November 30, 2014

Remembering the good times

IT’S A WONDERFUL THING about human nature that we tend to erase most of the bad things from our memory and remember mostly the good things. I was reminded of this recently when I read the foreword to Frank Dye’s book, Sailing to the Edge of Fear. Dye, you will recall, is the rather eccentric Englishman who sailed an open, 16-foot Wayfarer dinghy from Scotland to Iceland and Norway.

I mean eccentric in the best possible way, of course, because he sailed for decades in conditions that most of us would hate. The cold and the rain and the stormy seas of the frigid north never bothered him.

From 1988 to 1994 he sailed his Wayfarer from Miami to the Great Lakes in yearly hops, by way of Newfoundland and the St. Lawrence. His book is the story of this trip, and to be frank, it’s not a very good book unless you are fascinated by dinghy cruising and camping. Otherwise, it’s more like a repetitious journal or ship’s log.  His real thriller is Ocean Crossing Wayfarer, which will scare the wotsit out of you.

He did this later cruise mostly on his own because his wife, Margaret, had finally had enough of crewing for him after 25 years. In the foreword to this book, she describes those years as the “happiest and most hellish” times of her life. But it’s the happiest memories that stay with her.

“Luckily, one soon forgets the terrors, hardships, and boredom of long sea passages, and the wonderful memories remain most vivid,” she writes. “Times like flying over the waves, deep reefed, before a Force 7 wind, sparkling sun, blue waves, white foam, and up on the plane for many hours running along the Outer Hebrides, Wanderer going like a train.

“Times like being enveloped in a warm deep darkness with the constellations sparkling above our heads so bright that one could almost touch them and pick a star out of the velvet blackness to place on Wanderer’s decks as we lay anchored off a creek at Ras al Khymer in the Arabian Gulf separating Arabia from Iran. The starlight patterns on the curling waves, and the plaintive murmur of the prayer call from a far-off mosque set in the distant sands beneath the gigantic mountain ranges, was a night never to forget.

“Times like Christmas Day spent in Key West, trying to sail around Florida, where we rushed before a fierce northerly, having battled into huge, cold, breaking seas as the gale swept in. ‘Marina Full’ said the notice as we eased Wanderer into a crack between two enormous power boats and tied her to a palm tree whipping wildly in the rising storm.

“An hour later, after a rest and a hot shower, we decorated Wanderer’s tent with cards, balloons and Christmas roses (plastic!), ate nuts, dug our Christmas cake out of wet bilges, and said that this was the best Christmas Day we had ever known. Later, American yachtsmen collected us and gave us flashing ‘haloes.’ We joined in the carol singing to each yacht.”

Well, I can’t help thinking how lucky we all are that Nature should be so kind to sailors. How convenient it is that we should forget the terrors, hardships, and boredom that sometimes accompany our sailing, and remember only the good times. That, not good sense or reason, is what keeps us coming back time after time.

Today’s Thought
But each day brings its petty dust
Our soon-chok’d souls to fill,
And we forget because we must,
And not because we will.
— Matthew Arnold, Absence

“Sorry lady, bad news. I just ran over one of your roosters in the road out there. I feel real bad about it and I’d like to replace him.”
“Well sure, mister.  If that’s what you really wish, you’ll find the henhouse next to the barn.”

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

November 27, 2014

Beginner's guide to bleeding

SOMEONE WITH A GOOD MEMORY says she remembers that I wrote a column years ago about how to bleed a diesel engine. “I didn’t take much notice,” she admits, “because I never thought I’d have to do anything like that. But now, having inherited a sailboat with a diesel that won’t start . . . well, I wonder if you could possibly repeat that column for my benefit.”
Well, certainly madam. Anything that saves me from writing a new column on the day after Thanksgiving, when my brain cells have gone all numb and weak, is very welcome. Here (I hope) is what you are looking for: 

ONE OF THE STRANGEST facts about sailboats is that a tiny bubble of air can bring a hulking auxiliary diesel engine to a sudden stop. It hardly seems possible, yet it happens all the time — and usually at the most inconvenient moments, never when you’re safely tied up in your slip.

If you know anything at all about diesel engines — say, enough to turn the key to start one – you’ll know that they work by compressing air in the cylinders until it’s red-hot. Into these ruddy infernos, a high-pressure pump squirts a mist of diesel fuel.

The mighty explosion that follows drives the piston down in the cylinder and turns a big heavy thingummy round and round. This big thingummy is attached to a box of gears at the back that turns the propeller shaft. And then the shaft turns the propeller and makes the boat go forward. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work.

You will appreciate, therefore, that a working diesel engine is a ferocious box of tricks, noisy, vibrating, smelly, and husky as all get-go – a real macho piece of work.

So how can this monster be halted in its tracks by a tiny, girly, bubble of air? Well, it turns out that air is compressible. Let us pause here for a moment to reflect upon the significance of that last sentence. Maybe we need to backtrack a bit.

