Copyright (c) Marc Dacey/Dark Star Media unless otherwise indicated. Above photo (c) Marc Dacey. Powered by Blogger.

2013-05-29

Looks great, less filling

Part of my income is made from writing and editing and another part is made from graphic design. Just as sail tactics books from the '70s and '80s (when our boats were made) are of interest to me, so are magazines from the mid-'90s, when I began to learn computer-based graphic design as a side effect of being a partner in a now-extinct music magazine. I didn't know at the time that such skills would pay mortgages and buy boat gear. But then I didn't know in 1995 I would ever own a boat, either.

The past is always low-res, alas, but I was proud of this one because when it ran in 1995, it made largely accurate predictions of how the internet and computer-aided music production and distribution would transform the music industry. And so it has come to pass.

But there you go: the butterfly effect of small decisions leading to large change strikes again. Another side effect of being a newbie sailor at the end of the '90s was being an avid consumer of the monthly glossy sailing magazines of the day. In 2013, I subscribe to Practical Sailor and Ocean Navigator only, but both are at the point where the return on investment in time and subscription fees is nearly zero: between doing my own sailing and working at a so-called career, at parenting or at boat restoration, and given the value I place on more interactive contact with better sailors online, perusing even the decent sailing magazines is for me getting less attractive. I have a small stack awaiting me at the breakfast table, but there's never enough time, or so it seems, to read their shiny pages.

Looking good and weighing less

Not that they aren't well-produced: Graphically, both PS and ON look fantastic, particularly ON's writer-supplied shots of distant anchorages in ridiculously high-numbered latitudes. My knowledge of print production means I know that they are produced at a lower cost and with fewer staff than in the past. Content-wise, however, there is simply less text and more ads for underbuilt, too beamy dock queens. These days, I find my remaining sailing magazines subscriptions indifferently edited, either because they let Microsoft Word do it, or because even the editor in charge can't recognize errors in English composition any more. I used to be a copy editor, too; think "designated grammar/spelling Nazi". It's the publishing equivalent of a buggy-whip maker: not a job worth paying for, whether you require it or not.

Back in the day, however, my favourites were Cruising World and Sail, both still extant. In one sense, I grew out of them as I had my own sailing experiences and made (and, it is hoped, learned from) my own bone-headed decisions at the tiller. In another sense, they grew away from me. Recently, I picked up in my boat club lobby the May 1994 issue of Cruising World, which came out exactly five years before I began sailing in earnest (or in Lake Ontario).

Large format and chock-full of content. Even the ads seemed educational.

I was struck by several things: the length of the articles, the depth and breadth of the seamanship discussed (this was at the dawn of affordable GPS rigs and therefore pilotage techniques and celestial navigation were still used and respected), and the pretty much equal focus on new boat reviews and the care and repair of the older boats it was clearly assumed most of the readership of that time would own.

These days, would the article read "New app for locating a sail-furling repair tech using your iPhone 5"?

There was apparently, to judge by the tone of many of the articles, also the assumption running through many of these articles that not only should the aspiring boater (whether coastal or offshore) know a wide range of seamanlike techniques and repair skills, they would want to know such things: Calling in a consultant or repair person would be, if not an outright moral failing, a case of last resort. The option of hitting a big red "HELP" button was in the future, although realistically, even today, more than a couple of hundred NMs offshore is beyond the range of most countries rescue services, where such services even exist.

But this...this could be manual labour! Where's the A/C remote control?
Regarding repair and fabrication, I've reached the point (and purchased the right router and jig) that constructing, for instance, my own dorade boxes isn't out of the question. But there aren't many who wouldn't just outsource that to China these days (it's where the best stolen Burmese teak is, after all), due to the time investment in skills acquisition. And yet the sail magazines used to be premised on the idea that people in small sailboats would possess quite a few skills beyond that of sail handling/avoiding dock scraping, because "jack of all trades" wasn't just a catch-phrase, it was a way to save yourself from a damp fate. There is also a sense in this vintage of magazine that it is a Good Thing to save your wallet from indifferent/expensive/hurry up and wait repair or installation folk who themselves might be learning on the job. See "why I bought a welding machine".
So long ago, Beth and Evans were newbies.

To the right in the "Helpful, Strange or Irrelevant" portion of the blog is the website address of Beth Leonard and Evans Starzinger, who have been sailing for ages, and have been profitably (one assumes) writing about it. Beth wrote The Voyager's Handbook, which is a methodical and clear exploration of nearly every aspect of offshore planning, preparation and costing out, while Evans is also a writer, lecturer and a regular contributor to various sailing forums. I like their ideas and have had a bit of email/forum back and forth with Evans, who is pretty humble and still questioning even after two very accomplished circs.

In this May, 1994, article, however, he and Beth are relatively new offshore sailors in a tight spot with bad weather. They clearly list where and why things start going wrong...at a length inconceivable in a current magazine as attention spans have grown gnat-like...and their article's points are then critiqued at the end by a more experienced sailor.

Holy crap. The best article I've read on sailing to Bermuda in bad weather is 19 years old. It's one of the better things I've ever read outside of the first-wave cruising narratives of the Smeetons and Hiscockses. Boats change and sailors change. Our technology changes. The ocean, less so. Perhaps we may reconsider from time to time as we go forward that which we have left behind.

In which the blogger again advocates salvage as the key to cheaper cruising.

