September 29, 2013

It's a piece of your country

IF YOU’RE PLANNING to sail to a foreign country, you need a passport. Your boat needs one, too, and the best kind of passport for American boats is a documentation certificate from the U.S. Coast Guard.

A U.S.-documented boat has privileges. Under international law, she is a piece of the United States, and therefore not to be trifled with. Documentation affords her the protection of U.S. consular officials anywhere in the world. She also earns the right to fly the special U. S. Yacht Ensign (in home waters only).

Federal documentation legally establishes her ownership and her nationality beyond a doubt. It’s true that U.S. vessels with nothing more than state registrations have sailed around the world, but the recognized and accepted standard (when a boat is big enough) is documentation. State registration is not legal proof of nationality even though it’s accepted for convenience in America’s neighboring countries.

How big does a boat have to be for documentation? Well, I once had a Cape Dory 25-footer that was documented. Actually, the minimum size (volume) for documentation is 5 tons net, and for practical purposes in this case the Coast Guard measures net tons as 9/10 of gross tons. The minimum therefore translates to a heavy-displacement vessel of about 25 feet or a moderate-displacement craft of about 30 feet in length.

Incidentally, a documented vessel is always safer to buy, because her certificate must reflect all current liens, mortgages, and liabilities against her.

Today’s Thought
I was well acquainted with the gag that if you looked like your passport picture, you needed a trip. I was unprepared for the preponderance of thuglike pictures which I found in the course of processing passports.
Frances G. Knight, Director, Passport Division, U. S. State Department, ruling that it is all right to smile in passport pictures. (NY Herald Tribune, 21 Feb 57)

“Why so gloomy?’
“My new car has been recalled by the dealer.”
“Too bad. What’s wrong with it?”
“Apparently there’s a defect in my bank balance.”

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

September 26, 2013

Propane or charcoal? Neither . . .

 SEVERAL YEARS BACK, when we were cruising up north in beautiful British Columbia, we ran into some people with very strong opinions about how to cook aboard a boat. It made quite an impression on my wife, who has always been our resident expert in gastronavigation. Weeks afterward, when her surprise had still not worn off, she was moved to write about the experience. Here is her piece:

The Non-Perishable Gospel

by June Vigor

THE COCKPIT CONVERSATION aboard Kalira in Westview Harbour was getting passionate.

Propane or charcoal?
That was the question, and the barbecue-fuel debate was becoming (ahem) heated.

We were with a trio of strangers gathered aboard our dock-mate’s boat for sundown beers and Kalira’s fresh-baked rosemary-and-olive bread.

“What do you use?” demanded the hottest defender of charcoal.

“Nothing,” I said. “We don’t barbecue on board.”

Stunned silence. Then, “Why ever not?”

“No room. Our boat is very small. And nothing to barbecue. We don’t have refrigeration.”

There was no more talk about food that night. The conversation jibed abruptly.

Perhaps they were afraid -- those salmon grillers and bread bakers -- that I would mention (gasp!) canned food.

Which I would have. As it happens, we have a deeply rooted, thoroughly examined philosophy about food afloat.

We’re with the Spartans. We’ve never had a galley with an oven or a fridge. We don’t haul ice aboard. Anything that won’t keep at sea temperature in the bilges is left behind.

What’s the point, we say, of going out to get close to nature and taking all the comforts and indulgences of home with you? We like the simplicity of it, the reminder that there are things out there that are far more enriching than barbecued steak. Things that get you much closer to the powerful rewards of real self-sufficiency.

And so we have become very attached to our cans. I make a robust corned beef hash, a fine shrimp stir-fry, and serve up noble cups of lentil soup enhanced with just a pinch of curry powder.

But I find that I don’t get much chance to spread the gospel of nonperishable groceries. As a disciple, I am grossly underheard.

The subject didn’t even come up in Isabel Bay when the folks aboard Whisper gave us tea and homemade scones hot from the oven.

It didn’t surface in the presence of roast beef and all the trimmings served aboard Kwinnum in Chemainus.

Nevertheless, I am not dismayed. Our gospel will surely spread, and I am always prepared to share the joys we find in our simple Spartan ways.

One of which, as you may have noticed, is eating on other people’s boats.

