsail flaking systems, full-length battens, and batten cars. We don’t need fancy, expensive air blocks that offer no great advantage, except to the manufacturer’s profits. We don’t need self-tailing winches if we’re prepared to luff up for a couple of moments, and there’s no need for many of the complicated chrome and stainless fittings we dote on, if there’s a piece of line handy. But we buy all these things anyway.

Either we are losing the ability to think simply or we have been brainwashed by the makers and vendors of shiny trinkets and digital doo-dahs. Or perhaps we have fallen in love with gadgets in order impress other people whom we’d like to admire us. Whatever the cause, it’s a pity, and it takes a brave person these days to buck the fashionable trend.

Today’s Thought
Fashion, leader of a chattering train,
Whom man, for his own hurt, permits to reign.
— Cowper, Conversation

Happiness is that temporary feeling of pleasantness you have when you are so agreeably occupied that you forget how miserable you really are.

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

October 7, 2012

Mildew in the forecast

WE’VE HAD THE MOST astonishingly good weather around here for the past couple of months, nothing but record-breaking stretches of cloudless skies and bright warm days. People can hardly believe this is the allegedly drizzly Pacific Northwest. It’s more like Southern California with the added bonus that it’s less crowded and less frenetic.

It can’t last forever, though. Sooner or later the rain will come, the grass will turn green again and the hibernating mildew (or, rather, the aestivating mildew) will get to work once more on our boats. They’re extraordinary little creatures, these mildew beasties. And they love dampness.

The tiny organisms we know as mildew or mold can eat almost anything anywhere, including your fiberglass boat. These voracious fungi will actually slowly consume the gel coat on the deck of a boat under the right conditions, leaving it pitted and weakened. Down below, in dark, damp, stagnant air, they will reproduce at an astonishing rate, wreaking havoc on furnishings, sails, plastic fittings, and bulkheads alike. Mildew can even etch the glass in binoculars.

About the only thing mildew can’t digest is metal. On anything else, it excretes enzymes that convert complex molecules into soluble compounds capable of passing through its cell walls.

Mildew prefers sub-tropical conditions, but is highly adaptable to colder climates and actually creates its own warmth as it grows, leaving behind that typical musty smell.

Direct sunshine, dry air, and chlorine bleach are the best defenses against mildew. Most commercial mildew removers contain sodium hypochlorite (household bleach). But the best long-term protection is good air circulation throughout the boat to keep ambient humidity low. That means plenty of Dorade boxes, louvered drop boards, and solar-powered vents to keep air passing through and out of the boat.

It also helps to open all locker doors and bilge hatches before you leave the boat for any amount of time, and prop up bunk mattresses so air can circulate underneath.

So get ready. Mildew is in the forecast, and it’s very hungry. Act fast as soon as you spot any, on deck or down below, and be ruthless. Mildew takes no prisoners.

Today’s Thought
In wilderness I sense the miracle of life, and behind it our scientific accomplishments fade to trivia.
— Charles A. Lindbergh

Mary has a cool, cool gown,
It’s almost slit to bits.
Who gives a damn for Mary’s lamb
When we can see her calf?

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

October 4, 2012

On hunting and pecking

I WAS JUST SITTING HERE wondering what I could write about boats when it occurred to me I should be writing about typing.

My grandson is being taught to type at school. “You just line up the B with your belly button,” he tells me, pointing to the keyboard, “and then you put your hands here.”

A computer is teaching him this. It tells him when he makes mistakes and it awards him marks when he does things right.

I was old enough to vote before I could type. All through my years in school I got along quite nicely by holding a pointed thing in my hand and writing words down on paper. But for today’s young scholar, touch-typing is part of the electronic revolution. Computers demand it. 

When I was about 20 I got a job as a reporter and was sent off to a college for cadet journalists. There, 15 or so of us, all men, were confronted by a very patient lady from the local typing school, and a host of battered typewriters.

Now, I have to tell you that we men thought touch-typing was a bit sissy, and the faster and better you typed, the more sissified you were. We did have enough sense to learn sufficient touch-typing to pass the tests, but as soon as we got back to our respective newspapers all over the country, we stopped touch-typing and went back to our former tough-guy ways of hunting and pecking with two fingers.

