July 31, 2014

Keeping the wildlife at bay

THE LIST OF CREATURES who want to share your little floating home with you is quite long. Offhand, I can think of a dozen birds, insects, and animals who are keen to take up residence in your boat and enjoy the comforts of a warm, dry place to sleep in, plus a steady supply of nourishing food.

There are ants, bees, and wasps. There are cockroaches, mice, rats, seagulls, pelicans, raccoons, sea lions and, in our northern cruising waters, bears. There are also flying fish in the trade-wind regions, of course, but at least you can fry them in butter and eat them for breakfast.

Raccoons can make a terrible mess if they get on board, and nobody argues with a bear. If a bear gets on board, you get off board as fast as you can. Sea lions are a big problem in places like San Francisco and even seagulls can make your life a misery by perching on your spreaders and turning your cabin-top into a skating rink.

But the wildlife I always found the most difficult to keep off the boat while cruising in tropical waters was the cockroach. There are many reasons reason why these cunning little devils have existed unchanged for millions of years. No matter what precautions you take against a cockroach invasion, they are almost certain to find their way aboard a boat in warm damp climates. Even if you dunk your bunch of bananas in the water before stowing it on board, these loathsome little critters invade the boat in the form of eggs hidden on the stalks and ready to hatch.

And cockroaches are such despicable insects, furtive and repulsive, spiky and abhorrent.

Once I was cruising in the British Virgin Isles with my wife June, and 17-year-old son Kevin, in our 30-footer, Freelance.  June’s sister Carol flew out from Salt Lake City to join us for a while.

In preparation for her visit, June took Kevin aside.  “My sister Carol has never seen a cockroach,” she said. “I don’t want her to freak out, or think I’m a bad housekeeper, so if you see one, squash it with your hand quickly and don’t say anything.”

As it happened, we’d recently had a war against cockroaches and there were very few on board, but on the first night of Carol’s visit, when she was helping with the washing up in the galley, Kevin turned to her and said casually: “By the way, did you get the message about the cockroaches? Mom says if you see one just squash it with your hand and say nothing.”

It took June years to forgive him.

Today’s Thought
gods i am pent in a cockroach
i with the soul of a dante
am mate and companion of fleas
i with the gift of a homer
must smile when a mouse calls me pal
tumble bugs are my familiars
this is the punishment meted
because I have written vers libre
— Don Marquis, the wail of archy

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

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

July 29, 2014

Selective breeding for boats

WHY DO BOATS always have to be compromises? That’s the question from a reader in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “Why can’t designers create boats that are both fast AND seaworthy, sleek AND roomy, strong AND light?” he wants to know.

Well I don’t feel confident about answering that deep philosophical query. All I know is that some things are incompatible. We can’t have day and night at the same time, for instance, We can’t have cat and dog in one pet. We can’t have beer and champagne in one glass. (No, really, we can’t.)

I think the best I can do is to refer my reader to a column I wrote about three years ago, which defines the limits of my rather sketchy comprehension of the subject:

Breeding the perfect boat                                                                              

I CAN’T THINK of anything that mankind has made that resembles a living creature more than a sailboat does. When you stop to look at a beautiful sailboat bobbing gently at anchor in a quiet bay, it’s hard to convince yourself that she’s not alive. It’s not difficult to believe that she has a soul — and is frequently as obstinate and hardheaded as any human being you’ve ever known.

Indeed, the language of the sea indicates how much like human beings boats can be. Sailors have always invested their craft with living characteristics, right from the early days of recorded history, when young girls were sacrificed and their heads placed on the bows of new boats at their launching. This was done to provide the boat with a soul, and the belief was that when the head eventually fell off the bow (usually on the maiden voyage, of course) it was a sign that the gods had accepted the sacrifices and the young girl’s soul had entered the ship. After a few centuries of this, and some rather withering criticism from the fairer sex, men stopped using young girls and substituted figureheads instead.

But the practice of regarding the boat as a living creature continued. Boats are still presumed to be female, at least in English-speaking countries, and designers try to draw them with pretty buttock lines. Boats breast waves and naval boats bear arms. Racers sail on different legs of a course. Hulls have bottoms and ribs, and sails have heads and feet. Blocks have cheeks . . . and so on.

