June 30, 2013

Boats that hold resale value

WHEN I RAN INTO Old Wotsisname recently he was idly wondering what his ancient concrete boat is worth.

“Thinking of selling?” I asked.

“Just wondering,” he said vaguely. He plays his cards very close to his chest.

I didn’t dare venture an opinion of how much someone might be prepared to pay him. He doesn’t take bad news too well.

The fact is that the market value of some boats drops quicker than others, and his is one of the quick-drop ones. This often comes as an unwelcome surprise when it’s time to sell your boat.

Here are some of the things about sailboats that give them good resale value:

Fiberglass hulls; first-class workmanship from reputable manufacturers; white hulls; conservative rigs; good sails; expensive fittings; clean diesel engines with low hours; sweet-smelling cabins and lockers; dry clean bilges; good ventilation; pretty sheerlines; low coachhouses; and bronze seacocks.

Here are some of the things that lower a boat’s resale value:

Hulls of steel, concrete, or wood (with the exception of modern wood/epoxy construction); one-off racing hulls; blistered gel coat; flimsy construction; a reputation for weather helm; hull colors other than white; experimental rigs; blown-out sails; cheap fittings; neglected gasoline engines; musty smells down below; worn upholstery; dirty, wet, oily bilges; lack of ventilation; unknown designers; ugly deckhouses; in-mast or in-boom reefing; centerboards; unusually skinny or beamy hulls; gate valves instead of seacocks; rust anywhere; and smelly heads.

According to the experts, the resale value of the average 10-year-old steel boat declines by about 50 percent, and ferro-concrete hulls slightly more.

The same experts maintain that you can increase a boat’s value by 10 percent when you want to sell by moving all your personal gear off and scrubbing everything spotlessly clean.

Today’s Thought
If you don’t sell, it’s not the product that’s wrong, it’s you.
— Estée Lauder

Television is the device that acquaints you with all the things going on in the outside world that you would be part of if you weren’t sitting inside watching television.

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June 27, 2013

Tracing the source of leaks

IF THERE WERE any justice, a fiberglass boat wouldn’t leak. After all it’s built like an eggshell. How could water get in?

All too easily, apparently, because there IS no justice. The trouble is that fiberglass hulls have holes in them. In most cases, the number of holes is comparatively small — dozens or scores — but in others it can be in the hundreds.

Most boats have large fittings that let fluids pass right through the hull, in and out. The engine cooling water comes in that way, for example, and water for flushing the head goes out that way when the Coasties aren’t watching. The galley sink drains that way, too.

The through-hull fittings are bedded in compounds to prevent leaks, but as boats age, the compound shifts, oozes out, or becomes more brittle, allowing water to enter. Old seacocks often leak, too.

All boats have holes through the deck and cabintop for various fittings, and some have hundreds of holes for screws holding down strips of teak decking. In theory, all these holes are sealed. In practice, many will leak when it rains or when spray hits the deck. And if you have a cabin liner, or ceiling boards on the cabin sides, tracing the source of a leak is notoriously difficult.

This may sound a bit whacky, but the best way to find where the water’s coming from is to seal the boat and pump in air at low pressure. Brush soapy water over the superstructure and watch for bubbles.

You can use duct tape and butyl putty to seal the hatches and ventilation holes temporarily, and the air pressure doesn’t have to be high. A few pounds per square inch will do it.

Today’s Thought
Where least expected, water breaks forth.
— Italian proverb

I want to know
How fireflies glow.
Do they carry
Little Exides
Slung beneath
Their tiny bexides?

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June 25, 2013

We can't get enough of it

BOATS NEVER CARRY ENOUGH fresh water for the likes of their crews. Water is simply too heavy and bulky to waste on daily showers and washing clothes. Only really big vessels have sufficient tankage for those purposes, so we lesser mortals have to struggle along with a lick here and a spit there, getting smellier by the nautical mile.

There are machines that make fresh water from the sea, which would seem to be the answer, but they’re beyond the resources of most of us, simply too expensive to buy and maintain.

Many long-distance cruisers manage to catch enough rain to keep their tanks topped up. Some collect rainwater in a bucket where it runs in a stream off the mainsail at the gooseneck. Others plug the cockpit drains and siphon the water into the tanks below. If you carry a dinghy upright on deck it could also be an extra catchment area.

