Thursday, March 31, 2005

Corgi Gas Check

Yesterday Peter Bell, a Corgi Approved Gas Engineer, came aboard ‘Bumper’ to check the gas cooker. A few weeks ago I installed a new Techimpex Skipper Cooker with two burners and a grill, and for insurance purposes it was necessary to have a certificate of compliance to the current regulations for gas installations. Needless to say, it fell short of what was required, because it lacked a gas isolation tap.

Once I agreed to have the tap fitted Peter did the job very efficiently and carried out the standard tests.

That’s an item removed from my ‘Jobs to Do’ list, so that I can look forward with some confidence to using the cooker during my forthcoming West Country cruise.

Here are some details for those who may find them useful:

Corgi Approved Engineer for Essex Marinas and Inland Waterways

Peter Bell, R P Projects Ltd., 119 West Avenue, Mayland, Chelmsford, Essex. CM3 6AE
Telephone 01621 741413/07802514466. Fax 01621 741413. E-mail:
Cooker Type and Supplier
Techimpex Skipper 2-burner stainless steel hob and grill. Flame fail device on all burners. Gimballed with sea rails

Jonathan Milree, E-mail:
Web Site:

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The Importance of Detail

Do you pay attention to detail? If not, and you are a practical boating enthusiast, I suggest you should. This advice comes from my experience on the water and from building boats.

Only the tiniest hole in a boat, whether above or below the waterline, will allow the ingress of water. Even a small hole in the deck or cabin roof will let water seep under the head lining bringing about dampness and mildew. If sufficient water penetrates the interior, expensive damage can be done to bunk cushions, floor coverings, electronic equipment and items stored in lockers. In a wooden boat permanent damage through rot can lead to costly repairs. Therefore it’s a good idea at the beginning of a season to thoroughly check seals around fittings such as stanchions, cleats, fairleads and chainplates.

When setting up the permanent rigging it pays to ensure that every rigging screw is secured with galvanized wire or locking screws tightened securely. Running rigging should be examined carefully for signs of wear at critical points, such as where a rope or a wire runs through a block or jam cleat. Nothing should be left to chance; all moving parts are subject to wear, and therefore they need periodic examination.

Attention paid to the smallest of details can be beneficial; for example, one should service the ship’s batteries to ensure their terminals are corrosion free and that they have been topped up and charged for optimum efficiency. Such detail can be crucial when reliance is placed upon them for powering depth sounders, navigation lights, VHF radios, electronic steering devices, and cabin lights.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Boat Preparation Lists

If only cash in the bank would appreciate as items on my Preparation List multiply I would be a very rich man.

A few months ago my list consisted of fewer items than the total number of my fingers. (Yes, I do have eight fingers, despite a couple of accidents in my youth.) As I attend to each item I am forced to add a further two! (Not fingers ….. Ugh) Hence, the list grows.

Shortly before launching my boat I always find there are unfinished jobs, but by persistent application only a few remain which can be dealt with when the boat is afloat.

Then, joy of joy, she’s ready for a trial sail which will bring to light unforeseen things needing attention.

I like to set deadlines for the completion of preparations; otherwise I procrastinate.

For some people procrastination is a joy in itself; they have the motto, ‘Put off what doesn’t have to be done today in the hope that tomorrow it will not need doing,’ but if the engine will not start after its winter service and it has to be used for getting in and out of the marina, no amount of procrastination will remedy the situation.

Let’s face it; active boat owners always have preparation lists for forthcoming events - the next race, day sail, or cruising holiday.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Yacht Tenders

Over the years I have used various types of yacht tenders. Some have been for access to yachts while on their moorings; others for towing while cruising as a means of getting ashore on arrival, and a couple of inflatable dinghies as substitute life-rafts.

They fall into categories by virtue of their design:

Access to Yachts while on their Moorings

Most of mine were 8 to 10 feet long with high topsides to facilitate carrying loads and to prevent spray coming aboard while rowing or when using an outboard engine. Some were fitted with integral buoyancy compartments, whereas others needed buoyancy bags. Nearly all of them were large enough for three adults. Their construction was either glass-reinforced plastic or plywood.

Dinghies for Towing while Cruising

These were similar to the above, although once in a while I towed a Seahopper folding dinghy which was usually stowed in the cabin. Some of my inflatable dinghies were towed, but strong winds would occasionally flip them upside down. I discovered that unless an inflatable dinghy was drawn up tightly to the stern of the mother ship she would cause drag, which slowed the yacht down. Because of this drag effect, inflatable dinghies can interfere with the tacking process. For long passages they are best partially deflated and kept on deck for immediate use.

Tenders as Back-up Emergency Life-rafts

A few tenders are purpose-built to serve as life-rafts, but they are expensive and unwieldy; this is due to their heavy construction. For those who do not want to cross oceans, an ordinary good quality inflatable dinghy makes a serviceable life-raft, providing she is equipped with survival gear. A genuine life-raft can be deployed rapidly, simply by tugging a painter, but a substitute inflatable dinghy needs to be manually inflated. Another alternative is to use one of those ingenious dual-purpose tenders made in two parts for compact stowage.

Through hard won experience I have come to prefer inflatable dinghies similar in type to the Avon Redstart, capable of carrying three adults and their gear.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Shipwreck 2

Yesterday I mentioned the fascinating account of a shipwreck described in chapter 27 of the Acts of the Apostles. It truly is a classic shipwreck narrative well worth analysing to discover why and how it happened. The captain’s misguided belief that all would be well, although it was too late in the season for a safe passage in the Mediterranean on account of the weather, was the prime reason why the voyage was doomed to disaster.

The captain knew full-well his ship was not up the rigours of a storm tossed sea, but giving him the benefit of the doubt, most likely he wanted to please Porcius Festus, the Roman Commander of Jerusalem, who indirectly was the sponsor of the voyage on behalf of the Roman Emporer, Julius Caesar. Furthermore he had been instructed by the centurion in charge of certain prisoners to convey them to Italy.

There are lessons here to be learned by all who put sea - especially never to be under pressure to set sail in an unsound vessel* or when adverse weather is imminent. Granted, the Alexandrian ship left Fairhavens, a port on the southern coast of Crete, in fine weather, but account had not been taken of the difficult passage while en route from Sidon, in Phoenicia, which typified the inclement weather pattern.

Make your own assessment of the situation faced by Paul the Apostle, who, by the way, was a seasoned sailor and by experience knew things would go badly wrong.

* Verse 17 - ‘undergirding the ship’, which means using cables under the hull to secure the planking.

