April 28, 2016

Varnish time or sailing time?

IT’S A PARADOX that the best time of the year for sailing is also the best time of the year for varnishing. You can either varnish or you can sail, but if you have any willpower at all — if you want to show that you’re a real man, (even if you’re a woman) — you will deny yourself the hedonistic pleasure of sailing, and pick up the varnish brush. You know it must be done. You know exactly what will happen if you neglect your varnish.

Now, a little varnished teak on deck sets a boat off. It gives her the warm glow of a cherished object and it tempers the pale, sterile plasticity of fiberglass. But too much teak on deck is madness. It’s murder on the varnisher and the bank balance. Too much brightwork, to put it bluntly is a sign of poor judgment on behalf of the designer and the owner.

Nevertheless, if you maintain the seal, varnish can last indefinitely, says author Don Casey in his book Sailboat Refinishing (International Marine).

“Besides avoiding moisture penetration at nicks and scratches, you must protect against surface erosion by periodically applying a fresh top coat. Exposed exterior varnish should be recoated at least annually in northern climes, every six months in the tropics. Scrub the varnish to remove all traces of grease and dirt, then sand the surface with 180-grit paper (or scuff it with bronze wool) and lay on a new finish coat.”

There. It’s so easy. Now you know what you really should be doing. If you have any conscience at all, you will hate yourself next time you’re out sailing instead of varnishing.

Today’s Thought
The New England conscience ... does not stop you from doing what you shouldn’t—it just stops you from enjoying it.
—Cleveland Amory, New York, 5 May 80

“Ah, monsieur, so you ’ave climb ze Matterhorn, eh? Zat is a foot to be proud of.”
“You mean feat, don’t you?”
“Ah, m’sieur climb it twice already?”

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

April 26, 2016

The need for boat-bonding time

BRITISH  EMPLOYERS are giving staff as much as three weeks paid leave  to settle in new pets. They call it “pawternity leave” and it’s in addition to normal annual vacation time.

Roughly 1 in 20 companies offer special time off when employees obtain a new pet. Some firms allow workers to take a few hours off to settle an animal in a new home, but others offer up to 21 days of paid leave. This time can be used for training, visits to the vet, or simple bonding time at the new location.

Well now, what does this suggest to you? Yes, of course. What about special leave for a new boat? Right on. We all know that a boat has a soul. She needs tender loving care and attention as much as any old moggy or mongrel.

There is an obvious need for a few weeks of pampering time to settle your new boat in its berth or on a mooring while you splice up some fancy new mooring lines. You could use the time to introduce your little darling to the neighboring boats, so she doesn’t feel like the perennial new kid on the block. You could give her bottom a new lick of antifouling paint and tickle her fancy with a coat or two of fresh varnish. And, naturally, you’d need to take her for quite few test sails to see how she reacts to your handling. There is no end to the list of things you could do in three weeks of paid leave.

To those who will say all this is just plain silly, I’ll add this: what is the difference between pets and boats? Surely what’s right for one is right for the other. In fact, if you think about it, boats are more useful than pets, and just as pretty. They don’t bite or scratch, don’t soil the carpet, and don’t steal the barbecue steak. Boats carry you to places and have room for you to sit down sheltered from the rain and drink beer and wine.  What pet can compete with that? You can fish from a boat and smuggle booze or drugs if you want to. 

A boat will ignore you just as well as a cat, if that’s the relationship you want, but, unlike a dog, no boat will disgrace itself by mindlessly running to fetch balls and sticks. Neither do you have to follow a boat with a plastic bag every time you take it out in public. Furthermore, your boat won’t bite the postman’s leg and get you fined.

There is so much to learn about a new boat, so many surprises.  How many old screwdrivers are there rusting in the bilge? What’s that livid, fluffy, orangey-green stuff under the galley sink? Why the hell won’t the engine start all of a sudden, and why have the batteries gone flat? This all takes time. Employers should have realized this need for extended bonding a long time ago. In fact, perhaps it’s time it was written into law. You might want to sound out your member of Congress on the subject. Or, if you have access to Mr. Trump, whisper it in his ear. He has a yacht. He’ll understand.

