21 October 2012

The Gentle Art of Staying Afloat

I have recently found all Roger Taylor's books are now available as ebooks.  I love ebooks - my bookshelves are already stocked to overflowing with old friends and until recently, when I came across a writer of books I just have to own, such as Roger Taylor, the only way I could indulge myself was by getting rid of one of my other treasured volumes.  No More!!  (www.thesimplesailor.com links you to paper books: I bought my ebooks from Kobo.)

Roger Taylor has my unalloyed admiration.  I love the way he writes, the way he sails, the way he thinks.  I appreciate his attitude of sailing with minimal outlay, but still being prepared to spend money on good equipment to do the job properly.  Not economy for economy's sake, but thinking long and hard before parting with money and buying something that has caused even more resources to be wrested from Earth.

One of the more interesting aspects of Mingming  is that she is unsinkable.  Generally speaking, if you want your boat to continue floating once holed, you'd better have a multihull (and it never ceases to astonish me that people think in such a woolly way, that they will build these essentially-unsinkable craft out of a heavier-than-water material.)  Even a lightly-ballasted wooden boat will have a tendency to go glug-glug-glug if she gets a hole in her and of course metal or GRP are only kept afloat by the volume of air within.

Now Mingming, being a mere 20ft long, does not have a huge amount of spare volume to be given over to flotation.  On the other hand, Roger doesn't live on board and (it has to be said) does rather camp out.  (Forgive me for saying this, Roger, in the extremely-unlikely event you will ever read this.)  He also, obviously, has a considerably better mind than I do, and can go for long periods of time with only his thoughts and observations to occupy him, whereas I need my books at the very least. But as he is also prepared for all eventualities that he has envisaged (and his powers of concentration are impressive) and carries the wherewithal to deal with those, he still requires room for quite a lot of gear.  Of course Mingming, is so simple that there aren't that many things to go wrong, and he doesn't need, for example, a comprehensive tool kit, spare filters, etc, etc for the engine.

What am I wittering on about, you ask?  Well, I'm wondering how much foam I would need to fit in my boat to make her unsinkable.  I get the impression that Mingming would stay buoyantly afloat, but that's maybe too much to ask for.  Especially in a boat with 50% ballast ratio.  But what if I do a bit of weeding of possessions - always good for the soul (but not my precious books!)?  I could possibly fill in the space under the forward part of the V-berth and certainly under the two quarter berths.  How about putting a floor in the lazarette and filling in under there?  No room under the floorboards - that's the water tank.  Most of the other lockers are full with food, clothes, tools, batteries, etc.  I'm not, I regret, prepared to forgo my engine.  This is a shame because it is a large beast and if I filled in all the area presently taken up by the engine and its ancillaries, I could add a lot of flotation.  But I day sail, I'm constitutionally lazy and I like being able to motor 3 miles to an anchorage, rather than staying out half the night or sculling madly for hours. So unless I'm prepared to make many more compromises, I can't do a Mingming on my little junk.

But I wonder if even a little foam, a little additional buoyancy is anyway a good idea?  Anything at all that helps us stay afloat?  Because like the wholly-admirable Roger Taylor, I do not wish to be baled out of my own folly, at the expense of the already-beleaguered taxpayer, and at the risk of endangering other peoples' lives.

14 October 2012

Back again!

Hah!  I guess you thought - hoped even - that I'd gone away for good.  No such luck. Life had dragged me by the scruff of the neck into a busyness that seemed to provide no time for musings of any sort, certainly subversive ones.  I was living a life full of Things To Do, hectic schedules - even airline flights, which I hate with a passion.  Unless in a small, propeller driven aircraft, where I can have a window seat and admire the beautiful land unfolding beneath me. But long distance 'plane flights are terrible things, made worse, for me, but the continuing knowledge of the damage I'm doing to this wonderful earth, by such greedy consumption.

