August 31, 2016

Best ships, best preventers

ANY WELL-READ BOATER knows that an ounce of preventer is worth a pound of cure. Well, okay, it may not be exactly like that, but you know what I mean. There’s nothing better aboard a boat than a preventer for preventing things that, if they happen, are difficult to cure.
Preventers prevent things that shouldn’t happen, from happening. What is a preventer, exactly, you ask? Well, it can be almost anything that prevents; but on sailboats it’s usually a bit of rope, used with forethought and intelligence to prevent the worst from happening.
For example, a preventer can prevent the mainsail from jibing accidentally and injuring someone or causing the backstay to snap and making the mast fall down. Preventers lash dinghies firmly to the cabintop, so they don’t get washed overboard in storms.
Preventers act as backups to lines under great strain, and minimize any damage that might occur. Preventers turn major catastrophes into minor inconveniences.
Preventers are mostly small lengths of wire or rope, intelligently placed and artfully attached in the right place at the right time to stop something awful from happening.
Some, such as the topping lift, are permanent and known by proper names. Others are temporary and not dignified with permanent names. But the best ships carry the most preventers because wise skippers know preventers are worth points in the Black Box, the best preventer of all. And if you don’t know about the Black Box, you really owe it to yourself to find out.
Today’s Thought
Forewarned, forearmed; to be prepared is half the victory.
— Cervantes, Don Quixote
“I hear poor old Fred got run over by a road roller.”
“Yeah, right. He’s in the hospital.”
“Where do I find him?”
“Wards 4, 5 and 6.”
(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for another Mainly about Boats column.)

August 28, 2016

A ship worthy of awe

I’VE ALWAYS FELT A GREAT AWE for the Viking longship. It undertook some very ambitious trading voyages between Scandinavia and Constantinople; and, of course, it carried abroad fierce warriors bent on plunder and conquering. It enabled great voyages of exploration, and crossed the ocean to the North American continent long before Christopher Columbus came along and missed it.

In addition, apart from all its practical applications, the lapstrake-hulled Viking longship was one of mankind’s most beautiful creations, and technically one of his most complex at that time. 

Even so, the Viking ship was very simple at heart. It was really just an open rowing boat. Admittedly, it did have a squaresail that could be used when the wind was favorable, but basically it relied for power on men’s muscles. The fact that it achieved so much in so many different ways almost puts it in the realm of magic. But that description really belongs to the Skidbladnir.

She really was magic. In Scandinavian mythology, Skidbladnir was the ship belonging to Freyr, one of the most important of the pagan Norse gods. Freyr was the god of farming and fruitfulness. His portfolio also included the sun, the wind and the rain. And, just to add to his burden, Freyr was the Norse god of fertility and phallic worship, with a brief to bestow peace and pleasure on mortal beings. A tough gig, as they say.

Now it so happened that the sons of Ivaldi, who were dwarfs, built a very special boat for Freyr. It was big enough to accommodate all 12 of the most important Norse gods, with all their gear and weapons. It could also sail through both air and water, and it would go directly to its destination as soon as the sail was raised.

But here’s the even more magical part: it could be folded like a cloth and carried by Freyr in his pouch when it wasn’t needed.

Somehow, that particular marvel of Viking technology has been lost to us over the ages. Would that we could track down the sons of Ivaldi and put them to work for us now. Even working on a small scale, just think how many thousands of yacht owners would appreciate the convenience of tucking the ship’s tender into a pocket when it wasn’t needed.

There are times when I’m convinced that science is retrogressing. We can walk on the moon if we want to, but we can’t do a simple thing like making a fold-up Viking ship any longer. What’s the world coming to, I ask.

Today’s Thought
But beyond the bright searchlights of science,
Out of sight of the windows of sense,
Old riddles still bid us defiance,
Old questions of Why and of Whence.
— W. C. D. Whetham, Recent Developments of Physical Science

“Paddy, you should be more careful about pulling your drapes at home. When I drove past your house last night I distinctly saw you kissing your wife.”
“Ha, well, then the joke’s on you, O’Riordan. I wasn’t home last night.”