You should let the first few minutes of a rainstorm wash away the dirt from sails and decks before you start collecting, of course, if you need drinking water. Otherwise, you can use slightly tainted water for showers or washing clothes.

And, incidentally, you can often scoop fresh water off the surface of the sea after really heavy rain in calm conditions. It floats on top of the denser salt water. Just don’t dip too deep.

Today’s Thought
Rain hangs about the place like a friendly ghost. ... if it’s not coming down in delicate droplets, then it’s in buckets; and if neither, it tends to lurk suspiciously in the atmosphere.
— Barbara Acton-Bond, “The Anglicization of Me,” CSM 21 Jul 82

I’m told that Orville and Wilbur Wright, those pioneers of flight, were notoriously diffident about speaking in public.
Nevertheless, at one lunch they attended, the master of ceremonies called upon Wilbur to say a few words.
“There must be some mistake,” he stammered.  “Orville is the one who does the talking.”
Orville dutifully rose and announced:  “Wilbur just made the speech.”

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June 23, 2013

The day I said no to a poet

YESTERDAY I WAS READING for the umpteenth time — and trying to understand, with as little success as usual — a book by a former casual friend of mine. It’s called Selected Poems, 1984, and was written by the late Douglas Livingstone. 

And, as usual, I was riven by longstanding guilt for not letting him row my boat.

Livingstone was a brilliant thinker, with doctorates in science and literature. He was a highly respected marine biologist and South Africa’s leading poet, a writer of world standard.  He and his lover, Monica Fairall, a former Miss South Africa, were guests that my wife June had invited to a little party on our 31-foot sloop, which we were preparing for a long overseas trip. Among the other guests, recognized authors, journalists, and broadcasters, was a young woman who had been studying Yeats at university in Ireland.  She was an admirer of Livingstone’s work and beside herself with excitement at the thought of being able to meet him and discuss his work, and poetry in general, with him.

I rowed the guests out to our mooring on Durban Bay in our old Mirror dinghy.  I had to make several trips and go carefully because the screws holding one rowlock had worked loose and no amount of tightening with a screwdriver would firm them up again.

I wasn’t worried about losing the use of one oar completely, because I was an accomplished sculler and the Mirror’s transom had been specially fitted with a rowlock for this purpose. But in fact the day was calm and I managed to get everybody safely on board without having to revert to sculling.

We soon discovered, however, that our poet friend was having a bad day. He turned inward and wouldn’t speak to anybody, much to the disappointment of the young lady studying Yeats. He sat disconsolately on deck on his own, just abaft the mast, and wouldn’t be mollified by talk or consoled with drink.

Eventually, however, he asked if he could go off on his own in the dinghy.  I asked him if he could scull with one oar over the stern.

“No,” he said.

“Then I’m sorry,” I said.  “The damaged rowlock might give way completely and you might find yourself stranded somewhere.”

He didn’t protest. He didn’t say anything. He just glared at me.
I went below and tried to inject some jolliness into the somber conversation, but it was uphill going while that brooding presence skulked overhead.  There was nothing June or I could do to save that particular party.

After the party, after we had transferred our glum guests to the shore, I said to June:  “I should have let him take the dinghy. Exercise might have chased away his emotional devils, and he might have come back in a better mood. You have to give some slack to brilliant men like him no matter how rudely they behave.”

“And you might have had to call the police boat to rescue him,” June pointed out. “Besides, we had no other way to get ashore.”

To this day I regret not letting him go for a solo ride in the Mirror.  Who knows what poetic fancies he might have conceived along the way. He might even have written a poem about me. (Maybe he did.  I don’t understand his work very well. It’s way above my fire-make place, as they say in Afrikaans.)

My copy of Selected Poems is signed by Douglas Livingstone and inscribed to June and me “with love.” But I rather suspect he didn’t feel much love for me the day I told him he couldn’t go for a row in my dinghy.

Today’s Thought
I don’t think I am any good. If I thought I was any good, I wouldn’t be.
— John Betjeman, People, 2 Jul 84

“Did you get the license plate of the hit-and-run driver who knocked you down?”
“No, but I’d recognize my mother-in-law’s laugh anywhere.”

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June 20, 2013

Natural tools for boaters

THERE ARE OFTEN TIMES on a boat when you don’t have the right tools for the job at hand. But fear not, there is usually a way out of this difficulty.  I like to think of it as Natural Tools for Yachtsmen (and yachtsladies, of course).