All of which causes one to wonder what boats would be like if they were, indeed, living creatures and therefore by definition capable of reproducing themselves. Could we crossbreed different kinds of boats to make our personal favorites?

I mean, your boat might be good and seaworthy, and she might be really capacious and comfortable below. But she might not perform too well to windward and her sheerline might not win any prizes for aesthetics. What if you bred her with a slim, pretty little performer with a slim waistline?

What would we get if we crossed a Westsail 32 with a 30-Square-Meter, for example? How much would a bug-eyed Flicka be improved by an infusion of gorgeous genes from a Folkboat?

The large variety of dogs that have evolved from the basic wolf have shown us what selective breeding can do. And we can all dream, can’t we? Close your eyes and think about it. What two boats would you like to crossbreed to create your absolute favorite?

Today’s Thought
Life seems to me like a Japanese picture which our imagination does not allow to end with the margin.
— Justice O. W. Holmes.

“Why did you shoot your wife with a hunting bow and arrow?”
“I didn’t want to wake the kids, Your Honor.”

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

July 27, 2014

Seaworthiness of trailer boats

I  SEE VERY LITTLE DISCUSSION in the yachting press about the seaworthiness of trailerable sailboats. But anyone who sails a small boat for any length of time will almost certainly be overtaken by bad weather at some stage. With the wind howling and the waves building, we might be forgiven for wondering: "How seaworthy is my boat?" There is no question that some boats survive bad weather better than others, even allowing for various degrees of experience among their crews. But what makes one boat more seaworthy than another?

That was a question Small Craft Advisor magazine once asked me to consider. I ended up writing articles for them that included a unique quiz.

We can't answer that question, of course, until we define the word "seaworthy." Experts agree it's a nebulous term that does not lend itself to absolute definition.

It's almost easier to define seaworthiness for sailboats intended to cross oceans than it is for boats designed to sail on rivers, lakes, and coastal waters. Seaworthiness for world cruisers means the ability to stay afloat, remain watertight, and keep crew safe in the worst conditions of wave and weather. It includes the ability to beat off a dangerous lee shore in heavy weather.

Seaworthiness for boats that do not stray so far from land is a little different because they can often run for safety and reach land before wave conditions become too dangerous and before fatigue sets in among the crew.

Naval architect Ted Brewer says in his book Understanding Boat Design (International Marine): "Obviously it is unfair to compare the seaworthiness of a family daysailer with that of an ocean racer, and an outboard fishing boat does not need the seagoing ability of a bluewater motoryacht. However, all boats must meet a certain level of seaworthiness to suit their particular purpose, and they can and should be compared with others of their type."

The type we're concerned with here is sailboats displacing no more than 3,500 pounds that are regularly trailered for afternoon daysails or weekends afloat. And what we're looking at is their ability to perform safely in the sea areas and weather conditions for which they were designed. They should be able to cope with the conditions found in the protected and semi-protected waters typically frequented by trailersailors.

The accompanying quiz can't give you a definite verification of your boat's seaworthiness but it will certainly indicate its relative fitness for its designed purpose by comparison with other types of boats. And remember, it's up to you to find out what your boat's designed purpose is, and to sail it within those parameters.

If you have a small trailerable sailboat, you might like to click on these links, courtesy of Small Craft Advisor magazine, and get an idea of how seaworthy your boat is. But the main thing to remember is that the whole idea of this quiz is to alert you to the several characteristics of design that make a boat seaworthy in the first place, as well as those that make it more vulnerable to capsize or sinking in an emergency.

Today’s Thought
Let others seek what is safe. Utter misery is safe; for the fear of any worse event is taken away.
— Ovid, Epistulae ex Ponto

Words of wisdom from Scotland:
“A weel-bred dog gaes oot when he sees them preparing to tae kick him oot.”
(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

July 24, 2014

An extremely ufeful inftrument

SOMEONE WHO SIGNS himself or herself “Interested” wants to know what a sheet anchor is. “In several books I’ve read, a person who is steady and reliable is referred to as someone’s sheet anchor, but I’ve never understood what a sheet anchor does on a boat.”

Well, for a start, a sheet anchor doesn’t anchor sheets. I learned this from a copy I have of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, published in 1771. It’s only the first volume, to tell the truth, containing words starting with A and B. But among those words is one that interests all boaters: Anchor. And it’s quite interesting to read what they thought about anchors more than 200 years ago. So here goes ...

