June 28, 2015

He who meditates is lost

ONE OF THE PEOPLE out sailing on the Salish Sea right now says he’s trying to decide how much he likes boating. He told a friend of mine that he has never done anything that can take you so fast from pleasure to terror.

My friend understood what he meant. She told him she once had an experience with a kayak that got her dumped in the drink unexpectedly. “I told him it was much like going from a feeling of confidence to incompetence in nanoseconds,” she said.

What’s wrong with these people? They’re the victims of pernicious psychobabble, specifically the oft-repeated injunction to “live in the moment.”

It took me a long time to figure out what living in the moment actually meant. I was not really sure whether I lived in the moment or not. I didn’t know what living in the moment felt like, compared with living outside the moment, either in front of the moment or behind it.

But it occurred to me eventually (I’m a slow thinker) that it was largely bound up with meditation, and that explained to me why people who are not natural sailors can go from happiness to terror in the blink of an eyelid; because, if you are a real sailor, you never live in the moment. You live in the future. And he who meditates is lost.

A real sailor is aware all the time of what could happen next. He or she stays ahead of current conditions and wonders what might happen if this or that occurred. A real sailor who sees a dark cloud on the horizon doesn’t take a deep breath of satisfaction and  think how beautifully it contrasts with the fluffy white clouds overhead. A real sailor imagines what could happen if that cloud is hiding a white squall. What would be the best way to handle the downburst gusts?  Would it be better to double-reef the mainsail right now? Roll the jib, maybe? Are the reef pennants in place? Can someone else steer while you do the reefing?  Are the jib furling lines free and ready to operate? What else might happen?

All the time he or she is afloat, the real sailor is thinking ahead, not living in the moment. There is never a time when you are under way when you can afford not to be living in the future. You must give full rein to your imagination.  That’s why, when the future arrives, you are neither surprised nor terrorized. You are prepared and confident.

On the other hand, those whose heads are idling in neutral, awash with the pleasures of the moment, will certainly experience fear and uncertainty when their surroundings suddenly change into the inevitable fury of the future.

Many of you will recognize this theory as an extension of my own Black Box Theory (quod vide), which, succinctly stated, says “the more I practice the luckier I get,” and explains why some boats survive storms and groundings when others don’t. Take no notice of those meddling non-thinkers who keep urging us all to live in the moment. If you’re a sailor, live in the future, and you’ll probably live longer.

Today’s Thought
The past is behind, learn from it. The future is ahead, prepare for it. — Thomas S. Monson

“How about a kiss, gorgeous?”
“Certainly not, I’ve got scruples.”
“No problem, babe, I’ve been vaccinated.”

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

June 25, 2015

Some I keep, some I don't

SOMEONE WANTED TO KNOW if I had kept all my New Year resolutions. Well, now that the solstice is past, it seems safe to reveal that I never manage to keep all my resolutions. Heaven knows, I do my best, and some years I come pretty close, but I wouldn’t be human if I kept them all. I’d be some kind of nautical angel. 

To save time and arguments, and for the sake of easy comparison,  I use the same set of resolutions every year. Here they are, and you’ll see why some of them are difficult to keep:

I resolve never to varnish again. I will abide by the John Keats Rule of Varnishing: A Thing of Beauty Is a Job Forever.

I resolve to wear a harness and safety tether whenever my wife is watching.

I resolve never to pee over the side again while we’re sailing, unless:

(a) The head is blocked again, or

(b) The holding tank is full again, or

(c) I think nobody’s watching.

I resolve not to take along a gallon of wine every time we go for a sail, on account of what my wife says happened last time. (However, the cat, an innocent bystander, did recover quite well.)

I promise, when on a cruise, not to eat all the chocolate before we broach any other supplies. The bitter criticism is not worth it.

I resolve not to sail rings around other slower boats, unless severely provoked.

I resolve never again to race people who don’t know we’re racing.

I resolve (rather unwillingly) not to get testy and shout a little when my wife refuses to jump a mere 6 feet to the dock with a boathook in one hand and the mooring line in the other. Sheesh, every day on the sports networks you see people who can easily jump 18 feet. Grumble, grumble.