Acts Chapter 27

And when it was determined that we should sail into Italy, they delivered Paul and certain other prisoners unto one named Julius, a centurion of Augustus' band.
And entering into a ship of Adramyttium, we launched, meaning to sail by the coasts of Asia; one Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica, being with us.
And the next day we touched at Sidon. And Julius courteously entreated Paul, and gave him liberty to go unto his friends to refresh himself.
And when we had launched from thence, we sailed under Cyprus, because the winds were contrary.
And when we had sailed over the sea of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we came to Myra, a city of Lycia.
And there the centurion found a ship of Alexandria sailing into Italy; and he put us therein.
And when we had sailed slowly many days, and scarce were come over against Cnidus, the wind not suffering us, we sailed under Crete, over against Salmone;
And, hardly passing it, came unto a place which is called The fair havens; nigh whereunto was the city of Lasea.
Now when much time was spent, and when sailing was now dangerous, because the fast was now already past, Paul admonished them,
And said unto them, Sirs, I perceive that this voyage will be with hurt and much damage, not only of the lading and ship, but also of our lives.
Nevertheless the centurion believed the master and the owner of the ship, more than those things which were spoken by Paul.
And because the haven was not commodious to winter in, the more part advised to depart thence also, if by any means they might attain to Phenice, and there to winter; which is an haven of Crete, and lieth toward the south west and north west.
And when the south wind blew softly, supposing that they had obtained their purpose, loosing thence, they sailed close by Crete.
But not long after there arose against it a tempestuous wind, called Euroclydon.
And when the ship was caught, and could not bear up into the wind, we let her drive.
And running under a certain island which is called Clauda, we had much work to come by the boat:
Which when they had taken up, they used helps, undergirding the ship; and, fearing lest they should fall into the quicksands, strake sail, and so were driven.
And we being exceedingly tossed with a tempest, the next day they lightened the ship;
And the third day we cast out with our own hands the tackling of the ship.
And when neither sun nor stars in many days appeared, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope that we should be saved was then taken away.
But after long abstinence Paul stood forth in the midst of them, and said, Sirs, ye should have hearkened unto me, and not have loosed from Crete, and to have gained this harm and loss.
And now I exhort you to be of good cheer: for there shall be no loss of any man's life among you, but of the ship.
For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve,
Saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar: and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee.
Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me.
Howbeit we must be cast upon a certain island.
But when the fourteenth night was come, as we were driven up and down in Adria, about midnight the shipmen deemed that they drew near to some country;
And sounded, and found it twenty fathoms: and when they had gone a little further, they sounded again, and found it fifteen fathoms.
Then fearing lest we should have fallen upon rocks, they cast four anchors out of the stern, and wished for the day.
And as the shipmen were about to flee out of the ship, when they had let down the boat into the sea, under colour as though they would have cast anchors out of the foreship,
Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved.
Then the soldiers cut off the ropes of the boat, and let her fall off.
And while the day was coming on, Paul besought them all to take meat, saying, This day is the fourteenth day that ye have tarried and continued fasting, having taken nothing.
Wherefore I pray you to take some meat: for this is for your health: for there shall not an hair fall from the head of any of you.
And when he had thus spoken, he took bread, and gave thanks to God in presence of them all: and when he had broken it, he began to eat.
Then were they all of good cheer, and they also took some meat.
And we were in all in the ship two hundred threescore and sixteen souls.
And when they had eaten enough, they lightened the ship, and cast out the wheat into the sea.
And when it was day, they knew not the land: but they discovered a certain creek with a shore, into the which they were minded, if it were possible, to thrust in the ship.
And when they had taken up the anchors, they committed themselves unto the sea, and loosed the rudder bands, and hoised up the mainsail to the wind, and made toward shore.
And falling into a place where two seas met, they ran the ship aground; and the forepart stuck fast, and remained unmoveable, but the hinder part was broken with the violence of the waves.
And the soldiers' counsel was to kill the prisoners, lest any of them should swim out, and escape.
But the centurion, willing to save Paul, kept them from their purpose; and commanded that they which could swim should cast themselves first into the sea, and get to land:
And the rest, some on boards, and some on broken pieces of the ship. And so it came to pass, that they escaped all safe to land.

Saturday, March 26, 2005


Shipwreck is the dread of all sailors. From the earliest of times since men have sailed the seas, literally millions of people have lost their lives because of shipwreck. Probably the most frequent cause was adverse weather, including strong winds, tempestuous seas, poor visibility because of fog, rain, snow or hailstones, and the second most likely factor was uncertainty of the ship’s geographical position due to poor navigation, imprecise charts, unforeseen currents, magnetic variation or compass deviation.

Today, many of these causes leading to shipwreck can be eliminated. Firstly, due to excellent worldwide weather forecasting, masters of ships can be forewarned of hurricanes and less threatening storms; pleasure yachtsmen and dinghy sailors need not put to sea unless the weather looks promising. Modern technology in the form of GPS equipment can provide navigators of all types of vessels with accurate information regarding their whereabouts.

Unexpected and unplanned hazards arise, for example, storms, shoals, reefs, even tiredness, exposure, seasickness, illness, physical weakness of the crew and psychological factors can also play their part in shipwrecks.

One of the most fascinating accounts of a shipwreck can be found in chapter 27 of the Acts of the Apostles, where the writer gives a firsthand account of a shipwreck on Malta, and events leading to the dramatic event. Paul the Apostle, a veteran sailor, played a large part in the survival of every person aboard. It’s well worth a read.

In my own adventures sailing around the shores of England and Ireland, I’ve had a few narrow escapes from shipwreck. Perhaps the most dramatic and frightening was when the rudder fell off my Hunter 19 as I tried to enter the western entrance to Dover Harbour. After leaving Newhaven early that same morning the southwest wind gradually increased throughout the day until it developed into a force eight gale by the time of my arrival at Dover.

Fortunately for me a yacht endeavouring to make port at the same time saw my signal of distress as my little boat was drifting towards the harbour wall. There seemed no way of escape. The only option was to pray my tiny boat would not be smashed like an eggshell against the granite wall. At the third attempt the yacht’s crew managed to throw a rope which I quickly passed around the pulpit before attaching it to a winch. Then slow progress was made to windward, albeit backwards, but this was only possible because one of the cross-channel ferries purposely acted as a windbreak. Unknown to me a strand of the three-stranded towrope parted and the skipper of the rescue yacht radioed a mayday for the lifeboat, which he subsequently cancelled, once he realised the rope was holding.

Thanks to the captain of the ferry and the skipper of the rescuing yacht, both my Hunter 19 and were saved from shipwreck to live another day.

Friday, March 25, 2005


Today is Good Friday, 25th March, 2005, and the lunar calendar shows it will be full moon at 2058 GMT. My local tide table for Burnham-on-Crouch gives a high water of exactly 5.0 metres at 1232 GMT, and all high waters for the next 5 days remain at 5.0 metres. Tides of this height and above are generally spring tides – ‘spring’ in this context has nothing to do with the season of spring. Spring tides at Southend are on average approximately a metre higher than neap tides; at low water they are usually a metre less than neap low tides. The tide table shows the average range at springs is about 3.8 metres, whereas the average neaps range is 3.3 metres. At the time of spring tides currents run faster than at neaps, because a lot more water has to be squeezed between the banks of the River Crouch.

Spring tides are caused by the gravitational attraction of the moon and sun. When both the sun and moon are in line with the earth, waters of the oceans and seas are attracted towards them. In addition to the waters nearest the moon and sun, the earth is also drawn by their gravitational attraction, which causes another heap of water on the opposite side of the earth. As the earth rotates around its axis every 24 hours there are usually two high waters and two low waters, but the sequence of tides actually spans over a 25 hour period, or thereabouts.

Some spring tides come about when the moon is between the earth and the sun, whereas others occur when the sun and moon are on opposite sides of the earth. In practice there is not a lot of difference between the effect upon the spring tides, except when both the moon and the sun are on the same side of the earth the range of tide is marginally greater.

Neap tides occur when the moon is at right angles to the axis of the sun and the earth. This is either the first quarter or the last quarter of the moon’s phases. Because both the sun and the moon have a gravitational effect upon the earth, their actions to an extent, counteract one another, therefore their influence upon the waters of the oceans and seas is lessened. Hence the rise and fall of tidal waters is less during neap tides.

Because of land masses, ocean currents, prevailing winds and strong winds, tidal heights can vary around the world and they sometimes differ from tidal predictions.

During Easter weekend the tides are always in spring mode; that’s because the time of Easter Sunday is determined by the Gregorian calendar, which in simplistic terms means the first Sunday after the full moon that occurs next after the vernal equinox - that’s using the astronomical full moon, whereas the Roman and Protestant churches use an ecclesiastical calendar linked to a tabular system with an ecclesiastical full moon, but either way, the dates for Easter Sunday are usually the same.

For the sailor of small boats, tides are critical in passage planning. In practice sailing cruisers less than 19 feet length overall will seldom do more than 3 to 4 knots. Therefore, choosing favourable currents is paramount. On a long passage, advantage can sometimes be taken of currents induced by two flood tides or two ebb tides, while the interval between can be a period of rest with the boat at anchor. This is not likely to be a full six hours, because tidal currents are at their strongest halfway through their period of movement; therefore worthwhile progress is usually possible during the first and last hours.

Because large boats are capable of high speeds - on account of their waterline length - they are not so dependant upon tidally induced currents - this is especially true with large trimarans and catamarans, because with favourable winds their speed is much faster than tidal currents.


Neap Tide.

Moon Tides.

Easter Day.