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

August 25, 2016

Go ahead, read a book

THERE ARE SOME who believe you can’t learn sailing from books; that the only worthwhile teacher is experience, often bitter experience.
I don’t think this is entirely true, but I don’t waste my time arguing with them.
It was the irrepressible Will Rogers who opined: “There are three kinds of men: The ones that learn by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence and find out for themselves.”
I believe that books provide the knowledge you need to experiment with your boat in all kinds of weather conditions. Books tell you what your options are, and how certain arrangements of sails and rudder worked for other people in light air and heavy. Without books, our knowledge of sailing would be limited to conversations with a few close associates, and we would never be able to break free from their near-sighted biased experience.
In any case, as an author myself, I’m very much in favor of people buying books to increase their knowledge of sailing and widen their skills. Reading is not a waste of time, despite what others might tell you. Remembering something you once read may make life easier for you one day. It might even save your life. So go ahead, read a book, and let some other silly bugger pee on the fence.
Today’s Thought

You can get help from teachers, but you are going to have to learn a lot by yourself, sitting alone in a room.
— Theodore Geisel (“Dr. Seuss”)

“Where did you get that black eye?”
“At a night club. I was struck by the beauty of the place.”

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

August 24, 2016

Girls vs boys for crew

A   MAN WHO WANTS to go deep-sea cruising with his family has a problem. His loyal wife, who crews for him on their 32-foot sloop, is happy to go along with him, but he is worried about his two daughters, aged 16 and 14.
“If they were boys I wouldn’t have a moment’s hesitation,” he says, “but I’m not sure girls will be able to handle the hardships.”

Well, I don’t know these daughters of his, of course, but I can’t help thinking it’s a bit old-fashioned to regard girls as lacking in the ability to handle crew duties aboard yachts. What they might lack in brute strength they surely make up for in ingenuity. You only have to be able to read to know that girls of 15 and 16 are sailing bigger yachts than his around the world on their own these days.

Besides, boys don’t always make ideal crews anyway. The last time I crossed an ocean with a son, who was then 17 years old, I lost a lot of sleep worrying about him.

As we were the only two watchkeepers, he had specific orders to call me if he spotted another vessel at night. He had specific orders to call me if he thought a sail change was necessary. He had specific orders to wear a harness and tether when he was alone in the cockpit at night.

But he was 17. He was becoming a man. He couldn’t help himself. Nature was pumping testosterone through his tissues. He didn’t obey any of those orders. Although he was color blind, he guided us through a fleet of fishing boats one dark night way out in the South Atlantic while my wife and I slept below. I nearly had a fit when I found out.

And when we were running fast in the southeast trades I was woken up one night by the thud of footsteps running forward along the cabintop. My untethered son was jibing the foresail singlehanded, shifting the pole from one side to the other. I lay awake, staring into the darkness, listening to the noises, waiting for the thuds that would indicate he was returning to the safety of the cockpit. But they never came. Had he gone overboard? I reasoned — I hoped — that he had returned along the side deck. I wanted to get up and peek out of the companionway hatch, but I didn’t want him to know that I had caught him in an act of disobedience because that would have forced me to impose disciplinary punishment or else lose my power of authority over him, such as it was. So I lay there fretting for another half hour until it was time to go on watch and I could decently make an appearance. And there he was, sitting in the cockpit, neatly buckled up and looking the picture of innocence in the moonlight. I could have bitten him. But I didn’t ask him why the jib pole was suddenly on the other side.

I don’t think a girl would have disobeyed her father/skipper like that. Girls don’t have the same impulse to prove they’re macho.

Or do they? Maybe now I’m the one who’s acting old-fashioned. Well, if I am, I can’t help it. Old-fashioned is what I am. Like it or lump it. But my advice to the would-be cruiser is simple: Go for it. Invest some trust in those daughters of yours. I’m sure it will be amply repaid.

Today’s Thought
A man who trusts nobody is apt to be the kind of man nobody trusts.
— Harold Macmillan

Did you hear about the short-sighted moth who blundered into a 2-year-old’s birthday party? He burned his end at both candles.   