The end

Today’s Thought
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought
— Shakespeare, Hamlet

Two blondes rented a boat and headed out for the day. They came across a beautiful secluded bay and spent most of the day there topless sunbathing. Next week they decided to go back to the same place.
"Did you mark the spot?" asked Blonde 1.
"Yup," replied Blonde 2. "I put a big X on the bottom of the boat."
"You dummy!" said Blonde 1. "What if we don't get the same boat?"

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

June 23, 2015

Copper is on the way out

THE WRITING IS ON THE WALL for copper-based antifouling paint. Washington has become the first state in the U.S.A. to ban its use on boats, with effect from 2018.

Antifouling paint discourages the growth of barnacles and plant life on submersed hulls. If you have a wooden boat, it also discourages marine borers from eating your planks for lunch. Copper became the most favored biocide after 1988 when Congress banned the use of tin-based paint, which proved to be harmful to shellfish. But now there is growing concern that copper, too, is toxic to many forms of sea life.

It used to be easy to understand how copper worked. It was a poison, pure and simple, and the rule of thumb was that the more copper a paint contained, the more effective an antifoulant it was.

Now, new ecologically safe antifoulants are available, usually at much higher prices, but their modus operandi is not as obvious. There is vague talk of formulations with biopolymers and promises of photo-active technology, but the net result is a paint with a seemingly impossible mission—to discourage barnacles and slime without killing other forms of sea life.

Until 2018, however, unless new legislation changes things, there will still be four basic types of copper-based antifouling:

* Sloughing. This paint slowly dissolves over time, exposing fresh copper as it does so.

* Hard epoxy or vinyl. This is a scrubbable paint that allows the biocide to diffuse slowly through the skin.

* Ablative. This is usually a copolymer paint that acts by hydrolysis, or chemical reaction with water, and the scouring action of water flowing past the hull.

* Permanent coating. This is a coat of resin, polyester or epoxy in which millions of tiny pieces of copper metal are suspended, each one individually coated with a thin layer of resin and thus electrically insulated from its mates. New copper is exposed by scrubbing the hull every few months and it’s possible that this system could last the life of the boat. But application is a job best left to the professionals.

Today’s Thought
A ship is ever in need of repairing.
— John Taylor, A Navy of Landships

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.)

June 21, 2015

Cross-country by ship

I WONDER HOW THEY’RE DOING over there in Sweden this summer. It’s been so very long since I was there. I must have been in an impressionable mood during that visit because I still remember very vividly how astonishingly beautiful the Stockholm Archipelago looked in the evening sunshine.
I had not anticipated tens of thousands of islands and islets stretching out 37 miles into the sparkling Baltic Sea, hiding 50,000 holiday cottages. But the greatest astonishment was the huge number of small sailboats busily plowing back and forth everywhere. Among them, I could see, were lots of wooden Folkboats with varnished hulls, many of them manned by a girl, a boy, and a dog.

I was told that the calm waters of the archipelago were subject to the Allemansrätt, or Everyman’s Right, a law that gives anyone the right to go ashore or anchor on any shoreline not obviously in the close vicinity of buildings.

It looked to me like a sailor’s paradise, but we had no time to go sailing; my wife June and I were there on journalistic business and we had to travel from Sweden’s biggest city, Stockholm, to the second-biggest, Gothenburg. It was not the usual kind of journey, however. We traveled clean across Sweden from one coast to the other by way of the Gotä Canal and the two large lakes, Vättern and Vänern.

We traveled aboard a wonderful little ship called the Wilhelm Tham, launched in 1912 and designed to squeeze into the narrow locks of the Gotä Canal. She was originally powered by steam, but later was fitted with a 600-hp diesel engine. She is still going to this day and runs on a regular schedule, carrying a maximum of 50 passengers in 25 cabins that are perhaps even cozier than the saloon of a small sailboat. She takes up to four days to complete a one-way run. It was a fascinating passage, a slow and stately procession through gorgeous pastoral landscapes and, on occasion, cruising above a village on an elevated aqueduct.

It was a visit we’ll never forget. And I often wonder what went on aboard those little Folkboats in the Stockholm Archipelago. Good job dogs can’t talk.

Today’s Thought
And the stately ships go on
To their haven under the hill.
Tennyson, Break, Break, Break

Swaying gently in the farmer’s field, the baby ear of corn turned to the mother ear of corn and said:
“Momma, momma, where did I come from?”
“Hush dear,” said mom, “the stalk brought you.”