Today’s Thought
I believe that if ever I had to practice cannibalism, I might manage if there were enough tarragon around.
— Jean Marie Amat, Chef, St. James restaurant, Bordeaux, France


The artist’s nude model complained that the studio was too cold.

“You’re right,” said the man. “Let’s warm up over a cup of coffee.”

Some minutes later there was a loud knock at the studio door.

“Quick!” said the artist. “It’s my wife! Get your clothes off.”

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

September 24, 2013

Luck that comes from practice

ONE OF THOSE professional golfers who makes millions of dollars every year was remarking on television the other day that the more he practices, the luckier he gets. I believe he was only half joking, but his comment reminded me of a time, a few years ago, when I was singlehanding my Cape Dory 25D through Canada’s Gulf Islands, where tight anchorages often make it necessary to anchor at right angles to the land, and then take a line ashore.

I found myself in a narrow inlet in Wallace Island and watched with smug amusement while the six crewmembers of a 30-footer set their bow anchor, and then struggled to get a line ashore to the steep bank lining the inlet. With two women aboard the boat, and four men in the rubber dinghy, they roared back and forth in total confusion, slipping and sliding and tugging and cursing until finally, finally, they found a large rock to tie their single line around and fumbled their way back to the cockpit where they flopped back in apparent exhaustion.

Right. Now it’s my turn. Here comes the experienced old salt. I’m gonna show them how to do it. On my own.

I motored in slowly alongside them, dropped my stern anchor, and payed out the line until I judged I was close enough to get a line ashore. I cleated the stern anchor line, put the engine in neutral, dropped neatly into my dinghy, and wended my way to the bow where, with commendable foresight, I had prepared a shore line.

I took one end of the line in my left hand and with my right hand I sculled ashore, letting the line feed itself out of the bow anchor locker. From the looks on their faces, I don’t think they’d ever seen anyone scull a dinghy with one oar over the transom before. So I sculled neat and fast and powerful to impress them even more, especially the tall blonde lady.

I rammed the dinghy up onto the rocky ledge, sprinted up the bank, passed my line around the trunk of a small tree, and leaped back down to the dinghy.

With the line in my left hand again, I sculled back to the boat in my most manly fashion. Speed was of the essence because the 25D was secured only by the stern anchor, and was free to drift sideways at the mercy of any puff of wind that might come along.

Just as I reached the bow of the 25D, with the crew of the boat next door watching intently, the bitter end of the line I was tugging on flipped out of the anchor locker and dived overboard.

I had forgotten to secure the bitter end of the stupid bow line to the boat.

By reflex, I dropped my sculling oar, and, by a wonderful stroke of luck, managed to grab the sinking line in the water. But even so, things had taken a nasty turn.

The position was this: I was standing in my dinghy with a line that reached from my right hand to the shore, around a tree, and back to my left hand. The 25D was now out of reach and drifting slowly astern. I couldn’t drop the line because I’d no way to recover it. I couldn’t scull the dinghy because I couldn’t drop the line. My mind had gone blank and my muscles were frozen. The blonde was regarding me quizzically.

Just then a large powerboat came past, dragging the usual wake. It hit the 25D and pushed it toward the shore, toward me, just enough for me to reach the bow. I transferred both ends of the line to one hand and gripped the forestay with the other. The line wasn’t long enough to reach the bow, but a sudden spurt of adrenaline allowed me to exert the power needed to bring my arms together across my chest, and, mirabile dictu, I managed to tie the two ends of the line together behind the forestay. It was a granny knot, but the blonde couldn’t see that.

I got my breath back, and sculled expertly to the cockpit. I hopped aboard nimbly and smiled in friendly fashion at the slack-jawed crew next door. Then I went below and helped myself to a large tot of rum. I tried not to think what would have happened if that powerboat hadn’t come along at exactly the right moment. I didn’t appear on deck again until it was dark.

I guess the moral of the story is that we’re all lubbers sometimes, but if you practice good sailorly habits most of the time you’re bound to experience a bit of good luck now and then, just like the golfer said.

Today’s Thought
We must believe in luck. For how else can we explain the success of those we don’t like?
— Jean Cocteau

“Your dog attacked me when I came home last night. He bit my leg.”
“Oh, wow, I’m sorry. Did you put anything on it?”
“No, he liked it just as it was.”