“ANCHOR, in maritime affairs, an extremely ufeful inftrument, ferving to retain a fhip in its place.

“It is a very large and heavy iron inftrument, with a double hook at one end, and a ring at the other, by which it is faftened to a cable. It is caft into the bottom of the fea, or rivers; when, taking its hold, it keeps fhips from being drawn away by the wind, tide, or currents.

“The parts of an anchor are, 1. The ring to which the cable is faftened. 2. The beam or fhank, which is the longeft past of the anchor. 3. The arm, which is that which runs into the ground. 4. The flouke or fluke, by fome called the palm, the broad and peaked part, with its barbs, like the head of an arrow, which faftens into the ground. 5. The ftock, a piece of wood faftened to the beam near the ring, ferving to guide the fluke, fo that it may fall right and fix in the ground.

“There are feveral kinds of anchors: 1. The fheet-anchor, which is the largeft, and is never ufed but in violent ftorms, to hinder the fhip from being driven a-fhore. 2. The two bowers, which are ufed for fhips to ride in a harbour. 3. The ftream anchor. 4. The grapnel.

“The fhank of an anchor is to be three times the length of one of its flukes; and a fhip of 500 tons hath her fheet-anchor of 2000 weight; and fo proportionably for others, fmaller or greater. The anchor is faid to be a-peak when the cable is perpendicular between the hawfe and the anchor.

"An anchor is faid to come home when it cannot hold the fhip, the cable is hitched about the fluke. To fhoe an anchor is to fit boards upon the flukes, that it may hold the better in foft ground. When the anchor hangs right up and down by the fhip’s fide, it is faid to be a cock-bell, upon the fhip’s coming to an anchor.

“The inhabitants of Ceylon ufe large ftones inftead of anchors; and in fome other places of the Indies the anchors are a kind a wooden machines, loaded with ftones.”

— Well, there you are. Now you not only have encyclopedic knowledge of anchors, but you can read Olde Englishe, too. I guess that makes you quite a fmartafs.

Today’s Thought
In the stormy night it is well that anchors twain be let down from the swift ship.
— Pindar, Olympian Odes

“How’s the new Jewish opera singer getting along?”
“I’m not sure. She doesn’t seem to know if she’s Carmen or Cohen because she’s always so Bizet.”

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

July 22, 2014

Follow Knight, you'll be right

AFTER E. F. KNIGHT wrote his classic Sailing in 1889 it was regarded for many years as the sailor’s bible. In Old Testament fashion, Knight laid down the laws of design and performance, and he was regarded with holy awe by the burgeoning class of neophyte amateur sailors.

He was rarely moderate in his views, and this suited his audience just fine. There was no need to debate the pros and cons of anything. Just follow Knight, and you’ll be right.

One of the things he insisted upon was sufficient weight in a sailboat. He equated weight with power. This is what he had to say about the matter:

“The general requirements in a yacht are speed, accommodation, sail-carrying power, and weight. This latter property means, in other words, the ability to drive through a sea that, from its wall-sidedness, makes it an impractical barrier to get over. When a vessel has not the weight or power to meet such a wave, as a rule, it spells disaster, or, to say the least, very disagreeable consequences.”

Well, far be it from me to argue with the Old Testament, but I can’t help thinking there’s room for other views here. After World War II there was a lot of activity in ocean racing with very small, lightweight yachts. They were particularly fast off the wind and many could plane in the right conditions — something their heavy-displacement sisters could never do.

But what happened when the lighties came face to face with a wall-sided wave? They rose above it, of course. They skimmed over it in a fashion that would no doubt have surprised Mr. Knight. At least, they rose over the moderate-sized waves, and even though they had much of the way knocked off them, their light weight enabled them to get moving again much faster than their heavier competitors who had slowed down even more by having to plow right through the wave.

But, as usual, what is good for one design isn’t necessarily good for another. Slight differences in hull design cause boats to behave quite differently, and it became obvious after years of experience that compromise was called for, and what E. F. Knight said about heavy weight didn’t necessarily apply in all cases.