Today’s Thought
Were it not for love,
Poor life would be a ship not worth the launching.
— Edwin Arlington Robinson, Tristram

 What do you call a fish with no eyes?
A fsh.
(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

April 25, 2016

The safety of smallness

SOME YEARS BACK I helped construct a seaworthiness quiz for Small Craft Advisor magazine. The quiz was designed to give the owners of small sailboats a reasonable idea of how seaworthy various designs might be. And, perhaps more importantly, it demonstrated for them the desirable qualities that add up to seaworthiness in very small craft.

But now and then someone comes along and says: "What were you thinking? How can such small boats be seaworthy?" Well, they say that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and that’s what most of these someones are equipped with.

It’s quite obvious that dinghies and their ilk can’t meet all the qualities necessary to claim seaworthiness for larger vessels, ones that can accommodate people in the shelter of a cabin. But sailing dinghies can indeed provide two of the most important qualities: to stay afloat and to keep their crews alive.

If these someones had done their homework, they’d know that tiny open boats have made remarkable ocean voyages that demonstrate their seaworthiness. I could mention Captain Bligh, for a start, and Webb Chiles, who singlehandedly sailed his open, 17-foot, Drascombe Lugger, Chidiock Tichborne, almost all of the way around the world. And then there was Frank Dye, who sailed his 16-foot Wayfarer dinghy hundreds of miles across the North Sea from Scotland to Iceland, and to Norway.

These sailors provided an element of seaworthiness that their small craft lacked, of course. They were all expert seamen. In fact, when faced with storms at sea, Dye, in his unballasted, centerboard dinghy, would take the mast down, set a sea anchor so that the boat faced into the oncoming seas, and then lie down on the floorboards and go to sleep. “There’s nothing much else to do,” he said. Except pray, perhaps.

In coastal cruising, much of the seaworthiness of a dinghy like the Wayfarer lies in its ability to run for shelter close inshore, to maneuver closely among rocks, and to land on a beach and be pulled up out of harm on inflatable rollers. Larger, less nimble yachts with deep keels would not dare close a shore like that in heavy weather; their only recourse then is to seek deep water offshore, where their seaworthiness will be well tested.

In at least one way, the smaller the sailing dinghy, the more seaworthy it is. That is when the worst happens and the boat capsizes. The smaller the boat, the easier it is for the crew to right her.

The well-found camp-cruising dinghy cannot sink — she has built-in buoyancy. With a sealed mast and boom for flotation, she cannot turn completely turtle, and so the crew can stand on the centerboard to right her. She will also have self-bailers that will draw all the water from the cockpit once she comes upright again and gains way.

So there’s no doubt in my mind that small boats can be seaworthy. They can’t provide the shelter and comfort of a larger vessel, admittedly, but their closeness to the water provides delicate insights and thrills unknown to those lofty someones who batter their way through the seas in their seaborne chariots, carefully insulated from both the sea’s danger and its intimate secrets.

Today’s Thought
There are many advantages in sea-voyaging, but security is not one of them.
— Sadi (Emerson, English Traits: The Voyage)

“That’s a funny-looking dog you’ve got there.”
“What? I’ll have you know I paid $1,000 for this dog. He’s part terrier and part bull.”
“Which part is bull?”
“The part about the $1,000.”

April 21, 2016

What boat did they sail?

HOW DID MONKEYS cross 100 miles of open sea about 21 million years ago? That’s what scientists are asking. According to a study published in the journal Nature, fossil evidence suggests that monkeys managed to migrate from South to North America across the 100 miles of water that separated the two continents at the time.

Some people have suggested that they swam across. But Jonathan Bloch, a paleontologist at the Florida Museum of Natural History quite rightly pooh-poohs that idea.  “It is a difficult feat,” he says with impressive understatement. He thinks it’s more likely that they may have accidentally rafted across on a floating raft of vegetable matter.