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

September 22, 2013

Deceived by salt sea mist

’TIS THE EQUINOX, the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness around here. I’m all in favor of the fruitful mellowness, but I’m not so keen on the mists.

I recall vividly my first serious encounter with mist at sea in the place where I would least have expected it, in the Windward Islands of the sunny Caribbean.

In 1987, my wife June and I had come angling up the South Atlantic on a 31-foot sloop called Freelance, with our then-17-year-old son Kevin as crew. We were 16 days out from the tiny island of Fernando de Noronha, 200 miles off Brazil, aiming for our carefully chosen landfall on the island of St. Vincent, whose Richmond Peak, with an elevation of 3,524 feet, is allegedly visible for 30 miles.

A noon sextant sight put us within 12 miles of St. Vincent, but my eyes told me that we patently weren’t. It was a fine, clear day, and there was nothing on the horizon in any direction. We held our course and sailed on, greatly puzzled.

An hour later, with six miles to go, there was still nothing to see. We had a nervous lunch while we decided what to do. Plainly, we were lost at sea. With my stomach in a knot, I checked my calculations. Nothing seemed amiss.

Our minds began to race. We searched for explanations. Could the chart be wrong? Had the volcanic island blown up and disappeared?

We sailed on half-heartedly, worried and perplexed, until just after 2 p.m., when I noticed a bright flash in the sky up on my right. It was a window shining in the sun, a window on a house high up on a mountainside.

The island of St. Vincent suddenly appeared all around us. It enveloped us, and loomed over us, and seemed so frighteningly close, after weeks of open sea with unlimited horizons, that I instinctively jibed the boat all standing to avoid running aground, although we were still three-and-a-half miles away.

It was a heavy salt sea haze that deceived us. It’s the kind of mist that cuts visibility to less than five miles but gives no indication of its presence. When you’re in fog you know it; you can see it and feel it on you. But the salt haze is deceitful. The sky, the sea, and the edges of the earth look perfectly normal, except, perhaps for the faintest suggestion of a missing line where the horizon should be. But that invisible haze can completely hide large mountains and even whole islands.

It’s a subject you don’t read much about in the boating press, but you need experience it only once for it to make a big impression on you.

Today’s Thought
Fear of danger is ten thousand times more terrifying than danger itself, when apparent to the eyes; and we find the burden of anxiety greater, by much, than the evil which we are anxious about.
— Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe

“How’d the racing go?”
“My dirty bottom is really slowing me down.”
“Yeah, just imagine what it would do to your boat.”

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

September 19, 2013

Lessons in female delicacy

ONE THING I LEARNED about cruising under sail is that women are especially sensitive about doors on toilets. When I decided to take a six-month cruise aboard my 30-foot sloop with my wife and teenage son, it became clear that certain compromises would have to be made.

Now let me say at the outset that I favor simple, robust fittings on a sailboat. I don’t think fancy gadgets make good shipmates. I can get along very well without the trappings of luxury on a small boat.

Nevertheless, when one is planning to live in close confinement with one’s wife and 17-year-old son for a long period of time, certain adjustments, certain fancy gadgets, are called for. Certain standards prevail below which a wife, at least, will not sink, it seems.

One such adjustment concerned our toilet arrangements. The matter first came to light during a weekend afloat, a practice run for Freelance’s 7,000-mile cruise from Africa to America, and this “adjustment” was of such a serious nature that my wife made me record it in the ship’s log, from which I take the following extract:

A special meeting was held in the main saloon of the yacht Freelance at 2000 on Friday.

The business on the agenda was a proposal by the Ship’s Mate “That urgent consideration be given to providing a solid wooden door for the toilet.”

The Skipper pointed out (very reasonably, he thought) that a door was a fancy gadget that would be difficult — nay, almost impossible — to provide.

The Mate said she didn’t care, she wasn’t going cruising with two males without a door on the head.

The Skipper then proposed an amendment, saying that male members of the crew would be prepared to make a solemn promise to repair to the cockpit each and every time the Mate needed to use the ship’s head.

The Mate expressed dissatisfaction with this arrangement, saying she feared it would be impractical on a dark rainy night, for instance, when said male members would be loath to leave a warm and comfortable saloon to stand around in a cold and dripping cockpit.

