July 30, 2013

The boat that stays in touch

IT’S STRANGE how one particular boat keeps popping up in your life. I suppose boats become part of the family. Like the kids when they leave home, they keep in touch occasionally — at least, as often as seems necessary to them.

A 30-foot sloop called Freelance was part of our family for only about three years;  but we did share a big adventure. She was young then, just five years old and born in South Africa.

Now she’s 33 and swinging to a mooring in Portsmouth, England.

We sold her in Florida in 1987 and headed west. We didn’t hear from her for years until she suddenly came up for sale in the 1990s. I flew to Florida to see her with intention of buying her back, and was heart-broken at her condition: rust, rot, filth, mildew, cockroaches. Almost everything that could be removed and sold had been removed and sold. The engine control lever was a rusted pair of Vise-Grips.

I made a low-ball offer, which apparently wasn’t enough to cover the bank loan still remaining.

She was eventually bought by a South African who saved her life and her soul. Every few years he would check in with me. Last time he contacted me, Freelance was on the hard in Grenada, West Indies, sitting out the hurricane season. Finally he sailed her to Spain and put her up for sale there.  I thought seriously about buying her back, but as I live on the west coast of America it would have been a very long delivery voyage home, via the Panama Canal or The Horn. I just didn’t have the time or the money.

Out of the blue yesterday I got an e-mail from a stranger in England, giving me details of the present British owner and where he keeps Freelance.  And so the saga continues. One of these days I fully expect someone to buy her, sail her round the Horn, bring her up here to Seattle, and give her to me. Of course, I’ll have to give her right back, because I’ll be too old to sail by then. But it will be a nice gesture.

Today’s Thought
He who joins in sport with his own family will never be dull to strangers.
— Plautus, Trinummus

“What’s all that celebrating in the clubhouse?”
“My wife did it in one.”
“She hit a hole in one?”
“No — she managed to hit the ball in one.”

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July 28, 2013

All about noble sacrifices

WHAT DO YOU KNOW about the Galvanic Series? It sure doesn’t sound very exciting, unless you are a proton or an electron, but it’s of vital importance to boaters. It’s an indication of what metal on your boat is likely to eat some other metal, perhaps a bit that’s keeping the vessel afloat.

Galvanic corrosion begins when two metals far apart in the Galvanic series are connected under water by a conductor. They form a rudimentary electric cell, in which electrolytic corrosion eats away the less “noble” metal. The process even takes place out of water, between, for example, the aluminum in a mast and the stainless-steel screws holding a fitting in place.

Metals close together in the Galvanic Series have little or no reaction with each other, but the farther apart they are, the more vigorous the corrosion. For example, a copper nail that falls into the seawater bilge of an aluminum boat will eventually eat a hole right through it, as the less noble metal, aluminum, corrodes away.

Here is a shortened version of the Galvanic Series, showing the metals most used on boats. It starts with the least noble metals, the ones that will be sacrificed, and ends with the most noble metals, which will be spared:




        Mild steel

        Stainless steel (active)








        Stainless steel (passive)     

Note that stainless steel will corrode almost as fast as mild steel in its active state, when it is in still water with no access to oxygen. But when it has a ready supply of oxygen from air or from water, it is passive.

Today’s Thought
True science teaches, above all, to doubt and to be ignorant.
— Manuel de Unamano, The Tragic Sense of Life

Money isn’t everything. In fact, at the end of the month you’ll find it’s nothing at all.

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July 25, 2013

Cleats and the bottom line

BOATBUILDERS ARE notoriously mean with the size of cleats they supply. Perhaps they have daintier fingers than common sailors or use thinner lines but I think it far more likely that it’s the bottom line that makes their decision for them.

They fear the wrath of the firm’s ferocious financial manager much more than the complaints of a wimpy bunch of sailors, so they inevitably install smaller, cheaper cleats that simply won’t accept a decent couple of turns of a jib sheet or main halyard with a locking turn on top.

Now we shouldn’t have to put up with this. There are enough frustrations on small sailboats without our having to wrestle with piddling, undersized cleats on a bucking, heeling deck.