August 22, 2016

Why all the unhappiness?

IT’S A SOBERING THOUGHT, but the success rate among people who plan to go long-term cruising under sail is only 35 to 40 percent. What is the problem here? What makes 60 percent of cruisers unhappy?

Well, two things spring to mind. The first thing is that most people need a goal when they go cruising. They need to feel they have a plan, that they are making progress, and that they will eventually accomplish something worth-while. But too many people don’t put enough thought into creating a goal. They believe that they can just take off into the sunset with a champagne glass in hand and find happiness on the way. They can’t.

The second thing is that they don’t understand what happiness is. It’s not the evanescent feeling of joy and laughter you get from watching the clowns. It’s not nonstop smiles and jokes. It’s far deeper and longer-lasting than that.

Democritus, one of the leading Greek philosophers, taught that the goal of life is happiness. He said that at all times man should seek happiness. And, of course, you probably remember that the pursuit of happiness is part of one of the most famous phrases in the Declaration of Independence.

So what is happiness, then? Democritus described it as a state of mind, an inner condition of tranquility, a harmony of the soul, a combination of reflection and reason ... in fact, what amounts to serenity.

My own theory is that happiness is serendipitous. It sneaks up on you and ambushes you when you’re quietly going about your normal day-to-day cruising activities. If you set out purposely to pursue happiness, it flees in front of you and you can never catch it. But ignore it, and it will creep back and embrace you.

So, before you go cruising make sure you understand what happiness is. Make sure, too, that your cruising plan is based on a solid goal. And then, if you have a good number of points in the Black Box, happiness will wrap its welcome cloak around you and you will find the serenity you seek.

Today’s Thought
Happiness? A good cigar, a good meal, a good cigar and a good woman — or a bad woman; it depends on how much happiness you can handle.
— George Burns, NBC TV, 16 Oct 84

“Why don’t you play bridge with Jim any more?”
“Well, would you play with a man who keeps aces up his sleeve and cheats every time he writes the score down?”
“Of course not.”
“Neither will Jim.”

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

August 18, 2016

How to stay in charge

I’VE SAID IT BEFORE and I’ll say it again: one of the loveliest aspects of sailing is being in full charge of a boat in heavy weather. It’s wonderful to be at the helm of a boat in a gale of wind, a boat that responds with fingertip control, rising buoyantly and firmly to oncoming waves, or surging confidently downwind on a white blanket of foam. In both cases, it’s the correct sail area for the strength of the wind that determines the amount of control you have, and therefore the ability to reef or changes to smaller sails.
And yet I can hardly believe the number of sailboats I see with no reef points on the mainsail — or, if they have rows of points, no reefing lines reeved, ready for action.
I am not talking about dedicated club racing boats, of course. They never reef if they’re just racing around the cans. And they are therefore never fully in control, either. The number of broaches and pitchpoles confirms that. No, I’m talking about family daysailers and ordinary weekend cruisers.
This lack of ability to reef always worries me. I regard reefing as an essential safety factor, especially in boats that normally carry a lot of weather helm. Many boats require to be sailed fairly upright if they are not to be overwhelmed by weather helm, but all too often, instead of properly reefed mainsails we see skippers simply spilling wind from the mainsail, using the so-called “fisherman’s reef,” allowing the sail to flog mercilessly and strain the mast and rigging to breaking point. It’s panicky, heartstopping stuff, and you can’t carry on for long like that.
Because of the problems with reefing the mainsail, many skippers start by rolling up the jib. In most cases, that shifts to center of effort aft, thus adding to weather helm and lessening what control the helm has left.
The ability to reef the mainsail quickly and easily is, as I said, an important safety feature, especially for singlehanders. And, without it, you’ll never experience that snug feeling in heavy weather of quiet power and control, that wonderful feeling of being in charge of a calm, powerful, and almost-sentient being when Nature is throwing its worst at you.
Today’s Thought
He that will use all winds must shift his sail.
--John Fletcher, Faithful Shepherdess.
“You should give up smoking.”
“It takes years off your life.”
“Nonsense. I’ve smoked since I was 16 and I’m 60 now. What do you say to that?”
“Well, don’t you see? If you’d never smoked you might be 70 by now.”
(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for another Mainly about Boats column.)