The Skipper then offered to provide a curtain that would slide across the entrance to the head, thus ensuring the privacy the Mate seemed to require.

The Mate, on a point of explanation, then asked the Skipper for his definition of “privacy.”

The Skipper said privacy was patently present when the occupant of the toilet was invisible to others in the near vicinity.

The Mate said that in her humble opinion, which she knew didn’t count for much, “privacy” also constituted an element of noise-proofing.

The Skipper expressed surprise that ladies made noises in the loo, saying he thought only men did that sort of thing.

The Mate said with some asperity that it was none of his business what ladies did in the loo and would he kindly get on with the meeting?

The Skipper then pointed out that, of the seven yachts of the same class as Freelance with which he was acquainted, not one possessed a door to the toilet. In the confined space of the head, he said, a door could not swing without hitting the bowl, the wash-basin, the towel rail, the toilet-paper holder and the gadget that held the baby-wipe dispenser.

The Mate said she did not care, she wanted a proper door on the loo.

The Skipper, visibly roused, said he thought it a luxury even to have a toilet on a 30-footer, let alone one with a door. Good grief, woman, he could list any number of 35-footers that still cling to the good old bucket-and-chuck-it system. It was just a matter of getting used to it, that was all.

The Mate then called for a vote.

When all those in favor of the Mate’s motion were asked to say “Aye,” the Mate said “Aye.”

When all those against the motion were asked to say “Nay,” the Skipper said “Nay.”

This stalemate was eventually resolved by the Mate, who repeated her earlier threat not to go cruising under any circumstances without a solid wooden toilet door.

The Skipper then declared the meeting closed, and the Mate said if he was planning to have a nightcap at the yacht club, as usual, he had better come back with a concrete plan for a loo door.

*    *    *

Well, the writing was on the wall, of course, as well as in the log. So, with grave misgivings, I set out to design a door for the head. After lots of head-scratching and sketches on the back of yacht-club menus, I managed to make an odd-shaped piece of half-inch marine plywood fit the cut-out in the main bulkhead in the saloon.

I hinged it on one side and cut a small notch so it cleared the bowl of the Lavac toilet. The seat and the lid of the Lavac protruded farther than the bowl, but rather than end up with a door looking like a piece of cheese the rats had nibbled, I opted for the simpler arrangement of lifting the two lids when the door needed to be opened or closed.

When it was finished, the door simply separated the saloon from the forward half of the boat, which included the head, sandwiched between two bulkheads, and the fo’c’s’le.

It was just what the Mate wanted, apparently. “It’s lovely,” she exclaimed — and promptly jammed it against the toilet seat.

“Bit awkward to use,” I pointed out.

“Don’t care,” she said. “It’s lovely.”

Over the months we became accustomed to our eccentric loo door, but we did find it necessary to write out a detailed instruction list for passengers on day-sails. They went like this:

To Close Toilet Door

(1) First move right out of toilet area and stand in FORWARD cabin.

(2) Reach into toilet area and unlatch door from bulkhead.

(3) Lift lid and seat of toilet into upright position.

(4) Remove portable wash basin from drop-down flap. Empty contents (if any) into toilet bowl. Raise drop-down flap to upright position.

(5) Close door and latch against main bulkhead to starboard.

(6) Move into toilet area and read list of instructions for use of toilet.

(7) Use toilet.

(8) When finished, close seacock marked “A.”

To Open toilet door

(1) Move yourself into forward cabin.

(2) Reach into toilet area and unlatch door from main bulkhead.

(3) Wait 30 seconds, or until hissing noise from toilet has ceased, after which toilet seat should be raised.

(4) Check that portable wash basin and flap, if used, are not obstructing movement of door.

(5) Close door and latch against bulkhead to port.

Even after it was sanded and varnished, only a mother could truly have loved our loo door. And yet, after having shared with it some of my most intimate moments, I had to confess a growing affection for it. When you got everything right first time, and it swung closed without knocking anything over or jamming on the seat, you experienced a wonderful glow of satisfaction.

And when you did make the odd mistake, and it stuck fast half-way open, it taught you humility and patience, two qualities much to be admired in sea-going people.