The natural tools I’m thinking of are always readily available. In fact, you’re never without them. I’m referring to the teeth, tongue, toes, nails, armpits, elbows, lips, chin, fingers, and other tools with which nature has kindly provided you.

Here, in no particular order, is a list of the ways in which you might use these tools:

Teeth: Gripping mainsheet; holding a flashlight; cutting twine; frightening noisy kids.

Tongue: Removing jam, tuna, etc. from messy can openers.

Toes:  Feeling for tools you dropped into bilgewater;  testing the temperature of water before swimming.

Nails: Undoing small slot-headed screws;  picking eyes out of potatoes; slitting open envelopes; cutting off electrical tape; scraping dried varnish blobs off deck.

Armpit: Gripping the jib sheet; holding the tiller while you haul in the mainsheet.

Elbows: Holding down the jib you just dropped on the foredeck.

Lips: Holding small nails or screws; tasting bilge water to find out if it’s salt water, rain water, or holding-tank overflow.

Fingers: Opening shackles; poking into wood to find rot; testing the temperature of beer;  removing wax from your ear.

Ears: Holding pencils and glasses in place; preventing hat from dropping over face.

Knees: Pinning down cockpit cushions in a breeze.

Thumbs: Protecting teak from damage when you’re hammering in nails.

I don’t doubt there are several other body parts that could double as tools in certain circumstances. Eyelids, perhaps? Eyelids must be of some use, apart from fluttering at passing girls. And buttocks? Buttocks are very powerful when clenched.  Could be a substitute for a vise, surely, but you’d need a partner to help with the actual work in the vise.

In any case, there’s no need to despair when you’re caught without tools. There are all sorts of dingly-dangly bits on your body and mine that might be pressed into use in emergencies. Just put your mind to it and select the right natural tool for the job.

Today’s Thought
The human body is the magazine of inventions, the patent office, where are the models from which every hint is taken. All the tools and engines on earth are only extensions of its limbs and senses.
— Emerson, Society and Solitude: Works and Days

Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today, because if you enjoy it you can do it again tomorrow, and if you don’t, you haven’t messed up another day.

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June 18, 2013

Propeller whys and wherefores

WHY ARE SOME propellers two-bladed and some three-bladed? Why are some fixed, some feathering, and some folding?

It’s all a question of compromise. In the sizes, and at the speeds, usually found in auxiliary sailboats with fixed propellers, a two-bladed prop is often the most efficient.

But sometimes there just isn’t sufficient clearance between the shaft and the hull to accommodate those long thin blades. So the load is spread among three broader blades of smaller diameter. Each blade here is working in water slightly more disturbed by its predecessor than a two-bladed prop would be, so it’s slightly less efficient.

But a three-bladed prop is less prone to vibration than is a two-bladed one, and needs less of a hole cut in the rudder, if that’s the way it’s fitted.

A two-bladed prop, on the other hand, can be nicely lined up vertically behind the rudder post and so avoid much of the drag of a three-bladed prop. And so it goes. In the end, the best advice is probably to fit a two-bladed prop if you can, a three-bladed one if you can’t, and stop worrying about it.

A folding prop causes very little drag, but is prone not to open at all if a fat barnacle grows in the wrong place. So folding props are more suited to racing yachts than to cruisers. Folding props can be tricky in reverse and sometimes need a transmission with a higher than normal astern-gear ratio to make them open properly.

Adjustable pitch props require no gearbox or clutch but are quite rare, presumably because the sophisticated mechanism needed to vary the pitch under way is expensive and more prone to malfunction than are a simple prop and gearbox.

An automatic feathering prop, such as the Max-Prop, reduces drag while sailing, but its fine engineering makes it too expensive for most cruising yachts, which happily drag fixed, reliable three-bladed props around the oceans of the world.

Today’s Thought
As when the devilish iron engine, wrought
In deepest hell, and fram’d by fury’s skill,
With windy nitre and quick sulphur fraught,
And ramm’d with bullet round, ordain’d to kill,
Conceiveth fire, the heavens it doth fill
With thundering noise, and all the air doth choke,
That none can breathe, nor see, not hear at will,
Through smouldry cloud of duskish stinking smoke,
That th’onely breath him daunts, who hath escap’d the stroke.

— Spenser, Faerie Queene

The problem with the person who has an hour to kill is that he inevitably wants to spend it with someone who hasn’t a minute to spare.