June 18, 2015

How to cure mast vibration

HAVE YOU EVER experienced one of those times at anchor when a stray puff of wind hits you from abeam, and the mast starts shaking? It’s not a good feeling. I can tell you that from experience. You begin to wonder how on earth the darned mast has managed to keep standing all this time. You begin to wonder how close your mast has been to collapsing, if a little wind from the side can set it dancing like that.

The alarming effect of mast vibration can occur on almost any sailboat, but particularly on those with deck-stepped masts and insufficient fore-and-aft staying. The vibration is caused by wind eddies shedding alternately on either side of the mast, which theoretically oscillates at right angles to the wind.

In practice, nearly all such mast movement occurs when a moderate wind, up to about 15 knots, blows from abeam or thereabouts. When the natural frequency of the mast happens to coincide with the frequency of vibration, the mast can suddenly start shaking quite violently, rattling the whole boat and raising no small amount of alarm among her crew.

You can reduce the possibility of this vibration with an extra stay, such as a wire inner forestay or a removable baby stay. In a pinch, you can use a low-stretch line, made fast to the mast as high as you reach and taken to a bow fitting and hauled taut.

A more certain cure is to hoist in the mast groove a stiff (say 9-oz.) strip of sailcloth at least 4 inches wide. This will break up the regular vortices on the downwind side of the mast. But it’s also pretty certain, of course, that no one will want to go to this trouble.

Another way to improve matters somewhat is to tighten your shrouds and/or stays, thus increasing the downward load on the mast. That will usually reduce the fore-and-aft movement of the mast enough to give you some peace of mind, but I doubt it will help you sleep any better.

Today’s Thought
The wind’s in the east . . . I am always conscious of an uncomfortable sensation when the wind is blowing in the east.
— Dickens, Bleak House

A man is sitting in a pub having a drink and nibbling peanuts from a bowl on the bar when he hears a voice saying: "You look smart, that's a nice suit.'' He looks around but the bar is empty. Eventually the barman reappears, and the mystified man tells him what happened. "Oh, that would be the peanuts," says the barman. "They're complimentary.''

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

June 16, 2015

It's not all beer and skittles

ONE OF THE TRUISMS about long-distance cruising in a sailboat is that it’s not all beer and skittles, as many people imagine. It’s not all relaxing in the cockpit with a cocktail in your hand as the sun sets amid a flaming cloudscape at the end of a gorgeous day.

A famous cruiser from the last century put it in better perspective. Dr. Peter Pye said:  

“Washing your face in an inch of water, feeling the salt in your flying hair, the warmth of the sun through an ancient shirt, turning out in the night to silence a tin that rolls with the rolling ship, seeing the same faces from four feet across the cabin sole day after day, week after week — if these things don’t seem worth while, give up your dreams of the southern seas and take Mr. Weston Martyr’s advice and catch the nine-fifteen.”

That’s from his fascinating book, The Sea is for Sailing.  Yet, despite his description of the seamier side of cruising, Peter Pye and his wife Anne cruised the world’s oceans for 20 years and would have cruised longer had he not tragically died aged 64 during a minor operation in a British hospital in which a cylinder of anesthetic gas had been wrongly labeled. Furthermore, while he admitted that cruising was not for everyone, his own deep love of sailing overwhelmed the drawbacks, and his enthusiastic books attracted hundreds of newcomers to the sport of deep-sea voyaging.

Peter and Anne Pye bought a wooden 29-foot fishing boat in Cornwall, England, in 1931. She was in pretty poor shape, having been built in 1896, and she cost them £25. They converted her to a seagoing cutter and named her Moonraker of Fowey, a name that was to become famous in cruising circles.

Pye was a doctor, but not an ordinary doctor. After World War II, when the British healthcare system was about to be nationalized, he retired from medicine and decided to go sailing full-time. He was greatly influenced in this decision by a book called The £200 Millionaire, by the Weston Martyr mentioned above.

He and Anne covered many tens of thousands of sea miles, advising anyone who cared to listen that “log, line, and lookout” were more important to survival at sea than any number of modern gadgets.

The Sea is for Sailing, first published in 1957, describes Moonraker’s voyage from England to the Caribbean, through the Panama Canal and across the Pacific to the Marquesas and Hawaii. From there she set sail for Victoria, British Columbia, where the Pyes rendezvoused with Miles and Beryl Smeeton. Finally the Pyes took Moonraker back to England via Panama and the USA.