When the fuel pump sends diesel to the cylinder, the fuel pressure obviously has to be high enough to counter the pressure of the air that has been compressed in the cylinder. I mean, if the fuel pump pressure was less than the cylinder pressure, the cylinder would blow fuel back along the line to the pump, which would be just plain silly, not to mention stupid.

Now, to make sure this kind of blow-back can’t happen, there’s a little sort of check-valve thing that will only let fuel through to the cylinder if it’s highly pressurized. If it isn’t, the little valve thing simply won’t open. And that’s exactly what happens if air gets into the fuel stream. Diesel fuel is a liquid and is not compressible; so when it’s under pressure it’s forced to squeeze past the valve thing. It has no choice. But air is compressible. You can pressurize it, but it won’t expand enough to open the valve thing (which some people call an injector, I believe).

That means you can turn the key and let the engine go whumpa-whumpa-whumpa for as long as you like, but no diesel fuel is going to reach the cylinders as long as there’s air in front of the injectors.

To cure this problem, you have to bleed the engine. Bleeding a diesel is like burping a baby. Air has somehow got into its insides and has to be wheedled out. It can be a tedious, messy job. First, you have to know which end to start at. In the case of a diesel, it’s usually the nether regions because diesel burps usually travel from bottom to top.

Here is what they teach you in Bleeding 101 in auxiliary diesel college:

  Make certain there’s fuel in the tank and that the shutoff valve is open.

  If you suspect your fuel pump has a solenoid, switch the “ignition” key on.

  Undo the bleed fitting on top of the fuel filters and operate the priming lever on the fuel lift pump. When pure fuel is oozing out (no bubbles) tighten the fittings again.

  Loosen the bleed fitting on the body of the fuel injection pump and do the same.

Now, if that doesn’t cure the problem, you’ll have to take the advanced course:

  Open the throttle wide and switch on the “ignition” key.

  Partially undo the high-pressure fuel line nuts at the injectors.

  Turn the engine over slowly — use the decompresser valve if you have one — until clear fuel comes out of the fittings.

  Tighten the nuts again.

  Locate the clean rags and clean up the mess.

I’m happy to say that some engines such as my Westerbeast 13 are self-bleeding. Cynical as I am, I have not yet been given reason to doubt that claim, and I am very grateful.

If your bleeding problem is chronic, you might want to check all the hose clamps and nuts in the fuel line for slackness before you get into the more serious stuff. You might just luck out and find the cause of the problem.

Meanwhile, here are five reasons why there’s air in your fuel lines:

--You’re out of fuel.

--Fuel is very low, and the pipe in the fuel tank is sucking air as your boat rolls.

--The fuel tank shutoff valve is closed.

--There’s a leak in the piping, or connections are loose, so air can be sucked in.

--You just changed a fuel filter and air got in the line.

Finally, if nothing has worked, get out the darned owner’s manual and read it. I know, I know, It’s tough. But you’re out of options now. Be brave. Open it at Page 1 and start reading. Good luck.

Today’s Thought
A solemn, strange, and mingled air
’Twas sad by fits, by starts ’twas wild.
— William Collins, The Passions, 1.25. 

The works manager phoned the railroad station.
“Are you the passenger section?” he asked.
“No, honey,” purred a female voice, “I’m the goods.”

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

November 25, 2014

Giving thanks for boats

I’M SITTING HERE on Thanksgiving eve, twiddling my thumbs and wondering who we should give thanks to for inventing boats. It’s a naive thought, of course. Nobody can know who first had the idea of hollowing out a log and sitting in it to cross a river or get to an island too far away to swim to. There’s not much point in pursuing that train of thought, so another train quickly blots out the first one. I wonder how much I’ve spent on boats in my lifetime? There’s a sobering thought for you.

Some people are clever enough to make money from boats, but I’m not one of them. You have to admire sailors such as Lin and Larry Pardey, who found a way to make money by sailing around the world enjoying themselves. They are professional sailors and part-time writers. I’m a professional writer and an amateur sailor. I’ve never sold a boat for more than I paid for it, and that’s not even including the time and money I’ve spent while owning it. But I’ve never begrudged a penny of it, and I’ve never tried to add up what it has cost me. God, no. I’m scared my wife might read this and start realizing why we have a 12-year-old car and the very basic television service.

Nevertheless, to get back to my first thought, there is a lot of thanks to be given for boats by a lot of people. They sure bring a lot of weekend pleasure into the lives of people with humdrum office jobs and they introduce the element of adventure into all kinds of boating. Sometimes trying to start an outboard motor is an adventure in itself. Then there’s the business of docking your boat in front of a critical audience, or diving over the stern to free a propeller from a rope you stupidly backed down onto. You might not realize it at the time, but these are things to be thankful for. They brighten your life and sharpen your wits and make your mate appreciative of the wonderful knack you have for getting out of messes of your own creation. Boats are especially good at helping you create messes like that.