But finally I am back on my boat and in peace.  I cannot begin to describe the pleasure I have in my little ship, in her grace and simplicity and the near-luxury of my little home.  Sometimes I can hardly wait to go to bed because my berth in the forepeak is so comfortable, and in the winter, with the down quilt wrapped around me, it is inconceivably snug.  And oh! the luxury of sleeping alone - of having a bed entirely to myself, with no-one else to think about if I want to stretch out, or to turn over, or to cough, or giggle at some silly thought that crosses what I laughingly call my mind.

On a cold, clear night, I lie there with the hatch partly open, gazing at the stars.  That hatch is both a necessity and a gross extravagance.  Its predecessor, the original fibreglass one, was, of course, completely opaque, which was bad enough: it also leaked and was impossible properly to dog, which was intolerable.  A great friend went and sold his soul to the manufacturer on my behalf, and obtained, at cost price, an enormous hatch, large enough for a super-yacht.  It was still heart-stoppingly expensive, but the original had a complicated moulding that would have been very difficult to incorporate in the same-sized alloy hatch.  With this mega hatch, however, I could build a frame outside the old one and simply drop the new hatch on top.  It is such bliss.  Several people have been puzzled that I should want a hatch that lets in the first light of day, but to me it is a necessity to be able to follow the phases of the moon, as I lie awake at night.  A lifelong insomniac - such things are important.

And we move aft a little to my superb galley.  Has any 26ft boat ever been blessed with such a fine place in which to cook?  I love to cook.  I love, particularly, to cook for myself: carefully-planned and light meals, for enjoyment rather than repletion.  Sometimes I will make the starter, eat it slowly with a glass of wine, and then prepare the main course from scratch, sipping away as I cook.  It may be an hour from one course to the next, and I enjoy every second of it.  I sit down at my varnished, mahogany table, laid with attractive cutlery, hand-made pottery and Waterford Crystal glasses, bought second-hand for a pittance.  As I savour my food, I can gaze out of the window at the passing scene.

The table is something I made myself, to replace the rather ratty plywood one that wobbled around on an ugly pedestal.  Originally it had - I suppose - had the facility to rise up and down like a Pantomime Demon, in order to accommodate a loving couple in connubial bliss.  A small, loving couple, I would have to say, as my whole boat is designed around hobbits.  Fine for me at 5ft 1in and weighing about a hundredweight, but a little constrained for more normal-sized people.  Yes, this bunk is 6ft long - once the cushions are removed fore and aft and assuming your tape measure hook is not particularly thick.  I have dozed on the outboard half at sea and not found it any too long.  I never did try the original table top, because the bed thus formed would have been too narrow for comfort.  At least in my V-berth (and only a couple ardently in lust would call it a double) I can't fall out of bed!  A friend thought that my replacement table (constructed in traditional manner, of one-inch wood, with fold-down leaves) should be made in the same manner as the old one 'in case', but I reckon two people on my boat is getting perilously close to a crowd and cannot imagine sharing with a couple.  Who want to sleep together.  So I did it my way.  Which is why I bought my own boat in the first place.

The other change from the original is that my new table has no fiddles.  I love to write - as you may have guessed - and the fiddles made this awkward.  Occasionally I like to write by hand, with a fountain pen, and the fiddles made this almost impossible.  I could understand fitting them for and aft, but athwartships?  So my new table has no fiddle.  Anyway, this is the 21st century, the era of sticky mats.  There is no need for such a thing 90% of the time.  In the galley, yes.  On the bookshelves equally so, but the saloon table?  But if ever I get the guts to go offshore, I shall fit removable ones fore and aft.

So here I sit in my comfortable little boat, looking up occasionally to admire the scenery, able in one short stop to reach the coffee pot and brew up.  One day I shall sing the praises of my cockpit, but at present it is too cool to enjoy it.

Why, oh why, would anyone want more?

25 February 2012

Sailors and Grog

Sailors and grog have a long and distinguished relationship.  I am a died-in-the-wool sailor as far as this goes.  I like my grog and I see no reason to go teetotal, just because I am sitting comfortably in my saloon, with the boat underway, rather than at anchor.

