June 30, 2014

Summer break time

Dear Reader:  

It’s time for a summer break.  Regular service will be resumed on Monday, July 21, if all goes as planned, and I look forward to being with you again then. Meanwhile, there are more than 800 previous columns for you to peruse.  Try your luck. Just click on the list on the right.

John V.

June 26, 2014

Good living in small packages

I HAVE TO LAUGH when I hear people complaining about the tiny houses that are starting to spring up in America, particularly in the densely populated urban areas. They’ve obviously never lived on yachts.

Apparently the people with big houses think the value of their mansions will be dragged down by their mini-neighbors. And, because the people with big houses pay big taxes, the authorities in charge of setting building standards are listening to the complaints. Many have even set minimum house sizes, some of which start at 840 square feet, and many of which are larger.

Meanwhile, the Millennial generation has been paying rent for so long that they’re unable to afford the down-payments for the old houses that started getting bigger after World War II. The average American home grew from 983 square feet in 1950 to 2,349 square feet in 2004 — a 140-percent increase. Yet the American household shrank by 18 percent between 1970 and 2003, from 3.14 people to 2.57, on average.

So the pendulum has started to swing again, and it seems the pressure is building for municipalities to approve smaller homes, even though they won’t bring in the same tax revenue.

I think the Millennials have the right idea. Anyone who has lived on a yacht for any length of time knows that it’s possible to survive in a very small space.  In fact, 840 square feet of living space would be considered quite generous in a yacht.

If you take the average 35-to-40-footer as having about 12 feet of beam, 840 square feet would provide you with a living space 70 feet long. Plenty of people have gone around the world in 30-footers, living with one or two other people for three years or more in a cabin measuring 10 feet wide by 10 feet long. Admittedly, there was additional space in a small forecabin and some stowage space in the cockpit lockers, but nothing like 840 square feet in total.

Meanwhile, the movement toward smaller housing footprints and more economical living will probably be beneficial for the secondhand market in yachts. Not only will people become more accustomed to small living spaces, but they will begin to realize the benefits of a floating home that can be moved almost anywhere in the world as often as they like.

For my money, I’d rather live in a few hundred square feet that I can sail to the gorgeous anchorages of the South Seas or the British Virgin Islands than in 840 unmovable square feet stuck next to neighbors who throw frequent loud parties and never return the garden tools they borrow.

Today’s Thought
Good things come in small packages.
— Anon      

“What did the doctor do about your water on the knee?”
“Oh, no problem. He just gave it a tap.”

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

June 24, 2014

Start sailing and grow thinner

COULD SAILING BE THE NEXT FAD in the great American obsession with weight loss?  Could it be the answer millions of overweight Americans have been seeking so desperately for so many years?

The thought occurred to me after I read that Kevin Trudeau, author of a best-selling book about losing weight, had been sentenced to 10 years in prison by a judge in Chicago. Apparently Trudeau had been making false claims in weight-loss infomercials to boost sales of The Weight Loss Cure “They” Don’t Want You to Know About.

Mr. Trudeau seems to have been a very naughty boy, but what interested me more than his literary peccadillos was the fact that he has sold more than 850,000 copies of the book, earning him almost $40 million.

I smell a huge market here, a market desperate for books that tell people how to lose weight, preferably books that tell the truth and offer a truly proven way to lose weight.

Well now, I suggest you look around at your fellow sailors. Does it not strike you how few of them are obese? And why would this be? The answer could be the core of a new best-seller, a book that would earn millions of dollars.

I am quite keen to write that book. I would urge obese Americans to take up sailing as a means of shedding those unwanted pounds of flesh. And meanwhile I would appreciate it if you would let me know your ideas about what actually causes sailors to be skinny and healthy.

My wife, ever the realist, says it’s obvious what makes sailors thin. “After the mooring fees and the diesel repairs and the new genoa and the fancy anti-fouling paint, there’s no money left over for food,” she declares.

That may be true, but there’s another sure-fire aid to weight loss that sailors tend to forget about, and that’s the thing that happens as soon as you leave harbor. I’m talking about seasickness. There’s nothing like mal de mer for a quick and positive reduction in avoirdupois.