And then there was the fact that it saved our cruise and our marriage. The Mate liked it. That was really all that mattered.

There came a time, in fact, when the Mate gave ladies from other boats in our class guided tours of our loo. They were very envious. Their unthoughtful husbands made them use curtains. I, on the other hand, was much admired for my sensitivity and understanding of the feminine nature, and I naturally took all the credit for thinking of the idea in the first place.

Today’s Thought
An occasional lucky guess as to what makes a wife tick is the best a man can hope for.
Even then, no sooner has he learned how to cope with the tick than she tocks.
— Ogden Nash, Marriage Lines

A news item in the Walnut Street Gazeout (should be Gazette) says:
“Next Friday night’s concert in the main cell block will be performed by the pop group Heavy Lift, and their supporting group, The Truss.”

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

September 17, 2013

It's time someone did this

FOR NEARLY TWO YEARS I’ve been meaning to pass on to you a fascinating article that appeared in The Onion.  It will be meaningful to anyone interested in sailing, and especially to those who have sought to gain publicity from some or other sailing adventure on the high seas.

Without further ado, I hand you over to the tender mercies of “America’s Finest News Source.”

Today’s Thought
Live by publicity, you’ll probably die by publicity.
— Russel Baker (on President Reagan’s changing image after news of Iranian arms sales) NY Times, 3 Dec 86

“Advertising costs me a fortune.”
“What advertisements do you place?”
“I don’t place them. My wife reads them.”

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

September 16, 2013

The importance of cruising

JUDGING BY THE NUMBER of blogs they’re generating, there must be thousands of people out there cruising in small sailboats, just wandering around the world at a leisurely pace and taking their homes with them.

I often wonder what it is that motivates them.  After all, it’s not the easiest way to travel.

I once knew an airline pilot who was also a sailor. He said that yacht cruising was far more complicated than flying a passenger jet. “You have to know so much more in so many different areas,” he said. “A pilot doesn’t have to know how to fix the engine or make sure there’s enough food and water on board.  A pilot doesn’t have to know how to repair or maintain anything. A pilot doesn’t have to worry about the right bottom paint, electrolytic corrosion or the different between deep-cycle and starter batteries.”

One of the many charms of cruising is the way you find yourself learning all the different skills you need to be self-sufficient. It’s a feeling that takes modern men and women back to the days of the great explorers. Nothing daunted them.  When they were shipwrecked on a foreign shore they felled trees, built boats, somehow fashioned the thousand and one things they needed, and carried on exploring.

They went ashore for months at a time, cleared land, and sowed their seeds. When the crops were ready, off they went again.  The world has changed since then, of course, and modern cruising won’t make a Renaissance man or woman out of you — but it might get pretty close.

If you have the opportunity, or, more to the point, if you make the opportunity, go cruising.  Go as far as you can for as long as you can at any age you can. You’ll never regret it.

Do your homework first, of course, and make sure you have an objective of some kind. Then sail away. Just have faith and sail away. You’ll find help and friendly people everywhere you go.  You’ll travel vast areas of ocean where the voice of man has never been heard before and maybe never will be again.

Go cruising. Nothing is more fascinating than cruising. Maybe nothing’s more important.

Today’s Thought
Four hoarse blasts of a ship’s whistle still raise the hair on my neck and set my feet to tapping.
— John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley

“Pardon me, sir, may I have your name?”
“But I just signed the register. Can’t you see my signature?”
“Yes sir, that’s precisely what aroused my curiosity.”

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

September 12, 2013

It's an inexact science

IF YOU GET your evening news from two separate TV stations, you’ll know that weather forecasting is an inexact science. They seldom agree on the details. And while forecasters don’t often admit it, few forecasts are accurate for more than three days ahead. And no wonder.

Weather is just great spheres of air, huge warm and cold bubbles hundreds or thousands of miles across, jostling fiercely against each other, moving up and down. Who knows where they might go next? If you find yourself at the meeting point of two bubbles (what the experts call a front) you can expect some very interesting weather as they try to beat each other up.

Your barometer measures the atmospheric pressure inside these bubbles. High pressure means a good bubble and nice weather. Low pressure signifies a bad bubble and rotten weather.