Throw the little monsters out. Give them to your dinghy-racing friends. Replace them with sailor-sized cleats and bolt them firmly in place.

The length of a proper cleat is 16 times the diameter of the line used with it. That means nothing less than a 6-inch cleat for 3/8-inch line, or an 8-inch cleat for a half-inch anchor line.

And incidentally, if you fasten a cleat so that it’s angled about 15 degrees across the line of pull, the line won’t jam on itself.
Today’s Thought
Size is a matter of opinion.
— George Meredith, Richard Feverel
Confucius say fat in human like sugar in coffee — always settle on bottom.

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July 23, 2013

Meet the real yachting heroes

CRUISING STORIES often make heroes of deck crews who brave howling winds and fearsome waves to navigate a small sailboat across an ocean. Very rarely do they give credit to the real hero, the cook.

Galley space is very limited on a small boat, and the galley tilts and lurches so violently that in heavy weather it’s impossible to do more than boil water or heat a can of soup.

You have to plan your cooking step by tedious step. You can’t just set a dish down on the counter. It will be flung off immediately. You can’t even perform a simple act such as pouring from a kettle into a mug until you know the trick, which is to hold one in each hand and pour fore-and-aft, never athwartships.

The fiddles and potholders are never high enough, the galley stores are always buried way up forward, and at the end of it all the crew ... well, the no-good crew will either spurn your meal because they’re seasick or complain that you never, ever give them enough.    

The cooks are the ones who deserve the medals.

Finally, here’s a tip to get you into the medal-earning league: Never pick up a hot pan unless you know beforehand exactly where you’re going to put it down. That’s an essential planning skill for a sea cook.

Today’s Thought
Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.
— Harriet Van Horne, Vogue, 15 Oct 56

Growing and smoking marijuana is now legal in some U.S. states. In Washington state there are now phone messages that say: “If you want to buy marijuana, please press the hash key.”

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July 21, 2013

A little cockpit mystery

DO YOU KNOW A SEAGULL who is addicted to nicotine? Or maybe a crane who smokes cigarettes?

I ask because of a little mystery concerning my 20-foot daysailer, which is snugly berthed in a fairly quiet spot in the city marina.

When I arrived at the boat yesterday I found two surprising pieces of evidence in the cockpit. The first was a tiny, shriveled fish head, the kind of fish a seagull or a crane would eat for breakfast. The second was the butt end of a filter cigarette.

I know for certain that a fish-eating bird of some kind often uses my boat as his dining table when he thinks nobody’s looking.  I have found the evidence in white blobs and scaly bits of fish and crab all over the deck. The rotter has also left his calling card on my nice Banks mainsail, which, for reasons we needn’t go into, stayed furled on the boom without a cover for a couple of weeks.

But now, it seems, he’s also enjoying an after-meal smoke on board, to settle the stomach, I suppose.  I haven’t smoked for decades, so I know the cigarette butt wasn’t mine.

I dissuaded him from perching on the mainsail by stretching a thin line along the boom a couple of inches above the sail, but I’m at a loss for a way to stop him smoking in the cockpit.  I’m afraid  that he might graduate to cigars, and block the cockpit drain or even carelessly forget to stub the cigar out and set the whole boat on fire. I don’t know if my insurance would cover arson committed by a feathered fish-eating cigar smoker.

I have also been wondering about where he gets a light for his smokes. There are no matches available in the cockpit so presumably he lights up somewhere else and flies back to my boat with the cigarette already glowing.  Does he perhaps have some glow-worm pals?  And do their little backsides glow hot enough to light a cigarette?

I have often said that sailing is a sport full of mysteries. Some of them are never solved. I guess you can add this one to the list.

 Today’s Thought
Let not the conceit of intellect hinder thee from worshipping mystery.
— M. F. Tupper, Proverbial Philosophy: Reading

“What happened to that guy who tried to cash one of your checks?”
“They took him away in a strait jacket.”