I can testify to that, having once lost 10 pounds on a nine-day passage around the Cape of Good Hope. I arrived in port without an ounce of flab. Going to sea in a small boat definitely dims the appeal of large unhealthy meals; and reducing the intake of calories is truly the quickest way to lose weight. Anyone who survived a World War II prison camp can tell you that.

And then there’s all the exercise sailors get, plenty of it unforeseen, such as trying for 20 minutes to get the outboard started and then having to row the dinghy ashore to let the dog do his thing on the beach. And the sweaty business of rubbing down the bottom and slapping on more anti-fouling; and rubbing down the varnish and slapping on more varnish. There’s a reason why skinny sailors have fat muscles.

So there we have it. I can already see the pre-publication publicity:

Ø Sail to grow thin.

Ø Sail to grow attractive.

Ø Sail to grow healthy.

Ø And buy my book to make me rich.  

 Today’s Thought
As life’s pleasures go, food is second only to sex. Except for salami and eggs. Now that’s better than sex, but only if the salami is thickly sliced.
— Alan King, NY Times, 28 Oct 81

Two little Native American boys were sitting on a bench in the reservation with a small puppy when a man in a priest's robe drove up in an SUV.
"What are you doing?" he asked.
"We're telling stories," said one boy. "Whoever tells the biggest lie gets to keep the dog."
"That's terrible," said the priest. "When I was a little boy I never told lies."
The boys looked at each other with big round eyes. Finally, one said: "Okay. That's it. The white man wins the dog."

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

June 22, 2014

Exercises for those afloat

IN MY last column I mentioned John Guzzwell, who sailed around the world singlehanded in a 20-foot yawl. She had no headroom down below, and precious little space on deck. So now a reader in Idaho wants to know: “How did he get enough exercise when he was at sea?”

Guzzwell was only 25 at the time, and fit as a flea, so I don’t suppose he needed much exercise to keep fit. It is a recognized fact, though, that people who spend a lot of time aboard boats, especially those who permanently live aboard or those who are long-distance cruising, have a problem 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. I have already mentioned it in a previous column, which my reader in Idaho obviously missed. So, once again, 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, start placing potatoes in the bags. 

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.)

June 19, 2014

Ideas change with age

THE OFT-REPEATED ADVICE about world cruising under sail is: Go young; go small; go now. It seems to be an established fact that the younger you are when you set out, the smaller your boat can be without causing you too much discomfort. It’s also a fact that most people demand bigger boats and more comfort as they grow older.

It was therefore interesting to learn what John Guzzwell had to say about the matter. He once held the record for circumnavigating alone in the smallest boat, a 20-foot 6-inch light-displacement yawl called Trekka that he built himself in Victoria, British Columbia.

He was in his early 20s at the time, and found Trekka to be an excellent sea-boat, fast  under sail and easy on her crew. In his book Trekka Round the World (Fine Edge) he points out that Trekka’s chief disadvantage was a lack of space down below. “This was most apparent in port and never noticed at sea,” he said. “In port the lack of space became a nuisance largely because of shore-side customs. Getting into a jacket and trousers required me to become something of a contortionist, and the toilet arrangements were hardly as easy as when at sea.”

Trekka lacked standing headroom, of course, but the main disadvantage was that Guzzwell was unable to return the hospitality so freely accorded him during his  record-breaking voyage around the world.  “Had I been able to invite some of these people into a more spacious saloon, I would have done so,” he said, “but two persons down below in Trekka was about the limit.”

So the question now arises, more than 50 years after that epic voyage: What boat would John Guzzwell choose if he had to do it again singlehanded? Well, hardly surprisingly, she would be a little bigger, a light-displacement 30-footer, in fact. She would have a small inboard diesel engine instead of an outboard. She would have standing headroom, and she would be cutter- rigged instead of yawl-rigged.  She would also have a self-steering wind vane. (In the 1950s, when he built Trekka, not a lot was known about wind-vane self-steering, so she was designed with a small mizzen to help her sail herself on most courses.)