It’s a charming book, beautifully written, and copies are still available on the Internet from Amazon.com and other sources. If you’re a long-distance cruiser with ambitions of writing a book about it, this is how to do it.

Today’s Thought
 We sail with one hand in God’s pocket.
 — Anne Pye  

A husband and wife at a hotel in Alabama asked for a 6 a.m. alarm call. On the stroke of 6, the phone rang and a voice said: "Hi y’all, this is your wake-up call."
The guest said thanks and put the phone down. A minute later the phone rang again and the voice said: "Hi, y’all this is your wake-up call."
The husband was annoyed. "But you phoned only a minute ago,” he said.
"Yeah, sure," replied the receptionist, "but there’s two of y’all."

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

June 15, 2015

Why do people cruise?

WHY DO PEOPLE go cruising the face of the earth in  small sailboats? I think most people cruise to find happiness, or at least inner contentment. But then we have to ask: What is happiness? Happiness is as elusive to find as it is to describe. I believe it’s the byproduct of working toward a goal. Happiness is serendipitous. It ambushes you while your attention is focused on your goal. If you deliberately chase happiness, it runs away from you. But if you chase a  goal, happiness sneaks back.

So what should a cruiser’s goal be? Almost anything you decide in advance to achieve through thick and thin. To sail around the world is a goal, but rather a grand one. Your goal doesn’t need to be that grand. It could be to collect certain rare shells from far-flung islands. To photograph six different kinds of whales in six oceans. To make a video or write a book. To retrace Slocum’s route and collect postage stamps from every country he visited. To climb certain mountains on certain islands. To take mid-ocean temperatures for the Scripps Institute. You're limited only by your imagination.

Having a long-term goal, a definite objective, gives purpose to a voyage, removes uncertainties, and resolves many decisions that otherwise become burdensome, contentious, and, in the end, lethal to congenial relationships.

So if you want a successful cruise, set a goal that everyone can agree on —and firmly never budge.

Today's Thought A singular disadvantage of the sea lies in the fact that after successfully surmounting one wave you discover that there is another behind it just as important.

 —Stephen Crane


A man visits his doctor. He presses his leg and says: “It hurts here.” He presses his ankle and says: “It hurts here.” He presses his ribs and says: “It hurts here.”  He presses his nose and says: “It hurts here. What's wrong with me?

“Broken finger,” says the doctor.

June 11, 2015

Bluetooth, GPS, and beyond

I WAS THINKING THE OTHER DAY how convenient it would be if you could receive a GPS signal through your teeth. Imagine hearing  that sexy woman’s voice in your head saying: “Turn to port at the green buoy. Leave the next daymarker to starboard. Your berth is 100 feet straight ahead.”
We already have many accounts of people being able to receive AM signals by way of metal fillings in their teeth. For instance, there was the classic case of Lucille Ball hearing Morse code coming from her mouth during World War II, after she had acquired some temporary fillings.*

And she is not the only one, of course. There have been many reported examples. The human mouth can act as a receiver, and your body can act as an antenna. Maybe you have noticed how AM reception improves when you touch a finger to a radio antenna. It’s not hard to understand that a metallic filling in a tooth, reacting with saliva, can become a semiconductor and so detect an audio signal. As for a speaker, anything inside the mouth that can vibrate would do the trick — a loose filling, perhaps, or some cranky bridgework, even a suitably shaped blob of spittle.

In any case, the point is: if we can receive everyday audio-modulated radio signals, why shouldn’t we be able to receive the ultra-high-frequency transmissions from GPS satellites? I encourage you all to experiment by looking upwards and opening your mouths. Try different angles and openings. Let me know if you hear the GPS lady. I believe people like Garmin would be very interested.

There would still be some minor details to work out, naturally, such as how you shut the GPS lady off when you want to sleep or think about something else. No doubt we should quickly learn the basic controls — using the tongue, opening and closing the lips, and grinding the teeth together.

There is no doubt that basic GPS has brought about the greatest revolution ever known in the art and science of navigation. It surely needs only a little refinement to take it to the next logical step.