Perhaps if I hadn’t been interested in boats, I would have found  some other way of spending money hand over fist. Maybe I would have built a marvelous stamp collection or bought one of those fancy recliner chairs that gives you a massage and hands you a gin and tonic every 15 minutes. Maybe we would have a car whose back bumper isn’t chipped and dinged by all those idiot drivers in the grocery parking lot.

But that would mean we’d have missed out on some of life’s most wonderful treats. I don’t have to tell you about them. I’m thinking of the glorious surge of an ocean swell, or a peaceful anchorage after a hard day’s sail to windward. I’m thinking of sitting in the cockpit, tiller in hand, and marveling at the beauty of white sails swelling in the breeze. The hiss of a million bursting bubbles in the wake. Sailing at night under a brilliant full moon. Catching a nice salmon on a trailing lure. Sipping drinks with sailing friends in the cockpit at sunset. You know what I’m talking about.

Give thanks for boats. And to hell with the cost.

Today’s Thought
It was dramatic to watch my grandmother decapitate a turkey with an ax the day before Thanksgiving. Nowadays the expense of hiring grandmothers for the ax work would probably qualify all turkeys so honored with “gourmet” status.
— Russell Baker, NY Times, 27 Nov 85

“Where did you get that nice new anchor?”
“Well, I was going to the boat yesterday when this beautiful blonde came along carrying a 25-pound CQR. When she saw me, she threw it to the ground, took off all her clothes, and said: ‘Take what you want.’”
“Ah, good choice. The clothes probably wouldn’t have fit you anyway.”

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

November 23, 2014

A better way to race

EARLIER THIS MONTH we were talking about Ken Read’s plea for simpler racing. Mr Read is president of North Sails. Now it has been pointed out to me that U.S. Sailing, the big boss of sailboat racing in the U.S.A., is also concerned with simplifying matters.

They’re suggesting a plan for what they call golf handicaps. That’s basically a system of helping regular losers, and handicapping regular winners; a system designed to prevent the same boat from winning all the time and discouraging other entrants.

This is what John Collins has to say about it on the U.S. Sailing website:

Performance handicapping (PHRF) obviously works best when there is a small handicap range in each class. That is fine if you have many boats. If, however, you have few boats with sailors of wide-ranging abilities, and boats with a wide range of speeds, the racing will be dominated by one or two boats. This leads to unhappiness.

A possible remedy, at the local club level, is to institute golf handicapping. PHRF golf handicapping works just the way that golf handicapping works. The PHRF handicap is adjusted after each race, or regatta, based on the race performance. This should only be attempted in small fleets. It should not be used for large regattas or for large fleets sailing in several areas.

The way it works is to pick a reference boat, say the boat that corrected out 40 percent of the way down the fleet. Then figure out the seconds per mile that the other boats either beat this boat by, or lost to it. Take a small fraction of this delta, say 10 percent, and lower the faster boats’ handicaps by this amount and raise the slower boats’.

By taking a small percentage you do not make radical changes to a boat’s handicap. If the boat corrected significantly faster or slower than the reference boat, say by 50 seconds per mile, do nothing with these boats. There has to be a reason for this large delta like good or bad luck. You don’t want to contaminate your adjustments with such races.

The golf handicap scheme is very simple to apply at the local level. It can help a small fleet. Over time it will tend to even things out. It will still allow the better sailor to win overall. 

Today’s Thought
Golf is not a game of great shots. It’s a game of the most misses. The people who win make the smallest mistakes.
— Gene Littler, golfer

Press release from the Washington Legal Aid Society:
“A new partner recently joined the firm of Button, Button, and Button. His name is Zipper. He replaces two Buttons.”

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

November 20, 2014

Hunting and pecking for a living

ONCE IN A WHILE somebody will ask me how many words I have written during my career as a professional writer. I can honestly say I don’t know. Millions, certainly. Maybe even millions of millions. But I don’t know. Only amateurs count the words.

For 20 years I wrote a 1,000-word newspaper column six days a week. I seem to remember that came to about 5,000 columns. At the same time I wrote editorials for seven years. That’s somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 editorials. Then I wrote editorials full-time for another paper for two years, six a week. That’s an extra 600 or so.  

Then I wrote books about boats. Twelve or so were accepted by publishers. Three or four never did find a home. In between, I wrote articles for magazines. I never kept count of them, but there were certainly scores, possibly hundreds. And these days I write columns for my blog. I’ve done more than 900 so far. So what I say to the people who ask is “Go ahead, you do the math.”

The second thing they ask is why I never learned to touch-type. They see me hunting and pecking at the keyboard and jump to the conclusion that I was never taught properly. Well I was, as a matter of fact.