“One’s ideas tend to change with the passing years,” he notes, “but I see a lot of people missing out on much of the enjoyment of boating by attempting to take their shore-side conveniences with them. Most seem to want maintenance-free boats, yet load up on somewhat unnecessary equipment that needs constant attention to keep it working.”

So we can add one more recommendation to the old advice: Go young; go small; go now; go simple. And if the years have intervened and foiled your best intentions, until you suddenly find yourself middle-aged or more, then take John Guzzwell’s short cut. Make it a 30-foot cutter with a modest diesel and a sturdy wind vane, and leave the fancy stuff ashore. That man knows what he’s talking about.

Today’s Thought
Luxury is an enticing pleasure, a bastard mirth, which hath honey in her mouth, gall in her heart, and a sting in her tail.
— Francis Quarles, Emblems: Bk. i, Hugo

There was a young woman called Hall
Who wore a newspaper dress to a ball.
The dress caught on fire
And burned her entire
Front page, sports section, and all.

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

June 17, 2014

Why re-invent the wheel?

A COUPLE OF WEEKS BACK, Small Craft Advisor magazine featured a lovely little boat on the cover. She was a 15-foot open dinghy designed by John Welsford, shown sailing miles offshore of Fremantle, Australia, in that gorgeous translucent blue/green water of the southern Indian Ocean.

She was one of Welsford’s most successful designs, a sturdy, multi-chined coastal cruiser/camper with more than 700 sets of plans sold, and dozens having made impressive passages in rough conditions. But, besides being sturdy, the Navigator, as the class is known, is just downright beautiful in the eyes of anyone with a background in sailing.

The one on the magazine cover was rigged as a yawl, with a delicate mizzen and a workmanlike genoa sent from a long bowsprit. The mainsail was a sliding gunter with deep reef points —  altogether a rig that must be easy to balance and simple to control in heavy weather. In the photograph, she was riding over a foaming wave with a bone in her teeth and the tiller held lightly amidships. Her name was Matthew Flinders and I fell in love with her immediately.

But after days of lusting and wondering how long and how much it would cost me to build one, reality began to set in. Why, I wondered, do we keep re-inventing the wheel? What is wrong with the dinghy designs that already exist? Why, for example, should the Navigator be better in any way than the Wayfarer, which the famous British designer Ian Proctor set down on paper in 1957?

Can there be a better sea-boat than the Wayfarer? Frank Dye survived a Force 9 storm in one on a passage from Scotland to Norway many years ago, so she has certainly proved herself on the wide ocean. Furthermore, the Wayfarer is raced as a class in many parts of the world. She is fast. She actually planes. Her Bermuda rig of mainsail and jib is efficient and closewinded, and she is not burdened with an awkward bowsprit and boomkin, as the Navigator is.

The Wayfarer’s hull is a foot longer than the Navigator’s, and about 50 pounds heavier. She is almost certainly faster around the buoys and more weatherly in strong winds. I can’t help wondering if the original client  who sought John Welsford’s skills to design a small boat for family beach cruising and deep-sea sailing had ever heard of a Wayfarer.

The Navigator’s looks exude the old-world charm of a clinker-built boat, that much is certain, but the Wayfarer has the classically simple, conservative lines that have never gone out of fashion.

This line of thought made me realize once again how little is new in the design of small open boats. Advances in technology have allowed large yachts to sail around the world in record times, but nothing much has changed in the performance of dinghies and small yachts of the world, with the possible exception of outré boats like the Moth, whose crews need to be performing acrobats on nautical unicycles.

When I look at Hobie cats, I think of Herreshoff, who designed an award-winning catamaran before any of us was born, and I marvel at how difficult it must be for any modern boat designer to improve on the lines of yachts built generations ago. Re-inventing the wheel is a very challenging task.

Today’s Thought
What we call “Progress” is the exchange of one nuisance for another nuisance.
— Havelock Ellis, Political Mystics: Titan and Avatar

How can smoking cause sickness when it cures salmon and ham? 

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

June 16, 2014

Can you pass the test?