The Date of Easter.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Flag Etiquette

A few weeks ago I obtained a DCA burgee to replace the one that was sold with my 50/50 canoe. DCA burgees at the point of purchase are not attached to a staff, so it’s a matter of making your own – that’s if you want to fly one at the masthead. Well, after using a bit of aluminium piping and an old wire coat hanger to make a suitable flagstaff, I thought it would be a good idea to revise my scant knowledge of ‘Flag Etiquette’. Once into the subject I was amazed how much there was to learn.

My main source of information was the Internet, but all I really needed to know was found in Reads Nautical Almanac.

As my yacht, ‘Bumper’ has only one mast, the DCA burgee should be flown above the truck – that’s at the very top of the mast. This indicates I am a member of the Dinghy Cruising Association and that I am in charge of the yacht. Technically, if the ensign is taken down at night the burgee should also be removed.

I do have a rather posh ensign, which I call ‘The Red Duster’; some refer to it as ‘The Red Ensign. Its varnished flagstaff has a special mounting fitted to the taffrail. Before putting to sea I should fly the ensign as a signal signifying my boat is subject to British law. Sometimes I neglect this requirement of international law. It is not necessary to fly the ensign while in harbour, but those who elect to do so should hoist it at 0800 and lower it at 2100 each day during the summer months. While at sea outside of national waters there is no necessity for it to be flown, neither does it need to be flown at night.

Some years ago I used to fly a house flag at the starboard crosstrees, but unfortunately it became badly worn and disfigured with mildew. I was rather proud of this flag which displayed the Serjeant family crest which comprises a red dolphin on a white background above a span of twisted rope. Maybe I’ll get around to making another?

I own a few other flags, such as the yellow quaranteen or ‘Q’ flag; both the ‘N’ and the ‘C’ flags, which are used to indicate a boat is in distress or the crew requires assistance; the man overboard flag, letter ‘O’, and the national flags of France, Holland, Spain and Portugal. I also have the Cornish courtesy flag which is always appreciated by the locals.

If I owned all of the International Code of Signals flags I would be able to dress the ship on special occasions such bank holidays or the Queen’s Birthday. The correct order for displaying these flags from the bow should be E, Q, p3, G, p8, Z, p4, W, p6, P pl, I, Code, T, Y, B, X, 1st, H, 3rd, D, F, 2nd, U, A, O, M, R, p2, J p0, N, p9, K, P7, V, p5, L, C, S.

Some yachtsmen are finicky about the display of flags, and unfortunately a few petty officials in certain foreign ports can be unforgiving if the appropriate courtesy flag is not flown at the starboard crosstree. Therefore it’s not a bad idea for a skipper intending to go foreign to make sure he has the correct national flags for the countries he intends to visit.

As I shall shortly be cruising my yacht along the south coast of England to the Scilly Isles from Burnham-on-Crouch and back, my limited collection of flags should be more than sufficient.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Boat Survey

For insurance purposes ‘Bumper’, my Virgo Voyager, has had to undergo a marine survey. At first I was not pleased to have to part with £253.00 for a survey on a 23 foot yacht, but when I compared prices I found this was good value.

I have now come to realise how beneficial it was to have the boat surveyed, because it forced me to consider the condition of every part of the boat. In the event, the list of things needing attention was not too long.

I always intended to replace the cooker which was a bit of a liability, since it was an old, two burner camping stove, not even fixed to a secure base. It was totally inadequate for preparing food and drink while underway. I’ve replaced it with a stainless steel Techimpax Skipper cooker supplied by Southern Marine Supplies. This is securely fitted to gimbals, and is far superior to the old cooker, but for insurance purposes and my own peace of mind it has yet to be examined by an accredited Corgi gas engineer.

Another thing requiring attention was the condition of the seacocks. The intake seacock for the cooling water to the Bukh 10 diesel engine was really difficult to service, because it was under the forward part of the engine, deep in the bilge where it narrows into a vee. The surveyor also recommended I should attend to some minor crazing of the gel coat at the base of two stanchions. In the event, this was quite a simple thing to put right. Another job currently needing attention before the boat can be launched is the stern gland packing. Meanwhile I’ve left the sail and the sail cover with the local sail maker for a winter valet.

All in all, ‘Bumper’ is in very good condition, and she is almost ready for the coming season, so I’m grateful to the surveyor for spurring me on and for endorsing what I already believed to be the case.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Boat Insurance

One of the most well-known UK brokers of yacht insurances is St Margarets Insurance Ltd., and perhaps Newton Crum would come a close second. When I have insured boats it’s always been a tossup between the two. If a survey were undertaken regarding loyalty to insurers I suppose the results would be similar to the loyalty of customers to banks. It seems that people are exceptionally loyal to their bank, although increasingly, with free information available via the Internet, more customers are changing their habitual allegiances. By being able to objectively compare costs and benefits, customers are able to make informed choices about value for money.

The Hiscocks, famous for cruising around the world in a series of yachts all bearing the name ‘Wanderer’, never insured their vessels – that was before the advent of marinas. The intrepid couple were self-reliant, believing that because they lived aboard their waterborne home they would be in control of situations so as not to incur insurance claims. Their greatest asset was substantial ground tackle, in the form of several anchors and chains. Immediate to hand they had fire extinguishers, large fenders and ample warps. Later in life when they became more prosperous through the sale of books and lecturing they equipped their yachts with reliable diesel engines, believing them to be a safety feature.

Apart from a few stalwarts most sailors will insure their second-most expensive asset - the boat in their life. Indeed, boat yard owners, marina owners, local authorities and harbour commissioners have regulations or bylaws requiring boat owners to insure their vessels for third-party indemnity. In any case if a boat is worth several thousands of pounds it makes sense to have her comprehensively insured. After all, if the boat is to be craned in and out of the water, who knows what legal costs may be incurred as result of an accident? Insurance firms sometime settle bump for bump, but claims can be contested.

Better deals can sometime be had by choosing a broker who specialises in a particular type of craft, e.g., dinghies, sailboards, or catamarans. Quite a few insurance firms give an option to pay in monthly instalments at very little extra cost.

My advice would be shop around for a good deal; don’t follow my example of being loyal to a particular insurance agent. Bear in mind that if your boat is over 20 years old it’s likely your underwriter will require you to have the boat professionally surveyed for soundness and value. All recommendations will need to be carried out before the insurance becomes valid.

Those who sail single-handed will probably not be insured for night sailing. Look very carefully at the small print for ‘exclusions’ and what factors make a policy invalid. In the end, it’s up to you to choose whether to insure your boat.

Links – these are provided for information, not as a recommendation on my part:

St. Margarets Yacht Insurance.

Newton Crum.

Noble Marine Insurance.

Yachtmaster Insurance.

Yacht Insurance UK.

Bishop Skinner.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Minimal Sailboats

A pithy proverb explains that ‘A rolling stone gathers no moss,’ but what’s the connection with boats? Boats roll and stones have been used as ballast since vessels first sailed the seas. In terms of minimalism there could be nothing more minimal than a canoe made from a hollowed tree trunk, complete with stone ballast. Such a craft rigged with a tiny sail will move across the water effortlessly. She can be steered by positioning the ballast, moving the crew, or by using a paddle.

In our industrial age, modern hi-tech materials and sophisticated machinery facilitate the design of complex sailing boats such as Ellen MacArthur’s trimaran, ‘B & Q-Castorama’. Although extremely exciting and exceptionally fast, the building of this boat required huge resources, large quantities of materials and components, thousands of man hours for her construction and dedicated teams to ensure success. The trimaran’s accommodation was minimal, but everything else was far from minimal!

Choices revolve around needs, motivations, desires and ambitions, but they are all subject to the resources available and the prevailing circumstances, e.g., victims of the recent tsunami would be very pleased with a minimal fishing boat made from a coconut tree, but those who live in more prosperous lands such as the USA or wealthier parts of Europe are not constrained by a lack of resources, instead they have bewildering choices.

This freedom of choice is the crux of the matter. People are free to make wise or unwise choices, but if they use the principle of priorities they will make wise choices. Unfortunately many do not understand the need to conserve expendable natural resources such as rain forests; neither do they understand the need to minimize the adverse effect of carbon emissions into the atmosphere, and therefore they do not choose eco-friendly choices. This is clearly seen in those who prefer resource-zapping vessels such as huge motor yachts, but sailors in the Western World who understand and care about the priority of conservation will make right choices - they will be very satisfied with their minimal sailboats.