August 16, 2016

Beer today, gone tomorrow

IT MAY NOT have occurred to you, but when you place a boat in salt water she is on a highway that leads to every continent in the world. The road isn’t as obvious as a freeway, but it’s there all the same and waiting to be used.
Here are just a very few fascinating places the great sea highway leads to, and the most important things to look out for:
England: Villages like Loose Chippings, Cheatem Krooly, and Lesser Badmouth-in-the-Dell; fish-and-chips; and warm Newcastle Brown Ale.
Scotland: Haggis; bagpipes; men in skirts with hairy knees; and Orkney Blast.
Australia: Beach barbies; fearsome flies; crocodiles; and fine Foster Lager.
New Zealand: Sheep; Pardeys; and Steinlager.
South Africa: Wild animals dressed in green and gold, and apart from the national rugby team, other wild animals in game reserves; braaivleis; and cold Castle Lager.
Holland: Cheese and clogs; botters and boeiers; and Amstel Lager.
Germany: Sour krauts; happy Hamburgers; and Becks Beer.
Mexico: Refried beans; sombreros; and Dos Equis.
Canada: Rockies; Mounties; and Molson.
Today’s Thought
After nine days ... I’d gotten used to the horizon, to the orderly rhythm of the ship, and all of a sudden the world came flooding back. I found myself looking at Nova Scotia and thinking about my mortgage. —Sarah Ballard, Sports Illustrated, 1 Oct 84

Tailpiece Twinkle, twinkle little star,
How I wonder if you are
(Up above the footlights’ sheen)
Forty-nine or seventeen.
(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

August 14, 2016

Other ways to start engines

JUST A FEW days ago I overheard a cruising sailor bemoaning the fact that he could not start his very expensive diesel motor because his comparatively cheap starter motor had failed. It reminded me of a column I wrote several years ago pointing out that cruising sailboats are rarely pure sailboats these days. There are very few that do not carry engines of one sort or another. The reason for this is that, even if you normally keep your boat on a mooring, sooner or later you’re going to have to maneuver in a harbor or marina, and small-boat harbors and marinas have become so congested that most are not navigable under sail in anything much over 20 feet in length.

It is actually possible to maneuver a boat in a crowded harbor by warping and kedging, or even sculling, as sailors have done for centuries, but we have either lost the skill or the will, and certainly the patience, so we now find ourselves far too dependent on the engine to get us out to where we can use the wind to sail.

And to get the engine started in the first place, too many of us are dependent on the electric starter motor. It would be a great relief if we could start our engines by hand, instead of having to rely on electricity, and indeed a few inboard diesels can be started by hand, but they are necessarily of low horsepower and fit only for small yachts.

Now, there are other ways to start engines. One way is to use a small hand pump to pressurize a tank of air that will spin the engine vigorously for a couple of minutes. Think what a blessing that could be when your battery is flat or your solenoid has passed on to its final resting place. There are clockwork engine starters, too, that you can wind up slowly and easily before releasing them to spin the motor over.

But these mechanically simple starting aids are not common and they are therefore expensive, so the great majority of sailors are stuck with electric starter motors. They are obviously not ideal for boats, but because most boat engines are derived from the ones landlubbers build in huge numbers for their cars, tractors, and generators, we are stuck with their method of starting them.

The one thing you can say for electric starters is that they don’t draw much energy from your battery. Surprisingly little, in fact, if the engine is working properly. For example, starting a medium-sized diesel will draw about 4,800 watts. That sounds like a lot, and it is, but even if you crank away for 20 seconds you’re taking only 2.5 amp-hours from your 12-volt battery. That’s about half of what a dedicated CD player would consume if it were running 4 hours a day. And even with a modest 30-amp charge, your alternator will replace that energy in less than 10 minutes.

Nevertheless, this is not the best way to start a marine engine. Salt water and electricity don’t get on well together, and most of us could well do without that sickening feeling in the pit of the stomach when you turn the key and nothing happens but a little “click” that foretells all kinds of trouble and frustration to come.