A REQUEST from  “Cape Dory Fan,” of Miami, Florida, says: “John, years ago you wrote a blog about how intelligent you need to be to own a boat. I made a copy but lost it. Can you tell me where to find the original?”

I can do better than that, CD Fan.  I can repeat it, word for word. Here goes:

ARE YOU intelligent enough to own a boat? I only ask because it takes a certain amount of brain power to move even the smallest of boats safely from one place to another. No matter that you simply want to row the dinghy from the beach to your boat, you still need a certain number of brain synapses, all holding hands tightly and working together, to come up with the elements of a plan: pick up oars; place in oarlocks; find oarlocks; curse person who left oarlocks under thwart where near invisible; now place oars in oarlocks … you know the drill.
If you don’t have enough synapses, or they’re not feeling well, or they’ve gone on strike because they fear you’re going to outsource their jobs, I’m afraid you don’t have the intelligence to own and operate a boat.
Now, as you probably know, intelligence varies from day to day, so some days you may be intelligent enough to own and operate a boat, but on other days, the blah days, you’d be safer if you stayed ashore and let your teenage daughter drive you to the bowling alley. But how will you know if your little synapses are generating enough intelligence? Well, here’s a quick test:

Aer yuo albe to raed tihs? Appernalty olny 55 penrcet of poelpe can. Teh oethr 45 petrcen cna’t. Btu, if yuo can, tehn yuo aer intiegllnet enoguh to own a boat. Yuo may fnid it hrad to bevelie taht yuo can untersadnd waht yuo’re rdanieg, but resechar crriead out at Cmbarigde Unietrsivy in Egnlnad has rveeaeld teh phemnnoeal poewr of teh hmuan mnid. It dosne’t seme to meattr in waht odrer we plcae teh lerttes in a wrod bescuae teh integlleint mnid raeds teh wrod as a wlohe, not one letetr at a tmie. So coninrgaltuatos, you hvae psased teh integlleince tset adn yuo aer fit ot clal yesourlf Citapan.

For those of you who have no idea what’s going on in the last paragraph, I’m sorry to have to say you’re in the 45 percent group. Too bad. Stay on dry land today, will you? Maybe your synapses will be fitter tomorrow, after a good night’s sleep.

Today’s Thought
Americans have always had an ambivalent attitude toward intelligence. When they feel threatened, they want a lot of it, and when they don’t, they regard the whole thing as somewhat immoral.
  Vernon A. Walters, US Ambassador to UN, 78

“Mommy, what’s it called when one person goes into the bedroom and sleeps on top of another?”
“Ah … ahem … well, sweetheart … um … it’s actually called sexual intercourse.”
“Huh, that’s strange. My friend Billy told me it was called bunk beds.”

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

June 12, 2014

More on Chiles and Moitessier

EARLIER THIS WEEK a New Zealand reader named Zane commented on my column about Webb Chiles. He referred to my statement that “Webb is not shy of the publicity that helps sell his books.”

Zane pointed out that Webb’s three best-known books are available free on his website.

Well, Zane, that doesn’t mean he shuns publicity. Far from it. He actively seeks it. Before the start of his most recent voyage he sent out the Press release repeated below[1] to newspapers and magazines, complete with pictures of himself and his boat.

 Neither does it mean he gives all of his books away. Amazon.com still sells them in Kindle form and in printed form.  And, remember, those books go back to 1977 — they’ve already earned royalties for nearly 40 years. Furthermore, it’s not to be supposed that Webb is totally disinterested in making money. On his website he says:

“You are welcome to download whatever you want from these pages to read at your leisure or to share with others. But everything on this website is copyrighted and under current law, if during most of this century you make any money from it, I or my heirs want a cut.”

 Zane also asked: “Are any of your books available for a free download, John?”

No, they’re not. But you can go into a public library and read my books for free.

In any case, I don’t have the legal right to put my books on the internet for free. The digital rights to my books belong to my respective publishers, and it would be ludicrous to expect them to publish the books for free.