One of the subjects we studied at journalists’ college was touch-typing. We were all young men, then, of course. Women newspaper reporters were very rare at that time. I don’t think our editors trusted them to know what news was. We certainly didn’t have any women cub reporters at our college.

We took lessons in typing from a rather nice middle-aged lady who wore a resigned look on her face. She knew what would happen. She knew the young male reporters bursting with testosterone and awash with hormones would never want to be seen touch-typing in the newsroom like a bunch of fairies. Real reporters pounded their typewriters with two fingers and swore at the keys when they got stuck.

We didn’t actually wear fedoras and trench coats, and we all did pass our typing exams because we had to, to keep our jobs, but as soon as we got back to our respective newspaper offices we all abandoned touch-typing and regressed to manly hunting and pecking.

For one thing, it made our stories more concise, which endeared us to the copy editors. They had great power over us. They could change our spelling and our grammar and cuss us out in front of everybody. We were very scared of the copy editors.

The other thing about two-finger typing was that it slowed down the communication between the brain and the fingertips. That was a good thing because it gave you a chance to criticize your writing. When we did eventually get a woman in the reporters’ room she was hated by the copy editors because her stories were always three times as long as they needed to be, and filled with useless twiddly-bits, as if she were chatting idly to her next-door neighbor.

The problem, as we figured it out, was that she was a star touch-typist. She typed at the speed of a blazing comet. She didn’t have to think about where to find the m or the n or remember when to hit the caps lock or anything. Her fingers flew to each hidden key surely and automatically, and there was nothing to stop the steady stream of words from her brain flowing straight out of her fingertips, no time to assess the true sense of the words that flowed like Niagara out of her typewriter, no chance to do a modicum of self-editing as she wrote.

In the press club bar in the evening, the poor copy editors who had the dreaded task of cutting her copy down to size would order large whiskies with shaking hands and we young-blood male reporters would shake our heads solemnly and commiserate with them. We actually bought them drinks when we could afford it. It was always a good thing to keep in with the copy editors.

I still hunt and peck. I am still an atrocious typist. But what the heck. Who cares? I don’t have to worry about copy editors any more. And, glory be, the keys don’t get stuck together now, either.

Today’s Thought
He wrote for certain papers which, as everybody knows,
Is worse than serving in a shop or scaring off the crows.
— Rudyard Kipling

There was an old lady of Worcester
Who was often annoyed by a rorcester.
She cut off his head
Until he was dead,
And now he don’t crow like he yorcester.

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

November 18, 2014

A paean to the trade winds

ONE OF MY FAVORITE PHOTOGRAPHS of my wife shows her sitting in the cockpit of a 30-foot sailboat we then owned. She is reading a book, with her sunhat pulled down over her eyes, and she is the picture of peace and serenity. Meanwhile, a few feet away in the background, a large white foaming crest runs the length of the boat. She doesn’t turn a hair. She is absorbed in her novel. For this is the friendly trade wind, the southeast trade in mid-South Atlantic, where the water is warm and deep blue, and the sky is dotted with little puffs of cotton wool clouds.
The trade-wind belts must be proof that God loves sailors and wants to make up for all the storms and hurricanes that He creates in other parts of the oceans. There is a magic to the trades that no landlubber can experience, a fair breeze that speeds a small boat along on her course for weeks at a time, surging and dipping in a welter of foam as the sails swell with power.
The square rig was the ideal one for the trades, of course, and I often think that modern sailors who try to run downwind in the trades with goosewinged mainsail and jib are either too lazy to do anything special for the trades, or else are simply ignorant and therefore condemned to suffer the rolling and jibing and chafing of the damned.
In the middle of the last century, the big names in small-boat cruising mostly used twin jibs for trade-wind work. They rigged them on the forestay and poled them out from the mast. They ran the sheets aft to the tiller and discovered to their delight that the boat would steer herself. If she strayed off course, one jib would pull more strongly than the other, and automatically move the tiller to correct the course.
This rig is still widely used, especially on small under-crewed boats, and I have sailed many thousands of miles with a refinement known as the twin-staysail (twistle) rig. The twistle has the advantage that it allows the twin jibs to lie farther ahead of the forestay in a deep V, which counteracts the rolling motion normally associated with running dead downwind. The self-steering action is even more pronounced in the twistle rig, of course, because the sailplan’s center of effort is so far ahead of the center of lateral resistance. The boat feels as if she is running on rails and doesn’t even need a rudder.
The trades have a reputation for being constant, both in force and direction, claims that are false in both cases. The “reinforced” trades can sometimes blow as hard as 30 knots, but they normally confine themselves to between 12 and 20 knots. And, of course, this is all downhill work, for nobody in their right senses plans a long passage to windward in the trades. As for direction, the trades often vary 20 or 30 degrees from northeast or southeast, but that causes no great bother for most rigs.
In many cases, the trade-wind route is the long way to anywhere, but it’s still the fastest and safest. What’s more, a trade-wind passage is a wonderful experience. It’s about as close to Nirvana as any ordinary sailor is likely to get. 
Today’s Thought
And winds of all the corners kiss’d your sails, To make your vessel nimble.
— Shakespeare, Cymbeline
There was a young lady of Natchez
Whose garments were always in patchez.
When comment arose
On the state of her clothes
She admitted: “Where Ah itchez Ah scratchez.”
(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

