January 2015 – Salty John : The Blog

When there’s foredeck work to be done, such as when anchoring or picking up a mooring, reliable intra-boat communication is vital. But with skipper and crew operating at opposite ends of the boat it can be quite difficult and, particularly with husband and wife teams, fraught with consequential damages.

(Yes, this post is about intra-boat communication – what did you think?)

The really slick teams have sorted out a series of hand signals that allow them to carry out their tasks 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 grasps the ring with the boathook or Mooringmate and gets a line attached effortlessly.

I’ve 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.

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.

Another method I would strongly discourage is one we witnessed in a Bahamian anchorage one dark and stormy night: A large modern sail boat with him-and-her crew was engaged in 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 X rating. And what she suggested he do with the anchor would be nigh on impossible, I reckon.

But, whatever means of intra-boat communication you use, remember the wise words of George Bernard Shaw: The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.

Here’s a link to an informative article on choosing a VHF radio. It’s by my favourite radio company, Icom, but is by no means Icom oriented, the advice applies to selecting any VHF radio.

 http://www.icomuk.co.uk/Choosing-a-VHF-Marine-radio

Once you’ve selected your radio you’ll need a top quality antenna and cable to extract its full potential. A Metz antenna with marine quality RG8X cable can be had from the Salty John website. You won’t do better for performance and you’ll have a lifetime warranty.

Two antennas fell in love and got married. The ceremony wasn’t much but the reception was fantastic.

I took a stroll along the towpath of one of the prettiest sections of the Lancaster Canal yesterday, here are a few photos of the cut in its winter mood.

Sailors must be perceived as targets for gadgets because over the years there have been some weird and wonderful gimmickry placed before them.

Docking aids spring immediately to mind. These are devices to thread a line through a ring or just get a line onto a buoy or cleat – The Happy Hooker, the Grab-N-go, the Handy Hooker, the Swiftie-Matic and the more conservatively named Mooring Line Threader. There are more.

I must say that when we used to moor to a buoy a simple, solidly built, steel mooring hook deployed from the end of the boat hook was a handy device and as near to gadgetry as I’d ever want to get. Keep it simple is my mantra.

Then there are devices to get you up the mast. Mast steps; the Mastaclimber, Top Climber and every other type of climber; webbing ladders that you hoist on a halyard or run up the mast track, even telescoping ladders. What on earth is wrong with the bosun’s chair? I’ve never found a safer or simpler way to get up the mast. It’s what riggers use and they’re the experts.

Knot substitutes – Loop Lock, Splicing Nut and so on. I can see how they might be something a landlubber unfamiliar with knots could find useful. But sailors? Knots are second nature to us, surely?

Then there’s the usual collection of gadgets that appeal to the geekier among us – pens that write anywhere, key rings which inflate in the water, baseball caps with torches or port and starboard lights in the brim. Yes, really!

Then there are the various bird scarers, from the simple plastic owl to the elaborate spinning arms, all equally effective I’m sure.

Of course all these gadgets work to some extent; it just seems to me they are usually an expensive and complicated way of solving a non-existent problem. But, someone buys all this stuff or it wouldn’t make it to market.

There are good gadgets, of course. Folding buckets are great, windscoops are a Godsend in hot climates, gas powered hot blades for cutting and sealing synthetic line are genuinely useful.

But a little plastic suitcase for carrying eggs? Not for me, thanks.

Here’s an interview with Roger Taylor on board his new boat Mingming2 which replaces his well-known Mingming in which he made many intrepid voyages to northern latitudes.

Salty John, our retail store, accumulates shelf-fulls of discontinued, redundant and surplus boating products. We usually dispose of this stuff on eBay or flog it in case lots to other chandlers.

Now we’ve decided to offer it first to our customers and blog readers – that’s you.

It’s all good, unused equipment at very, very low prices.

There’s a new link over there on the right to Sailor’s Surplus where the goods are listed. We’ll add more stuff as it becomes available, so check back from time to time.

Boat stuff at bargain prices – have at it!

The Gulf Stream, that mighty, fast moving, warm ocean current that originates in the Gulf of Mexico and flows into the Atlantic Ocean, squeezes between Florida and the Great Bahama Bank accelerating to over 3 knots at its centre.

If you’re crossing the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas you need to take the Gulf Stream seriously for two reasons – it can carry you well north of your intended destination and it can be very rough in certain conditions.

The navigational issues are quite easily resolved with a bit of basic knowledge – when you set off from a port in Florida, say Miami, and aim for Gun Cay, Bahamas the course is 108⁰M. You’ll need to allow an average northerly set for the 45 mile journey of around 1.5 knots – I’ve used this figure successfully for departures from as far south as Rodriguez Key and as far north as Miami. Thus, if you take, say, 8 hours for the crossing you’ll be set 12 miles north of your destination. To compensate you’ll steer a course of around 120⁰M and should have a spot-on landfall. It’s as satisfying as holing a long putt on a green with a radical right to left slope.

When you first leave Florida you may find it a little odd that you’re being set south. Don’t panic, you’re in the counter-current; you’ll soon be out of it and into the Gulf Stream. Under some conditions you’ll see a change in water colour from green-blue to a deep purple-blue as you cross into the Gulf Stream, you’d find a marked change in water temperature and you might find yourself crossing a band of flotsam marking the edge of the Stream.

The weather issues are a bit trickier. Any wind over 15 knots with a northerly component is going to give wind-over-tide on an oceanic scale and a nasty sea will build. The wind in these parts swings between NE and SE so you’ll be looking for a wind that’s been from the SE for a couple of days and under 15 knots. Average waiting time for such conditions in the winter months is depressingly long – perhaps ten days.