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June 16, 2013

Finding true paradise

ONE OF MY FAVORITE cruising blogs is written by a young couple from Seattle who are now in the South Pacific. They haven't  been there long but it's wonderful to hear how delighted they are with everything. They keep saying: “This is paradise.”

Now, it has somehow been drummed into us from a very early age that paradise consists of a desert island with palm trees, golden beaches, coconut palms, and warm, turquoise water. The dictionary describes paradise as the Garden of Eden, or alternately, “any place or condition of great happiness.”

I have visited a few places that fit the description of paradise during my wanderings on boats and I learned a useful lesson.  Paradise doesn’t last.  Paradise is paradise when you first get there, at least when you get to the first one. But paradise becomes less of a condition of great happiness the longer you stay there.  And by the time you have moved on to your second or third paradise it becomes the normal old humdrum life you wanted to escape from in the first place.

The lesson I learned is that paradise isn’t a place but a state of mind. You can find yourself in paradise in any place where you happen to be at the moment.

There are some aspects of those tropical paradises of the South Seas and the Virgin Islands that you rarely hear about. Loathsome cockroaches for a start. No ice-cream parlors. No fresh produce. No movie theaters. No pubs. No hospitals or even doctors. No diesel fuel when you need it most, or any of the other trappings of civilization that we have gotten used to. In short, after a few days or weeks, paradise isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

I’m not saying it’s a waste of time to explore the South Seas.  Just don’t expect it to be one continuous paradise, that’s all.  Desert islands are wonderful places to explore in the short term, but most humans thrive on change. They need to be stimulated and challenged.  We’re also
gregarious animals and need to meet new people and cope with different circumstances. One desert island soon becomes like any other desert island and paradise gradually begins to look like the drippy old Pacific Northwest from which you fled in the first place.

If paradise is a condition of great happiness, as the dictionary suggests, then cruising in a sailboat too often produces happiness at too great a cost, which leads in turn to great unhappiness, unless you’re a multi-millionaire.

The fact is that you can’t buy paradise, or even happiness, with expensive equipment. The joys of cruising are serendipitous. The more directly you pursue them, the more they elude you. But if you go about the honest business of guiding your boat from one harbor to another, doing an honest day’s work as any good sailor might, then happiness will creep upon you when you’re not looking, and ambush you.

That’s the true definition of paradise.


Today’s Thought
Where choice begins, Paradise ends, innocence ends, for what is Paradise but the absence of any need to choose this action?
— Arthur Miller, After the Fall

Quote from The Guardian, London:
“American record-holder Rowdy Gaines was surprisingly eaten by Bruce Hughes in the men’s 200 meters freestyle.”

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June 13, 2013

A new oath for the Coasties

I DON’T KNOW WHY there is so much fuss about the U.S. government collecting all that information about its private citizens from phone companies and internet providers. Who amongst us still believes that we live in a democracy where citizens have rights to privacy and freedom from unreasonable searches?  Certainly no one with a boat ought to believe it.

The U.S. Coast Guard, a branch of the military, force their way aboard commercial and private boats in U.S. and foreign waters every day wearing combat boots and sidearms. They don’t ask permission to board. They don’t have to. Congress okays it. The Supreme Court okays it.

But what about the Fourth Amendment, you ask.  Doesn’t the Coast Guard know that the Fourth Amendment is the part of the Bill of Rights that guards against unreasonable searches and seizures?  Don’t they know that the Fourth Amendment requires any search warrant to be approved by a judge and supported by probable cause?

Yes, they know, all right. Congress knows, too.  So does the Supreme Court.  But just as Congress and the White House and the judiciary support searches of travelers in airports without probable cause, and wiretapping of ordinary U.S. citizens without cause, so also do they turn a blind eye to the transgression of the Fourth Amendment that results in armed Coast Guard raids on innocent sailing and power vessels, sometimes even in port at night, but mostly while they’re under way.

We like to boast to other nations about the democratic safeguards inherent in the Fourth Amendment that prevent a takeover of America by a despot or a military junta. That’s a joke if you’re a boater.  We’ve already been taken over.

The website SailFree, which I believe is attached to Sail magazine, raises an interesting point in an article by Clark Beek. He says each member of the Coast Guard has to swear an oath of office that goes like this:

“I____do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same, that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office I am about to enter. So help me God.”