Today’s Thought
Simplicity, most rare in our age.
— Ovid, Ars Amatoria

“Dr. Livingstone, I presume.”
“Yes. Do you have medical insurance?”

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

August 11, 2016

Curing pre-cruise scruples

I HAVE NOTICED to my astonishment that there are still some old-fashioned women who insist on being given a wedding band, or at least an engagement ring, before they will embark on a cruise for two under sail on a small boat.

It therefore behooves every male skipper to keep handy a medium-sized ring of some metal resembling gold, fit for the wedding finger of the left hand of a female exhibiting a case of pre-cruise scruples.

In addition, the well-prepared skipper will keep handy the following script, which is to be read aloud in the privacy of the saloon before the cruise starts:

“Now hear this; now hear this. To all whom it may concern, let it be known that under the powers invested in me by the Merchant Shipping Connubial Bliss Act, as captain of a vessel engaged in peaceful commerce and flying the flag of the United States of America, I do take this woman, Flossie Splendide, to be my lawful wedded wife, with all the duties that implies, for just so long as this voyage shall endure. I may now kiss the bride, etc.”

The skipper should sign and date this script. It would be as well to make a copy for the lady, too, in case you are boarded by the Coast Guard, so she can demonstrate that everything is above-board. Once a lady has caught the scruples, she needs all the paperwork she can get.

Today’s Thought
If a man wants to leave a toothbrush at my house, he can damn well marry me.
— Michelle Triola Marvin. (On winning a court case against common-law husband Lee Marvin.)

"How’s you love life been lately, Ethel?”
“Terrible. Either I get a man who’s so slow I want to scream, or else a guy who’s so fast I HAVE to.”

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

August 9, 2016

Never mind the creases

IT SEEMS TO BE very fashionable these days for cruising yachts to have loose-footed mainsails. That fashion arises from the fact that racing boats invariably have loose-footed mainsails.
Some people say a loose-footed main is easier to trim to the desired belly, and tightness of leech, but I am not one of them. I have sailed on racing boats with mainsails firmly attached to their booms in slotted tracks, and mainsails with zippered folds in the foot to give more belly downwind, and those boats gave nothing away to other boats with loose feet.

The mainsails of all my cruising boats have had their feet attached to the boom, usually with slides running in the internal boom track, for one very good reason: An attached mainsail is easier to control when you’re singlehanding and need to furl the sail in a hurry.

If you’re up on the cabintop dropping the main in any decent kind of breeze, a loose-footed sail falls all over the deck. The slippery folds of Dacron create a treacherous foothold. But if your main is attached to the boom, it’s the work of a moment to grab the leech a little way up from the boom and pull it tight, away from the mast, to form a temporary pocket. You then stuff the mainsail into the pocket, twisting as you go, until you end up with a slim sausage of sailcloth inside a nice tidy, waterproof sheath of Dacron. Slip two or three gaskets around the bundle on top of the boom and Bob’s your uncle. You can be finishing your first beer while the man with the loose-footed mainsail is still sliding around the deck trying to gather and contain his wayward folds.

My naysayers and detractors will point out that a mainsail thus used will be crushed and creased and therefore less efficient next time it’s raised. To which I say “Tough titties!” There is altogether too much racing boat influence in mollycoddling the main. It’s the racing influence that seduces people into buying loose-footed mains in the first place. Let the mainsail crease, for goodness’ sake. It’s a working sail not a work of art. What’s more, the wind and rain will smooth out those creases quite nicely next time you’re out. Your good old cruising boat will never notice the difference.

Today’s Thought
Fashion is gentility running away from vulgarity and afraid of being overtaken.
— William Hazlitt, Conversations of James Northcote

“O’Flaherty, what are you doing here? Your brother called and said you were sick and wouldn’t be coming to work today.”
“Ah begorrah, the joke’s on him. He’s not supposed to phone until tomorrow.”