Today’s Thought
The only certainty is that nothing is certain.
— Pliny the Elder, Historia Naturalis

A man walks into a pub with his dog and says to the bar tender. “I’m broke and hungry. But I have a talking dog. If you’ll give me a beer and something to eat, I’ll get him to talk to you.”
“OK,” says the landlord, “here’s a pint and a cheese sandwich. Let’s hear him.”
The man says to the dog: What’s the texture of sandpaper?”
“Ruff!” says the dog.
“What’s the top surface of a building called?”
“Roof!” says the dog.
“What proportion of the earth is covered in water?”
“Arf!” says the dog.
“Hold it, hold it,” says the bar tender. “That’s not talking. That’s just barking. Now get out, both of you!”
Out on the sidewalk the dog turns to his master. “Sorry about that,” he says, “Silly of me. That last one should have been two-thirds, shouldn’t it?”

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

June 9, 2015

New greyhounds of the sea

THERE ONCE WAS A TIME when people regarded the large ocean liners as the greyhounds of the sea. They averaged about 20 knots, those greyhounds. About 480 nautical miles in a day. Who would have thought, in those days, that one man, alone in a sailboat, could cover 545 miles in 24 hours — an average speed of 22.7 knots? That’s precisely what Francois Gabart did in the last Vendée Globe race.

Gabart was sailing a 60-foot monohull called Macif.

I have long since stopped boggling at the accomplishments of long-distance sailboat racers. There seems to be no shortage of brave men and women willing to risk their lives in high-tech sailboats with hulls shaped like flat irons, and every four years they set sail from Sables d’Olonne in France in boats with canting keels and moveable ballast tanks, sizzling off the top of swells at speeds up to (and sometimes exceeding) 30 knots as they make perilous passages through the chilly wilderness of the Southern Ocean.

The next Vendée Globe is about 18 months away, and already the prospective contestants are signing up, launching new boats, and refurbishing some that have done the race more than once before.

Here, for the record, is what these contestants will have to do to win. Here are the statistics for Francois Gabart and Macif in the 2012/2013 running of the race:

Ø Longest distance covered in 24 hours: 10 December, 545 miles at an average speed of 22.7 knots
Ø Time spent leading the race: 44 days 20 hours
Ø Les Sables d’Olonne to Equator: 11 days 00 hours 20 min (Jean Le Cam’s 2004/2005 record: 10 days 11 hours 28 min)
Ø Equator to Good Hope: 12 days 03 hours 25 min (J P Dick’s record: 12 day 02 hours 40min)
Ø Good Hope to Cape Leeuwin: 11 days 06 hours 40 min (new record)
Ø Cape Leeuwin to Cape Horn: 17 days 18 hours 35min (new record)
Ø Cape Horn to Equator: 13 days 19 hours
Ø Equator to Les Sables d’Olonne: 12 days 01 hour 37 minutes.

In other words, around the world in about 78 days. It’s an extraordinary achievement, particularly to those of us who are content to plod alongat 5 knots. But Gabart and his fellow professional competitors  are extraordinary sailors. They are the Supermen and Superwomen of the sport — but backed by big money, of course. They are a breed apart from us amateurs who literally do mess around in boats. But I have to say I don’t envy them. There are easier ways to earn a living and probably more fulfilling ways of enjoying the gentle art of sailing.

Today’s Thought

Sooner or later . . . you are going to be looking at God saying, “We’re going to be lucky if we get out of here.” Your life is going to be in front of you and then you are going to realize that you’d rather be grocery shopping.

— Ed Barry, rock climber, Newsweek, 1 Oct 84


They tell me that Viagra is now available in tea bags. It doesn't enhance your sexual performance but it does stop your cookie going soft.