Minimal Folding Proa.

Outrigger Sailing Canoe.

Definition of a Minimal Sailboat.

Kellan Hatch’s CLC Mill Creek 16.5.

Flying Pig.


Acadia Conversion.

50/50 Canoe Caleb.

Paradox Cruiser.

Sri Lanka Proas.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Single-handed Coastal Sailing

Coastal sailing is more demanding of a crew than offshore sailing by virtue of dangers associated with the coast and the prevalence of shipping. Shallow water, sand banks, rocks, headlands, islands and tidal races are some of the natural hazards. Manmade hazards comprise buoys, fishing nets, crab pots, oil and gas rigs, sewer outfalls, piers, jetties, groins and tidal defences like the Thames Barrier.

The coastal sailor needs to regularly listen to weather forecasts so as not to be caught unawares by a strong onshore wind, particularly if there would be a chance his ship could be embayed in such a place as Lyme Bay with no easy way of escape. Running for small harbours like Bridport or Lyme Regis could be suicidal, because waves may become dangerously steep and break as the water shallows.

Having more than one person aboard makes the job of coastal sailing easier and safer, but for some like me there is greater satisfaction in achieving a coastal passage alone. The increased danger is a calculated and acceptable risk, because I have done it before and I am familiar with much of the coastline around southern Britain.

As long as certain rules are adhered to the risk to life is minimal. Safety must be uppermost and the primary concern. To achieve this, every effort must be made to ensure the single-handed crew is well rested before going to sea, and the duration of any passage should be no longer than 24 hours, preferably less, so that all sailing is done during daylight hours. It’s possible to operate effectively for 24 hours, but sound decision making becomes increasingly difficult the longer one is underway without rest and sleep.

The next important rule is to frequently eat and drink so as to have energy for working the boat and keeping the mind alert. Care should be taken to wear the correct clothing for the prevailing conditions so as not to be too hot, too cold or wet for long periods, all of which reduce the crew’s efficiency. The boat should be rigged for easy sail management and she should have a self-steering system. While at sea some loan yachtsmen always wear a lifeline, whereas others only use one while on deck and there are some who prefer unhampered freedom and therefore never use a lifeline. All three options have merit, therefore it’s up to the single-handed sailor to choose. Myself, I always use a lifeline when I believe a job warrants it, and I always wear one at night, because the danger of falling off the boat is increased owing to impaired vision.

Entering a harbour or marina requires good preparation. Knowing what to expect is the secret. Consult a suitable Pilot such as Reads Nautical Almanac or the Cruising Association Handbook. Check where the reception pontoon may be, and use the VHF to contact the Port Control or Marina Office for berthing instructions. Prepare the boat with fenders, warps and springs. Consult the fuel gauge to make sure the engine will work during the critical period of entering the port of refuge. Have sails ready for instant use in the event of an engine failure. A boathook within easy reach may come in handy.

Finally, my advice to prospective single-handed coastal sailors is first try coastal sailing with a competent crew. When you are satisfied you can handle the boat by yourself give it a go. You may be hooked and never look back.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Value for Money

Value for money is something we all want – even the richest of us. When we buy a boat do we get a good deal? How can we measure her value in order to know we are getting a good deal? The answer to this question of measuring value is fundamental. Do we want quality workmanship, a design that fits our purpose or a boat that will hold its price? Perhaps we want all three?

So before buying a boat we need to be quite clear what we want from her. I have a feeling that a lot of us simply get carried away with the appearance of a boat because she’s trendy, macho or in vogue. Maybe our friend has one just like her? There could be many reasons why we decide to buy a boat, but to have value for money we must know what we intend to do with her. Even if we can afford several boats for different purposes, we still need to be clear in our minds what the purpose of each boat will be.

I’m well qualified to speak on this matter of buying boats because I’ve bought and sold a good many for my own use. A criterion I’ve usually considered is the resale value. By buying a second-hand boat one avoids paying VAT and usually there’s quite a lot of gear as part of the deal - perhaps she may have a road trailer and an outboard engine which when included in the package can save a lot of cash. Certain classes of boats seem to have a good resale value; in the UK, Hunter Boats have this reputation. A few simple improvements and some TLC can increase the value of a second-hand boat by as much as 10 percent.

Quite often there are some really good deals to be found on, but do look carefully at the boat before bidding. If you are not absolutely sure she will be value for money, do not bid. The Internet enables the prospective buyer to fully research a class or type of boat. A buyer may find several examples of the boat he wants in different parts of the country, some cheaper than others. (Bear in mind these ‘asking’ prices are usually pitched too high in the hope that the seller may get what he considers is the real value.) Knowing the average price of the class of boat, the buyer can consider the condition, age, and equipment included in the sale, so as to deduce her true value. He should also take into consideration where she’s lying, because the cost of transport by road or sea to the buyer’s sailing area could be quite considerable.

For those buying really expensive yachts it’s worth considering the hire of a professional surveyor, because a proper assessment of the condition and value of the yacht will provide an objective bargaining position. Most owners over-estimate the value of their vessels and they are reluctant to accept a lower figure until they have an unbiased assessment by a professional surveyor, but bear in mind they may still not accept the surveyor’s assessment and you may end up out of pocket because he refuses to sell at a lower price.

As I indicated in the opening paragraph, value for money may not be based on getting your money back when it’s your turn to sell the boat. You may be very happy to pay more than the actual value as assessed by a professional broker, simply because she is exactly what you want for a particular purpose and she’s the only one available. A boat’s monetary value is always what people are prepared to pay. Value can be subjective, because one may simply ‘fall in love’ with her, despite the fact that she’s a total wreck, full of worm and rot, and if one has the cash, expenditure is not important. Value can depend on how long one has owned a boat and what has been shared with her – there’s a element of sentiment in value, and for those who want to own a ‘famous’ vessel, one may be very happy to pay over-the-odds for her.

Whatever criteria you choose to determine ‘value for money’, may you enjoy your dream boat.

Friday, March 18, 2005


The spring weather has definitely taken a turn for the better. Yesterday and today the temperature has risen to 14 degrees Celsius and the skies have been clear of cloud. There’s been rather too much wind for varnishing, but waiting for ideal conditions could take weeks. I’m not fastidious about achieving absolute perfection, but I’ll settle for a reasonable finish which protects the underlying wood. The truth is I prefer paint to varnish because it so much easier to maintain, but to paint Bumper’s spars would be sacrilege and when it comes to selling her, I doubt she would be so appealing to a prospective buyer.

If I were to tackle varnishing to perfection I would not only need to strip off all the previous varnish very carefully, but I would have to get rid of the black stains by using a bleach of some sort. It has been said that 50 minutes of every hour re-varnishing should be spent sanding and the remaining 10 minutes actually applying the varnish. All sanding should be done by hand, not by machine, as the latter can damage the wood’s surface.

For continuity, the same type of varnish should be used, either an alkyd, polyurethane or a phenolic. The alkyd is the cheapest, but not as tough as the others, and the two-part urethane has the highest resistance to abrasion, as well as the longest gloss retention. The phenolic type is the traditional varnish - much the preferred choice for spars liable to torsion, owing to its excellent flexibility. Varnishes have varying degrees of ultra violet protection and give wood a golden lustrous glow, but very pale woods tend to turn yellow - that’s where a preparatory stain can be beneficial.

If you’re starting to varnish directly on newly prepared wood, it’s a good idea to follow the instructions which usually advise diluting it by adding 15 percent of the appropriate thinners. This facilitates good penetration into the wood for better protection and subsequent adhesion of the next undiluted layer of varnish. Some people give this a light sanding to remove the ‘stubble’ that occurs after the first application. Perfectionists wet and dry each coat very lightly with the finest emery paper until the final layer. A minimum of three coats should be applied, but for the very best result it may necessary to apply 6 to 8 layers.