Maybe, says Beek,  they need to change it to:

“I____do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States, except the Fourth Amendment part. Except for the Fourth Amendment I will defend the Constitution against all enemies . . . “

So let’s not pretend to be upset by the whistleblower revelations that the U.S. government has already turned into Big Brother.  You’ve either got to be a hypocrite or mentally challenged to believe that we live in a democracy in which our elected representatives carry out the will of the people.

Today’s Thought
The struggle against demagoguery scarcely fits the St. George-against-the-dragon myth . . . Our democratic St. George goes out rather reluctantly with armor awry.
— Norman Thomas, NY Times 2 Dec 84

When his personal assistant kept making one mistake after another, the boss couldn’t stand it any longer.
“What’s the matter with you?” he demanded.  “Are you in love or something?”
“Of course not,” the assistant said indignantly. “I’m a married woman.”

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June 11, 2013

The lost 10 centuries

I WAS FASCINATED RECENTLY to read a paper that claimed in the year 1000, Mediterranean ships were no better than those built a thousand years earlier.  In other words, no progress was made in ship design or construction in 10 centuries.

It reminded me of something I read somewhere long ago that claimed the principle of the wood plane was lost after the Roman empire collapsed and it wasn’t until hundreds of years later, after the Dark Ages were over, that someone re-discovered the principle of this valuable little tool. Isn’t that extraordinary?  How can people just simply forget how to make a plane?

In any case, Mediterranean ships in the year 1000 were rigged with squaresails that were, of course, no good for getting to windward, so that any voyage that involved beating against the wind was likely to be extremely lengthy and uncertain.

The paper I was reading, The Role of Energy in Western Growth, recalled the experience of St. Paul who was sent as a prisoner from Syria to Rome. His vessel, with 276 people aboard, skirted the coast northward, intending to winter in Crete. But she was hit by a storm, driven for two whole weeks in damaged condition, and finally ran aground in Malta.

It wasn’t for hundreds of years after the year 1000 that Mediterranean ships finally were able to make better progress against the wind, notably through the invention and adoption of the Arabic lateen rig — still seen in use today on many vessels, including Arab dhows and American sailing dinghies.  In fact, the modern sloop is basically a lateen sail split into two separate pieces.

The lateen rig, plus the appearance of better charts, pilot charts, and tide tables, increased the productivity of Venetian ships, which previously had not dared the passage to Egypt between October and April.  They could now make two return voyages to a year from Venice to Alexandria instead of just one.

In the 13th century more significant improvements were made, including the adoption of the magnetic compass, the Venetian sandglass for accurate timing of log lines, and the wooden traverse board, which helped the navigator with his dead reckoning.  There was steady progress after that in ship design and construction, as well as improved methods of finding latitude, so that between 1470 and 1820 Western Europe’s merchant fleet increased by about 17-fold, sponsoring the growth of an age of comparative prosperity.

But my mind still boggles over those lost 1,000 years when development in the maritime world stood still in the West, and the Vikings, still using the old methods of building what were basically large rowing boats, were nevertheless employing the latest in technology — and using it to frighten the pants off everybody.

Today’s Thought
There is a period of life when we go back as we advance.
— Rousseau, Émile

A professor of chemistry walked into a pharmacy.
“Give me some of those small round tablets of the monacetic acidester of salicylic acid,” he said.
“You mean aspirin?” said the pharmacist.
“Yeah, that’s it,” cried the professor.  “I can never remember that name.”

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June 9, 2013

Jordan's aid to safety at sea

A FRIEND ASKED ME the other day what I know about Jordan’s Drogue. The answer  was: “Not much. I’ve never used one.” But I do know that Donald Jordan invented a so-called “series drogue” in conjunction with the U.S. Coast Guard after the Fastnet tragedy of 1979. At that time, much attention was focused on the question of preventing sailboats from capsizing.

Jordan indicated that the following characteristics of small sailboats discouraged capsizing:

Ø Heavy displacement

Ø A low center of gravity

Ø Moderate freeboard

Ø Narrow beam

Ø A tall, heavy mast

He subsequently devised a new type of drogue to help boats ride out storms. It’s the kind of drogue that you send over the stern to slow you down and keep you safely stern-on to the seas when you’re running under bare masts. It consists of many 5-inch-diameter cones made of sailcloth and fastened around a nylon anchor rode at intervals of about 20 inches.