Speaking of which, I have long noted that people chuck things out at boat clubs all the time. From a locker at our club one step removed from the dumpster, I have retrieved perhaps too much stuff from the boats of others, including all of the mandatory foam-vest PFDs (some clearly never worn) I require for Valiente to be legal; lengths of tinned wire; new SS nuts and bolts...unopened in their packages (!); vast lengths of line (wash once in net bag, use as needed); light bulbs and cabin fixtures of every description; safety gear in new shape; boat hooks; winch handles; several fenders requiring only a power-wash; all manner of serviceable clips, shackles, brackets and small blocks; and truly impressive amounts of superannuated navigational gear. Don't get me started on the books!

Free to me: Unlike an eBook, may be read by oil lamp.
Now, I understand the impulse to upgrade: Life is short, boats are small, and old crap you never touch should be recycled. I myself have left old displays, bits of plumbing and VHFs I have no longer a use for (and yet which work) in said Locker of Free Stuff, but I think necessity and the expressed Scottish gene means I run a leaner operation aboard than many, if not most. Having a GPS on one's iPhone does not preclude owning a paper chart, so why have I scored three-armed protractors, dividers, parallel rulers and compasses and a perfectly good celestial navigation calculator for free?

Built like a tank, like the teak box it came in.
Don't get me wrong: I haven't stowed a bunch of dumped LORAN-C receivers in the garage...just a Furuno radar I plan to revive as a spare...and I remain pretty selective. Still, it never fails to amaze me what people will chuck out.

A small sampling of recent acquisitions bears this out.
Suunto hand-bearing compass: More portable and more accurate than my Davis "pistol grip" type, and I use these for pilotage.
This hand-bearing compass works, of course, on the plastic boat, but will work on Alchemy, too, if it is held as is its wont at eye level, about 165 cm (in my case) off the steel deck. My Suunto compass watch will, too, but this is easier and less fiddly. Chucked for having a peely label? No clue.

Quite illuminating, I thought.
This is an Aquasignal 40 masthead fixture. It's a well-made, not-cheap bit of gear, and this is slightly scratched on the Fresnel-type enclosure, but with the 25 W lightbulb clearly intact. Ten minutes of stripping and crimping with some old marine wire (also free to me) and it was restored to service. This is the same model of masthead light I carry on Alchemy's mast, with similarly oversized port and starboard fixtures on the pilothouse sides, so this can be a spare, or it can replace the one atop Valiente, which is just about shot. On Valiente, I could step down to either a weaker bulb or an equivalent LED as I'm not required to carry 25 W of dazzle on a 10 meter sailboat.

Used extensively this season to test conduits, and now fit for house "blackout" lanterns
This is a simple 12-volt battery I've used as a "tester" for all sorts of things, particularly as Alchemy's battery capacity is a mere Group 24 to power a single bilge pump until I bring aboard its half-ton of electron buckets. Also seen is the new Ancor double crimper, which along with the lightly used Klein wire shears I picked up recently for nine bucks and the Ideal wire stripper acquired last month, are making my electrical work considerably tidier, and, one hopes, longer lasting.

I neglected to get a picture of the tossed pump, but it resembles this.
I found on the same day a clean-looking Shurflo freshwater pump that resembles this photo. It's sized similarly to my existing FloJet pump, and might make a good spare, as might this cheap alternative, of course. The Shurflo, particularly if I can rebuild it, could also be part of an as-yet deckwash setup. It gurgled and spun up immediately upon hook-up to the battery pack, however; there may be nothing particularly wrong with it other than being No Longer New. A few cycles of disinfectant, and a close inspection of its innards could be worthwhile as I was thinking of building in a "cross-transfer" capacity to my planned new water tankage, wherein I pump water to whichever tanks will stiffen the boat on a particular tack. In the Trades, days can pass on a particular tack. Regardless, another nice little score for the maritime "freecycler" I seem to be.

The mother of all spreader lights, or something that would work in the engine compartment?
Here's a very solid deck or spreader light found in the chuck bin. I think everyone's going LED these days, and rightly so, in most cases, but the housing is top-notch, and if I need a strong, rarely-run light in the engine bay or to illuminate some seldom-seen area (like the steering hydraulics "locker"), I would want something this freakin' bright. With thicker wiring, naturally, and a fused switch.

Awww...it's the Cabin Boy's First Sextant.
Also found languishing and unloved was this boxed Davis 15 sextant, complete with instructions. I bought one without its box for $25 a couple of years back for my kid to learn celestial (the utility of which I will argue with any readers, if only for the mental exercise while on passage of doing sight reductions and running fixes).

The bit I can use is to the right
For me, the Artificial Horizon is the real catch. I have a couple of metal sextants, an Astra IIIB and a Freiberger, already, but an artificial horizon means I can do CN in the park, without having to haul boxes of optical gear down to the lake. While I have a very new handheld GPS, I don't care to lose more venerable means of navigation. No wonder I enjoyed that 1994 Cruising World issue.
 
Apparently, sharks have been known to eat the trailing parts.
Speaking of venerable, former commodore Henry Piersig very kindly gave me the device pictured above just before this year's launch; it had been passed onto him by another sailor who didn't have a use for it anymore. It is, like the label says, a Walker Knotmaster Mk. III A. This part with the dial is lashed to the stern rail and works by trailing a spinner in the boat's wake. A length of line is twisted and the twist turns gears and before you know it, you've done a nautical mile or two hundred. Besides making one's reckoning less dead, like the sextant, my Patay Ocean Master manual bilge pump, my Whale foot pumps, the Tank Tender and a decent spring starter, it does its job without electricity. I do not (clearly) wish to run without electricity...but I think, like possessing the skills and experience the sailing magazines write about less these days, it's a prudent option to retain.

Even if it involves a spot of garbage picking, or as I prefer to think of it, liberation from the dustbin of history.