November 17, 2014

Full keel versus fin keel

IN THE EARLY STAGES of falling in love with sailing, the question most frequently asked is: “Should I buy a boat with a full keel or a fin keel?”
The answer is that it depends on whether you want to do serious deep-sea sailing, out of sight of land and well away from sheltered waters. That’s when you need a full-keeled boat. If you’re doing coastal sailing or round-the-buoys racing, a fin-keeled boat will do you fine, and it will probably be faster, nimbler, and more weatherly.

So why buy a full-keel boat at all, especially since there aren’t many of them being built nowadays? Well, in short, they’re better at handling storms at sea if you’re short-handed.

The eminent research scientist Tony Marchaj, a champion racing sailor, tells us that a boat at sea is part of a dynamic system. The large surface area and shape of a traditional, long-keeled underwater hull can damp rolling better than the small surface area of a fin keel. This difference becomes marked when the boat is stopped in the water.

When the boat is stationary, after a few rolls the water in which the keel is swinging back and forth becomes filled with random eddies and swirls that offer less resistance to the keel. But if a boat is moving forward, the rolling energy (that is, overturning energy)  can be dissipated more efficiently into a much greater area of less confused water.

That’s why it’s usually necessary to keep a fin-keeled yacht running in heavy weather, whereas a boat with a full-length keel can lie hove-to, or ahull, and still dissipate the wave energy that is trying to roll her over through the greater area and superior damping qualities of her underwater shape.

Racing boats with fin keels usually carry crews large and skilled enough to man the helm at all times in heavy weather, and they can therefore benefit from staying on the move. But mom-and-pop boats must often stop while their crews cook, navigate, or get some rest. A full keel will then be more of a safeguard against getting rolled over than will a fin keel.

In other words, a traditional long keel will look after you when the boat is dead in the water; but a fin keel needs to be kept moving. Nevertheless, Marchaj points out that even a full keel will have more damping action if it can be kept moving. “In a survival situation, active rather than passive tactics are usually successful,” he says. “Those who are able to maintain some speed and directional control fare better.”

Ø If you’re interested, there’s much more from Marchaj, and a primer on how to handle storm conditions in a full-keeler, in my book, The Seaworthy Offshore Sailboat (International Marine).

Today’s Thought
When clouds appear, wise men put on their cloaks;
When great leaves fall, the winter is at hand;
When the sun sets, who doth not look for night?
Untimely storms make men expect a dearth.
— Shakespeare, Richard III

“They tell me O’Riordan stayed up all night to see where the sun went.”
“Oh did he now? And what happened?”
“It finally dawned on him.”
(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

November 13, 2014

How much water you need

I SEE THAT Californians affected by drought are now having their fresh water rationed. They’re restricted to 50 gallons per person per day. And they’re complaining of hardship. Poor babies.


People who cross oceans on small sailboats mostly use less than one gallon of water a day each, even in the tropics. In fact, if the California ration were applied, a boat doing a non-stop 30-day transatlantic crossing with four crew would need to carry 6,000 gallons of water weighing about 19 tons. An impossibility. Those whining Californians don’t know how lucky they are.


For drinking only, about half a gallon (two liters) per person per day is adequate to maintain good health, but one whole U.S. gallon (3.78 liters) is preferable as a minimum in hot climates, especially if it’s the only potable liquid.


You can, and surely will, get by on less, depending on the outside weather and temperature. But providing between a half-gallon and one gallon a day for each person for the projected duration of an ocean passage automatically assures you of an emergency reserve. You should figure out the number of days to allow for by dividing the distance in miles by 100. You’ll almost certainly cover more than 100 miles a day, but that’s the figure to aim at for planning purposes.  


Good water will remain sweet for at least six months in tightly sealed opaque containers stored in a cool place away from bright daylight. Don’t forget that it’s important to divide your water supply among separate tanks or containers in case some of it should go bad or leak away. There’s hardly anything worse than running out of water. As any Californian can tell you.

Today’s Thought

Water, water everywhere
Atlantic and Pacific
But New York City’s got them beat
Our aqua is terrific!
— Edward Koch, Mayor of NYC

“You’ve got to lose weight. “I’m putting you on lettuce, carrots and green onions for a week.” “OK, doc. Before or after meals?”