Two-finger typing was OK. We figured if cowboys typed, they’d use two fingers. James Bond, too. And just in case anyone had any doubts about our masculinity, we used really bad swearwords while we typed, and smoked like crazy. Unfiltered cigarettes, of course.

Having to type your stories was the biggest drawback to reporting. There was always that little nagging feeling that typing was women’s work. In those days, typists sat in typing pools, occasionally exposing their legs to be admired when manly reporters walked past. I know this isn’t politically correct now but it was condoned then by everyone except a small and vociferous band of women journalists who were busy trying to get the editor to change the name of the Women’s Pages to Lifestyle. I’m not saying any of this was right or wrong. I’m just reporting the facts.

There was one big advantage to two-finger typing. It created a mechanical barrier between your brain and your fingertips, a microsecond in which you could exercise some critical judgment and editing before the words spilled out onto the paper. It resulted in shorter, snappier, more logical stories, we felt, and earned us the love and respect of the copy editors.

There was a woman reporter on one paper I worked for who could type like greased lightning. When she sat down behind her Underwood her fingers were a blur, a sort of fleshy haze of furious motion, and the typefaces actually whistled through the air before crashing into the paper like tiny meteorites. But we men reporters were not in the least bit jealous of her proficiency because the copy editors hated her.

Her thoughts just poured straight out of her fingertips in torrents uninterrupted by logic or brevity. Her stories were always too long and rambling. You could hear the groans from the copy editors’ room when a story of hers reached them, and some poor copy editor had to slash and patch for 20 minutes while the air turned blue around him.

I fear for what’s happening today. If computers are teaching boys that there’s no shame in touch-typing, the world of written words is about to be flooded with unrestrained verbiage. Maybe it is already. I’m sure glad I’m not a copy editor.

Today’s Thought
If there’s a hole in a’ your coats,
I rede you tent it:
A chield’s amang you takin’ notes,
And faith he prent it.
— Robert Burns, On the Late Captain Grose’s Peregrinations Thro’ Scotland

“What did you get your girl friend for her birthday?”
“I gave her a bikini.”
“Why a bikini?”
“I’m hoping to see her beam with delight.”

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

October 2, 2012

A swimming champion

THE LATEST ISSUE of BoatU.S. magazine contains a story about the salvaging of a 40-foot sailboat that went aground late one night off the south jetty of Oceanside Harbor, California.  As salvage stories go, there was nothing too remarkable about this one.  A commercial tow-boat was called in and dragged the sailboat by brute force into deeper water.  No one was hurt and there was no serious damage. But one remarkable aspect of the story seems to have been rather glossed over by BoatU.S. in its desire to emphasize the role played by its own rescue-boat agency, Vessel Assist.

According to the article, when the call from the stranded skipper arrived at the office of Vessel Assist in San Diego, they quickly loaded a 34-foot tow-boat called Shelter Island, and got under way for Oceanside, a trip of about an hour.  There they got a line to the sailboat and slowly towed her off toward the open ocean.

It’s the bit about how they got the line to the boat that seems remarkable to me.

“Once Shelter Island arrived, shallow water forced the towers to stay almost a quarter-mile away from the jetty, which meant that 1,200 feet of 1/2-inch towline would have to be taken to the sailboat through breaking waves and against an outgoing tide by a swimmer — Captain Shane Thompson. This would’ve been all but impossible with nylon rope, but the crew had taken time to load a remarkably strong Amsteel Blue line, which floats.”

Now I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to tow a long line behind you in the water, but it’s damned difficult.  Even if it’s floating, there is a tremendous drag from 1,200 feet of line. Simply swimming yourself ashore (presumably in a wet-suit in that cold water) against breaking waves and an outgoing tide would be difficult enough, but fetching in a half-inch line the length of four football fields under those conditions is almost superhuman.

That’s a job for a shallow outboard dinghy, or a personal watercraft, neither of which the Shelter Island was carrying, I presume.  In any case, if the BoatU.S. story is correct, Captain Shane Thompson, a technical dive instructor, did a mighty fine job and deserves the highest of accolades.  He must be some swimmer.

Today’s Thought
I saw him beat the surges under him,
And ride upon their backs; . . . his bold head
’Bove the contentious waves he kept, and oar’d
Himself with his good arms in lusty stroke.
— Shakespeare, The Tempest

Did you hear that all the toilets in New York’s police stations have been stolen? So far, the police have nothing to go on.

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