August 7, 2016

An Olympic anchor light

THERE WAS SOMETHING very familiar about the picture of the Olympic flame being flown on an airliner to Rio in four special “security lamps.” Those lamps were the same as the one we used for a kerosene anchor light on a voyage from Durban to Fort Lauderdale aboard our 30-footer, Freelance.
In fact, the Olympic flame traveled in four Welsh miner’s Davy lamps which, like ours, were fashioned from shiny brass and glass. The same lamps were used in 2012 when the Olympic cauldron was extinguished after the opening ceremony. The miner’s lamps conveyed the flame to its place at London’s Olympic Stadium.

We chose the miner’s lamp for our anchor light because it is low-tech and totally windproof and weather-proof, although it was a bit of a nuisance because the little screw-off kerosene container had to be refilled every 24 hours or so.

We were also a bit sceptical about the visibility of the little flame, but we were reassured when we found out that a half-inch wide wick will support a flame that can be seen for two miles in the darkness. In any case, nobody ever ran into us at night.

The flame in our lamp, as in the originals, was separated from the outer atmosphere by a thin sheet of metal gauze which would prevent the flame from causing an explosion if a miner encountered flammable gas in a mine shaft.

Our lamp lives at home now and is only lit on special occasions. But I guess I owe it a good polishing now that I know one of its brothers was used to fly the Olympic flame to Rio.

Today’s Thought
Sport begets tumultuous strife and wrath, and wrath begets fierce quarrels and war to the death.
— Horace, Epistles
Two homeless men helped a limping nun across the street.
"What happened to your leg?" asked one.
"I twisted my ankle in the bath," said the nun.
After she'd gone, one man asked: "What's a bath, then?"
"Don't ask me," said the other. "I'm not a Catholic."

August 4, 2016

Sailboats are slowing the earth

DID YOU KNOW that the earth is starting to spin more slowly, and that sailboats might be at least partly  to blame?

I was first made aware of this fact by a letter from a reader, who said:

I read in the paper that scientists are worried because the earth's spinning rate is slowing down. Days and nights are getting longer. But that's not the major concern. The big problem is that the earth is spinning like a top, and as it slows down it will start to wobble.  The poles will tilt nearer the sun in their arcs, and all the ice will melt.

The seas will rise and become diluted with fresh water.  Lots of land will be inundated and no longer habitable for humans. Lots of marine plant life and mammals will die out completely. In short, it will be a disaster.

Now it occurs to me as I lie here staring at the ceiling that is it perfectly normal that the earth's spinning should slow down as it gradually loses the energy that started it spinning in the first place. But, as usual, Nature has been compensating. Gravity has been moving the high spots of the earth down to the low spots of the earth ever since the Big Bang.  So the radius of the earth from mountain tops on one side to mountain tops on the other side has been shrinking.  Thus, as a ballerina spins faster when she pulls her arms to her sides, the earth has gradually tried to spin faster to make up for the slowing down caused by waning energy.  And so  the rate of spinning has remained more or less equal in all the earth's life.

But now, quite suddenly in cosmic terms, the earth is slowing.  And I believe I know why. Let me explain. As you know, the earth spins from east to west. As it spins, the surface of the earth encounters resistance from the atmosphere.  Once again, over the eons, this resistance has been lessened by gravity's habit of smoothing out mountain tops and generally sanding things down nice and smooth.

But in recent years this resistance has increased because of windmills and yachts.

Never before in the history of the earth have there been so many manmade things sticking up from the surface of the earth, all of them designed deliberately to encounter the atmosphere with force.  Never before have so many wind farms and private sailboats offered resistance to the atmosphere.  The surface of the earth is now fatally roughened by these foreign protrusions
which, in extracting energy from the atmospheric winds, also serve to retard the earth in its spinning.

If we are to save our dear earth for future generations, it is obvious that both windmills and sailboats must be banned.

Oh yes, I can imagine the chorus of protests from rich yachtsmen who don't give a damn for the rest of us as long as they can pursue their sybaritic pastimes without restriction, but we are talking survival here.  I have already contacted my senator regarding having yachting made illegal in my state and I expect other states to follow suit once my discovery is made general knowledge. The future of the human race depends on it.