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

November 11, 2014

Racing advice from a smiley guy

KEN READ’S PLEA for simpler racing reminded me of why I gave up racing. Ken is the president of North Sails, and as I said in my last column, he feels that racing has become too expensive and complicated.

That’s not the reason I quit, however. I was already racing in a simple and inexpensive dinghy class. I quit because I wanted too hard to win.

We raced on Saturday afternoons, but by Friday evening things were getting tense. My gut was in a knot. Sleep was hard to come by. On Saturday morning, like as not, I would say to my crew, my wife June, “I don’t feel like sailing today.”

She would look at me knowingly and shrug. It was okay with her. But an hour later I’d say, “Let’s just go down to the club and see what the weather’s doing.”

Invariably, the weather was all wrong. It was either blowing a gale or there was no wind at all.

An hour before the start I’d say, “Oh, what the heck, let’s just rig the boat and go for a test sail. See if we want to race. But I don’t think so.”

Well, of course we raced. We always raced. And that’s when I became Captain Bligh, according to my crew. I changed from being a nice smiley guy to someone who was ruthless and obsessive. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, muttered my crew.

I gave no quarter. When the secretary of our association came creeping past me to windward I luffed him, suddenly and unexpectedly. “Go home!” I shouted. He looked at me like a spaniel whose trusted master had just kicked him in the balls.

I submitted protests and read the riot act to anyone who got in my way. I was thoroughly unpleasant, and my gut ached something terrible.

In the end I knew I had to give up racing, not only because I wasn’t good enough to win every time, but also because it turned me into somebody I didn’t like. I had the choice of learning to lose gracefully, of course. But that didn’t appeal to me then. I needed to quit cold turkey.

Luckily, it worked, and after a year or two of non-competitive cruising I was able to lose gracefully, in fact not to worry at all about losing. Well, mostly, anyway. I’m not sure that my character was improved. It’s just that I didn’t mind losing because I didn’t race anymore, and I didn’t race anymore because I didn’t want to feel the tension and experience the aching gut.

I’ll admit that I miss it, though. Winning a race can have the same effect as snorting a drug. But I’m too old now, so it’s a moot point. I’m a nice smiley guy all the time now; and every time I see those suckers out there in the bay with their guts in a knot and screaming “Starboard!” at each other I think to myself, “Well done, lad, you got out just in time.”

Today’s Thought
Sport begets tumultuous strife and wrath, and wrath begets fierce quarrels and war to the death.
— Horace, Epistles

There was a naughty Mr.
Who hugged a girl and Kr.
She fled in great fright,
So the very next night
That Mr. Kr. Sr.

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

November 9, 2014

A plea for simpler racing

KEN READ, PRESIDENT OF NORTH SAILS, got a lot of publicity earlier this year when he suggested that recreational sailboat racing should be simpler and more relaxed. His message, as relayed by the Scuttlebutt newsletter, was simple: The harder we play, and the more we invest in our recreation, the fewer the people who want to take part in the game.

This sounds very much like a plea for inexpensive one-design racing, of course, the sort of racing that I have always championed, where speed doesn’t really matter; the kind of racing where the skill of the crew is what counts, not how much you spent on a new mainsail or a scientifically faired keel.

I’m surprised that Ken Read should have taken this tack, because I would imagine that most of his business comes from dedicated racers and not from the owners of cruising boats, who are notorious for hanging on to sails for 25 years or more. But no doubt Mr. Read sees a bigger picture, one in which racing goes into a steep decline if the same few (rich) people keep winning all the time. I have seen this happen in a keelboat class where one skipper was simply better and more dedicated than the rest, so I know these things do happen. And if people stop racing, it’s not good for North Sails’ sales.

Read says that the people who organize sailboat racing exert a lot of energy to encourage a lot of people to do a lot of racing, but perhaps they’d get better results if they did a little tweaking of the status quo, and made racing more fun.

That makes sense, because many sailors are convinced that the only sensible thing to do with a sailboat is to race it against others of its class and size. They see no point in using a sailboat for anything else, except perhaps crossing and ocean or circumnavigating the globe. After all, if you want to go sailing in the West Indies you might as well fly there and hire a boat to do some gentle racing. What could be more fun — and wouldn’t it be cheaper in the long run?

Read cites the increasing popularity of rally and pursuit races and advises sailing committees not to keep postponing races until conditions are perfect. “People want to sail,” he said, “not float around waiting for perfect conditions.”

While he was at it, he handed out more similar advice:

Ø Stop worrying that the start line is off by 5 degrees; start the race.

Ø Get rid of uncomfortable gut hiking off the lower lifelines.

Ø Start some races downwind.

Ø Provide a variety of courses, not just windward-leeward.

Ø Involve youngsters more in sailing big boats; not all of them want to sail dinghies.

Ø Professional racers should be helping the amateurs by being available at regattas to give tips and guidance.