But no one, it seems, has suggested the obvious — that the monkeys deliberately sailed across.  I have always maintained that sailing is much easier than human beings make it out to be.  I can see no reason why a bunch of monkeys couldn’t sail a boat a mere 100 miles across the Atlantic. It’s a day’s run, for goodness’ sake. The only question is what kind of boat.

I imagine it must have been the sort of boat that later developed in the South Pacific, a large type of canoe with a single float off to one side for stability. Those snobbish people in the Northeast will claim it was a Cape Cod Catboat, of course, but there is not a shred of scientific evidence to support that idea.  In any case, catboats are centerboarders, not fit for open sea work.

And I have no doubt the scientists will soon be hearing from the residents of Kansas, where the wicked witch released a flock of flying monkeys, but I think we can dismiss that claim, too, since although some monkeys can glide from tree to tree, there are none that can fly 100 miles non-stop.

It is surely reprehensible of Nature to introduce this mystery to the public before enough facts are known. For instance, who can say for sure the continents were exactly 100 miles apart 21 million years ago? Who can say for sure there were no monkeys in North America at that time? Just because no fossils have been found, it doesn’t prove that the monkeys weren’t there all the time, does it? Of course not.

Or maybe the Atlantic was frozen during one of those Great Ice Ages we read about, and the monkeys just walked across. Who can say? 

It took humans a long time to work out why the chicken crossed the road. It will probably take a lot longer to figure out how the monkey crossed the sea.

Today’s Thought
Children, behold the Chimpanzee;
He sits on the ancestral tree
From which we sprang in ages gone.
I’m glad we sprang: had we held on,
We might, for aught that I can say,
Be horrid Chimpanzees today.
— Oliver Herford, The Chimpanzee

“You say the tow-truck guy charged you $50 a mile for towing?”
“Yeah, but I got my money’s worth — I kept the brakes on all the way.”

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

April 19, 2016

What's to know about sailing

SAILING LOOKS so simple. You just lie back in the cockpit in the shade of the mainsail and waggle the tiller thing, right? Well, not quite. In fact, sailing is one of those sports or pastimes that demands a surprising amount of general knowledge in a host of subjects, and the more seriously you take your sailing, the wider the range of knowledge you need.

Here is a list of some subjects a well educated sailor will know quite a lot about. It’s in no particular order — just as the thoughts came into my head:

Hydrodynamics — How the hull, keel and rudder react to the passage of water. How propellers work. The effects of drogues and sea anchors. The efficiency of bilge pumps.

Aerodynamics —  How the superstructure, sails, mast and rigging are affected by the wind.

Sail handling — Knowing when to reef and how to reef. Knowing how to heave to.

Textiles — The various uses of Dacron, nylon, Velcro, Kevlar, Mylar, Spectra, Manila, and others.

Fiberglass — the different ways glass fibers are assembled and woven and their uses.

Resins — polyester, epoxy, vinylester etc., and their attributes.

Paints — alkyd enamel, alkyd-acrylic enamel, alkyd-silicone enamel, Teflon and vinyl bottom paint, epoxy topside paint, epoxy bottom paint, ablative, sloughing, and copolymer bottom paint, and a whole lot more.

Solvents and sealants — How they work and what to use where.

Woods — Their characteristics and uses in boatbuilding, their strength, resistance to rot etc.

Engines — A working knowledge (and preferably more) of diesel and gas, inboard and outboard engines.

Cooking — What and how to feed a cold, hungry crew. The art of provisioning, and saving water. Where to store the beer. How to make a Dark ’n Stormy.

Anchoring — An important art that starts with books and ends with practice. Or perhaps the learning never ends.

Rigging — The mechanics of keeping the mast tuned and upright.

The Galvanic scale — What metals eat other metals when you aren’t looking; what’s safe to use and what’s not.

Navigation — Pilotage (inshore) and celestial (offshore). A huge subject on its own, even in these days of GPS and satellite phones.