There was a famous British sailor called Adlard Coles who won just about every offshore racing trophy you could name. “I used to be a light-displacement fan,” he recalled, “but I have been converted to heavier displacement by Cohoe III, which I have found to be  a better sea boat. On the same length, she has far more room, but the principal difference is the immeasurably improved windward performance in really heavy weather.”

This sounds as if Coles is supporting Mr. Knight’s argument, but in fact Coles found the extra weight a disadvantage when racing in light or moderate winds. So, in the end he opted for compromise:

“My own preference, if building again, would be towards moderate displacement and a well-proportioned hull with no extreme features.”

It’s the old story. All boats are the result of compromise, and all too often you have to take the advice of “experts” with a pinch or two of salt.

Today’s Thought
All government—indeed, every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue and every prudent act—is founded on compromise and barter.
—Edmund Burke

“Doc, I need help.”
“What’s up?”
“I’m 88 and still chasing women.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“I can’t remember why.”

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

July 20, 2014

Rafting down the white water

PART OF MY VACATION this year consisted of a different kind of boating. I floated down a tributary of the Colorado River in a rubber raft with members of my family. And all the way along the four-day trip I wondered at the huge difference the invention of tough inflatable boats has made to this business of running the white-water rapids.

When Col. John Wesley Powell and a party of 10 first explored the Green River nearly 150 years ago, they traveled in three 21-foot boats built of oak and described as “stanch and firm.” The boats were double-ribbed and were built with double sternposts and stems. They were divided into three compartments, two of which, fore and aft, were decked over to form water-tight buoyancy.

A fourth boat, a 16-footer, was made of pine — very light and built for fast rowing. If the cargoes were removed, each of these boats could be carried by four men. And they often were.

Frequently they, and their separate cargoes, were portaged around rapids beset with rocks. It’s difficult now to imagine what a difficult task this was, especially where a path had first to be made along the river bank, over which to carry everything. Three months and 1,000 miles after the expedition started, six emaciated men in two boats emerged from the high, steep-walled canyons. They had survived famine, attacks, mutiny, and some of the most dangerous rapids known to man.

One of their boats was wrecked in a rapid in the Canyon of Lodore, which is where my family and I were rafting. Col. Powell named it Disaster Falls “for the scene of so much peril and loss.” A little farther on, we came to another set of rapids that gave Powell and his men much grief in their wooden boats. This one he named Hell’s Half-Mile.

Now, while I will admit that our passage through those same notorious rapids produced copious flows of adrenalin and even a few souls lost briefly overboard, we did not suffer a fraction of the problems that beset Powell and his little wooden fleet.

Our rafts were 16- or 17-foot rubber dinghies with huge side tubes and self-bailing floors. They were blown up tight and covered with rugged Hypalon fabric. One was powered by volunteer steerage-class paddlers, and the others, carrying the first-class passengers like me, were each manned by a qualified river guide working a large pair of oars with great skill.

Powell’s boats ran into trouble when they were cast broadside-on against rocks by the fast-flowing current, but our rubber ducks simply bounced off most of the big rocks and scraped over the shallow ones.  When occasionally we got stuck, we jumped up and down and bounced her off, to go spinning downstream in slow circles amid the roaring standing waves.

 It was not quite a busman’s holiday for me. Although I have had a fair amount of experience with boats I know nothing about reading the waters of a wild river or how to place a big cumbersome raft in the right position to enter a rapid. I tried rowing a raft in calm water and found it slow, hard work, not something I’d want to do for very long.

Perhaps for smaller groups the other sort of boat used to run rapids would be just as suitable and a lot more manageable. I’m talking about the boat that looks like a dory with cocked-up ends and a large rocker to the keel that must make it easier to turn quickly to point directly downstream. But the lumbering rubber ducks are obviously the mommy vans of travel down the rapids, roomy and reliable, just the ticket to keep the city slickers happily apprehensive but not too scared. If Powell had been able to use these large inflatables he would have experienced a much different trip.

As for the beauty of the 2,000-foot high canyons through which we floated in Colorado and Utah, I can only say it is beyond my powers to convey it. This is truly unspoiled wilderness amid giant rock sculptures that make you gasp as you round every bend. I’m afraid the deep ocean is very boring compared with the rapids of the Canyon of Lodore.

Ø The Exploration of the Colorado and Its Canyons, by John Wesley Powell (Penguin Books)

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

“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.)