So if your barometer is steady, you can expect tomorrow’s weather to be much more like today’s than anything else. If it’s falling, you can expect bad weather. The faster the fall, the sooner it will arrive. If the glass is rising, a good bubble has arrived and fine weather will follow.

You’ll find your barometer just as reliable as a weather fax once you’ve learnt to interpret it, and a lot cheaper.

Incidentally, it’s the speed of the barometer’s rise or fall that determines how quickly and how drastically the weather will change.

Today’s Thought
The best weather instrument yet devised is a pair of human eyes.
— Harold M. Gibson, Chief Meteorologist, NYC Weather Bureau

“May I print a kiss on your lips?” I asked,
And she nodded her full permission.
Well, we went to press,
And I rather guess
We printed a full edition.
— Joseph Lilienthal

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

September 10, 2013

Answering boat-ramp problems

ONE OF THE MOST DIFFICULT tasks in life is backing a boat trailer down a launch ramp. Some people seem to be born with that necessary skill to prevent the trailer from jack-knifing in the first 20 feet, while others, lacking in this skill, never seem to be able to learn from their mistakes.

I was taught that if you hold the car’s steering wheel on the bottom, instead of the top, when you’re backing down the ramp you simply turn the wheel the way you want the trailer (and boat) to go. But I was never taught how much you need to turn the wheel. That comes with practice, I suppose, but I’ve never been able to practice because on the few occasions when I’ve been asked to back a friend’s boat down the ramp, the trailer has somehow ended up sideways across my intended path of progress.

I know of people who have added a tow-hitch to the front of their cars. After they’ve towed the trailer to the head of the ramp in the usual way, they unhitch and then fasten the trailer to the front hitch. They can then see exactly what is happening as they guide the trailer down the ramp, and the way to turn the steering wheel becomes quite obvious and natural. You can do it with your hands on top, for a start.

But you have to be careful about how far you drive the front end of the car into the water. The engine doesn’t like being submerged. This can make for difficulties in getting the boat to budge off the trailer if you can’t get it into water deep enough to float it.

The Canadian comic odd-job man, Red-Green, has the answer to these problems, though, and that is to make one rigid component of the car-trailer combination. That does away with the troublesome universal joint at the hitch.

Here he is on YouTube, in a piece called "Red-Green’s boat-car," showing you how to do it for yourself.

Today’s Thought
Beware of people carrying ideas. Beware of ideas carrying people.
— Barbara Grizzuti Harrison, Foreign Bodies

“And how do you find the food at boarding school, son?”
“Oh, we fight over it all the time, Dad.”
“Wow. That good, is it?”
“Not exactly, Dad. The loser has to eat it.”

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

September 8, 2013

Anchoring and the singlehander

ANCHORING IS ALWAYS AN ART, but it’s more artistic than ever for singlehanded sailors.  The main problem is that the anchor’s at one end of the boat, and the cockpit controls are at the other end of the boat.  Thus, when the anchor is clear of the ground, your boat is basically out of control until you can get all the ground gear raised and stowed, and you have managed to scramble back aft to the cockpit.

During this period your boat can start moving, whether blown by wind or borne by current, and if other idiots have come and anchored close to you the scene is set for some nasty collisions.

A friend of mine who singlehands a 27-foot sloop has been thinking about all this and worrying about the day that she feels is sure to come when the wind really gets up and starts making the anchorage so choppy that she’s forced to weigh anchor and seek shelter elsewhere.

Her boat doesn’t have an anchor winch and she’s not exactly an Amazon herself. Furthermore, she has a weak back.  So she’s wondering how on earth she would get her anchor on board in a stiff breeze.

My advice to her was to secure the bitter end of the anchor rode to a fender and throw the lot overboard.  Come back to  retrieve it when the weather has calmed down. But that means she’d need a second anchor and a spare rode if there wasn’t a marina handy nearby.  And there’s always the chance that some unscrupulous bounder would make off with her fender, anchor line, and anchor.  I mean, these people who set crab pots are forever stealing each other’s crabs.  What’s to stop them stealing an anchor?

I have heard of another wrinkle that might work in some circumstances, and that’s to take the nylon anchor rode aft to the main halyard winch on the mast.  That would give you a lot more purchase and save a lot of strain on your back, but I worry that the unfair direction of pull on the mast might bend it and cause it to collapse on top of you.  If your mast  has a hefty section, or is solid wood, and is keel-stepped, it might work, but otherwise I would be very cautious about trying this.