On a recent passage of several days, I felt quite tense at the initial stages.  I had a tidal gate to negotiate, a tricky headland to round and what appeared to be in un-forecast increase in the wind.  I felt a little daunted, it was about 1800 hrs, around the time I usually have a pre-prandial glass of wine.  So I poured a pre-prandial glass of wine and even with the first sip felt a whole lot better.  It wasn't the alcohol so much as the normality of the situation that made everything seem less fraught.  I then cooked myself a really good meal, taking my usual care in its preparation, and drank another couple of glasses of wine while I cooked and ate. 

To be honest, I hadn't even considered whether or not I would drink on passage - I assumed that I would - but it did cross my mind, as I poured out another glass, that some would consider me irresponsible.  It is a concept that utterly bewilders me.  Here I am, pottering along at about 5 miles an hour, drinking moderately a gift of the gods that adds enormously to my pleasure in life.  And yet many of those who would be sucking their teeth and tut-tutting at the throught of drinking alcohol underway, wouldn't hesitate to down a bottle of beer or a glass of wine half an hour before getting into a car and hurtling down the road at a closing speed with another vehicle of some 120 mph.  And passing it within just a few feet.  That person might also be driving very much within the legal limits for blood alcohol and most people would consider these drivers to be responsible citizens.

I rarely drive, and when I do I am immensely conscious of the speed and velocity of the vehicle.  I am even more aware that a single glass of wine may slightly slow down my reactions.  On the water, miles from land, boat or anything else, there is no real reason why I shouldn't drink myself into oblivion, if I choose to do so.  When I'm coastal sailing, even half a bottle of wine is unlikely to impair my judgement so badly that I can't manoevre round a buoy or bring my boat to anchor within 20 yards of another vessel.  And yet so many people say, with nauseating piousness - "Oh, I sail a dry boat.  I completely refuse to have alcohol on board any boat I sail."  Well, bully for them.  But don't preach to me, mate: what was good enough for Admiral Cochrane is good enough for Missee Lee.

19 January 2012

Small Is Beautiful

I love my little boat. She is not what I would have chosen, but I have put a lot into her and she has rewarded my efforts and now I think that maybe she chose me. But one of the things I like most about her is her size – or lack of it.

I remember, in my very early twenties, standing in the bedroom of the house I was then living in and thinking ‘all this space. For a bed?’ It seemed daft then (it seems daft now) and my next thought was, ‘it’s so much better living on a boat.’ Within a few months I was living aboard once more and in the intervening, heaven know how many years, I have spent less than 12 months between walls.

I live in a space of less than 11 sq metres – 120 sq ft – and that is at shoulder height. My feet, legs and hips manage in less. I have a wonderfully comfortable and cosy bed. It has its own space sacrosanct to lying and sleeping.  It does not have a room entirely to itself, but there is plenty of space under it to stow gear. And in summer, when I don’t want to be cosy, there is a large hatch over it that lets in the fresh air. It also lets in the light, to encourage me to get up and see what the new day has to bring. At the forward end is a clothes locker and on either side are book shelves, with my cherished friends therein.

There is a small toilet, so that I have a certain amount of convenience and outboard and above is a locker that contains my sewing machine and beer barrel. Opposite is a cabinet with storage for toiletries; beneath is a locker for sewing stuff, toilet rolls, laundry pegs, etc and under that is a shoe locker. Moving aft we come to the saloon and galley. I cook in my living room; or live in my kitchen, depending on how you look at it. The settee and table are comfortable and can fit 4 with ease, 5 in comfort (as long as no-one is fat), and 6 for a party. I have fridge (hmm – this came with the boat, can’t be removed without dismantling the galley, but is a bit of a mixed blessing to say the least), sink and cooker, and plenty of storage. Good lockers protect my locally-made crockery and cup hooks support the fine china mugs that I prefer for my tea. I have plenty of room for pressure cooker, pans, storage containers, etc. The saloon provides lockers for longer term food supplies.