The Rule of the Road — Another huge subject, often modified by the old precept that small boats with any sense always give way to big boats.

Radio procedure — How to make professional-sounding calls on VHF and HF radios, including knowledge of the international phonetic alphabet.

Naval architecture — How the shape of hulls affects performance and the differences between racing boat and cruisers.

Meteorology — The ability to recognize changes in atmospheric pressure and what this means for winds in your area. Reading the clouds and knowing in advance when to reef or douse sail.

Geography — Knowing where not to be in hurricane season. Knowing when to turn right for the West Indies. Arriving in countries that you actually aimed for, especially those where they speak English.

First aid — Knowledge of how to treat a hurt person until you can get professional help.

Electronics — A surface knowledge of how to use AIS, a chart plotter, an Epirb, etc.

Emergency procedures — What to keep in a grab bag, how to call for help, how to stop a leak, how to put out a fire, how to launch a life raft, etc.

Literature — The stories and lessons to be learned from others who have gone before you.

And much more, including a healthy dose of physics. Speaking of which, Einstein was a lake sailor. He knew that e = mc2.  In other words, energy equals mass times speed squared. This means that if you hit something at 2 knots you might do damage worth $500. But if you hit at 4 knots the damage will be $2,000, not $1,000. And if you hit at 6 knots, well, holey-moley, you’re going to have to declare bankruptcy.  That was Einstein’s major contribution to sailing and we thank him for it.

Meanwhile,  just think about all the knowledge you’ve accumulated about the simple sport of sailing — and how much there still is to learn.

Today’s Thought
It is better not to know so much than to know so many things that ain’t so.
— Josh Billings

A traveling salesman was held up when heavy rains flooded Interstate 5 south of Seattle.
“It looks just like the Great Flood,” he said to the motel receptionist.
“The great what?”
“The great flood. You know . . . when Noah saved all the animals . . . you must have read about it?”
“Gee, no, I haven’t read about it. On account of all this rain we haven’t seen a Seattle Times for three days now.”

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

April 18, 2016

You may not need a life raft

AN IMPECUNIOUS YOUNG COUPLE about to go ocean cruising in a small sailboat once asked me if they really needed a life raft. I said no. I told them their inflatable dinghy would do just as well, as long as they could protect themselves from wind, rain, and sun.

The trouble with a life raft is that there is no guarantee that it will work properly when you need it, or that it will stay afloat long enough for you to be rescued.

For a start, they’re expensive to buy and maintain. They contain very little to help sustain life. Some don’t even have any water. So you’d need a fully stocked grab bag whether you had a life raft or an inflatable carried half-inflated on deck.

Life rafts are cramped, too. I guess four people could tolerate being in a four-person life raft for four hours, but only a six-person life raft would be tolerable for two for a week.

Then there’s the question of how you can launch a raft in a storm, and keep it safely alongside while you get yourselves and your stuff into it. Seven lives were lost during the storm that hit the Fastnet Race off England in 1979 in incidents that the later inquiry called “failure of the life raft.” The inquiry board discovered that the yachts these seven people abandoned were later found afloat and towed to harbor. The board added: “The rafts clearly failed to provide the safe refuge which many crews expected.”

During the vicious Queen’s Birthday Storm off New Zealand in June 1994, the only lives lost were those of a family of three who abandoned their boat and took to their life raft, never to be seen again.

The pressure to abandon ship before it’s necessary is very great but the fact is that very few boats sink from the stress of storms. Even those abandoned with hatches open seem to survive.

So my advice to the young couple about to set off on their first cruising adventure was simply: “Never abandon your boat until you are absolutely, positively sure it’s going to sink. Then, if you have an Epirb, you’ll be rescued just as quickly in your inflatable dinghy as in a dedicated life raft.”

Today’s Thought

What is safe is distasteful; in rashness there is hope.

— Tacitus, History


“Did you hear that Johnny the butcher’s assistant backed into the meat grinder?”

“Goodness, no — how is he?”

“Well, he’s OK, but he got a little behind in his work.”

