humour Archives – Salty John : The Blog

What about those banker’s bonuses, eh! All that filthy lucre got me thinking and a plan has formed: I’m opening my own bank – Salty John’s Bank and Boat Shop. It has a certain ring to it.
I’ll lend huge sums in boat mortgages to anyone who wants them, the only criteria being that the lendees could never in their wildest dreams make the repayments. Then I’ll go spectacularly broke and, amid fears that I could bring the British economy to it’s knees, sell the whole sorry mess to the British taxpayer. Shortly after the dust has settled I’ll collect my huge performance bonus and bugger off to the Caribbean in my super yacht.
I think I’ve grasped the business model.

My office window at Salty John Towers looks out over a country lane. Off to the left the lane leads past houses, campsites and caravan parks to a pleasant inn and the river. To the right is the village with its houses, cottages, three pubs and two restaurants. And the small Post Office from which many Salty John parcels are dispatched.

Over the years I’ve given nicknames to the people that regularly walk past my window. The names are mostly of an affectionate nature and once I come to know the person involved the nickname is dispensed with.

Fifties woman is one of my longest serving perambulators. She has a blonde beehive of impressive proportions and wears straight skirts and four inch heels. I can hear the click-clack of those heels well before she heaves into view. Another one who could be heard long before he appeared was The Whistler. Two years ago I realised he’d gone AWOL. I hope he’s all right and that he’s simply taken his perpetual warble elsewhere, but sometimes I fear the worst.

Then there’s Man-woman, a bit cruel that one and I will probably feel quite guilty should I ever meet her. But her masculine countenance begged the sobriquet.

The Twins Mother is, I was recently informed, not the mother of twins. Well, they look like twins. I know who she is but as we’ve not actually met she remains in the cast. Along with The Major and Mrs Major – he of the military bearing and magnificent moustache who tips his hat at the ladies. She of the Queenly wardrobe topped by a turquoise beret which adds a certain jauntiness.

Mystery woman has been around for several years and is still a mystery. Attractively interesting, I’d call her. She probably leads a perfectly ordinary life but her role as Mystery woman allows for more rewarding flights of imagination.

Some of the walkers know each other and on several occasions have stopped to chat together at the end of my drive. I often wave and they wave back.

I once had the part of one of the characters, the Boy, in “Six Characters in Search of an Author”, the Luigi Pirandello tragic comedy in which six characters persuade a director to let them act out their story – the Boy shoots himself in the end.

Anyway, it got me wondering if my cast of characters isn’t crying out to be in a story – scandal and intrigue in a small Lancashire village, perhaps. I’ll work on it this winter.

I know this has nothing to do with sailing or boats but it’s that time of year. I’ll try to get back on track next week. Unless you’d like to hear more about Mystery woman and that bloke that runs the boating website?

I’ll take this opportunity to wish all my readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

My favourite philosopher has to be Anonymous, or Anon as he’s known to his friends. He’s the guy who said: The final test of fame is to have a crazy person imagine he is you.

But it was another of Anon’s pearls of wisdom that sprang to mind as I was pondering how the cruising boat has changed over the past thirty odd years:
Don’t limit a child to your own learning, for he was born in another time. 

When I dreamt of setting off into the wide blue yonder I followed the teachings of the Hiscocks, the Pardeys and Bob Griffith. My boat would be simple, rugged and seaworthy. It would carry stout ground tackle, fly hanked-on sails and be worked from the deck not the cockpit.

And that’s pretty much how it was. Adriana was 33’ overall, heavy displacement, a simple sloop rig, boom gallows, a massive bronze windlass to handle the all-chain rode and CQR anchors. She was classically pretty, (being from the board of Phil Rhodes she could hardly be anything else), with long overhangs, sweeping sheerline, wide decks and cramped accommodation.

We planned to navigate by dead reckoning with a compass and a set of charts. We carried a plastic sextant for when we were out of sight of land. Fortunately, GPS became available and affordable at about the time we cast off so my astronavigation was never seriously tested.

We had a shiny new Yanmar diesel engine and this begat a battery bank and a big alternator and this in turn begat a fridge to keep the beer cold and the veggies crisp.

This could have been the thin end of the wedge, or as my mate Anon would have it: If the camel once gets his nose in the tent, his body will soon follow.

But no, for this long term cruise we managed to stave off any further adulteration of the hair shirt cruising ethos and had the adventure of our lives. After all, as Anon is fond of saying: Footprints on the sands of time are not made by sitting down.

Anon’s camel did shuffle a bit further into the tent when we set off again a few years later – the boat was bigger and the KISS principle somewhat further eroded by watermaker, forward-looking sonar, radar and wind generator.

The bigger boat served us well but the watermaker, radar and sonar didn’t make it. They failed to live up to their billing: The watermaker didn’t make water, the forward -looking sonar didn’t look forward and the power-hungry radar didn’t earn its keep. I’ve always seen this as justification for my continuing view that avoiding unnecessary complications on a cruising boat is the way to go despite the current obsession with all things electronic, high tech and led aft.

Of course, my failure to keep what would now be considered essential equipment fully functional is addressed by Anon in one of his more profound thoughts: The man who can’t dance thinks the band is no good.

A great little thinker is old Anonymous.

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 dug out my old deck shoes the other day. I bought them in 1998 and they’ve traveled a few thousand sea miles, and a fair few on land as well. I thought they were just about broken in, really.