One thing I know that helps greatly in weighing the anchor is a chain pawl on the bow roller, or one that is bolted to the foredeck.  It will also work with nylon rode, and it makes sure that when the bow rises to a wave, the anchor line won’t overcome your desperate pull and run back over the roller.  The rode can only move aft, into the boat. You can, of course, reverse the pawl when you want to veer the cable.

My own experience with anchoring has not lacked excitement.  I have crushed vertebrae in my back on two separate occasions, but the two most difficult weighings were once in the wilds of Vancouver Island when I discovered after getting back to the cockpit quite exhausted that the engine was running in reverse gear, and another time in the Gulf Islands when I managed to raise, along with my anchor, a rusty old engine block that someone had discarded. 

Yes, I did think about installing an electric anchor windlass, but it always seemed like too much trouble and expense for a 27-footer.  And, what the heck, I still had about 30 vertebrae to go.

Today’s Thought
He who has suffered shipwreck fears to sail
Upon the seas, though with a gentle gale.
— Robert Herrick, Shipwreck

The student nurse tucked up her patient for the night.
“When the doctor comes to see you in the morning I want you to look cheerful and healthy,” she said.
“But I don’t feel cheerful,” the patient whined. “I don’t want to smile, I feel terrible.”
“Never mind, just do it for the doctor’s sake,” said the nurse. “It would cheer him up no end — and I just happen to know he’s terribly worried about you.”  

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

September 5, 2013

Exercises for elderly sailors

ONE OF THE PROBLEMS for people who spend a lot of time aboard boats, especially those who permanently live aboard or those who are long-distance cruising, is getting enough exercise.  This is particularly true for deep-sea voyagers in sailboats, who need upper-body strength more than anything, to handle the helm, the sheets, the halyards, and the reefing gear.  As you get older, the problem becomes more acute, as many of you will have found out by now.

Luckily, however, there is a system of muscle strengthening that might well have been designed especially for boaters.  Here are the basics, which you can practice at home before a voyage starts and even while you are under way:

Exercises for sailors over 50

Begin by standing on a comfortable surface, where you have plenty of room at
each side.

With a 5 lb potato bag in each hand, extend your arms straight out from your sides and hold them there as long as you can. Try to reach a full minute, and then relax.

Each day you'll find that you can hold this position for just a bit longer. After a couple of weeks, move up to 10 lb potato bags
Then try 15 lb potato bags and then eventually try to get to where you can lift a 20 lb potato bag in each hand and hold your arms straight for more than a full minute. (I’m at this level right now.)
After you feel confident at that level, put a potato in each bag. 
Today’s Thought
I get my exercise running to the funerals of my friends who exercise.
— Barry Gray, New York, 19 May 80

A little 5-year-old girl was heard swearing like a trooper in a city park.  Somebody reported her to the park keeper who went up to her and said:  “I hear there’s someone in the park who’s using very naughty language.”

“Who told you that?” demanded the girl sharply.

“A bird whispered it in my ear,” said the park keeper.

“I’ll be damned,” said the girl.  “And I’ve been feeding the little bastards.”

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

September 3, 2013

The making of fiberglass

A READER IN WEST VIRGINIA, who says he’s new to boating, wants to know how fiberglass boats are made.  He has already discovered for himself that they’re not made from molded plastic, as he first thought.

Well, where to begin? Let’s stick with the hull.  Most production-run hulls are solid fiberglass built of this laminate: Alternating layers of chopped-strand fiberglass mat at 1.5 ounces to the square yard, and woven glass fiber roving at 24 ounces to the square yard.  These two layers are called a ply, and each ply is about 3/32 inch thick.  All the fiberglass is thoroughly saturated with polyester resin, which also glues the layers together into one solid mass.

This standard laminate weighs about 94 pounds a cubic foot and the glass fibers account for about 35 percent of the total weight.  It’s the glass fibers that add strength and flexibility to the laminate:  polyester resin on its own is not particularly strong and its rigidity tends to make it crack easily.  Together, the fiberglass and the resin combine their best qualities in a boatbuilding material that has stood the test of time.