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

April 14, 2016

Dealing with weather helm

A reader in Florida has just bought a new boat, the design of which shall be nameless. He is shocked by the amount of weather helm it possesses. “I remember that many years ago you wrote a column about how to tame weather helm,” he writes. “Can you please repeat it?”

With pleasure, sir. Here it is and I hope it helps you:

WEATHER HELM is not much discussed in polite sailing circles. In the same way that you don’t entertain party guests with tales of an ancestor hanged for treason, or a maiden aunt gone mad from syphilis, you don’t go around telling everybody your boat has weather helm, especially if you’re trying to sell it. Nevertheless, most boats have it, and if it’s excessive it’s a vexing thing to have.

Weather helm is the name we give to the tendency of a boat to round up into the wind. The term is actually incorrect, since weather helm is what the helmsman applies in an effort to counteract the tendency to round up, which is known as griping.

If your boat has a tiller, your arm can become mighty tired fighting weather helm. It’s an unrelenting tug that soon becomes much less than fun. Even if you have a wheel, and don’t have to counteract griping with sheer muscle power, excessive weather helm is a bad thing because putting the rudder over in an attempt to keep the boat going straight slows the boat down considerably and puts a heavy strain on the steering gear. In other words, like a leaky loo, weather helm is not a good thing to have.

So what causes it, and, more importantly, how do we cure it? Well, you might have to face the fact that it’s not always possible to cure it entirely, depending on the shape of your hull, the shape, size and position of your keel, and the position of your masts and sails.

What the designer seeks in the first place is a close balance between the center of effort (CE) of the sails and the center of lateral resistance (CLR) of the keel and the underwater hull and appendages.

Normally, the CE is a little forward of the CLR, because (just to make things more difficult) the CLR moves forward as the boat starts to move through the water. So it’s partly a guessing game with a new design. You may have seen boats like the Catalina 30 with little bowsprits added at a later stage. That’s an effort to move the CE forward, to counteract weather helm. But you have to be careful. Move it a little too far forward and you get lee helm, which is even worse than weather helm.

Some designs will always carry more weather helm than others. Hull types like the old IOR designs with a lot of beam carried a good way aft, and hard bilges, will quickly gripe in a puff. Boats with high-aspect-ratio rigs carry weather helm more quickly because the CE of the tall narrow sails is higher, so CE moves farther outboard over the water as the boat heels, thus pushing the boat from the side, and much farther out from the side, gaining leverage with every degree of heel.

Boats with blown-out, baggy sails suffer from weather helm because the CE moves aft. You can cure a bit of that, especially in rising winds, by tightening the halyards and flattening the sail any way you can, which will move the CE forward. The deepest bulge in a sail, the camber, always moves toward the edge under most strain. You can try that yourself with a handkerchief if you need convincing.

What other cures are there? Well, you could move the whole mast and rig forward. (Well, most of us couldn’t, actually, for obvious reasons.) You could rake the mast forward very slightly, or at least set it completely upright if it’s leaning aft. If you have a racing mast, a bendy mast, hauling on the backstay will induce an aft bend in the mast that will flatten the sail and reduce weather helm. In heavy winds you should set the mainsail traveler down to leeward as far as possible so that the sail spills wind and lies flatter. That helps quite a lot.

One thing often overlooked is that a large headsail can contribute to weather helm, too. Quite a lot of the area of your 150 percent genoa lies aft of the CLR, which is somewhere in the middle (in fore-and-aft terms) of your keel. You might as well be adding that extra genoa area to your mainsail. Change down to a smaller genoa or working jib, or roll it up to a similar size, and your CE will move forward.

And let’s not forget the best cure of all: reef the mainsail. Get rid of the sail area at the aft end of the boat that is constantly pushing the stern away from the wind and making the boat want to point up.

A little weather helm is a good thing. You don’t want it to disappear completely. You just need to be able to control it. Tank testing has shown that about 2 or 3 degrees of rudder from dead center helps lift a sailboat to windward. More than 4 degrees just acts as a brake to your progress.