I wish Mr. Read a lot of luck with his campaign. Racing can be a lot of fun if it’s properly organized.  Simple rules, no protests, one-design boats, handy facilities for parking and rigging, short courses, clear instructions, and a place nearby for eating, drinking, and boasting afterward would be a good start. And finally, a simple system of dividing a large fleet into three groups, with beginners, medium skippers, and experienced skippers starting at five-minute intervals. And, finally, moving the perpetual winners backward a class and the perpetual losers forward a class, from race to race, until everybody has a reasonable chance of winning overall.

There’s one little snag, of course. Somebody has to do all the arranging and organizing. Sounds to me like a job for a sailmaker.

Today’s Thought
The leader must know, must know that he knows, and must be able to make it abundantly clear to those about him that he knows.
— Clarence B. Randall, Making Good in Management

 “Johnny, did you give your guppies some fresh water?’
“No Mom, they haven’t finished the water I gave them last week.”

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

November 6, 2014

That ain't gin in the bottle

SOMETHING we don’t often think about on a boat is accidental poisoning. But it can easily happen on small boats where all supplies are crowded together in a confined space.

I well remember a shipmate who came back on board more than a little woozy after a late party with friends. In darkness, he poured himself a nightcap from a bottle in the galley and fell into his bunk.

I was wakened early next morning by retching sounds. I found my shipmate leaning over the side and vomiting. A wide rainbow sheen was spreading  over the calm water alongside. We soon discovered that he had drunk kerosene stove fuel that was kept in an old gin bottle. He was a sturdy fellow with a strong constitution, however, and he survived.

There was a medical man-cum-sailor called Dr. Louis H. Merker who wrote a long magazine article in the 1950s about the philosophy of first aid, and he had some advice for anyone who got into trouble as  my shipmate did. “Thank God, many poisons are slow in action, so you have a little time,” he pointed out. “The thing to do now is to neutralize the poison immediately so that it will become harmless in the stomach.”

This was his proposal:

1. Break three or four eggs in a deep dish, mix them, and drink them down fast. “Since every boatman likes fried eggs for breakfast, most boats carry them aboard.”  Eggs contain albumen, he said, and this forms a chemical combination with many poisons. “It also forms a protective lining on the stomach and renders the poison inert and harmless.”

2. If you have milk aboard, take three, four, or five glasses of milk, one right after the other. If milk is not available, drink about three, four, or five glasses of bicarbonate of soda in water. “The purpose is to neutralize and dilute the poison, and also to fill up the stomach, so that you feel you will burst. Now, when your teeth are about ready to float, bend over a pail, put your fingers in your mouth, and try to force vomiting. If you succeed, all is well. A stomach pump could not have done better.

“If you cannot vomit, take two teaspoons of syrup of ipecac, and you will probably bring up what you ate last week. After all this, lie down and rest. You will need it.”

Ø I should warn you that ipecac is no longer regarded with favor for this purpose by the medical profession, so you had better have a little talk with your family doctor about what to use as a substitute if two fingers down your throat don’t do the trick.  It’s tempting to suggest that if you happen to be at sea, seasickness is an obvious answer, but if you’re not usually susceptible it isn’t going to help. Better have an approved emetic standing by. And don’t save kerosene in old gin bottles.

Today’s Thought
Some men employ their health, an ugly trick,
In making known how oft they have been sick.
— William Cowper, Conversations

Only a few of us can learn from other people’s mistakes.
The rest of us have to be the other people.

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

November 4, 2014

Ulterior motives and the NMMA

LADIES, BEWARE. Your man may be using subversive techniques to make you fall in love with boating. And he has the full backing of the National Marine Manufacturers’ Association (NMMA) through its website, Discover Boating.

This crafty scheme hopes to increase the number of women who participate in boating, presumably with the aim of selling more boats and benefiting the bankrolls of American manufacturers.

The website urges men to use underhand practices to change the minds of women who are not interested in boats. For example, the website offers this advice:

“Night activity — After browsing the web site, download the Beginner’s Guide to Boating and leave it open on the computer for her to find next time she logs in.”

Further insults to womanhood follow:

“During dinner, make sure your friend brings up the boating topic so you don’t sound like a broken record and your S.O. [presumably significant other] does not catch on to your ulterior motives.”

Ladies, how can you tell if the man in your life has been subverted by the NMMA’s iniquitous scheme?

Well, watch for the following clues:

Ø Be very suspicious if he plans a dinner date with friends to be close to a boat dealership. “Make sure that you pass the dealership both on the way to dinner and going home,” urges the NMMA. “On the way to dinner, subtly point out the dealership and the beautiful boats on display.

“After dinner, drive by the boat dealership again and casually suggest that the two of you make an appointment to see what types of boats they offer (leave a message at dealership immediately when you get home).

[It’s hard to believe that an organization such as the NMMA can be so naive as to publish this insult to women’s intelligence. But publish it they did.]