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

June 8, 2015

The dilemma of motor-sailing

IT’S THAT TIME of year again. The wind on Puget Sound is practicing its summer trick of either coming from dead ahead or disappearing entirely. And in the calms we find all kinds of sailboats puttering along under power with their mainsails set and their foresails stowed. It’s called motor-sailing.
The question is: does the mainsail actually help? Is it contributing to forward motion, or is it a parasitic drag?
At first glance the answer seems quite simple: as long as the sail is filled with air, bulging with a business-like curve, it must be sucking the boat forward and adding to the engine’s speed. This must certainly be the case if there is a faint breeze blowing at 45 degrees or more from dead ahead. But what about a dead calm?
When there is no wind at all, the apparent wind caused by the boat’s motion through the water will come from dead ahead. This will make the mainsail flutter uselessly as the boom swings in to the centerline. There will definitely be no advantage in that case, and perhaps a slight disadvantage caused by the drag of the sail.
What then, if you pull the mainsheet traveler to one side or the other and pin the mainsail at an angle so that it fills with the air coming from ahead? This is what many sailors have always done, including me, to keep the mainsail quiet and, perhaps more importantly, to help cut down on rolling; but it has always worried me.
The sail might well be curved in a bulge that looks purposeful, but most of the power that it generates in this position is directed aft, not forward. It’s acting in the same way that a backed squaresail acts, and it’s robbing the boat of forward speed. The faster the motor pushes the boat, the greater the counter-effort.
So what we really should do in a dead calm is drop the mainsail altogether. We don’t, of course, not only because of the extra rolling, and not only because it involves work, but also because a little breeze could spring up at any time, and that would change the situation drastically. Even five knots of wind would change the mainsail from being a big bag of drag to a helpful contributor to forward motion, and we want to be ready to take advantage of it the second it happens.
And so we continue to motor-sail in the age-old way, our brows furrowed with the effort of trying to figure out whether the effort of dropping the mainsail is worth the slight gain in speed that might result. Mostly, I believe, it isn’t. But maybe that’s just wishful thinking.
Today’s Thought

Expecting something for nothing is the most popular form of hope.
—Arnold H. Glasow

“Dad, if a girl kisses me, should I kiss her back?” “Hell no, son. Kiss her lips.”

June 4, 2015

Beware the Russian spirit lamp

MANY OF US have had interesting experiences with cooking stoves on small yachts. Some of those experiences have involved the loss of eyebrows, mustaches, and the hair on the back of the hands. And mostly, those experiences have involved alcohol or kerosene stoves.

The first such experience recorded in the history of yachting, as far as I know, took place in 1869, when a man named Empson Edward Middleton became the first person to sail singlehanded around England.

Middleton was eccentric in several ways and always tried to eat ashore in a hotel or boarding house each evening, but on those occasions when he was stuck at anchor at some roadstead, and needed to cook his own supper, he had a kind of primitive stove in a side locker in the cockpit of his 23-foot gaff-rigged yawl.

Here, from his book, The Cruise of The Kate, is his description of that stove, which, I gather, ran on spirit, or alcohol:

“The lamp used was that usually known as the Russian spirit lamp; and having tested its utility as fully as possible, I have no hesitation in saying that it is an excessively dangerous article to have on board for constant use.

“Its manner of burning is most eccentric: sometimes it will throw up a perfect hurricane of fire, which can be hear roaring at a considerable distance; at others, though trimmed in precisely the same way, it will burn in an enormous sluggish column of flame, which rolls out into the well [cockpit —jv] with the lurch of the boat, threatening to set fire to everything.

“Now and then it varies the entertainment by becoming a fountain, shooting the spirit up from inside, which falls into the tin case, creating a perfect mass of fire outside the lamp, necessitating an instant attention with a teacup full of salt water.

“Again, the fire is such that it persists in coming out at the handle in spite of extra washers and the tightest screwing, creating a great difficulty in putting the lamp out. But the worst feature arises from the fact of the spirit being shaken out of the cuts in the bottom (which are intended to allow a free current of air), compelling constant attention to the furnace if there is any bubble on, [I believe he means bobble, small wavelets in the anchorage. — jv] because the whole chamber will be a mass of flame in an instant, and must be put out.

“I have taken the trouble to mention these peculiarities, for they cease to be dangers when known and properly met. I cannot recommend the lamp, and know of nothing to take its place; but let the engineer be careful that he burns spirit which water will extinguish.”

Well, the Russian lamp sounds like a fearsome beast that makes the later products of Messrs. Primus, Optimus, and Origo seem quite tame by comparison. I don’t think there are any perfectly safe stoves for small yachts, unless you count electric stoves, which are not often found in boats of the size I can afford. They all need to be handled with care, especially at sea. But I’m rather glad the Russian spirit lamp is no longer with us. Cooking on small boats is taxing enough without all that excitement.