There is an important principle involved here, as expressed by a national professional body of which I am a member:   

“The Authors Guild remains committed to the notion that the digital revolution cannot come at the cost of authors’ rights to preserve writing as a livelihood.”

Zane, may I ask if you expect your car mechanic or your plumber to do work for you for nothing? Are you surprised when they hand you a bill? Do you ask them, too, why their work isn’t available free to you?

I am a professional writer who sails, not a professional sailor who writes. I try to earn a living by writing but I have yet not managed to become rich. When I was writing my sailing books we lived for seven years in a rickety 30-year-old mobile home in a trailer park on an island north of Seattle. My dear wife June, a prize-winning journalist and former editor-in-chief of South Africa’s largest parenting magazine, snagged a lowly job for $6 an hour on the local newspaper on the island, and we lived on that.

I wish I could afford to give away books to anyone who wanted one. That would be a wonderful luxury. But it’s out of my hands in any case.

Finally, Zane, you question my comment that Webb Chiles reminds me of Bernard Moitessier, and you say that you can’t think of two more different personalities. Well, good for you. You’re entitled to your opinion, and you say that Webb is a gentleman, a great sailor, and an even better writer.

Naturally, not everybody agrees with you. Here’s a book review of the Kindle edition of Storm Passage, taken from the Amazon.com website: 

10 of 12 people found the following review helpful

By Scott C on January 25, 2012

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase

When the story centers on the actual voyage itself and its many challenges, it essentially works. The main problem I had with "Storm Passage" was the fact that the writer, "Webb," comes off as a self-absorbed, pompous windbag. He whines about EVERYTHING. And alternates in personality between "victim," worldly and cultured "gentleman" and "narcissistic bore bursting with boneheaded pride." He will also inexplicably throw in descriptions about himself out of nowhere — at one point mentioning his "full lips" and his "cleft chin" (which he says is his best feature). Really? Hmm. So, any interest in the story of the voyage (s) is literally sucked dry by the fact that you have to hang out with this egotistical and largely miserable person. It's too bad really, because his voyage and his achievements are extraordinary. Who knows, maybe in the years since this account he grew up a little bit.

For another opinion go to:

[1] Finally, here is the Press release detailing Webb Chiles latest proposed voyage:

“Webb Chiles, 72, five time circumnavigator and the first American to round Cape Horn alone, sailed from San Diego, California, this morning on his 24’ sloop, GANNET, beginning what will, time and chance permitting, become his sixth voyage around the world.

“GANNET is a Moore 24, the first ultra-light displacement class built in the United States.  Moore 24s have often been successfully raced from California to Hawaii, but no one has ever before attempted to circumnavigate in one.

“Chiles will sail first to Hilo, Hawaii; then make his way across the Pacific Ocean to New Zealand where he will decide whether to continue west or turn east for Cape Horn in 2015.

“You can follow GANNET’s track at http://my.yb.tl/gannet; and learn more at www.inthepresentsea.com.

PS: I nearly forgot, Zane:  There are 866 columns on my blog, half a million words or so. You can find all of them on the right. All free to read, you'll be pleased to hear.  
Today’s Thought
Ah, pensive scholar, what is fame?
A fitful tongue of leaping flame;
A giddy whirlwind’s fickle gust,
That lifts a pinch of mortal dust;
A few swift years, and who can show
Which dust was Bill, and which was Joe?
— O. W. Holmes, Bill and Joe

“Do you know a man with one eye called Falconetti?”
“Not sure. What’s his other eye called?”

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


June 10, 2014

It's under way, not underweigh

SOMEBODY ASKED ME the other day if I have a large library of sailing books. I had to admit it isn’t very large, not the sort of library I’d have if I lived in a posh manor house with paneled wooden walls and a butler on tap to bring me my five o’clock beer.

Furthermore, most of my little collection is well thumbed (OK, pretty shoddy) and largely comprises books picked up cheaply from library sales, given to me for birthdays, and, very occasionally, awarded as a prize for some sailing competition. The only ones that look smart and new are ones that haven’t been opened because I wrote them myself and I already know what’s inside.

