August 2011 – Salty John : The Blog

Accurate communications between skipper and crew are vital but, at times, difficult – no more so than when the skipper and crew are operating at opposite ends of the boat. Like when docking or anchoring.
The really slick teams have sorted out a series of hand signals that allow them to carry out these functions noiselessly, as if communicating by ESP. The helmsman and foredeck crew work in silent harmony to arrive precisely at the mooring buoy, the crew triumphantly grasping the ring with the boathook and getting a line attached effortlessly.

Perhaps, if they’re really smart, they’re using a Salty John Mooringmate to ensure that the securing of the buoy is slickly and simply achieved. But I digress….

I have seen teams using headset walkie-talkies – a great idea as long as you stay calm and enunciate properly. If the crew switches off the headset and can still hear the captain screaming at her, little has been achieved.

Strangely, in 90% of man and wife crews the foredeck work is undertaken by the wife whilst hubby stands behind the wheel spitting out commands. We do it ourselves. It seems illogical but it appears to work for most people. One of life’s little mysteries.

Shouting is one form of communication that simply doesn’t work – it leads to a terrible atmosphere when the anchor is finally secured and drink is being taken in the cockpit.

The other method I would strongly recommend you avoid is one we witnessed in the Allan’s Cay anchorage in the Bahamas one dark and windy night. A large modern boat with him-and-her crew crept into the anchorage and began an anchoring saga of epic proportions. They were communicating intra-boat by vhf radio – she with the handheld on the foredeck, he on the fixed set back at the helm. They chose to use channel 16. In an anchorage full of boats monitoring channel 16. I have to say it was very entertaining but if it were a movie it would have had an 18 plus rating!

The media likes to provide us with comparisons in order to help us to get our heads round the magnitude of that which they are trying to describe. Aircraft carriers, for instance, are always measured in football fields. Tall things are made to stack up against Nelson’s Column. Wild animals are compared in size to cars and in speed to Olympic athletes. The population of China is made to lie down head to toe and be wrapped round the world a few times so we can see just how many of them there are.

The other day I was watching a TV programme on food waste in Britain and we were told that the amount of waste was equal to three double-decker buses. What? Three people threw out their double-decker buses without even tasting them. Scandalous!

Moving on…

In this month’s Yachting Monthly there is a review on a 1977 Antlantic 40 Power Ketch. It looks to be exactly the sort of boat I’d want if I were to do the USA to BVI upwind run again. Heavy displacement, full keel, 80HP Mercedes engine, voluminous interior and a wheelhouse. Bliss! I’d motor sail the whole way.

Of course, when the time came to make the return, downwind, journey I’d want a different boat all together. Maybe a Freedom 40 ketch. Easy sail handling and good off-wind performance. I’d probably sail the whole way back.

‘Horses for courses’ springs to mind. It certainly illustrates what a compromise cruising boats must be if they’re to be successful. Maybe it’s time someone designed a ‘transformer’ boat. Just dial in the characteristics of the journey and it adjusts its specification to suit. Probably have to be the size of an aircraft carrier or a double-decker football field to fit all the mechanicals in, though.

I’ve been watching Timothy Spall’s nautical adventures (Back at Sea, BBC4, Wednesday) – he and his wife and, I presume, a camera crew are circumnavigating UK in a steel barge. Excellent entertainment.

He’s in our part of the world now, the northwest of England, so particularly interesting. He made a right cock up of identifying the River Lune No.1 west cardinal buoy which meant he missed the tide to get into Glasson Dock and had to anchor out for the night.

Cardinal buoys are, as many of you will know, yellow and black and have two cones on the top which help to identify them as North, South, East or West marks. The two cones point up on the North marker and down on the South marker – very logical.

On the West marker the top cone points down and the bottom cone points up. On the East marker the top cone points up and the bottom cone points down. There’s no apparent logic to this so they are more difficult to remember and various mnemonics have been suggested: Because the West top mark looks like a bobbin you’re supposed to think ‘wind wool’, west. Eh?

I prefer to think of the West top mark as the shape of a woman as outlined by the hands of wolf-whistling admirers – waist equals west, simple. You may use that with my compliments, Timothy.

