August 2012 – Salty John : The Blog

Metz antennas wear colour-coded, uv-resistant hats, so you can tell which is which: 

White is the Metz Manta VHF antenna, 156 – 163 MHz, 34” whip.
Red is the Metz AIS optimised VHF antenna, centred on 162 MHz, 32” whip.
Grey is the receive-only DSC antenna, used to receive the DSC signal used by SSB radios. It operates at 2 -30 MHz and has a 54” whip.

It’s a colourful world.

Everyone loves a sunset. Sailors are particularly privileged because we get to see the sun setting over the ocean even on eastern facing coasts, as long as we’re a few miles offshore. Ocean sunsets bring with them the extra tingle of excitement that comes from anticipating the green flash – the fabled emerald green glint on the horizon just as the sun disappears below it.

I have hundreds of pictures and miles of film of sunsets; in none of them is the green flash present. But I have seen the green flash several times. Maybe it’s in the eye of the beholder.

Some people will go to considerable trouble to see the sun go down – the chap standing on the spreaders has a grandstand view. The picture was taken at Boot Key, Florida.

No story. I’m too exhausted from watching the Olympics to come up with a scintillating blog entry, so here’s a silly cartoon instead.

I recently offered, on a boating forum, an opinion that was dismissed as “dock talk”.

I’d commented on the life expectancy of diesel engines in boats and I’d said my opinion was based on my own experience reinforced through discussion with other sailors. Just “more anecdotal dock talk”, came the scornful response.

Guilty as charged – dock talk it was.

Nothing wrong with dock talk. I’ve spent many a happy hour on docks, engaged in dock talk – exchanging views on a wide range of subjects, almost all of these views based on the personal experiences of the participants in the discussion. Or on something they’d once heard.

Dock talk’s usually interesting and entertaining even if you wouldn’t bet the farm on the veracity of the opinions expressed. Sometimes it’s astonishingly insightful, sometimes hysterically funny or, at times, poignant.

Sometimes dock talk is fueled by a beer or two, supped against a backdrop of the sun dipping into a tropical ocean. That’s the best kind of dock talk.

Most of you will, from time to time, tow your inflatable dinghy behind the mother ship. There’s nothing wrong with this, we’ve done it many, many times and have never lost a dinghy or its contents. (On the other hand, we once lost all our snorkeling gear when one of our rope davit hoists failed and the dinghy was left dangling by one end – but that’s another story).

Towing an inflatable dinghy is best accomplished with a towing bridle that attaches to the dinghy at two points on either side of the bow. This helps to ensure the dinghy is pulled in a straight line and doesn’t yaw about crazily.

The towline must float, obviously, or Sod’s law will dictate that it’ll get wrapped round the rudder, propeller or both. So the towing bridle needs to be polypropylene line or it should be buoyed with one or more floats.

In fresh conditions very light inflatables are prone to becoming airborne. It’s true that leaving the outboard motor on the dinghy provides useful weight to counteract this tendency, but a better alternative is to partially fill the dinghy with water and keep the outboard safely stored on its pulpit bracket.

I like to use quite a long towline if there’s a following sea, adjusting the length to keep the dinghy one wave behind – I find this minimises jerking on the line and also prevents the dinghy colliding with the stern of the boat. An alternative favoured by some is to pull the dinghy right up to the stern – how successful this is depends to a large extent on the shape of the transom.

In rough conditions there’s no really satisfactory alternative to stowing the dinghy aboard – davits are great if the mothership is big enough to accommodate them, or lashed to the deck, or deflated and stowed in a locker.

In the anchorage the dinghy is prone to nudging the boat annoyingly and is, sad to say, vulnerable to theft. Fastening the dinghy tight to the quarter with bow and stern lines keeps it under control – just make sure you fender it well. As a defence against theft, though, you really need to get the dinghy aboard – or at least hang it, horizontally, clear of the water on a halyard.

Dinghies are an absolutely essential adjunct to the cruising life but they can be a real nuisance – having the right handling system and accessories such as a towing bridle and webbing lifting slings help hugely.

The Atlantic hurricane season is hotting up. During August, September and October we’ll see the greatest concentration of named storms in a season that officially runs from June to November. As I write, Ernesto’s on his way.

Here in the UK we aren’t directly bothered by hurricanes but many of us watch in trepidation as these monsters set off on their destructive journey westwards across the pond.

Hurricanes are atmospheric disturbances unequaled in nature for their size, lifespan and destructive force. They dominate the weather over a vast area – thousands of square miles, they live for days, sometimes weeks, and they can generate wind speeds of over 200 knots. When they arrive off the coast of the landmasses at the western side of the Atlantic they create storm surges of more than 15 feet above the normal tide.

Atlantic hurricanes typically start life along the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) where the water is warm and the northeast and southeast trade winds converge. The ITCZ stretches from the west coast of Africa to the Caribbean – it’s a nasty place of low pressure, tropical disturbances, rain and thunderstorms – essential ingredients for hurricane formation. In the winter the ITCZ is located close to the equator and one of the elements required for the birth of a cyclonic storm is missing – the vorticity or spinning force of the earth’s rotation. But in the summer the ITCZ moves north of the equator where this final ingredient is added to the brew.

If there’s one thing that’s predictable about hurricanes it’s that they’re unpredictable.

Some storms grow stronger on their journey across the Atlantic, some dissipate; most re-curve to the north as they approach the American landmass and then slither up the eastern seaboard but some carry on straight as an arrow, some even dip south.

So, hang on to your hats friends and relatives in the firing line, we have our fingers crossed for you.