Almost every time I approach the bookshelves, my eye falls fondly on a badly tattered copy of A Manual for Small Yachts, by Graham and Tew. It was the first book I ever stole, so it naturally holds great sentimental value for me. In passing I’ll give it a little pat, or open it to some page at random. Last time I picked it up it fell open at the last page of the glossary and there I read:

“Way: a ship weighs her anchor but gets under way, but some of you spell it underweigh, which is incorrect until enough people do it often enough to make it right.”

That hasn’t happened yet, but many people, including the worthy editor of a magazine that used to employ me as a copy editor, insist that a boat gets underway. Why that should be, I can’t imagine. One doesn’t hide undertable when an earthquake threatens. A daring pilot doesn’t underfly a bridge. No, a boat gets under way, separated by a proper honest space, and that’s that.

I  have often quoted A Manual for Small Yachts in my long-running fight with that intractable editor, but to no avail. Nevertheless, I offer my sincerest thanks to Commander Graham and Mr. Tew. If I ever do win that fight I’ll have your lovely tattered little book rebound; and no expense spared, I promise.

Today’s Thought
In a world where the time it takes to travel (supersonic) or to bake a potato (microwave) or to process a million calculations (microchip) shrinks inexorably, only three things have remained constant and unrushed: the nine months it takes to have a baby, the nine months it takes to untangle a credit-card dispute, and the nine months it takes to publish a hardcover book.
— Andrew Tobias, Savvy, May 80

A new senator was irritated by poor service on the flight to Washington, DC.
“Do you know who I am?” he thundered.
“No, sir,” said the attendant, “but I’ll make enquiries and let you know.”
(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

June 8, 2014

The siren call of Cape Horn

A MESSAGE from “Jack,” of whereabouts unknown, says:

“John, will you be featuring Webb Chiles in your blog? As I’m sure you’re aware, he has just arrived in Hilo. Be interested in your slant on it. —Jack.”

Well, Jack, I don’t know what can be said about Webb Chiles that hasn’t been said already.  He likes women. He has been married six times. He likes boats. He has sailed around the world, mostly singlehanded, five times. He writes books and loves music. He is artistic and poetic and, naturally, a wonderful seaman.

So why is he now sailing around the Pacific in an ultra-lightweight, downwind, planing hotrod of a Moore 24 called Gannet? It can’t be to break any records. Several Moore 24s have crossed from mainland USA to Hawaii, as he has just done. A boat half the length of Gannet has already been sailed around the world singlehanded. And, ironically enough, he himself has already sailed around the world in an undecked centerboarder, an 18-foot Drascombe Lugger. He chose the tradewind route, but I have always regarded that as his greatest feat of seamanship, eclipsing even the fact of his being the first American to round Cape Horn solo — in a different boat, at a different time, of course.

Webb has to be slightly nuts, I suppose, because he is now 72 and recently went blind in one eye. He and his Moore 24 are eventually heading for New Zealand, where, he says, he will decide whether to return to the States via the Cape of Good Hope, or via Cape Horn.

Webb is not shy of the publicity that helps sell his books, so perhaps this piece of news is just a teaser. Anyone who has followed his sailing career will be sure that he will choose the Cape Horn route, simply because it offers the greater challenge. He says the choice will depend on how the Moore 24 shapes up on the way to New Zealand, but he never worried about the capabilities of his Drascombe Lugger before he cast off her lines.

I think it would be generally agreed that the Southern Ocean is not the right place for a lightweight, singlehanded flier like the Moore 24, but there can be no doubt that the skipper’s experience and capability form a huge portion of what we call a boat’s seaworthiness.

Webb himself explains this latest whim by saying: “I simply like sailing oceans, settling into the pure rhythms of the monastery of the sea.”

It’s interesting that he should think of the sea as a religious home for monks. He claims not to be religious himself, but many sailors who have undertaken long solo voyages have come to regard the wide open oceans as a strong source of spiritual comfort.  Webb actually reminds me of Bernard Moitessier, the famous French singlehander, who said he was never really happy unless he was at sea in a small boat, preferably alone.