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July 18, 2013

A temptation to resist

A PRIVATE MOORING BUOY is always a great temptation to a skipper who is obsessed with the need to find a safe, quiet berth after a hard day’s sailing.

The temptation is vastly increased if that enticing buoy also happens to lie among closely anchored yachts where there is no room to allow a decent scope for the anchor line.

But it’s a temptation to be resisted.

In the first place, you can’t know the condition of the underwater components of the mooring. You also probably won’t know what size of boat that mooring was designed to accommodate. You might get away with it if the weather is calm, but if the wind rises and the waves get up you might break the mooring and put yourself in a very dangerous position. Furthermore, where will you go if the owner of the mooring comes back in the middle of the night and kicks you off?

No, steel yourself to another half-hour of anxious circling and searching for the anchoring spot that will provoke the fewest fierce glares from those already settled back on their rodes. You’ll be a lot safer at anchor.

Incidentally, in congested anchorages, you can usually get away with a scope of 3-to-1 if you use an all-chain rode, and if the weather is calm.

Today’s Thought
Joy, shipmate, joy!
(Pleas’d to my soul at death I cry,)
Our life is closed, our life begins,
The long, long anchorage we leave,
The ship is clear at last, she leaps!
She swiftly courses from the shore,
Joy, shipmate, joy!
— Walt Whitman, Joy, Shipmate, Joy!

Some people are like Slinkies — not really good for anything, but they bring a smile to your face when you push them down the stairs.

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July 16, 2013

Unpronounceable boat names

WHAT IF YOU HAD a boat name that couldn’t be pronounced?  Not merely because it was difficult to pronounce, but because it consisted totally of letters that were silent. How would you send a Mayday message, for example, if you couldn’t tell anybody what boat you were on?

You might not realize it, but there is a chance that the name of your boat is silent. Polyanthus is a silent word, for instance. You cannot say it aloud. Callipygian is another. Impossible to vocalize.

Imagine that the latent anarchist within you wants to name your boat Pigshyt.

“You can’t call it that,” the club commodore tells you gruffly. “It’s unheard of!”

“Precisely, Mr. Commodore, you can’t say it. That’s why it’s unheard of,” you point out. “The P is silent, as in psychiatrist. The I is silent, as in bait. The G . . . they’re all silent. The whole word is silent.”

As a matter of fact there are 17 letters in English that have two or more pronunciations, at least one of which is silent. That’s more than half the alphabet, including all the vowels. See here:

Silent      As in

Y              say          

P              psychiatrist

B              plumber

G              gnome, sign

S              island

O              phoenix

E              pole

H              honest

A              cocoa

C              scent

I               bait

T              castle

K              knife

L               talk

U              guitar

W             wrap

N              hymn


So be very careful when you choose a name for your boat, otherwise you may not be able to tell anybody what it is. They say silence is golden, but it’s not always the best form of communication in an emergency.

Today’s Thought
To communicate through silence is a link between the thoughts of men.
— Marcel Marceau

I have to laugh when I hear owners of Toyota Priuses and Honda Civic hybrids arguing over who uses the least gasoline.  Christopher Columbus got the best mileage ever — he averaged several thousand miles per galleon.

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July 14, 2013

The credit that never was

I SUSPECT I HAVE turned into an old grump. What made me grumpy today was a letter addressed to me personally from Cruising World magazine. On the front, in heavy black capital letters it said OPEN IMMEDIATELY.  And in the address pane, cunningly visible just above my name, it said: “Credit Adjustment - $151.64.”

Had I been a few decades younger and more naive, I would have shouted “Woo-hoo! They’re sending me some money!” But I have been around the block a few times.  I am not easily taken in any more. I can spot a scam when I see one.

This is scurrilous behavior for a magazine with the reputation of Cruising World and it makes me mad that it would descend to such depths of depravity in order to sell a few subscriptions.

When I am ordered to open an envelope immediately, I deliberately make it wait. I send it to the bottom of the pile immediately to teach it a lesson for being so rude, and I open it hours or days later, by which time the people at Cruising World will, with any luck, be turning purple with frustration.  There are some repetitive letters that I recognize from past experience, and I don’t open them at all.  They go straight into the waste-paper basket, savagely ripped in half.

