Salty John : The Blog

I always thought that “the whole nine yards” was an American expression related somehow to American football but it’s actually a nautical term: A typical square rigger would have three masts each with three yards. When all sail was set it would be maximising its full potential – to use an American expression – flying sail on all nine yards.

Ships and the sea have brought us many handy expressions:
Hand over fist: Thought to have started out as “hand over hand”, this expression came from the practice of hoisting sail or climbing a rope as quickly as possible – a source of competition and pride to sailors.

Chock a block: We use it to mean fully loaded – it comes from the situation on board ship where two blocks in a rigging tackle are hard up against each other and can’t be tightened further.

Slush fund: Slush was the residue scraped from the salted meat storage barrels on board ship and sold by the cook to provide cash for himself and his cohorts.

Windfall is an interesting one. When a ship, trying to weather a headland or work off a lee shore, was assisted by a katabatic wind ‘falling’ of a high coastline it was said to have received a windfall.

Between the devil and the deep blue sea: To work this one out you have to know that the last seam on the deck before the scuppers is the devil seam, so if you slip on deck and end up in the scuppers you’re between the devil and the deep blue sea.

Pipe down: This last toot on the boson’s pipe each day meant lights out and keep quiet.

And there are many more nautical expressions that have swallowed the anchor, moving from a life at sea to one on land.

Salty John Boat Products will be unmanned for the month of November because we’ll be taking our annual holiday in the USA. Yippee!

This means that you can make purchases but nothing will be shipped between 29 October and 1 December. There will be notices on the site to this effect. We will be monitoring emails daily so if you make a purchase during this period in the belief that the item will enjoy our usual next-day shipping, let us know and we’ll give you your money back immediately.

I’ll be blogging throughout the holiday as usual.

I share a birthday with Thor Heyerdahl who, in 1947, sailed a primitive log raft across the Pacific from Peru to the Polynesian islands to demonstrate that South Americans could have settled those islands in pre-Colombian times. The raft was called Kon-Tiki after the Inca sun god.

Thor Heyerdahl, who would have been 100 today, constructed the raft in Peru of balsa logs and other materials that would have been available at the time. He and five others sailed Kon-Tiki over 4,000 miles in 101 days to a crash-landing on a reef at Raroia in the Tuamotu Islands. They all survived and made it ashore much to my, and no doubt their, immense relief.

Anyway, it was Heyerdahl’s book recounting the Kon-Tiki expedition that planted in my young brain the seed of my own adventurous seafaring inclinations.

I wasn’t particularly bothered whether or not South Americans did or didn’t settle Polynesia, and genetic evidence has subsequently shown that they probably didn’t, but I was absolutely fascinated that such a journey was possible on so small and simple a craft. I searched out other books recounting ocean travels in small boats and this nurtured my love of boats and the sea, and led eventually to my own modest odysseys.

So, Happy Birthday Thor!

A very good sailor once told me that racing was the best way to hone my sailing skills. I have to agree with him. The racer’s attention to detail in setting up and trimming the boat and the tactical aspects of navigation really do help you get from A to B faster and more efficiently.

Some will claim that, as cruisers, they really don’t care how long it takes to reach their destination but I think the majority of sailors prefer to think of themselves as skilled in harnessing the winds and currents and that’s exactly what racers are.

There are obvious differences between the priorities of the racer and those of the cruiser – racers have big crews and can handle complex sails such as spinnakers more readily and they will persist in pursuing the fastest course to the line when the cruiser may be taking a longer but less arduous route. The short-handed cruiser may reef down before the racing crew even considers it and the cruiser may choose to heave-to whilst the racing crew battles on.

The lessons to be learnt from the racing circuit about making the boat go faster benefit the cruising sailor. In particular, proper sail trim and rig tuning are as relevant to one as the other.

Knowing that your rig is tuned and your sails are set to make the most of the available breeze gives a sense of contentment and satisfaction. Racing teaches you to achieve this because the focus is always on speed, on efficiency. Hitch a ride on a racing boat and you’ll see what I mean.

Not long after you begin a life on the ocean waves, cruising full time on a small boat, you will start to notice symptoms of mental disorder directly related to this new life style. Most commonly it relates to having been deprived of a plug-in electricity supply:

Ampaphobia is an obsession with hoarding battery capacity. The sufferer becomes frantic to measure accurately the amps flowing into and out of his battery banks. He becomes convinced that his alternator, solar panels and wind generator are faulty. He tests them exhaustively and joins boating forums to compare his results with other ampaphobics who think that they, too, are being cheated by their amp gathering resources.

As the condition takes hold the sufferer will accumulate different types of batteries and charging devices, more sophisticated monitoring systems, several types of hydrometer. A battery terminal cleaning brush.