Today’s Thought
I am building a fire, and every day I train, I add more fuel. At just the right moment, I light the match.
— Mia Hamm, U.S. national soccer player

“I see your husband has given up smoking.”
“That’s right.”
“Must have taken an awful lot of willpower.”
“I have an awful lot of willpower.”

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

June 2, 2015

Is there mutiny on your boat?

I SOMETIMES WONDER how many acts of mutiny take place on small sailboats. How many times has a crewmember refused to follow the orders of the skipper? And, dare I say it, how often has a wife or girlfriend declined to do what her man has asked her to? Quite often, I suspect.

The definition of mutiny, among other things, is the refusal to obey the order of a legal authority such as a superior officer. But it is not necessarily restricted to naval and military forces. Mutiny applies to crews of merchant vessels, too, although such cases are heard by a civil court instead of a court martial.

I would like to know, then, that if I ask (order) my wife to varnish the cockpit coamings, or if I simply request her to bring me another beer from the cool box, and if she just laughs and says, “In your dreams, Captain Bligh,” is she guilty of mutiny?

I ask because this is a very serious business. Aboard a boat, there can be only one boss. During the days of the sailing navies, the penalty for mutiny was invariably hanging at the yardarm. Now I don’t have a yardarm; well not exactly, although I suppose I could rig up a spinnaker pole to serve the purpose.

In these enlightened days I suppose it would be frowned upon to hang one’s crew from a spinnaker pole, and I would guess that a case of mutiny would have to be handled by third parties in an admiralty court. I would further suppose that the penalty would consist of a fine and/or a number of years behind bars, rather than death by hanging.

What we all need to know is whether the skipper of a sailboat qualifies under the law as a “legal authority,” whose edicts must be carried out at all costs. And in order to know that, we first have to know what constitutes a skipper, a legal master of a vessel. (Or mistress.) It’s not necessarily the owner, we all know that, so if the skipper has no papers to prove his legality, who is legally in charge?  Can there be a mutiny, in fact, if the skipper can’t legally prove he’s the skipper? (Or she, of course, he or she.)

I have been faced in the past with what must be close to mutiny when my dear wife refused to sail across an ocean with me unless I provided a door to the head compartment. Unfortunately, I had no proof that I was the legal master of the yacht. I was, of course; I just didn’t have the proof. So, rather than confront her before an admiralty court, I bought a sheet of plywood and built her a loo door.

I don’t doubt that many similar acts of mutiny have been dealt with in the same namby-pamby manner since we lost the use of yardarms. I’m not saying that it’s a good thing or a bad thing. Just pointing it out in case you hadn’t noticed. Just sayin’.

Today’s Thought
The ship of democracy, which has weathered all storms, may sink through the mutiny of those on board.
-- Grover Cleveland

“Why did your algebra teacher confiscate your rubber-band pistol?”
"She said it was a weapon of math disruption."

June 1, 2015

Spelling for nautical dummies

JUST AS THERE ARE people who can’t spell yacht (yatch, yahct, yacth, etc.) there are those who can’t spell dinghy. It’s dinghy, for Pete’s sake, not dingy. Like yacht, it has a silent h.

It’s an interesting word. Hindi, actually. Or derived from Hindi, anyway. In India, a dengi or dingi was originally a small boat used on rivers.  It started off as a small open rowing boat, usually lapstrake construction, with one pair of oars.

In many parts of the world it was general workboat for warships and freighters, and later became what we know it best for, the tender to a yacht. Toward the butt end of the 19th century some dinghies were being built with partial decks, masts, centerboards, and rudders, and were used for racing under sail.

It wasn’t until after World War I that dinghy racing became really popular, however. A lot of that popularity sprung from the success of the International 14-foot class and some national 12-foot classes.

After World War II there was an enormous growth in all kinds of pleasure boating, resulting in literally hundreds of different dinghy racing classes, spawning national and international championships, including the Olympic Games.

So, okay, whatever else you do, remember it’s dinghy, not dingy, which means something else. Spelling lesson over for the day. Homework: look up the meaning of crepuscular. You’ll be amazed. I was, anyway.

Today’s Thought
Anyone who can only think of one way to spell a word obviously lacks imagination.
— Mark Twain

From a book catalog:
“First edition, profusely illustrated — ‘Unconventional Sex Practices’ — spine cracked, appendix torn. $75.”