Remember to sand with the grain and use a vacuum cleaner to remove the dust, then a finely woven rag saturated with paint thinners or alcohol to ensure the surface is entirely dust free. I’ve been told top craftsmen use disposable strainers and paper paint buckets and never stir their varnish, but I don’t emulated their absolute perfection. Good application is achieved through practice, but it’s better to not to overload a brush and to apply the varnish with even ‘pulling’ strokes. Never try removing surplus varnish on the side of the can. It’s best to work carefully so as to maintain a ‘wet edge’. Only use a good quality soft brush.

During the sailing season remove any traces of salt and grime with a chamois and fresh water. About halfway through the season apply at least one coat of fresh varnish, and it’s not a bad idea to have a small quantity of varnish aboard for touching up parts that may get damaged.

Although there’s a lot of satisfaction in seeing fine varnish work, remember how much effort goes into achieving it. If you’re the sort of person who likes being on the water more than preparing for it, I would advise you to paint rather than varnish!

Thursday, March 17, 2005


When I first heard the word ‘victuals’ I wondered what it meant – that was back in 1960 when I crewed aboard a converted St Ives lugger out of Dartmouth, England.

John, the owner of the 22ft ‘Petrel’, was not far short of retirement age and he took me along to help sail his gaff cutter. We would leave Taunton on a Friday afternoon in his fully loaded Austin 7, and after a weekend aboard we would return on Sunday evening.

At the beginning of the season his tiny car would have a large fisherman anchor strapped to the outside and on the top there would be a pair of oars with a folding dinghy. Fully occupying the back seat there would be at least four cardboard boxes of food and drink – these were the yacht’s victuals.

Our consumables were mainly tinned goods supplemented with fresh vegetables. We would always have several cans of soup. Our meals were deliberately kept simple, because all cooking was done on a single gimbal Primus stove. My job as ‘boy’ was to prepare the vegetables and keep an eye on them while they simmered in the saucepan. Each morning I had to make toast on a wire mesh which was placed over the stove, then, prepare salted porridge and hard-boiled eggs. That was our regular breakfast.

At mid-day we had salad and French rolls and we frequently drank tea with biscuits. Chocolates and hard boiled sweets were always to hand. The main meal was taken in the evening when we were anchored in some protected spot.

Because we never crossed the English Channel to France we didn’t have the excuse to take on board bonded stores. Such items had to be checked by the Customs, sealed and signed with a pledge that the tax free items would not be consumed until the ship was in international waters. Bonded stores for yachts going abroad can still be obtained today from Windward Sailing at Ocean Village, Southampton.

The history of bonded stores goes back to 1550 when the Navy Surveyor of Marine Victuals was responsible for overseeing the process of loading bonded stores aboard the Navy’s ships.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Weather Forecasts

It’s a well known fact that the English are interested in the weather. The usual topic of conversation on meeting someone is the weather. The opening sentence might be, “What awful weather we are having!” or, “It’s a really super day, isn’t it?”

Both parties immediately focus their discussion on how the weather will affect them or impinge on events that interest them. One could continue, “Do you think it’ll be OK for the cricket at Lords tomorrow?”

“I reckon England will be saved by the rain, because it’ll be, ‘Rain stopped play.’”

“That’ll save our bacon. Those Aussies are really too good for us!” and so the conversation will continue.

For the yachtsman, weather is always important because it can dictate whether he should leave port or stay there. Having the wind in the right direction and the right strength could be crucial. If it’s too strong and against the tide the sea will be diabolical. If the wind is gale force there will be no sailing and perhaps that will also be case when it’s a force seven. The experienced yachtsmen will be prudent, not wanting to take unnecessary risks.

At sea, the yachtsman has to accept the weather as it comes. That’s one thing man has not been able to control, but weather forecasting has so much improved. This has happened because of the cooperation of meteorologists all over the world; they collect and collate information from numerous sensing devices: some measure sea temperatures, others air temperatures, wind direction and strength, humidity and air quality, including pollen counts, pollution analysis and the acidity of rain. Visibility is also measured. Barometric pressure is the primary tool for forecasting wind direction and strength. Radio links with cameras in satellites enable meteorologists to obtain photos of cloud formations and infra red cameras provide images which show sea temperatures. Radar images are very useful for tracking the movement and extent of rain or snow.

By feeding all this information into dedicated forecasting computers meteorologists can determine what the weather will be like in 24 hours. Indeed, because information has been saved over many years, expert programmers have build models which they have modified month by month and year by year, so as to improve their prognostications for longer periods.

All this, of course, has made the life of the sailor much safer, because he can obtain accurate forecasts from several sources, such as Weatherfax, Navtex, Radio 4, local radio and the coastguard service via VHF, and for those with access to the Internet by computer they can see live information depicting wind speeds and direction. Some yachtsmen have televisions which enable them to see weather maps. Others rely on mobile phones for text or spoken weather forecasts. Personal digital assistants (PDAs) linked via a phone or phone card to the Internet can be used to obtain weather forecasts.

Before this technological sophistication a skipper was dependent upon his ship’s barometer, thermometer, radio broadcasts and his own knowledge of local conditions.

Therefore, there is now no excuse for a coastal sailor who finds himself in difficulties because of adverse weather. By deliberately putting to sea when a forecast indicates gale force winds he could jeopardise the lives of his crew and himself, not to mention the lives of brave RNLI sailors who may be asked to assist.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

New Beginning

Bill's Log

Spring in the northern hemisphere officially commences on the 20 March at the time of the Vernal Equinox. Crocuses, polyanthus and daffodils bring colourful life to the garden; the dawn chorus starts earlier each day and the mad March hare dances the fields in jubilation.

These signs of nature’s metabolic clock inextricably linked with the pointers of the Pole Star and the moon’s gravitational effect upon spring tides say to the yachtsman, “Remove the winter covers; dust off the cobwebs of cold hibernation; open wide the hatches and let the warm spring air enter in.”

Then I know it’s time to check the halyards, gudgeons and pintles, repack the stern gland, remove the inhibiting oil and replenish with new; replace the impellor, set rigging and sails; refill the water tank, polish the hull; prepare the keel; apply anti-fouling, stow the gear, then relax in anticipation before launching the yacht.

Adventures lie ahead in fulfilment of winter’s dreams: Exploring creeks, coastal voyaging; beating, reaching, running - fine days or foul; good companions and crew, friends and acquaintances; walking, resting, swimming and sunbathing – all these to look forward to, if the Lord wills by His sovereign grace.

The new beginning of spring is like a wondrous butterfly emerging from her crusty winter cocoon into the dawn of a new day.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Character through Boating

Bill's Log

The water rat in Kenneth Grahame’s ‘Wind in the Willows’, so aptly summed it all up when he explained, “There is nothing, absolutely nothing, half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.” Ratty’s emphasis was on, 'nothing, half so much worth doing.' Why? Because the practice of boating is a character forming activity by nature of the physical and mental demands made upon those who ‘mess about in boats’.
Although Mole and Ratty started by having a good time sculling Ratty’s punt, it wasn’t long before they both found themselves in the water, because of Mole’s impetuous attempt at sculling without permission. Ratty ingeniously rescued Mole by using the ‘sculls’ to float him to the river bank. Then he got him warm and dry by persuading him to do some running. Despite the seriousness of the situation Ratty never grumbled or castigated Mole, instead he made a big joke of the whole affair. In so doing Ratty proved he had real character.
Ratty’s enthusiasm for boating could not be denied. He would say things like, “Lord! The times we’ve had together! Whether in winter of summer, spring or autumn, it’s always got its fun and its excitements.” Since he mentioned his, ‘Lord’, maybe he knew a little more about spiritual things than we imagine? Could he have read the words of Paul the Apostle in Romans, chapter 5, “We glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance character; and character hope.”?
Paul’s statement could well have been the foundation principle for Kurt Hahn’s first Outward Bound Sailing Centre at Aberdovey, in Wales. Over the past 40 years this organisation has spread to 30 countries - all with the same mission of character building. Leaders of these adventure centres teach their students essential new skills which they use while working within a team to achieve goals and objectives under demanding conditions. In so doing they learn to work together.
Some of the skills directly taught on Outward Bound Sailing Courses entail things like tying knots, splicing rope, boat handling under sail and oar, navigation and cooking. Participants are also taught common skills such as verbal communication, problem solving and decision making. One of Hahn’s ideals was to promote the truth that people can achieve more than they thought possible by adopting and believing the motto, “I can.”
In summary, organized outdoor activities equip youngsters with useful skills and attributes; things like leadership, self-confidence, teamwork and perseverance - all applicable within the world of work. Such character training brings hope for a bright future.
Outward Bound UK
Outward Bound USA

Sunday, March 13, 2005

The Environment and Yachting

Bill's Log

There was a time when I thought sailors could make a real contribution to saving the planet. By setting examples of conservation and minimalism I thought these ‘ideals’ would have an influential effect upon others. I reasoned that unless new attitudes could be fostered there could be no progress, but now I realise the naivety and insignificance of such an example.