We shan’t know for quite a while whether Webb will tackle Cape Horn, but I hope he uses the time available to think about what would happen if his little boat lost her mast, her keel, or her rudder down there in the Screaming 50s. It wouldn’t be pretty.

Ø You can follow Gannet’s track at http://my.yb.tl/gannet; and learn more at www.inthepresentsea.com

Today’s Thought
Life ought to be a struggle of desire toward adventures whose nobility will fertilize the soul.
— Rebecca West

Here’s some advice for the semi-adventurous, the ones who may not be as bold as Webb Chiles:

 Don't join dangerous cults: Practice safe sects.
(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

June 5, 2014

Dressing for ocean dinghy cruising

FRANK DYE was one of those people who would gladly suffer cold weather and wet misery if the sailing was good enough. The legendary British dinghy sailor was never happier than when he was hundreds of miles from the nearest land in his open 16-foot Wayfarer dinghy, up near the Arctic circle.

I often wondered what kind of clothing he wore in the summer of 1964, when he and a companion made that famous voyage from Scotland to Norway under sail and oars alone. Recently, while I was re-reading his book, Ocean Crossing Wayfarer (Adlard Coles Nautical, London) I came across a list of the clothes he wore at sea. I imagine he must have looked quite a lot like the Michelin man, and I’ll never understand how he managed to move around at all. And yet, despite this mountain of clothes, he was never really properly warm in those frigid waters.

“We were both cold and shivering,” he recalls, “and it was an effort to remove our clothes, which were sodden with condensation. Wearing oilskins all the time meant that top layers of clothing became clammy with condensation, while the bottom ones next to the skin soaked up body perspiration. Not a comfortable mixture.”

Here is what he was wearing, from the outside in:

One-piece, hooded oilskins, long rubber boots, a neck towel, three long sweaters, one short sweater, two pairs of trousers, quilted underclothes, long woolen pants and a woolen undershirt, a string undershirt, short pants and T-shirt, two pairs of socks, and woolen pajamas. (Yes, woolen pajamas!)

You can imagine how difficult it was for him to change into a complete set of dry clothing in the restricted space of a dinghy bouncing so much that he couldn’t even stand up. In those days, oilskins were made of waxed canvas that stuck when folded. Zippers were unknown, and everything was buttoned. Velcro was a long way in the future.

“We both felt better now that we were warm again,” he said, “and optimistically thought the wind might set fair into the west and give us a fast passage to Norway, for we had already had more than our share of bad weather.”

Little did they know that within hours their lives would be at stake in a raging Force 9 gale, during which the boat capsized four times, throwing them into the 40-degree waters of the Norwegian Sea and snapping their wooden mast in two. Needless to say, there wasn’t a stitch of dry clothing on board for the rest of that ill-fated trip.

Incidentally, Frank was 30 years old when he took up sailing. He died in 2010 aged 82.

PS: Another thought. With all those clothes on, how did he go potty?

Today’s Thought
Bravery is believing in yourself, and that thing nobody can teach you.
— El Cordobés (Manuel Benitez Pérez) Spanish matador

Fascinating fact from the Central Office of Statistics:
Four out of every five woman-haters are women.

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

June 3, 2014

Sailing is better than you-know-what

IS THERE A BETTER FEELING in the world than sailing?
Sex, did somebody say? No, no, no. It just doesn’t compare. I really shouldn’t have to convince you, but here are 15 good reasons why sailing is better than sex:

1. You never have to hide your sailing magazines.

2. It’s perfectly acceptable to sail with a professional.

3. There’s nothing in the Ten Commandments that discourages sailing with anybody.

4. When your partner makes a video of you sailing, you don’t have to worry that it will show up on the internet.

5. Your sailing partner won’t quiz you about people you sailed with before you were married. Or after.

6. It’s quite OK to sail with a perfect stranger.

7. When you meet a really good sailor in a bar, you needn’t feel guilty about imagining the two of you sailing together.

8. There’s no danger whatsoever that if you sail by yourself you’ll grow hair on your palms or go blind.

9. You can have a sailing calendar at work without precipitating a sexual harassment suit.

10. There are no known sailing-transmitted diseases.

11. When your sailing partner advises you to bring protection, any old anorak will do.

12. Nobody expects you to sail with one partner for the rest of your life.

13. You never have to wonder next morning if your sailing partner still loves you after a one-night sail.

14. Nobody slaps your face if you ask: “Do you sail?”

15. Your sailing partner will never say, “Not again! We just sailed last week, for goodness’ sake! Is that all you ever think about?”