A crossing opportunity presents itself on the approach of a cold front or ‘norther’ charging down from Canada. Before it arrives the wind goes light and you can sprint across under power, selecting the shortest route. The only snag with this method is that you will be on the Great Bahama Bank when the front arrives with strong winds. You’ll want to be in a marina or a snug anchorage before it arrives. With a fast boat you could get right across the bank to Chubb Cay but unless you’re sure of your timing better stay put at Gun Cay or Bimini until the fronts gone through – being caught on the shallow expanse of the Bank in a big blow in not something you want to contemplate.

So, wait for the right weather and get your navigation right and you’ll have a trouble-free crossing – perhaps the fist step on an island-hopping adventure to Kokomo!

This isn’t a discourse about surviving heavy weather, dragging anchors or running aground. Those are sailing hazards not cruising hazards and we can, mostly, cope with those.

No, the real hazards come from functioning in a different, unfamiliar, environment.
For instance, a few years ago I walked into a laundrette in the Bahamas and found a dozen cruisers slopping around up to their ankles in water while they loaded and unloaded washers and driers and tucked their fluffy clean laundry into backpacks for the trip back to the boat. Then I noticed the crudity of the electrical connections, the tangle of cables creeping out of uncovered junction boxes, and wondered what the chances were of the mass electrocution of the patrons – me included. In the first world we’re protected from such situations by regulations and standards – we need to be careful not to assume those same safeguards are in place in less traveled parts of the world.

In Dominican Republic we traveled three-up on a 60cc Suzuki trail bike and with 18 other passengers crammed into an 8-seater Mitsubishi mini-bus. It was all part of the adventure and we loved it, but a road accident could have had devastating consequences.

Anchored in the Bahamian Out Islands we listened on VHF to a call for help for a lady who had contracted ciguatera, a very distressing condition caused by eating contaminated fish. Fortunately she recovered after being air lifted to hospital.

Another potential hazard is robbery – the theft of your outboard motor, your dinghy or, more frighteningly, being mugged for your wallet or purse. I must point out that in all my years of cruising I’ve never been robbed and never felt threatened in any way but there’s no getting away from the fact that robberies have and do occur and they are a hazard of this way of life.

I’m sure you get the point – travel away from the beaten track and you’ll find yourself in an alien environment that requires a different level of caution. But, whatever you do, don’t let that stop you from setting sail on your adventure of a lifetime.

Cruising small boats in sunny climes involves a great deal of nudity. It sometimes seems like the sailing kit of choice is SPF40 sun tan lotion and a hat. If it rains you take off the hat and reach for the shampoo.

It’s amazing how quickly inhibitions disappear under the spell of sunny skies, gin-clear water, sandy beaches and exotic rum drinks. Freedom in all its manifestations is why we’re here and we aren’t going to miss a bit of it, we’re getting our kit off.

In any remote anchorage in the Bahamas or the Caribbean the hour or so before sunset is an extravaganza of naked sailors. On deck, on the boarding platform, even in the dinghy, there are glistening bodies going through the afternoon shower ritual. Some perform under a sun-warmed shower bag hanging from a halyard, others have luxurious plumbed-in deck showers and others do it all with salt water and a final rinse of fresh water from a spray bottle. It’s all good.

Any time of the day you’ll find naked people walking the beaches or pottering around on deck doing the daily chores. Even at beach parties it isn’t long before the more laid back revelers discard their fancy dress costumes – after all, just how comfortable can coconut-shell bras and grass skirts be? And if you haven’t seen a naked limbo competition you haven’t lived.

Public nudity in the Bahamas and the Virgin Islands is illegal, of course, so you won’t be walking around Nassau in a thong, but in the more remote places no-one seems to care. An all-over tan is the badge of a long term cruiser – been there, done that, lost the tee shirt.

No, I don’t mean the destruction of the economy by irresponsible banking behaviour; I mean the interaction between the banks of a waterway and a vessel travelling through it

A vessel moving close to the bank of a river or a canal will find the stern tends to move towards the bank. This effect is due to the water being squeezed between hull and land, increasing its rate of flow and creating a low pressure area which the hull is sucked towards. I was blissfully unaware of bank effect until I set off from Houston to New Orleans by way of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway.

In my case, however, it wasn’t the tendency of the bank to suck my little yacht towards it that was the problem; it was the tendency of the huge triple wide ‘tows’ to suck my little yacht towards them, a potentially fatal variation of the bank effect, that had me worried.
This particular stretch of the Gulf ICW is extremely commercial; leisure boats are rare, a minor irritation to the waterway’s regular traffic. One foggy morning we had pulled over to the side of the waterway to keep out of the way of the barges until visibility improved. The bank was grassy and too high to climb but a small sapling overhung the canal and I was able to get a bow line on it – or should that be bough line? The boat lay comfortably against the bank whilst we sipped coffee and waited for the fog to lift.

A booming fog horn indicated the imminent arrival of the morning’s first traffic and shortly thereafter the grey outline of a lumbering behemoth appeared, moving through the gloom some 40 or 50 feet abeam of our snug berth. As the monster triple-wide tow thundered past we found ourselves in the hitherto purely theoretical low pressure area between bank and barge. We were sucked towards the barge at a frightening rate until we were hanging perpendicular to the bank clinging tenuously to our sapling. Oh how I begged that little treelet to maintain its grip on the soil.

As the thousand-foot-long iron wall of interconnected barges rumbled past, the sapling bowed and stretched, its immature foliage dipping underwater. Two minutes later, an eternity it seemed, the barge had gone and we settled back against the bank.

Bank effect sucks, I can tell you.