Here are my reasons:

Firstly the message of global warming and its consequential adverse affects has to be understood by the majority, particularly those who are in positions of power, whether by democratic elections, the ownership of global monopolies, manufacturing empires or the control of financial markets. Of such moguls there’s the notable Bill Gates, who is so rich he could buy some countries, but most tycoons remain oblivious to the urgent need for action.

Secondly, I doubt they will ever understand the consequences of destroying natural resources and polluting the atmosphere with carbon based gunk, so they will never be persuaded to take the appropriate action to save the world – hence themselves, their families and generations to come.

Mistakenly it seemed so obvious to me that kings and queens, presidents and rulers, industrial magnates, mafia barons, lottery winners and all those with wealth who find the need to flaunt their riches by owning prestigious motor yachts for luxury cruising in the Mediterranean, Caribbean or the Maldives, would acknowledge the error of their ways and repent of their sins, then all would be well! They would have a global convention where they would harmoniously agree to make one enormous mountain of their yachts and set them ablaze, while not realising how much carbon based pollutant would be discharged into the atmosphere, but at least, it would be a start of sorts.

Unfortunately, whatever we sailors do to conserve the world’s resources and to sustain a pollution free environment, our efforts will have in insignificant effect, because of man’s overriding greed and his ingrained disregard for the very world that provides him with food to eat, water to drink, air to breath and pleasant places to enjoy.

Nevertheless for those of us with an inner conviction to do what is right for our children’s children we can be satisfied by choosing smaller boats, second-hand boats, and vessels which cause the least pollution. If we are absolutely intent on doing our very best for ecological harmony we will give up boating altogether!

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Extreme Sailing

Bill's Log

What turns you on? What’s motivates you? What gives you kicks? Basically, all three questions amount to the same thing.

In terms of personal ambition I don’t suppose this age is any different to previous ages - for example, some would want to make a lot of money, perhaps most would like a good family life, others would prefer position and power within society, while a few would want to live selflessly in the service of their fellow human beings. There’s nothing extreme with these ordinary ambitions, but having achieved them, the majority of us would have a positive sense of self-worth, good self-esteem and a sense of fulfilment.

On the other hand there are those who are far from ‘ordinary’ – they are quite extraordinary. Their satisfaction and self-esteem comes from the enactment of daredevil actions which bring an adrenaline rush - only by living dangerously can they be satisfied. Such people are the more adventurous among us. They do not conform to the norm. Instead, they positively enjoy taking risks - sometimes calculated, but at other times beyond the bounds of reason. From this very small percentage of the population there are some devoted to the modern pastime of Extreme Sports. By participating in them they deliberately expose themselves to dangers which the rest of us endeavour to avoid.

I’m amazed that so many of these extreme sports are practised today. There are those who enjoy climbing skyscrapers; B.A.S.E. jumpers, snowboarders, roller-blading enthusiasts, free divers, paragliding pilots, hang-gliding pilots, down hill mountain bikers, snowboarders, skydivers, white water kayakers, kite surfers and followers of the latest craze, Mistral Moth Foiler sailing.

It’s this latest adrenaline sport that makes the mind boggle. Even the RYA appears to have a vested interest in this latest breed of super-freaks who have the skill, strength and agility to balance their narrow racing machines on foils. In so doing they seem to defy gravity while skimming over the waves at phenomenal speeds. Great courage is required to race these boats, especially when sailing downwind. If they get it wrong their boats can catastrophically dive, most likely resulting in damage to the rig or injury to the crew.

The International Sailing Canoe used to be the fastest small racing sailing craft, but no longer. Mistral Foilers built from carbon fibre and Kevlar can out-sail them with ease.


International Moths

Flying Moths

Friday, March 11, 2005

Renovating Boats

Bill's Log

One of my most rewarding activities is renovating small sailing boats. I’m a bit like a first-aider who gives the kiss of life to a person whose heart has stopped and who no longer has breath. After spluttering back into the world of consciousness his blue lips turn pink and his eyes flicker. His expression of wonderment becomes a broad grin, while his sparkling eyes crease at their corners. He has a future and hope again, but the joy is twofold.

Renovating boats is not so instant. It can take months or even years, according the state of the hull and equipment.

I have a good friend who is far more expert at rejuvenating worthy craft. Talk about Joshua Slocum and his beloved ‘Spray’ ……… that was a simple rebuild by comparison with my friend’s achievement! After three years his classic Seaton yawl, which had been a rotten hulk, was transformed into a yacht to be admired. Practically every bit of her had been painstakingly renewed. How patiently he laminated each rib, made a new keel, set the transom and carefully shaped every plank. Her varnish and paintwork glistened, boot topping and all; her tanned cotton sails were just right, set to jaunty bowsprit, stout mast, gaff and boom; her colourful burgee and red duster completed the picture of perfection.

There’s seldom a need for the ‘Full Monty’; more often than not it’s a case of TLC, but that also brings satisfaction. Why not give it go? In addition you could make a profit and have fun on the water.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Bristol Fashion

Bill's Log

Way back in 1698 the Royal African Company was a monopoly trading company based in London, but most of its ships were built in Bristol and the larger proportion of its trade in gold, ivory, dyes, spices and slaves was centred on the West Country port. That year the Company’s monopoly was broken by pressure from smaller ports like Liverpool and Lancaster, but it had little effect on trade at Bristol, to the extent that 2,108 ships left the port for Africa by the year 1807.

Profits from the slave trade made Bristol a very prosperous city, and not least three generations of the Teast family, who were ship builders at Sidenham docks between 1750 and 1841. These ships had the highest reputation for being well-crafted and exceedingly sound. Seamen who plied the waters of the Bristol Channel and the River Avon had to deal with fast flowing waters and 12 metre tides.

Because of their excellence, Bristol boat builders and seamen where given the highest respect, and hence the term ‘Bristol Fashion’ was applied to well-built ships under the command of proficient seamen. Today the true significance of its meaning has been lost and downgraded, being defined as ‘shipshape’, which simply means ‘orderly’. This contemporary meaning of ‘Bristol Fashion’ is not to be disparaged because there’s great merit in a vessel being kept ‘shipshape’.

On a ship where there’s a place for everything and everything is kept in its place, all aboard can lay their hand upon it immediately, and who knows if that life-threatening situation may arise when an item is needed instantly, perhaps a fire extinguisher, a whistle, a searchlight or a distress flare?

Untidiness, slovenliness and disorder are counterproductive in the smooth running of life aboard ship. For your own safety and well-being make sure you never sail on a boat unless she is ‘Bristol Fashion’.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Imperfect Navigation Console

Bill's Log

Today I’ve been working on the console* for the ship’s laptop computer which has a brilliant navigation program.+

The main purpose of the console is to protect the laptop from the elements. Water must not get in, but warm air generated by the computer must escape to prevent overheating and condensation. This will be achieved by using the principle of convection. Warm air will rise and escape through ventilators near the top of the console, and cool air will be drawn through a vent near the base.

In order to have a good view of the laptop’s screen I’ve made a clear Perspex window at the front of the console. It’s a bit like a cat-flap providing immediate and easy access to the computer.

Although I’ve taken great care to make a symmetrical console, it has a slight misalignment on one side which has caused me to re-position a hinge so that the window fits exactly. This minor imperfection is unlikely to be noticed by a casual observer, although I shall always be aware of it. I would have preferred perfection, but I will have to accept this miniscule flaw. In no way will it affect the integrity of the console.