Yours in great apprehension etc.

Washington Sate penitentiary.

Today's Thought
The greatest and most important problems of life are all fundamentally insoluble. They can never be solved but only outgrown.
— Carl Jung.

"My neighbor kept banging on my door at 2:30 this morning, can you believe that?"
"Wow, 2:30 a.m.?"
"Yeah, luckily for him I was still up playing my bagpipes."

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

August 2, 2016

It's a wonderful feeling

ONCE IN A WHILE someone asks me if sailing at sea is boring. That’s a reasonable question because it might seem to the uninitiated that the ocean beyond the horizon is dull and featureless, not to mention very, very same-ish. But to tell the truth I have never found it so.

Like many amateur sailors (who, in the true sense of the word, go sailing for the love of it) I used to become totally absorbed and fascinated by the business of guiding a small ship across an ever-changing ocean.

There was never a time, when I was lying in my bunk below or propped up in a corner of the cockpit, when I couldn’t feel the hull surging and slipping through the water. I knew instinctively how she would react to a strong puff of wind. I could sense when a sail was not pulling properly and needed to be trimmed. I didn’t need to look at a wind gauge to know when to reef.

Anyone who has been sailing at sea for a while will feel this oneness with the boat, particularly if she is a reasonably small boat — say 40 feet or less in length. It’s like riding a bicycle. After a while, you don’t have to think about what you need to do, your muscles just do it automatically.

It’s a wonderful feeling, and highly addictive. When your little ship is heeled over, and rising and falling among the breaking crests and rolling swells of the open sea, your mind experiences nothing but deep pleasure. Many sailors succumb so entirely to the lure of blue water that having to close with the land and enter port becomes an irritating interruption to the real business of sailing. That is what happened, very famously, to Bernard Moitessier.

Beware. It could happen to you, too.

Today’s Thought
Description is always a bore, both to the describer and the describee.
— Benjamin Disraeli, Home Letters

“Blanche, were you faithful to me while I was away in Iraq?”
“Of course, Bert — lots of times.”

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

August 1, 2016

Something you'll never regret

ONCE UPON A TIME in the West Indies I met an ex-airline pilot who was also a sailor. He insisted that cruising in a sailboat was far more complicated than flying a passenger jet.

“As a cruiser, you have to know so much more in so many different areas,” he said. “A pilot doesn’t have to fix the engines or make sure there’s enough food on board. A pilot doesn’t have to know how to repair or maintain anything. A pilot doesn’t have to worry about finding the right bottom paint. He need know nothing about electrolytic corrosion or the difference between deep-cycle batteries and starter batteries. He doesn’t have to worry about the anchor dragging.”

I dare say he was right. One of the many charms of cruising is the way you find yourself learning all the different skills you need to be self-sufficient. It’s a feeling that takes modern men and women right back to the days of the great explorers under sail. Nothing daunted them.

When they were shipwrecked on a foreign shore they felled trees, built boats on the beach, somehow fashioned the thousand-and-one things they needed, and then carried on exploring. They went ashore for months at a time. They cleared land and sowed their seeds. When the crops were ready, they carried on exploring.

The world has changed, and modern cruising won’t make a whole Renaissance man or woman out of you — but it might get pretty close. For that reason I always advise young people to go cruising, even before they settle down in college. I tell them to cruise as far as they can for as long as they can and I assure them they’ll never regret it.

They need to do some homework first, of course, and they need to decide on a definite cruising objective: something we’ve talked about before. Then they should sail away. They’ll find help and friendly people everywhere. They’ll travel vast watery areas of our pretty planet where the voice of mankind has never been heard before, and maybe never will be again.

“Go cruising,” I tell them. “Nothing is more fascinating than cruising. Maybe nothing’s more important.”

Today’s Thought
I been a wanderin’
Early and late
New York City
To the Golden Gate
An’ it looks like
I’m never gonna cease my
— Carl Sandburg, folk-music lyrics recalled on his death 22 Jul 67

“What are you specializing in at medical school?”
“You’re nuts. By the time you graduate some other doctor will have found the cure for them.”

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