It hasn’t been warm enough to wear them here in the frozen north for a few years, (the Salty John cool code decrees that socks must never be worn with deck shoes), but summer finally arrived and I put them on and promptly skidded across the kitchen floor like an ice skater. The soles, which at one time would have walked up walls, had acquired a glass-like finish devoid of all adhesion.

The high-tech razor cut tread had gone from large areas but I wore them to the boat anyway in the vain hope that if I could work some heat into them, the rubber soles would develop traction – like the tyres on an F1 racing car. I walked down the dock like a teenager in a strop, dragging my feet all the way, but failed to develop enough heat to provide proper grip. I’d probably spin off at the first hairpin turn; they had to go.

Deck shoes are like jeans; it takes years to break them in and then, just when they look and feel really cool, they’re worn out and ready to be tossed away. Oh well.

Have you given much thought to the design of lee cloths for your bunks? I gave them scant attention until I had to spend a night hove-to off the US eastern seaboard during a boat delivery. The boat was of a marque well known for the quality of its design and construction – but the guy responsible for the lee cloths must have been an interloper from a competitor.

I was on a windward top bunk so I relied on the lee cloth to keep me from a painful drop to the deck. It did that, but didn’t actually keep me in the bunk; it was fastened along the outer edge of the bunk and the top was tied off to hand rails which were outside the line of the bunk edge, so that, instead of being kept in my bunk by it, I rolled off the bunk and hung in the lee cloth. I looked liked a sack of onions. The impression was enhanced by the fact that the lee cloth material was an alarmingly stretchy nylon mesh.

On my own boat the lee cloths worked very well, which is why I’d previously given them scant regard; the cloth was secured under the mattress, well inboard, and the top corners tied off to eyebolts directly above the outer edge of the bunk. Very snug. It could be claustrophobic if it wasn’t for the fact that the heavy canvas lee cloth ended well short at the head end giving unrestricted breathing space and good air circulation.

Lee cloths are one of those things you forget about until they’re needed and then it’s too late.

Today’s heroes are…..

Hotpoint washing machine repair men. I don’t consider myself a complete dumbo with tools, having refitted several boats and maintained a charter fleet in my time, but changing the drum bearings on a Hotpoint washing machine has comprehensively defeated me. That there are men out there who complete this task on a regular basis fills me with awe. These are men for whom assembling the space shuttle or repairing the Hadron Collider present insufficient challenge. Respect.

Well, we took a major trip on the Lancaster Canal last week – an hour or so each way with a stop for lunch and an ice cream.

The yacht that thinks it’s a barge had been having a little outboard motor trouble but that seems to be a thing of the past – she ran faultlessly. The problem with the Honda BF8 4-stroke had been a gummed up carburetor, a problem that is on the increase, apparently, as a result of the ethanol content in today’s fuel. If you leave the motor for even short periods you really need to empty the carburetor bowl via the drain screw, but who ever does that? Not me.

You’d think a 40’ wide, 3’ deep canal wending its way through the English countryside would be pretty well hazard-free for the salty sailor but the hazards are there, they’re just different. I’ve written before about the aggressive swans that attack us to protect their nests. Well what about the kamikaze cows that jump in the water from the adjacent fields? A couple of weeks ago we were heading south when we encountered a fire engine parked on a bridge and as we passed through a man in full emergency gear – orange suit, high-viz jacket, helmet – came running along the towpath to warn us of a cow in the canal. We didn’t meet the bovine swimmer but I wondered what the implications of such an encounter might be – would it try to board us? Can a cow up to its udders in water outrun a 20’ boat with an 8HP outboard going full blast in reverse? I hope never to find out.

Salty John Boat Products:

On a business note, our excellent and unique automatic LED anchor light is back in stock for delivery from Monday, but our equally excellent Sentry exhaust alarm is out of stock due to a recent surge in demand – could be a couple of weeks before that’s back on the menu.

My one season old mainsail was neatly folded and placed in its bag and then left on the shelf in the garage where all the other boating stuff is stored for the winter. In the spring I laid out the sail on the lawn to check it for the new season and discovered large parts of it had been eaten.

I’ve subsequently discovered that field mice don’t eat Dacron, but they do use it for bedding. I found the nest and, sure enough, it was luxuriously appointed with shredded mainsail.

So, if you don’t want to be a supplier of material to the interior decorating trade for rodents, stow your sails where the little devils can’t get at them.

I wonder why we in the English speaking world pronounce kilometre as if it rhymed with speedometer? A kilometre is a metric unit of length, not a meter for measuring something. We don’t treat millimetres and centimetres this way. Try saying millimetre with the same emphasis on the second syllable. Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it?

Why should the kilometre be different?

It’s as though the kilometre got put away in the wrong box; it ended up with the thermometers, pedometers and tachometers instead of in the box with its metric unit relatives. A kilometre is a thousand metres not some instrument with a dial that measures kilos.

I think we should start a campaign to get the kilometre back. People in UK, North America and Australasia need to be made aware of the plight of the kilometre.

Say after me: millimetre, centimetre, kilometre.

And another thought for the day:

Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a ride!

Hunter S. Thompson (1937 – 2005)

I had a zen thought today. A bit like: If a tree falls in the woods and there is no-one there to hear it, does it make a noise?

I was looking at some video I had shot on our millennium adventure in the Bahamas. We were at uninhabited Hawksbill Cay as the sun set on the last day of 1999 and I filmed it. The picture really is of that sunset. But, unless I had told you so, how would you tell it from any other sunset? Makes you think.