Now, the glass fabrics most commonly used by boatbuilders are cloth, woven roving, and chopped strand mat.

Ø Cloth is thin and strong. It’s used for sheathing wood or as a finishing layer on a fiberglass laminate because it leaves a smooth finish.  It is not usually used to build up the hull laminates.

Ø Woven roving has a loose weave with a rough finish. It provides strength but is usually topped with cloth or mat to make it fair.

Ø Chopped strand mat comprises short strands of glass fibers laid flat in random fashion and held in place by a sizing that is soluble in the right kind of resin.  It’s the weakest of these three fabrics, but it bonds well.  In repair work, chopped strand mat is the fabric first applied to old fiberglass, to ensure a good strong bond between the old and the new.

In a way, resin and fiberglass are the marine equivalent of bricks made of mud plus straw, or concrete plus steel reinforcing bar.  The resulting product shows characteristics greater than the sum of its components taken separately.

There are many tricks and wrinkles known to those who work with fiberglass on a professional basis, of course, but for beginning sailors in West Virginia, this is about all they need to know for now.

Today’s Thought
The glory of a workman, still more of a master-workman, that he does his work well, ought to be his most precious possession; like the “honour of a soldier,” dearer to him than life.
— Carlyle, Essays: Shooting Niagara

People who think they know everything seldom seem to realize how much they irritate those of us who actually do.

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

September 1, 2013

A 10-point overboard plan

EVERY NOW AND THEN someone falls overboard. What happens after that — whether they’ll live or die — depends on a lot of different circumstances, including the time of day or night, the state of the sea, whether or not their disappearance was noticed, the temperature of the water, the number of crew available for rescue, what the victim was wearing in the way of safety gear, and so on.

Every episode of a person overboard is so different from every other episode that it’s impossible to drew up a fixed set of actions to deal with the situation.  Clearly, the crew remaining on board will have to make a lot of spur-of-the-moment decisions, and just as clearly, there will be a lot of luck involved in a successful rescue.

Nevertheless, there is a basic crew-overboard procedure that can be applied and adapted as necessary, and one of its chief functions might well be to avoid the panic and inefficiency that quickly assumes lethal proportions when there is no coherent emergency plan with which everyone on board is familiar.

So here’s a 10-point plan that could form the basis of a crew-overboard procedure. It should be learned by every member of the crew.  I realize that that is a tall order, because not many sailors will bother.  Nevertheless, the skipper should insist that everyone under his command at least becomes familiar with it.  There’s little point in printing it out and handing copies to people when an emergency occurs because usually there won’t be time or opportunity to study it, but at least crewmembers who have read it in advance will recognize the steps being taken and perhaps use their own initiative when the skipper is too busy to give individual orders to everyone. It is, after, a list of common-sense moves. This is how it goes:

1.  Shout “Crew overboard!” to alert the crew.

2.  Throw overboard horseshoe lifebuoys and anything else in the cockpit likely to provide flotation or mark the spot. Heave a Lifesling buoy overboard.

3.  Detail someone to point at the person in the water and keep pointing, no matter what.

4.  Press the button on your GPS that saves your present position and allows you to track back to it.

5.  Note your compass course, then turn the boat on a reciprocal course as quickly as possible. It is very important not to stray too far from the victim.

6.  Approach the victim cautiously from leeward and be prepared to cut power to avoid propeller injuries.

7.  In one end of a suitable line, tie a bowline to slip over the victim’s head and shoulders. This will probably not be needed if you use a Lifesling and the victim is correctly attached.

8.  Haul the victim up out of the water any way you can — into a dinghy, onto the deck, or into the cockpit, with a halyard, block and tackle, or sheer muscle power. On a calm day, you might be able to lower the mainsail into the water and roll the victim aboard in the bunt.

9.  Treat the victim as necessary for water inhalation, shock, hypothermia, or heart failure.

10. Radio for medical advice or broadcast a Mayday call if warranted.

Today’s Thought
Who can hope to be safe? who sufficiently cautious?
Guard himself as he may, every moment’s an ambush.
— Horace, Odes

“Would you prefer red wine or white, sir?”
“Shucks, it makes no difference to me young feller, I’m color blind.”

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