I believe in the principle of working to a high standard, because flaws inevitably creep in, but if care is taken from the beginning, the end product will be good, or at least satisfactory. A slovenly, laid back attitude will only bring about an unsatisfactory result.

* See 19th February for a description.

+ Garmin’s MapSource Version 6.2 –

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Boat Nutters

Bill's Log

A nutter is a mad or eccentric person. So what is a boat nutter? He is a person whose eccentricity is manifested in his singular obsession for a particular boat or design. His madness is defined by his idiosyncratic passion for the unusual which sets him apart from ‘normal’ boating enthusiasts. By definition he is not a person who commonly shares a liking for a class or type of boat, nor does he love boats in general, since these characterise the majority of aficionados.

My purpose is not to denigrate boat ‘nutters’, but to express the view that their free-thinking creativity has made a valuable contribution to the realm of boating. Their focus on achieving intrinsic objectives has resulted in tangible solutions previously thought unsolvable; for example, the creation of the amphibious vehicle, the hovercraft, the windsurfer, the windmill sail, rigid aerofoil sails, kite sails and the facing forward rowing machine.

I suppose one of the outstanding examples of the work of a boat ‘nutter’ – I’m being warmly supportive in the use of this term - has been the manufacture of ‘Microship’, a lightweight, one man cruising trimaran designed and built by Steven K. Roberts. (See ) He has incorporated several unusual features into his boat - things like an electric thrust propulsion unit and retractable wheels for easy transportation over land. ‘Microship’ has an integrated electronic system linked to a computer which is powered by solar panels.

I raise my hat and shout ‘Three Cheers!’ to all boat nutters who have wittingly or unwittingly made valuable contributions to the pool of knowledge relating to boat design.


Autogiro Boats

Cardboard Boats

Concept Boat

The World’s Most Radical Boat Designs

Unusual Boat Designs

Monday, March 07, 2005

Esoteric Boat Fanatics

Bill's Log

The more fanatical of us boat enthusiasts will search for our Holy Grail like paupers digging at night with bare hands for truffles of great value. We each seek the epitome of our particular desire and will sacrifice almost all we have to find it.

Those into origami sailing cruisers capable of miraculous transformations so as to perform many functions will search for a boat that can be stored at home under a bed, travel by car on a roof rack, be paddled down the Grand Canyon and sail around the world in 80 days!

Those into endurance will want the smallest, most uncomfortable, weakest and least seaworthy vessel they can find to prove that the human spirit is indomitable, being able to triumph over nature’s adversities.

Those into speed will enlist gullible and willing sponsors to finance the building of mega-yachts, so that their compulsion to be the fastest can be satisfied. They will employ designers, technicians, engineers, sail makers, support teams, publicists and public relations personnel, all to ensure their dreams are fulfilled.

Those who want their boats to be of unrivalled beauty will travel to the four corners of the earth seeking the most talented designers, the most gifted craftsmen and the finest materials. They will not be satisfied until the perfection they crave is achieved.

Most incredibly those into breaking records for the smallest boat to cross an ocean will be prepared to starve and thirst to death while attempting to stand upright in miniscule capsules as they drift at the mercy of the sea and wind.

Justification for our fanaticism, so we assure ourselves, is valid self- fulfilment; for without the doing of our fanaticism there is no raison d’ĂȘtre.

“Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher, “All is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 12:8)

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Caring for Boats

Bill's Log

I have owned 18 boats over a period of 57 years - that’s not counting several yacht tenders, inflatable craft, and a few paddling canoes. Some I built from scratch, others from kits and one from a pre-moulded hull and deck. The remainder were second-hand professionally built boats, with one exception, a boat built by an amateur. On average I’ve changed boats every 4 years, although in more recent times they have passed through my hands every second or third season.

Of course, there have been months or years when I’ve not owned a boat, but that didn’t stop me sailing, because friends welcomed me aboard their yachts. Despite this when I’ve not owned a boat I’ve felt as though a part of me was missing. It was as if I had been a caring parent who had lost a child and all that had gone before – a cherished loving relationship, rich in costly sacrifices of time, effort and expenditure – a reciprocal bonding through mutual need. Is there a true parent who does not have a caring commitment to do the best for his child into maturity, even until death?

For me, boat ownership does have an aspect of loving care, but never a life-long commitment or a bonding as with a son or daughter. Unlike a child, a boat can not respond to one who cares, but I care all the same, not for the sake of the boat, but for me. Sacrifices of time, effort, and money are part and parcel of the caring process and by them I gain satisfaction. By renovating or maintaining boats I use my manual skills and gain much reward.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Best Boat in the World?

Bill's Log

At the end of her record-breaking solo circumnavigation Ellen MacArthur remarked that her trimaran ‘B & Q-Castorama’ was the best boat in the world. After coming second in the 2001 Vendee Globe around the world race she made the same claim for ‘Kingfisher’, a 60’ monohull. So something had changed – she no longer considered ‘Kingfisher’ to be the best.

I wonder how Ellen understands the meaning of ‘best’. She obviously uses the word in the superlative sense to describe her boat as the most excellent, but in what context? Is ‘B & Q-Castorama’ the best because she’s the fastest?

There’s no doubt that ‘B & Q-Castorama’ has been sailed around the world faster than any other boat by a lone sailor, but in 2004 Steve Fossett and his crew aboard their 125’ maxi-catamaran, ‘Cheyenne’, broke the record for the fastest boat to sail around the globe. They did it in a time of 58 days, 9 hours, 32 minutes and 45 seconds. As a result Steve Fossett may claim his boat is the best in the world. Certainly, in terms of speed, ‘Cheyenne’ is the best.

When a claim is made that a boat is best, there needs to be a qualification – best for what? ‘B & Q-Castorama’ certainly isn’t the best boat for comfort or accommodation, and as confessed by Ellen herself, a trimaran in the exceedingly rough conditions of the southern oceans is by design not as safe as a purpose-built monohull.

Each of us may claim our boat is the best in the world, but what is at the heart of our claim?

Friday, March 04, 2005

Commandments at Sea?

Bill's Log

Some people may be aware of the Ten Commandments as outlined in Exodus 20; the first four are about the relationship between God and man and the others are about the conduct of mankind. The Bible informs us that only God gives Commandments with a capital ‘C’, but those created in His image, such as admirals, captains, lieutenants and petty officers make commands, which ostensibly are given for the successful running of a ship or a fleet of ships.

Lesser mortals such as yacht skippers sometimes undergo a Jekyll and Hyde transformation once they step aboard their yacht. From being sober, docile, gentile individuals they are transformed into monsters who issue commands in a domineering voice - giving orders which must be obeyed instantly and to the letter! On the other hand, there are some who become so overawed with the responsibility of being in charge; they scurry away to the bilge like frightened ship’s mice. In no way could they make a command, but would rather ask politely, “Would you mind hauling in the mainsheet?” or “Do you think we should bear away?”, and “What should we do?”

The perfect skipper should never be domineering and insensitive to the needs of his crew; he should warrant their respect because of his competence and character. He should be clear-headed, calm, fair and considerate, while demonstrating exemplary qualities of leadership. (Note that we are describing the ‘perfect skipper’.)

His fundamental concerns should be for the safety of his crew and the integrity of his ship. Therefore for a successful outcome he should be satisfied that the experience and strength of his crew is appropriate. He should also ensure his vessel is well maintained, equipped and provisioned for the proposed voyage. He should not put to sea without first preparing a practical voyage plan with provision for alternative strategies. Before leaving harbour he should brief his crew on the voyage plan, and while at sea keep them informed of progress and tactics. His general demeanor should be one of encouragement and support, always with a sense of humour, while tempering all things with wisdom.