But this time, when I judged the folks at Cruising World had turned the right shade of purple, I did open the envelope. As I thought, there was no check for $151.64 enclosed. No, sir. Credit means something else to these people. This is how they figured it out. Because they were offering me a three-year subscription to their magazine (36 issues) for $28, they calculated they were giving me $151.64 because if I’d paid the full cover price I would have spent $179.64.

You don’t have to be an Einstein to spot the fault in their logic, which is that I’d never fork out $179.64 for 36 issues of Cruising World when I can get it for $28. I may be an old grump, but I’m not crazy.

When they start charging 77 cents per magazine, which is what $28 for 36 works out at, the question arises: why not just give the darned thing away? There are plenty of publications out there that make a living on advertising revenue alone. Why not Cruising World? They could fire their whole subscription department for a start, and save a lot of money.

That would make me a lot less grumpy, too.

Today’s Thought
As for editorial content, that’s the stuff you separate the ads with.
— Lord Thomson of Fleet

Scottish police have found an effective way to break up rioting in the streets of Glasgow. They send in constables armed with collection boxes.
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July 11, 2013

It's no longer a death sentence

I’M GLAD TO SEE that the hysteria over osmotic blistering of boat hulls has greatly died down over the years. There was a time, early on in the fiberglass era of boatbuilding, when a diagnosis of osmosis was considered to be the equivalent of a death sentence. But since then the truth has seeped in gradually — like cancer in humans, osmosis in boats isn’t necessarily fatal.

Osmotic blistering of the hull, or what used to be known as the dreaded boat pox, affected about one in four boats, although fewer modern boats are affected now. It’s caused by the migration of water vapor through the gelcoat into the laminate of glass fibers and polyester resin that we call GRP, or glass-reinforced plastic. The blisters usually manifest themselves in the outer one-tenth of the GRP.

Blisters come in all sizes, but luckily most of them are fairly small. Consequently, most cures involve nothing more than drilling out the blister site with a conical bit, letting the hole dry out, and then filling it with epoxy and filler.

If you’re really unlucky and have a more severe case of blistering, the gelcoat will have to be removed — peeled off by a professional, usually. The hull must be dried thoroughly, often for several months, and the gelcoat must be replaced by coatings of epoxy or vinyl resin.

Bad cases of osmosis are comparatively rare but they are expensive to fix — often amounting to 50 percent of the boat’s value or more — so the resale value of an affected boat is low.

Although we now take a more casual approach to osmosis, it’s best not to let things get out of hand. Examine the underwater hull every year for osmosis. Catch it quickly, while the blisters are still small and fix it.

Today’s Thought
Build me straight O worthy Master!
Staunch and strong, a goodly vessel
That shall laugh at all disaster,
And with wave and whirlwind wrestle.
— Longfellow, The Building of the Ship

A grateful importer wanted to show his appreciation to a Customs officer who had smoothed the passage of a large consignment of  exclusive French perfume.
“Here, I’d like you to accept a large bottle of our most expensive scent,” the importer said.
“Sorry, sir, but the regulations don’t allow us to accept gifts.”
“No problem,” said the importer. “Tell you what. I’ll sell you this bottle for 25 cents.”
The Customs man looked at him thoughtfully. “In that case,” he said, “I’ll take a dozen.”

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July 9, 2013

It's really a very safe sport

IT’S INTERESTING TO THINK THAT sailing is one of the safest sports practiced in the U.S.A. In fact, more people die in their baths every year.

The sea is actually not as dangerous as you might imagine. Most of the famous singlehanded circumnavigators of the mid-20th century sailed without lifelines around the deck, and without safety tethers.

For many sailors, lifelines represented false security. “Better learn to cling like a monkey,” Bernard Moitessier once told me. He has a point. I suspect that if I fell from atop the house of a medium-sized sloop while she was well heeled, I would fall right over the lifelines without touching.