Ampaphobia is often caused initially by another condition – meltaphobia, the fear of the boat fridge failing to keep its contents cold. Obsessively monitoring the fridge temperature with a range of increasingly sophisticated thermocouples is a dead give away. Help should be sought immediately before the condition can develop into full blown ampaphobia.

Another electricity related hang up is toasteritis, the compulsion to design and build a 12 volt DC toaster. This condition afflicts many long term cruisers once the novelty of burning toast on a wire rack placed over a cooker burner has worn thin. I’ve never seen a successful 12 volt toaster, but with all the cruisers out there frantically doing the R&D it’s only a matter of time.

I’m sure you get the picture. You may have your own particular physical or mental condition as a result of long term cruising but, rest assured, once ashore for a short period the symptoms disappear. To be replaced by an overwhelming desire to sell up, quit your job and run away to sea in a small boat.

Allow me a little commercial break on behalf of Salty John, it may be of benefit to some of my readers:

Salty John doesn’t sell rigging blocks anymore – they take up a lot of room, you need a huge inventory, and they can hardly be called ‘uncommon cruising kit’. So, no more blocks.

The good news is there are some absolute bargains to be had as Salty John disposes of existing stock.

These are top quality reinforced ball bearing blocks made by Viadana of Italy. They are available in 34mm, 45mm and 57mm pulley diameters which take up to 8mm, 10mm and 12mm line respectively.

Prices are up to 50% off retail price, some below cost, so a definite bargain opportunity. They aren’t shown on the website, so:

Contact Salty John at for a list of available blocks and prices. First come, first served.

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 a wolf-whistling admirer – waist equals west. Simple. You may use that with my compliments.

To assist the helmsman when running wing and wing I use another mnemonic – point the tiller at the sail you want to fill. It’s a bit more complicated with a wheel – point the bottom of the wheel at the sail you want to fill. This simple rule prevents that “ooh-err” moment when one of the sails begins to luff and a prompt response is called for. Makes an expert of the most novice helmsman.

Mnemonics are useful devices.

My travels by small boat are recorded in 7 journals and my RYA log book. The log book received its first entry in 1981 when, young heart bursting with pride, I glued in my certificate for qualifying as a Day Skipper, or Dazed Kipper as it is popularly known.

In the log section, miles at sea are logged along with night hours and days on board. I’ve had to add many pages to the original publication (G15/78 from the RYA) and I do try to keep it up to date – last years pootle about Scotland’s west coast is in there.

The journals make interesting reading many years on:

The Good: “This place is as close as you are likely to get to heaven whilst still alive…….the palm trees are silhouetted against a golden sky and a spotted eagle ray glides under the boat in the gin clear water….

The Bad: “During the afternoon a wall of towering cumulus headed towards us from the N/NW. We saw two waterspouts in this black threatening mass…..the wind went NE, 30 knots and gusting…

The Bizarre: “….just outside Luperon the gua-gua stopped to pick up a policeman, a man with a broken arm, his wife and a mother with a small child, bringing the occupancy of this Mitsubishi 8-seater to a mind boggling 21, not counting the chicken….

The Bureaucratic: “…..he filled in the forms with a meticulous accuracy of which Bureaucratis himself would have approved….

The Humbling: “….we met Tony and his son who have a Westerly Centaur. They bought it in the USA, did a double transatlantic and were heading home to the Philippines via the Panama Canal”.

Ah, the memories!

Just a hint of autumn in the air.

I had a good laugh at this poem:               


Jon Crowley

Never would Tracy have sailed round the world, In the ordinary course of events. She’d never done anything like it before –

The excitement she felt was immense.

For one day she read of the “Marie Celeste”, And a woman was wanted as crew. And without really thinking of what it entailed

She decided that’s what she would do.

So she bought a cagoule and a stout pair of shoes And a bag for her ham-and-egg sandwiches, And a book, which enabled our heroine to say

“I’m lost!” in a number of languages.

She set off for Plymouth, to meet with the crew Who were waiting for Trace’s arrival. But I’m sorry to say that they laughed when they saw

The equipment she’d brought for survival.

They sat and they chatted, and very soon found That she knew not a thing about yachts, Nor of charts, nor of flags, nor echo-location,

Nor night-navigation, nor knots.

So they looked at each other, her shipmates-to-be, And they reached an unspoken decision. And later that night in the “Admiral’s Arms”

As she gazed at the Sky television,

They bought her a supper – prawn cocktail it was, Then a steak, and a lovely Peach Melba; And they plied her with drinks of the powerful kind

Till she knew not Madras from the Elbe.

Then off they all scarpered, jumped into the boat, Cast off, and set course for the Med. And when the next morning Trace opened her eyes

With a thumping great pain in her head,

She was lost and deserted, the crew were all gone – Not one could she find in the place. And hence, in the papers, the headlines next day:

“Crew Disappears Without Trace”.