In gusty weather, most of us will try to ride out the puffs by easing the mainsheet and putting the rudder over to leeward, but because excessive heeling is a major cause of weather helm it’s always wiser to reef down and keep the boat more upright if the wind is likely to continue at a greater strength.

Do what you can to lessen weather helm. It’s a good feeling to be in decent control of your boat in heavy wind. And I’ll tell you what — I won’t mention your weather helm to anyone if you don’t mention my maiden aunt.

Today’s Thought
It would have been as though he were in a boat of stone with masts of steel, sails of lead, ropes of iron, the devil at the helm, the wrath of God for a breeze, and hell for his destination.
—Emory A. Stones

“The doctor said I’d be on my feet in two weeks.”
“Was he right?”
“Yeah, I had to sell my car yesterday.”
(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for another  Mainly about Boats column.)

April 12, 2016

Simple is as simple does

I SUPPOSE YOU CAN make a sailboat as complicated as you want, but in essence it is one of the simplest forms of transport. Sailors from hundreds of years ago would feel at home on the majority of today’s small yachts. The essentials haven’t changed: sails, masts, rudders, keels, and tillers. They all do the same jobs they’ve done for centuries.

So much of the rest of the world has changed dramatically in the last few hundred years. The old sailors who would feel at home on today’s simple sailboats would have had no concept of radio or television. Cars, trains, planes, computers and a host of modern inventions have come, and constantly changed, over the years. But simple sailboats go on and on, constant and unwavering.

One of my simplest sailboats was a sweet little Santana 22 fin keeler, one of Gary Mull’s first designs and rumored to have been designed on a paper napkin in the diningroom of a San Francisco yacht club. At least, that’s where they say he sketched out the basic lines.

She sailed like a witch, but as far as accommodation went, she was more like a floating fiberglass pup-tent. Nevertheless, June and I sailed her all over Puget Sound and deep into the Gulf Islands of British Columbia.

In Bedwell Harbour, on South Pender Island, we took Tagati around to the fuel dock on the northern side of the marina and bought 5 gallons of gas for the outboard. We asked for fresh water, too, but the attendant was reluctant to give us any. “We’re having a drought,” he explained.

“We only need 2 gallons,” I  said. “It’s all we have room for.” He nearly fell down laughing. “Help yourself!” he cried. “Go ahead.”

We headed over to little Portland Island, a beautiful marine park donated to British Columbia by Princess Margaret of Great Britain and anchored with a line to the shore. We were delighted to find a toilet ashore and we eagerly took every advantage of the luxury of a long-drop. On board, we used a bucket.

In the middle of the island, in a beautiful deserted clearing of dried grass, we came across an old hand pump that brought ice-cold water up from a well.  We returned to it the next day, armed with a bucket, shampoo, and towels, and washed our hair. It felt wonderful after a week without showers, but the ice-water was a little numbing.

Somehow, we managed to create a small lake of shampoo foam. Bits of white foam were swirling around in the wind, and we were standing there in its midst with towels piled up on our heads, when a small group of people, obviously from one of the smart yachts in the southern cove, came upon us. They didn’t say anything. They just stopped and stared, as if they had just stumbled upon a gypsy encampment.

After a few moments of wondering whether to acknowledge us or not, they moved on, murmuring among themselves, and June and I burst out laughing. We dried our hair, stamped out as many bubbles of foam as we could, and ambled back to our sweet little boat. There we lay back in the sun in the cockpit, smelling like our babies used to smell after their nightly baths, and thinking how lucky we were to find such contentment in such simplicity.

Today’s Thought
Often ornateness goes with greatness;
Oftener felicity comes of simplicity.
— William Watson, Art Maxims

Did you hear about the sailor who nearly drowned in a bowl of muesli?  A strong currant pulled him in.  