Ø Be even more suspicious if he buys you a captain’s hat. He has definitely fallen into the evil clutches of the NMMA, which offers this dubious advice:

“Present the gift  [the hat] when you pick them up. Repeat the following statements on the way [to a test drive on the water]:

“ ‘We’re just looking today to get an idea of what would be right for our family and our boating needs.’ ”

“ ‘I’m excited to get out on the water today. It’s kind of like an afternoon vacation.’ ”

Ø There’s much more of this inanity on the website, but if your suspicions haven’t been aroused yet, and you haven’t been insulted enough yet, this should do it:

“Night Activity: Bring home dinner and dessert ‘just because’ and print the Beginner’s Guide to Boating to look at after dinner while enjoying your dessert.”

But the sneakiness doesn’t end there. The final straw is when it gets down to money:

“Create your own family budget that includes your monthly boat-related payments to show that you really can afford a boat.”

Women are perfectly capable of making up their own minds about whether they like boating, or not. They don’t have to be persuaded by men with ulterior motives. And women who do like boating are, in fact, the equal of men sailors in every way I can think of, except that they can’t pee over the side as easily. Or so I’m told.

So methinks the NMMA would do better to stick to the honest job  of building decent boats, and quit dabbling in the questionable business of handing out insults to women’s intelligence.   

Today’s Thought
If you speak insults, you shall also hear them.
— Plautus, Pseudolus

Two little boys with fishing poles were peering into a small can.
“Gee,” said one, “How did you get your little sister to dig so many worms?”
“I bribed her,” said the other. “Out of every 10 she dug up, I let her eat one.”

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

November 2, 2014

First Americans were submariners

IT’S SURPRISING that so little recognition is given to the seafaring achievements of the ancestors of present-day Mormons. We know a lot about the voyages of the ancient Phoenicians, Polynesians, Vikings, Chinese, and so on, but very few of us know anything about the equally praiseworthy adventures of the people whose offspring eventually founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints right here in America.
For example, did you know that the first people in America came by submarine? Eight submarines, to be exact.

This is something that these modest people keep under their hats. It is verified only in the Book of Mormon, which devout Mormons hold to be the word of God. And although the word submarine is never explicitly mentioned in the official account of the extraordinary journey of the early immigrants from the Middle East to America, it wouldn’t be far from the truth to describe the boats they used as submarines.

You can read it for yourself in the Book of Mormon, where it’s presented as the story of the Brother of Jared, who, with his family, was present at the Tower of Babel. He received word that they were to journey, with animals of all kinds, to a new promised land.

Consequently, they built what the good book calls “barges,” eight of them.  Every part of each barge was “tight like a dish” and ends were “peaked.” And the size? Well, to quote the book: “ . . .  and the length thereof was the length of a tree . . .”

The Brother of Jared was quite concerned that these peculiar-shaped vessels were both airtight and lacking windows: In Ether, Chapter 2, verse 19, he cries: “And behold, O Lord, in them there is no light; whither shall we steer? And also we shall perish, for in them we cannot breathe, save it is the air which is in them; therefore we shall perish.”

The Lord was not fazed. “Behold,” He said, “thou shalt make a hole in the top, and also in the bottom; and when thou shalt suffer for air thou shalt unstop the hole and receive air.” As for light, the Lord stretched forth his hand and touched 16 small stones that the Brother of Jared had found. “And thus the Lord caused stones to shine in the darkness, to give light unto men, women and children, that they might not cross the great waters in darkness.”

And it came to pass that this little fleet of vessels set sail from the Middle East. There is no indication of how they were propelled, but they obviously couldn’t have been sailed, since everyone was sealed inside.

This could not have been a comfortable voyage for any of them. “And it came to pass that they were many times buried in the depths of the sea, because of the mountain waves which broke upon them, and also the great and terrible tempests which were caused by the fierceness of the wind,” says the Book of Mormon.

“And it came to pass that when they were buried in the deep there was no water that could hurt them, their vessels being tight like unto a dish . . .  And thus they were driven forth; and no monster of the sea could break them, neither whale that could mar them . . . “

After 344 days in their hermetically sealed tubes “they did land upon the shore of the promised land  . . . and did shed tears of joy.”  I bet they did.

There’s no indication of where that promised land might have been, but Mormon teaching indicates that it was South America.

This is an extraordinary feat of navigation and exploration , of course, and one that took place long before the birth of Christ. It deserves wider recognition.

All this reminds me of John Steinbeck's remark in his book Sweet Thursday: "There are people who will say that this whole account is a lie, but a thing isn't necessarily a lie even if it didn't necessarily happen."

Today’s Thought
Believe those who are seeking the truth: doubt those who find it.
—André Gide

I rode upon my motorbike;
Ruth rode at back of me.
I hit a bump at ninety-five
And rode on Ruthlessly.

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