It’s impossible to know if the lifelines now so popular on small boats have added to safety at sea, but  I don’t think anyone can seriously say the death rate in the old days was any greater than it is now.

Perhaps the sea just seems more dangerous because we live in a society obsessed with safety, our own and others’. We are ordered to belt up in cars, wear helmets on bicycles, put on sunscreen, and swallow vitamins. Old-timers accepted responsibility for their own safety and relied on common sense rather than constant and irritating adjurations from so-called authorities.

I have reservations about lifejackets, too, especially inflatable ones. I cannot imagine how I’d get back on board most small boats if I were hampered by the bulky inflated bladders. Perhaps that’s why there’s always advice to carry a small knife attached to your lifejacket, along with a flashlight, a whistle, a personal locator beacon, a rescue mirror, a waterproof VHF radio, a rescue mirror, and lord knows what all else. You could stab the bladders, I suppose, before attempting to pull yourself on board. You could also stab yourself accidentally and die from blood loss and shock instead of drowning.    

The more I think about it, the more I like Moitessier’s advice to cling like a monkey.

Today’s Thought
A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.
— John A. Shedd, Salt from My Attic

America is one of the few countries that have too many surgeons and not enough patients. In fact, it has got to the stage now where doctors are accusing people of staying healthy just out of spite.

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July 7, 2013

Getting to grips with the engine

IT WOULD BE HARD to imagine a worse place for an engine than the aft bilge of a sailboat. The builders bolt down a bridge-deck and cockpit floor an inch or two above it. Then they seal the whole thing off with bulkheads and companionway steps, as if it were leprous. Thus, even if you can remove the steps, you still have no access to some of the most important parts of the engine unless you’re built like a daddy-longlegs.

Sailboat engines are poorly maintained because you can’t get near them. I couldn’t even see the oil dipstick on my engine on a previous boat. It was underneath, around the corner, at the back of the engine in the pitch dark somewhere. I had to grope for it and find the oil level by Braille. Getting the dipstick back into its little hole was a nightmare. I was terrified of dropping it into the bilge under the engine, a little festering hellhole where no man had been before.

I blame yacht designers for this. Few of them give serious thought to engine maintenance. It ought to be possible to use hinged or removable panels to provide access to your engine, even if you have to swing the whole galley over your head or something. Good engine access is vital. It deserves much more attention.

Pacific Seacraft and some other boatbuilders provide a removable watertight hatch in the cockpit floor, which gives splendid access to everything you can reach from the top, but I have often wondered how long the hatch will stay watertight. I guess, though, that it’s not a big worry.  A few drips of water won’t bother a diesel engine any unless they fall steadily on the alternator.

In boats that have quarterberths, it would be handy if you could cut an access panel or two in the engineroom bulkheads. You might have to wriggle head-first into the berth to find the dipstick, which is not great news for those who suffer from claustrophobia, but it sure beats climbing into the cockpit locker or reaching around oily corners for fittings you can’t see.

Today’s Thought
Architecture begins where engineering ends.
— Walter Gropius

“Now that you’re a famous violinist, tell me — what was your motivation for practicing so long and so hard when you were a little child?”
“My mother.”
“Your mother? How lovely!”
“Yeah, she said if I didn’t practice she’d break my arm.”

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July 4, 2013

The truth about fuel consumption

IF YOU THINK fuel-mileage figures on new-car stickers are misleading, wait till you to try to find out how many miles you get to the gallon on a boat.

Few boat owners know their fuel consumption to any degree of accuracy because it varies so much with boat speed, headwinds, contrary currents, and the boat’s load. Most owners tend to exaggerate their mileage figures anyway, probably because the truth is so depressing.

Nevertheless, it’s important for any serious boater to know at least roughly how far the boat will go on a tankful of fuel, and a couple of simple formulas will help establish that figure.

Firstly, an inboard gasoline engine will use roughly one gallon of fuel per hour for every 10 horsepower expended. So, if a 40-horsepower engine is running at half speed and expending 20 horsepower, it’s using about two gallons of fuel every hour.