By this means, a constant tension is maintained on all parts of the rode, thus avoiding the dangerous tendency of an ordinary drogue to tumble or get washed forward with the passage of a breaking sea. When that happens and the stern is temporarily unrestrained, the boat can broach to and be thrown over on her beam ends. With the Jordan drogue in place, if the boat hesitates in a trough, the weight at the far end of the drogue starts to sink and immediately removes the slack from the rode.

Some people make up their own Jordan drogues but it involves a lot of sewing and might best be left to a sailmaker to fabricate, although there are kits available. It’s estimated that a boat displacing about 10,000 pounds needs 100 cones, or droguelets, but a boat displacing twice as much needs only 16 more, and a 30,000-pound boat needs only 132 cones. So a series drogue is particularly good value for larger boats.

If you need to know more about this interesting drogue, there’s plenty of information on the web. Just Google “Jordan’s Drogue” and be amazed by what pops up.

Today’s Thought
Most of us, I suppose, are a little nervous of the sea.
— H. M. Tomlinson

An Irish priest was trying to console a woman who had just lost her father.
“And what were your father’s last words?” he asked.
“Oh, me father had no last words,” she replied. “Me mother was with him till the end.”

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June 6, 2013

Capt. Carefree Flower Power

I AM SOMEWHAT dismayed to see that Teleflora is urging the public to celebrate forthcoming Father’s Day with a “Captain Carefree Bouquet.”  It consists of a blue ceramic bowl filled with frilly flowers and a small white sail.  I am dismayed because I wouldn’t want the general public to think that any of the macho skippers I know would want to be labeled as Captain Carefree.

In the first place, my old Concise Oxford Dictionary, which was apparently published shortly after The Ark grounded on Mt. Ararat, defines carefree as “gay.” I know the meaning of gay has changed since Noah’s time, but “carefree” to me still suggests twinkle-toed and limp-wristed. Nothing wrong with that, of course, in these days of equal gender rights, but it does tend to mislead people about the character of  the broad-chested mighty men who skipper sailboats.

We’re hot-blooded pirates at heart, dammit.  Captain Blackbeards, all of us, charged by nature to loot and burn and drink hard liquor and chase comely women.  What would we do with a fancy Captain Carefree Bouquet consisting of yellow spray roses, blue delphiniums, and white daisy spray chrysanthemums in “a blue keepsake sailboat” that doesn’t even have a rudder or a keel?

People are forever saying that it’s the thought that counts, and that’s what worries me.  Apparently Teleflora thinks it’s okay for people to spend from $40 to $60 for Father’s Day flowers  more suitable for a lady’s boudoir than a captain’s cabin. They call the most expensive $60 Captain Carefree Bouquet the “premium.” I can’t imagine what the difference, is except that maybe they throw in a few extra pansies.

Hell, if you want to send us flowers for Father’s Day, lord help us, at least make it a keepsake beer mug filled with poison ivy, stinging nettles, toadstools, deadly nightshade, snakegrass and other manly stuff.  (Just not Brussels sprouts, okay?  There are limits.)

Otherwise, forget the blue delphiniums and just send the money. Sixty dollars-worth of, say, Captain Morgan rum would make a sailing father far happier than $60-worth of fancy flowers on his special day.

Today’s Thought
I marched the lobby, twirled my stick, . . .
The girls all cried, “He’s quite the kick.”
— George Colman the Younger, Broad Grins

Two houseflies met on the ceiling of a luxury apartment in New York.
“Aren’t humans strange?” said one.
“They sure are,” said the other, “but what made you mention it?”
“Well, I was just thinking — they spend a small fortune building a lovely ceiling like this, and then they go and walk on the floor.”

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June 4, 2013

You need to know about toggles

I HOPE YOU KNOW about toggles. It’s quite important that you should. And no, they’re not the things that keep Boy Scouts’ scarves neatly wrapped around their necks. Those are woggles, not toggles. Big difference.

The reason you should know about toggles is that the wires holding up your mast are subject to metal fatigue where they join the mast and the hull. The problem is vibration, or repeated cycling and flexing. Most metal, if you repeatedly work it back and forth, will crack and break.

Only a year after the world’s first commercial jetliner, the De Havilland Comet, was put into service, Comets started to fall out of the sky. Extensive investigation revealed a devastating design flaw — metal fatigue. The constant stress of repressurization would weaken an area of the fuselage near the Comet's square-shaped windows and the wings broke off. In those early days, the effect of metal fatigue through flexing was not sufficiently understood.