If the party is getting on the large side, each quarter berth has a seat at its head and we can comfortably seat another couple of people there. The grog locker is here, too and my little heater.

Many houses have a deck or verandah, where one can enjoy lunch in the sunshine, or unwind with a sundowner at the end of the day. My cockpit provides the same amenity. Two people can sprawl luxuriously in the sun. Four can sit at ease. It’s a bit of a squeeze for eight. Around and abaft this space are more lockers for things like paint and rope.

Really, what more could anybody want? And yet I manage to pack all this comfort and convenience into a boat that is probably shorter than a lot of living rooms. And this wonderful home cost me less than many people would spend on a motor car.

All this is rather wonderful when I am tied up alongside a wharf, but what is even better is that after a day, a week, a month or maybe even a year, I can slip the warps and head off for somewhere quite different. Perhaps even somewhere I’ve never been before. But while I'm getting there, I have my lovely home with me. Then, I drop my anchor and there I am – in a completely new place that is still home. And this little, compact home is so easy to handle, to paint, to find room for, to manage. Why would I want anything bigger?

Small is definitely beautiful.

14 January 2012

Is it really so difficult?

I've been looking at the LowCostVoyaging group on Yahoo. I can’t say that I’d recommend it: like so many USAnian based sites, it’s been pretty much taken over by the paranoid and reactionary. I can’t imagine most of them happily voyaging outside USA and its satellites. They’d have to deal with people who don’t necessarily agree with them, who are competent where they are not; who don’t measure wealth in dollar terms. I feel sorry for most of them – they just do not have the empathy and imagination to look beyond what they've been told to believe.

There are two or three posters who are obviously off cruising, or have been, and several who have spent a lot of times in boats, but you just know only in USA. But what I find really rather sad, is how terribly difficult it seems to be for the would-be voyagers on the site, to cast off and go. They agonise over details: which cell phone server to use; how can they feed themselves beyond the supermarket; the ultimately best, safest and most rewarding (financially, of course) investment; health care insurance; etc, etc. All the while they ponder, worry and debate, their life is trickling away and Bureaucracy is insidiously making life more and more difficult for cruising sailors. They rail against socialism, but don’t have what it takes to go and spend time in a socialist country. They write tirades about Big Government, but don’t realise they have fallen for the Great Con: that you are a better and happier person, working 2000 hours a year, taking 2 weeks off for holidays and enjoying your Saturday night potluck in the church hall.

Private Enterprise is all and Capitalism second only to God; and yet this wonderful system has them so hog-tied that they can’t even cast off for a few months of freedom – let alone for the rest of their lives.

Live free or die? Sorry guys, you don’t know what freedom is.

05 January 2012

Life is full of little mysteries, this I know, but one that keeps me permanently bemused is: why don't people with sailing boats, sail them?

Now I can quite understand why you might not want to beat to windward for 4 miles when you can motor there more quickly and comfortably.  On the other hand, if you feel like that - why go to all the expense of a high-tech Bermudian rig?  Why not go for an honest motor sailer and put a junk rig on it that will be much better for the motoring bit as well as being perfect when you want to run downwind and save fuel.

I can understand human impatience which makes people reach for the starter button when the boat starts drifting sideways and doing the 'painted ship upon a painted sea bit', although I personally rather enjoy it.  But I am quite happy to make use of my engine to get in to an anchorage rather than sit for hours staring at it.

But what I truly cannot understand is those people who motor, with a nice F3 or 4 on the beam.  I've been yachting around over the Christmas period, and seen an amazing amount of this happening.  I mean, these people have roller furling jibs, for heaven's sake.  How much work is it to pull it out?  And why would you put up with the noise of an engine when you could be going just as quickly and a lot more quietly.  And that's before I get on my soap box and start ranting on about the profligate waste of finite resources and the sheer immorality of using diesel when the wind is free and infinite - and fair.

So why do they have sailing boats?  And why do these same people mock my junk rig and claim that it can't possibly sail to windward anywhere near as well as their boat?  How would they know?

One of life's little mysteries.