Diesel fuel has more energy, by volume, than gasoline, so a diesel engine needs about one gallon per hour for every 18 horsepower expended. Incidentally, most marine engines expend about 75 percent of maximum horsepower at cruising speed.

Now I have come across many sailors who will challenge these figures. They will claim in all honesty that their mileage is much better than that, and in certain cases, and on certain occasions, it might be. A following wind or a favorable current will certainly do wonders for your mileage. A light-displacement boat with a slippery hull, steaming at slow speed in calm seas might amaze you with the distance it can cover on a gallon of juice. But the gallons-per-hour figures quoted above were calculated by engineers and designers with true-life experience of a wide variety of boats and engines. They deserve respect.

I think the disparity arises because fuel consumption increases dramatically with boat speed and few people realize how little power is needed to move a hull at, say, half the designed hull speed, especially when the water is flat and the wind is either calm or blowing from astern. It’s all a question of horsepower expended.

In any case, here’s another tip the professionals like to pass on:

Plan to use one-third of your fuel on the outward leg of a trip, one-third to get back, and one-third for a safety reserve.

Today’s Thought
Believe those who are seeking the truth; doubt those who find it.
— AndrĂ© Gide

A friend tells me that the professional at his golf club just quit his job because every time he put his arms around a woman to demonstrate the grip, a dog came rushing out of the clubhouse and threw a bucket of cold water over them.

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July 2, 2013

News from the transit lounge

AN E-MAIL FROM Ivor Tungin-Cheaque, chairman of Vigor’s Silent Fan Club, says:

O Honorable Lord and Master:

Greetings O Wise and Wonderful One, and allow me to convey certain news items that will undoubtedly be of great interest to you.

I am writing from the transit lounge of Moscow International Airport,  having learned that Edward Snowden is threatening to reveal the identities of billions of members of Vigor’s Silent Fan Club. Apparently, U.S. government security agencies have been collecting data about the biggest club of its kind in the world.

As you in your infinite wisdom are well aware, members of your Silent Fan Club are forbidden to contact you or praise in any way your unmatched intelligence and unrivalled literary skills. Membership is automatic, of course, but it ends with immediate effect if a member is found guilty of admiring your literary skills or trying to contact you with paeans of praise.

I mention this because President Putin popped in yesterday to see if he could persuade Snowden to expunge his name from the Silent Fan Club records. Like other members of the fan club, he is sworn to secrecy and would never praise you in public. He wouldn’t want it revealed  that he is a fan of yours, and thereby earn the public disgrace of being expelled. That would be too damaging to his political career.

But at the same time, he IS an ardent fan of your magificent prose and saintly behavior, which makes things very difficult for him. As a compromise he has refused to admit to Press that he is a Silent Fan and says anyone who reveals that he is, will spend 20 years in the salt mines.

Your eminence will appreciate the delicacy of the matter when I add that Snowden himself is a fan of yours, never having praised you in public, so there is a good chance that he will accede to Putin’s request and remove the Russian president’s name from the Silent Fan Club records.

In return, Putin may allow Snowden to remain in the Moscow transit lounge until Iran grants him asylum and an honorary ayatollahship.

But I am not well versed in the complicated matters of high diplomacy and I am tired from many hours of travel. I need rest and a stiff whisky.

Nevertheless, I am proud to have been of service to you in this manner.

I close with admiration for your sage-like utterances, your ready wit and charm, the subtle thrust and parry of your sparkling repartee, and the wisdom, Solomon-like, that graces your princely brow.
Yours Humbly and Obediently,

IVOR TUNGIN-CHEAQUE (Chairman, Vigor’s Silent Fan Club)
PS: I hope this all makes sense. Frankly I wonder sometimes if it’s even worth chewing through the restraints.

Today’s Thought
The better I get to know men, the more I find myself loving dogs.
— Charles de Gaulle, former President of France

“Do you know that in some parts of Africa they get rid of ghosts by stabbing a politician at midnight?”
“You mean, a human sacrifice?”
“No, no, only a politician.”

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