Today’s Thought
Sex, a great and mysterious motive force inhuman life, has indisputably been a subject of absorbing interest to mankind throughout the ages.
— William J. Brennan, Associate Justice, US Supreme Court, 24 Jun 57

A small-town vicar was asked to lecture the local young girls’ club on Christianity and Sex. But because his wife was very strait-laced, he told her he was going to lecture on sailing.
A few days later the vicar’s wife met one of the girls in the street. She said the vicar’s lecture had been very interesting and informative.
“Huh,” the vicar’s wife snorted, “I can’t imagine what he knows about it. He’s only done it twice. The first time he got sick. The second time his hat blew off.”

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

June 1, 2014

Grapnels and the power of advertising

I’VE JUST RECEIVED the latest edition of a catalog published by a nation-wide marine outfitter. It mentions that I might like to buy a small gadget that can help me get my boat to shore without the help of an engine.
The gadget is a small steel grapnel of the kind the pirates used to tangle in their victims’ rigging and haul them close in. It comes with 50 feet of nylon line and instructions for its use.

Apparently you simply hurl it forward of your boat to the extent of the nylon line, and let the grapnel sink, whereupon it will hook itself on a convenient rock or piece of driftwood so that you can haul your boat closer to land. Once you have the grapnel in hand, you hurl it forward again and repeat the process until you run aground, or drift gently backwards out to sea, whichever is quicker.

I have seen this same idea espoused in connection with a baby Bruce anchor, and I don’t believe a word of it. How lucky would you have to be for this system to work consistently? I can think of many reasons why it wouldn’t work, and very few reasons why it would.

On the other hand, if experience is the best teacher, you wouldn’t be too badly out of pocket after learning this lesson. The grapnel and line cost only about $30. You could, of course, get a decent pair of paddles for that price, which would stand you in better stead in your quest to move the boat closer to shore, but then you wouldn’t have learned an important lesson about believing everything you read in a glossy marine catalog, which is a shame.

I suspect that almost everything to do with anchors involves a steep learning curve for beginners. For example, people often say it’s the shape of your anchor that counts, not the weight, but that’s not entirely true. Weight matters, too.

No matter what kind of anchor you use, heavier is better. It’s weight, sheer weight, that helps an anchor penetrate the bottom. And, remember, things weigh less under water. Some of the new alloy anchors are so light they almost float in air, never mind water. When you toss one overboard with a nonchalant flick of the wrist, it zigs and zags drunkenly through the water like a falling leaf. There’s no knowing where such a thing might land, or where you might end up anchored — if, in fact it ever manages to scritch itself into the sea bed.

No thank you. On a little 22-footer I once owned I carried a 25-pound CQR. People sniggered and said it looked out of proportion, but when I dropped my anchor it didn’t prance and glide like a ballet dancer. It fell like a ton of bricks. It sent waves halfway up the bow. It crashed into the sea bottom and buried itself in a massive crater.

When I was anchored, I was really anchored. Shape is OK, but weight is what really counts most.

And no matter what anyone else says, I still say the best anchors are the CQR, and the Bruce. The genuine Bruce, that is, not the cheap knock-off. Oh, and I guess you could substitute a Delta for the CQR if you had to, and a high-tensile Danforth for the Bruce if you were planning to anchor in really soft mud.

Today’s Thought
I think a great many copywriters in this business [advertising] earn their living because they haven’t been caught.
— Rosser Reeves, Chairman, Ted Bates & Co., 19 Apr 65

“I told you Willy was stupid.”
“Why, what now?”
“He had to call 411 to get the number for 911.”

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