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

April 11, 2016

10-point overboard plan

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

Every episode of a person overboard is so different from every other episode that

impossible to drew up a fixed set of actions to deal with the situation.  Clearly, the crew remaining on board will have to make a lot of spur-of-the-moment decisions, and just as clearly, there will be a lot of luck involved in a successful rescue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 7, 2016

The stuff you DON'T need

I’VE OFTEN THOUGHT that the three most important attributes for a long-distance cruising sailboat are seaworthiness, strength, and simplicity. Of the three, simplicity seems to be the most difficult to attain.

There is a lot of pressure from one’s peers, and from marine manufacturers with goods to sell, for you to constantly upgrade your boat with the latest gear, often in the name of  safety. But safety, in my book, is often a serendipitous by-product of simplicity.

For instance, here is a list of stuff long-distance cruisers don’t necessarily have to have on their boats:
Full-length battens
Electric bilge pump
Boom brake
Non-drip propeller shaft seal
Loose-footed mainsail
Dutchman mainsail control
Mainsheet traveler adjustable under load
Self-tailing winches
Anchor winch (capstan)
Jib roller furler
Folding (feathering) propeller
Extra-large (after-market) alternator
Digital voltmeter
LED lights
Three-stage “smart” regulator
Masthead anchor light
SSB radio
Laptop computer
Outboard motor for the dinghy
Chartplotter GPS
Cabin heater
Fresh water maker
Pressure water
Water heater
Gimbaled cooker
Halyards led to cockpit
Chart table
Entertainment center
I know people who have crossed oceans without any of the equipment listed above. I myself have cruised the wilderness Pacific Coast of British Columbia’s Vancouver Island for six weeks at a time without any of that equipment. This doesn’t make me a hero but it doesn’t make me irresponsible, either. Simplicity has many rewards. And it makes coming home to a hot shower and a cold beer so much nicer.

Today’s Thought
Blissful are the simple, for they shall have much peace.
—Thomas Ā Kempis, De Imitatione Christ

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

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

April 5, 2016

Seeing things at night

WHEN YOU’RE OUT AT SEA, far from the bright lights of civilization, it’s amazing how much you can see at night. The sensitivity of the human eye is much greater than most of us give it credit for. It takes a little time, 20 or 30 minutes, to develop full night vision, and it’s an asset little understood and little appreciated by people whose town lives are brightly lit wherever they find themselves at night.

Night vision is, in fact, a wonderful gift from Nature, a manyfold heightening of visual acuity that vastly increases a person’s ability to see in the dark. On the other hand, your night vision will be destroyed in a flash if you glance at a bright white light.

That’s why compass lights are red, not white. Red light has almost no effect on night vision, so if you have to go from the deck down to a brightly lit cabin at night for a brief period, you should try to protect your night vision for when you return topsides. There are a couple of ways to do this, neither terribly suave and debonair, but worth the effort. The first is to wear red ski goggles while down below. The second is to close one eye until you get back on deck. Half your night vision is better than none, and in 20 minutes it will be fully restored.

While we’re talking about lights, it’s interesting to note that at night a fixed or flashing point of light appears to jump around the horizon. Sailors know this phenomenon well and psychologists call it autokinetic illusion. And illusion it is. It comes about through imperceptible eye movements or strain of the eye muscles when we stare fixedly at one point for too long.

The light always reappears some distance to the right or left of where we expect it.

Now here’s a suggestion for finding a faint light, such as a star, at night: Look a little to one side, or above or below, of where you expect to see it. The reason for this is that if you look straight at an object, the light rays focused by your eye fall on an area that is not as sensitive as the surrounding areas, so faint lights are often first seen in or toward the “corner” of your eye.

Finally, never try to judge your distance from a single light at sea at night. A single point of light provides no clues by which our perceptions can judge its size and distance with any accuracy. Changes of size and gradual increases in brightness as you approach remain imperceptible to the human eye. In many cases when the light is visibly nearer, you are in danger of running into it.

Today’s Thought
Vision is the art of seeing things invisible.
— Swift, Thoughts on Various Subjects

“And how would you like your hair cut, sir?”
“Yes, sir, but what style?”
“What are your prices?”
“Haircut $15, shave $10.”
“So, okay, shave it to a short back and sides.”