A good crew will work together as a team, being cooperative and supportive of their skipper. They should be attentive and make sure they understand what is required of him. Crew members should seek the well-being of the skipper and one another while conducting themselves so as to achieve a successful outcome to the mission. They should respond to sensible requests by the skipper or watch officer while never grumbling or shirking their duties. Like the skipper, they should not drink alcohol while at sea, and as far as possible keep themselves in good shape by consuming nourishing food and doing whatever is required to maintain peak physical condition so as to be efficient. While on passage they should maintain good watch-keeping, report hazards, including adverse sea and weather conditions. If in doubt they should always consult the watch leader or the skipper before taking action.

Bearing these things in mind, what four commandments would you devise to govern how a crew should treat their skipper, and what six commandments would you recommend for the conduct of a crew?

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Seaman’s Motto – ‘Be Prepared’

Bill's Log

When I was a kid during the early 1940s my mum and dad quite expected an invasion of German troops on the beach at Lyme Regis with the mission of isolating the south west peninsular of England. In preparation for the event they packed one of those old-fashioned galvanized bath tubs with tinned provisions, bedding and clothing. The idea was to leave our home in Taunton, then walk to Bristol where we would join my sister who lived there. On reflection, I wonder how practical it would have been to carry the bath and provisions for 60 miles or more.

Nevertheless, the effect of this foresight in preparing for the dreadful possibility, made a lasting and useful impression upon me. It was a paradigm of the Scout’s Motto, ‘Be Prepared.’

Today, modern Sea Scouts have the same motto inspired by Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell, who was indirectly responsible for the creation of the Scout movement, but he certainly was not prepared for the growth of this movement and was taken aback by its success after the publication of his handbook, ‘Scouting for Boys’.
Even in Baden-Powell’s time the growth of the movement was phenomenal. Not so long before he died there were 1,011,923 British Scouts and 544,544 British Guides. Now the movement has spread to 55 countries with altogether 2,812,000 Scouts and 1,304,107 Girl Guides. They all have the same motto, ‘Be Prepared’.

As a kid, being a Scout was anathema. There was no way I was going to swear allegiance to God and honour the Scout Law, but ‘being prepared’ was a very practical principle for the independent individual I found myself to be. Being prepared meant looking ahead with a view to anticipating eventualities so as to be equipped prior to likely events; in addition it meant being ready for the unexpected.

These qualities of foresight and resilience are exactly what a sailor requires if he is to be successful. Whatever he may aspire, whether it’s an afternoon’s pleasure sail on the local lake, a weekend coastal cruise, or the crossing of an ocean, he would do well to prepare for likely scenarios, but also he should expect the unexpected.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Comparing Sailing Boats

Bill's Log

If a shepherd were to compare sheep in his flock he would notice discernable differences that would go undetected by those not familiar with sheep. Not only would he know a lot about sheep in general, but he would know in particular the many individual characteristics of the sheep under his care. No doubt he would be able to identify each one simply by recognizing certain features.

Likewise, the expert connoisseur of sailing boats would perceive differences in hulls, keels, rudders and rigs. If he were responsible for maintaining a flotilla of sailing boats, perhaps for a charter company, he would be familiar with individual differences, down to minute details of the boats under his care.

Now for many of us, we gain enormous pleasure purely by observing and comparing sailing boats. I suppose it’s a bit like a connoisseur of wines or cheeses, although the uninitiated may be able to spot some differences, they do not have the expertise to differentiate between similar flavours.

My wife can never quite grasp the pleasure I derive from comparing boats – it’s beyond her comprehension, but on the other hand I can get some idea why she loves watching tennis tournaments on TV - particularly the men in action! To use another sporting example, football is known as ‘The Beautiful Game’, and for thousands who follow their footballer heroes they consciously or subconsciously compare them with others.

When comparing sailing boats what differences or similarities interest us? Do we compare their physical characteristics or do we consider their performance when racing or cruising? Are we more interested in fitness for purpose than in aesthetic design? Perhaps value for money is a valid comparison? In the case of trailer sailers, couldn’t there be a comparison of the time it takes to launch and retrieve a boat when using a road trailer? One could even compare annual maintenance costs.

One of the most contentious issues involving comparison is the use of the Portsmouth Yardstick, which is a racing handicap system designed to enable sailing boats of different classes to race together fairly. This system monitored and promoted by the RYA is about the best available for club racing. Sensibly, boats are categorised into 4 groups according to their similarities.

From this brief introduction we can begin to understand the complexity of making comparisons between sailing boats, and for an Old Salt like me there’s nothing more enjoyable than comparing boats except sailing them.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

First Time as a Crew

Bill's Log

The very first crewing I did was aboard a 20 foot canvas and wooden sailing canoe. I couldn’t have been older than 14. This unique yawl had been designed and built by a neighbour for his son who was a very good friend. Indeed, it was because of this friend and his father that I became interested in canoeing and built my own canvas canoe.

Bill and I – yes, another Bill, who was really named David – frequently took our canoes to the River Tone for sailing and paddling, but the 20 footer was something different; she was really special. Because she was rather heavy she was kept on a mooring near the entrance to the River Brue, adjacent to the Burnham-on-Sea Sailing Club, in Somerset – not to be confused with Burnham-on-Crouch in Essex. This meant we could only sail ‘Tilikum’ at weekends, because there was a 30 mile bicycle ride to get there.

Our pattern was to take camping gear on a Friday evening and sleep overnight on the concrete floor of a small wooden hut which served as the Burnham Yacht Club HQ. Technically this was not permitted within the club rules, but no one found out – until later. On the Saturday, according to the tide which has a whopping 12 metre rise and fall at springs, we would sail with the flood up the River Parret beyond Combwich and towards Dunbar; then return on the ebb.

You can imagine the excitement and fun we two Bills had tacking our beamy flat bottomed canoe, first to the southwest, then to the south east as the river snaked its course. After Combwich the muddy waters flowed northwards, then east and south again before Dunbar. These meanderings kept us alert with constant sail trimming.

‘Tilikum’ was an unwieldy vessel in light airs because of her weight and surface drag. She was not at all easy to paddle, being far too beamy for double paddles, which forced us to use single blades in unison while sitting side by side.

My friend was three years older than I; ‘Tilikum’ had been built for him, so there was never any doubt as to who was in charge. Big Bill was the captain and I was his crew. What I haven’t explained is that my friend had a paralysed leg, but this never prevented him from doing anything. He was a strong swimmer and he could, by using his good leg, cycle faster than me!

Before going for a morning sail it was always our routine to have a swim in the murky waters of the River Brue. After that, with the aid of a Primus stove, we would prepare and eat a full English breakfast. Thus fortified, we would bring the canoe to the mud-caked shore by hauling in her running mooring line. Once rigged, off we would go for another glorious adventure, but one weekend was different. In fact it was the last we would have with the ‘Tilikum’.

Instead of cycling to Burnham on Friday evening we got up exceptionally early on Saturday morning. Arriving at the club house shortly after dawn we notice our beloved canoe had fully capsized. I suppose she was in about 9 feet of water. It was really cold and I didn’t fancy going for a swim, but both of us stripped and donned our costumes. I was relieved to receive the ‘command’, “You stand here while I swim down and get the mast out of the mud,” then he said, “If I don’t come up within 3 minutes you get me out.”

Bill was the Senior School Champion Plate Diver – that meant he could collect more enamel plates thrown into the swimming pool during the school gala than other boys in the upper school. I happened to be the Junior School Plate Diving Champion, but that didn’t bolster my confidence in being able to rescue Bill if he got into trouble.

Without a moment’s hesitation he dived into the water, swam to the upturned hull, took a deep breath, then he made a duck dive with his good leg pointing straight up into the air. I started to count the seconds. One minute passed, then another and finally the third. There was nothing for it, I had to go, but at that moment Bill’s head burst free at the surface and with much gasping he said the mast was well and truly stuck. After regaining his breath he tried again and once more. I’m ashamed to confess I was petrified. Just as I thought I must make a brave effort to help, Bill proclaimed enough was enough! We would not be going for a sail.

That morning we couldn’t’ get into the club house because the lock had been changed. No doubt someone had discovered we had been using it for free overnight accommodation, but breakfast in the open was great. Once fortified, we sadly made our way home to tell Bill’s dad what had happened. He retrieved the sunken and badly damaged ‘Tilikum’ the next day, and we never sailed her at Burnham again.