By the way, the term ‘cock up’ comes from the brewing industry. If a vat of beer is declared substandard in some way and has to be disposed of, the discharge stop cock is put in the ‘up’ position and the beer runs off down the drain. A cock up in anyone’s language, I’d say.

What do you have on your desk? I have a slightly cluttered desk: My computer, of course, two calculators (one has a converter function, so I keep it just for that, the other has a big clear screen so I use that for most other purposes). I have a stapler, two multitools, a pair of pliers, two mugs full of pens, pencils, highlighters and so on.

One of the mugs is interesting: At one of the early Macau Grand Prix, 1959 I think, my father was the Clerk of the Course and also acted as a marshal. A car overturned in front of his marshalling point and the driver was trapped underneath it – it was an open, home-built hot rod. Fuel was dripping from the car and the engine had remained running – a potentially disastrous combination. My Dad got to the car first and was able to reach in and switch off the ignition and then his team rolled the car onto its side and freed the driver. The driver, an American, was so grateful that he bought the family a set of five tankards – two big ones with the names of my parents on them and three small ones for me and my two brothers.

But, I digress; a tape measure, two rulers, a digital camera, in and out trays (both full), two PL259 connectors and an almost completely used roll of gaffer tape.

Oh, and my paperweight is an 18 year old Metz antenna coil – still in perfect working order but now retired after 17 years before the mast.

I wonder what my desk says about me.

‘Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm’

This quotation intrigued me, not because of its simple wisdom, but because it was written in the first century BC. That seemed an awfully long time ago to be using metaphors involving the helming of boats. How many people in those days would have been familiar with the way boats were steered? This was before leisure boating was widespread, I’m guessing, and before movies – even silent ones.

Anyway, a little research reveals that there was a vast trading network of liburnias, corbitas, gaulus and cladivatas plying the waters around Italy at that time, so the concept of helming was probably as familiar as it is today.

The words were penned by a clever bloke called Publilius Syrus who was popular in first century BC Italy as a writer of maxims – sort of early one-liners. Old Publilius was a Syrian who had been taken to Italy as a slave and had then been freed by his master who was impressed by his witty repartee. A valuable thing is a ready wit, I’ve always thought.

This rather strange picture is of our LED anchor light undergoing a full immersion test. You stick it in a container of cold water and switch it on. Leave it for seven days. It should remain lit and have no water inside it. We do this from time to time to confirm all is well.

We added a third O-ring and modified the cable gland on the basic model of this light before adopting it as the basis of our own LED anchor light. The O-ring sealing system is such that the lens is virtually inseparable from the body, basically a sealed unit. But that’s OK because the LED cluster lasts at least 35,000 hours, more likely 50,000 hours, and that’s 17 years of continuous anchoring!

We had to have it tested against the appropriate European Standard for anchor lights – it has to satisfy the Colregs as well as EMC standards – and it has its Certificate of Compliance.

Who’s a clever little anchor light?

We took advantage of the warm, sunny Saturday to give Minnie, the yacht that thinks it’s a narrow boat, a run down the Lancaster Canal. We tied up to the bank for lunch and then strolled down the tow path for an ice cream at Pendle Marine. Sublime.

A common sight along the banks of the Intracoastal Waterway on the east coast of the USA is the snapping turtle sunning itself on a tree root. So it wasn’t initially a surprise to see a similar sight on the Lancaster Canal – until I realised we don’t have snapping turtles and, in fact, we don’t have any fresh water turtle-types at all. What I saw was probably a terrapin set free when the novelty of ownership had worn off and now ‘gone native’ in wildest Lancashire. These terrapins were imported in large numbers, mainly from the USA, to satisfy the demand created by the Ninja Turtle craze, and subsequently released into the rivers and canals.

The boats you meet on the canal are many and varied. Narrowboats, of course, with their traditional floral livery, Dutch barges, Broads cruisers, motor boats of various shapes and sizes, canoes and kayaks. We’ve even encountered a family in an inflatable dinghy. Minnie still turns heads, however, and gets the odd comment from other boaters – ‘ahoy sailor’ and ‘get those sails up’.