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

April 3, 2016

The perils of roller furling

I REALIZE it makes me sound rather more than a little eccentric, but I have never trusted roller-furling or roller-reefing headsails. In fact I have never owned a roller furler. No wait, that’s not quite true. I once bought a used Cape Dory 27 that had a roller furler. The first thing I did was to throw it away.

I have to admit that few developments in sailing systems have been so widely and gladly accepted as headsails that roll themselves up, or partially reef themselves, at the pull of a line. The attraction is obvious: you don’t need to struggle on a wet and bouncing foredeck to reef a headsail, or, worse, change it for a smaller one. Only gung-ho racers and cruising masochists enjoy changing headsails in heavy weather.

Furthermore, the system usually works well. It has a good reputation for reliability. The problem is that it cannot be trusted to work properly every single time. It cannot be totally 100-percent reliable. And that’s what worries the small minority of us with over-active imaginations who foresee ourselves being caught in fearsome gales and not being able to douse a flapping, out-of control foresail. The wonderful thing about a regular common-or-garden jib with hanks is that it falls down of its own accord when you release the halyard.

Now I know that singlehanders who race 60-foot sailboats non-stop around the world say they wouldn’t be able to do it without the aid of roller reefing.  They also claim that their furling equipment has improved to the stage where it’s almost foolproof. Nevertheless, there are plenty of true stories involving these sailors climbing the forestay somehow in the midst of a savage storm and physically cutting away the sail to gain control.

These are not ordinary sailors, of course. These are the super-sailors, the men and women of mighty muscle and guts of iron.  These are not me.  I am never going to shinny up a forestay full of flapping, lashing canvas in a gale with a knife clasped between my teeth.

I may be a coward, but I have a reasonable amount of common sense, and it tells me that it’s safer to lower and gather a regular foresail than to battle with a stuck roller furler.  I know that statistically, my roller furler would not be likely to get stuck. But there’s always the possibility, and sailing is dangerous enough already without deliberately adding possibilities.

Today’s Thought
The wonder is always new that any sane man can be a sailor.
— Emerson, English Traits

Two pink elephants, a mauve spider, and two yellow snakes entered a local bar.
“Sorry, guys,” said the bartender. “You’re a bit early. Vigor isn’t here yet.”

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

April 1, 2016

Beware the call of spring

Spring is sprung, the grass is riz/How beautiful my sailboat is.
AFTER A LONG COLD winter deprived of sailing, the time for renewal and reaquaintance has arrived. Time to take up again with the old flame.

Have you caught yourself marveling at how beautiful your boat is? Are you constantly planning to make her even prettier? Does it make you sigh and bring on that deep feeling of joy when you close your eyes at night and remember what she looks like? Do you show pictures of her to your friends?

Be careful, my friend, you may be in love. Love is dangerous. Love is temporary insanity, a mind, soul, and body out of control. Love is blind to all faults. It lives only in the present, ignoring the lessons of the past and warnings about the future. Love has no strings on its purse; it never balances its checkbook. This is a recipe for several disasters — definitely financial, possibly mental, probably social.

What to do about it? Well, this is serious. The usual advice won’t suffice. Deep breaths and cold showers don’t make it.

The answer is Controlled Love, Restrained Affection. You must act like a Brit with a stiff upper lip. Don’t wear your emotions on your sleeve. Conceal them. Stay away from booze, which loosens inhibitions; reject the glittering temptations of West Marine; ignore yachting magazines whose airbrushed pictures and panting descriptions are calculated to incite unbridled lust and take wicked advantage of the love-lorn.

When you can regard your boat purely as a form of transport, as a faithful dog without legs, as a means of keeping you dry when you venture out into the restless wet, you will be cured.

How soon will this be? Frankly, nobody knows. It hasn’t happened yet.

Today’s Thought
There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.
Francis Bacon, Essays: Of Beauty

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 another Mainly about Boats column.)