A similar thing can happen to your stays and shrouds if they’re not properly attached. While the result may not be as catastrophic, it’s inconvenient, to say the least, to have your mast fall down.

Even though your rigging appears to be firmly attached at either end, it’s actually able to flex slightly under certain circumstances. Even when your boat is at the dock, or at anchor, the wires will jiggle back and forth when the wind is right. You might also have noticed the jingling noise the rigging makes sometimes when the engine is running. That means it’s flexing, and the effect of all this jiggling back and forth is cumulative.

The answer is to use small universal joints at the mast tang and the hull chainplates. These are known as toggles, and they allow the wire to jiggle to its heart’s content in all directions without getting bent. And if it doesn’t get bent, it won’t get fatigued.

Some turnbuckles have toggles built in, but many do not. If you desire your fair share of peace of mind, and if you want to sleep at night, especially at sea, be sure to check yours.

Today’s Thought

Coffee stains on the flip-down trays mean (to the passengers) that we do our engine maintenance wrong.

— Donald C. Burr, former chairman, People Express Airlines


An Irish priest offered  $5 to the boy in his divinity class who could name the greatest man in history.

“George Washington,” said one.

“Julius Caesar,” said another.

“St. Patrick!” shouted a little Jewish boy.

The priest awarded him the $5 and said:  “What made you say St. Patrick?”

“Well, sir,” said the boy, “I know the real answer is Moses — but business is business.”

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June 2, 2013

The case of the missing corkscrew

TO MY UTTER ASTONISHMENT, West Marine is asking $115 for a Leatherman tool without a corkscrew.  Now West Marine is one of the largest retailers of boating equipment in the world. You’d think they’d know that when seasoned boaters buy the marine equivalent of a Swiss Army knife, they take for granted the fact that it features the two tools dearest to their hearts, a gadget for removing Boy Scouts from horses’ hooves and a corkscrew for removing stoppers from bottles of wine.

I actually own two Leathermans (Leathermen), one that was given to me years ago by my dear wife and one that I found on a deserted beach on the wild side of Vancouver Island.  I naturally assumed they came with corkscrews, but yesterday I had a good look, and I’ll be darned if neither of them has a corkscrew.

Now, I am not an oenophile myself, otherwise I would have realized this long ago, but I know it’s dangerous to get between a sailor and his wine. I am a beer drinker myself, having been brought up in a family where drinking fancy-schmancy wine was for poofters, though I have learned to moderate those views slightly over the intervening years. Both my Leathermans, although bereft of corkscrews, have bottle-cap removers that will remove the cap from a beer bottle with jolly ease. 

The makers of beer seem better to appreciate the danger of separating a sailor from his grog, and make it relatively easy to open cans and bottles of beer, even without special bottle openers.  I also know (and greatly admire) some yachties who can remove caps from beer bottles with their teeth — mostly Australians who were weaned on beer and  encouraged by their dads to practice cap removal from the time the first teeth appeared in their tiny gums.

But there is little more frustrating than not being able to reap the benefit of a bottle of wine because you can’t get the damned cork out. It’s true that there are some enlightened vintners who sell wine with screw-off caps but even we beer drinkers know that the cork-pulling majority look down upon screw-off wines.  They scoff even more at wine sold in boxes with plastic liners, which I think is cleverest solution to the wine drinking problem that anybody ever came up with.

Sailors are resourceful people, however, and I have heard of cases where, in extremis, they simply knocked the neck off the bottle with a hammer.  You have to have a lady’s stocking handy if you do this, however, to strain the slivers of glass out of the wine, and a lady willing to donate one. Other frustrated sailors have rummaged in their tool boxes and found a long thin screw to plunge into the cork, after which a pair of pliers can be used to remove the cork with a combination of brute force and desperation.

Finally, I have to note that the latest flier from West Marine says they’re going to have a Leatherman sale soon. The price of the $115 model lacking a corkscrew has plummeted to $49.99. This is an extraordinary discount, of course.  I think it must be a manifestation of lingering guilt. But no matter how far they lower the price, they’ll never be forgiven fully until the Boy Scout remover has a proper little corkscrew right alongside it.

Today’s Thought
If you find an Australian indoors, it’s a fair bet that he will have a glass in his hand.
— Jonathan Aitken, Land of Fortune

Workers earn it, spendthrifts burn it;
Bankers lend it, women spend it;
Forgers fake it, taxes take it.
I could use it.

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