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2013-08-31

The parable of the regifted Thinkpad

 
Now available on eBay for about ten bucks.
Last year, my father-in-law gave his 11-year-old grandson a venerable IBM Thinkpad 600X. He's a touch dysgraphic (my son, not his granddad) and has received permission to bring a laptop to school to aid in note-taking as his handwriting is both slow and charmingly rustic. This particular little lappie, probably 12 or 13 years old, but still capable of holding a full battery charge and getting online via its accessory wireless card, had Windows 2000 loaded.

Well, much as I personally enjoyed that particular no-nonsense Windows OS, and had to be pried off it only a couple of years back in order to run various needful programs, not a lot works with it in these brave new days of cloud this and tablet that. So I upgraded it to Windows XP, which, as a graphic designer, I have at least one legal copy in my Big Box of Dusty and Largely Superfluous CD-ROMS.

Even though this particular little Pentium III-based laptop is almost sub-par to run XP, run it does, on a well-built chassis (carbon fibre, even) and with enough brains to run Firefox K-meleon (a less ravenous resource hogging browser) and even the latest Open Office iteration...leisurely... and a free, small-footprint anti-virus program. There's even a single, slow USB slot for the requisite thumb drive for to-ing and fro-ing of school work.

See this? It's also about ten bucks, and it holds just one gig less than the entire hard drive on the Thinkpad shown above.

And even though it took me a couple of hours (on and off) to reformat it, reload and tweak it to my liking...it seems to fully work in a moseying fashion (if you restrict the automatic updates) and will serve my son better next week in school (where it will repose in safety as it is likely too antique to be worth stealing) than would almost any current Windows 8 or Mac-based notebook. My experience of such devices is that they generally break if you look at 'em funny. In fact, an otherwise decent if under-powered ASUS netbook my son was using, mainly to watch YouTube videos and play the soul-stealing Minecraft game, has started to crap out at the two-year mark...leading to the recent rehab of Ye Olde 'Puter.

I feel the pain of those who stand in service lines with their snazzy, all-mod-cons electronics, like Bill Bishop's sorry tale here, which inspired this post, or at least inspired me to finish a previous, similarly themed screed. But it's not just cheapness or economy or disdain for the folks that bring us shoddy goods that motivated me to drop a V-8 in a Model T, computationally speaking. It was the notion of It's Good Enough.

Sometimes at night, I dream of hummocks of trashed cellphones and deceased Sony VAIOs being picked over in polluted Chinese backwaters. Sometimes I dream of strip-mining in Africa. While you can't resurrect or repurpose everything, it strikes me that some well-built boat gear (yes, it was going to come back to boat gear eventually) is worth keeping going. It also strikes me that there's no use feeling guilty not keeping a dumb phone going once you've bought that new smartphone. The time to feel guilty about it is before you've bought it.

The CRT depthfinder is, by contrast, long gone.
This is why we will keep aboard our elderly KVH AC103 fluxgate compass and Ritchie Globemaster and my refurbished Lewmar Ocean Wave winches and equally old Lavac in good working order and with the requisite rebuild kits.  Yes, we also have manual pumps and lead-acid batteries and real bronze seacocks and proper doubled SS clamps, etc. A clinical eye at costs and benefits told us, by contrast, that it wasn't worth it to rebuild the engine. The sail inventory is subject to predictable wear (at least Dacron ones are), and so we will probably retire as spares the half-used-up ones and purchase ones fit for sea-going conditions. Economy has its limits, after all, but so does a taste for novelty.

We've found (and I mean "we" as in me as a buyer and installer of marine-related gear and my wife as a seller of said gear in a chandlery) that many things manufactured today for boats, in the broad sense and in our direct experience, are built to break sooner than anticipated under typical use, and/or aren't often worth fixing when they do. Part of why this may be is either ignorance (how to make things properly is unknown at the design or fabrication level) or greed (cutting corners equals profits) on the part of the makers.

It is also true, however, that another part of the problem are the  conditioned responses of the purchasers to expect high quality at a low price. We've been promised more for less as an axiom of consumerism. This is a foolish and clearly naive expectation, particularly when the consequences of low-grade gear can drown you at sea, but by the time it is realized, the manufacturers of those well-made devices and aids that might still exist are out of business because of the stupidity of bargain-hunting. Certain levels of endeavour, like voyaging offshore, must, I think, be driven only in part by purely economic factors. Doesn't mean I don't like to save a buck, but it does mean I ignore all those "used liferaft" classified I see. Some things you should buy new, and sometimes that's going to mean paying retail.

Or considering if you can struggle on with the older device, like Grandpa's Thinkpad, merrily churning upstairs as it digests some fresh programming. What replaces those older devices frequently have so many "features" of dubious utility that they exceed the sort of simplicity that would make them of more protracted use. Simple and "fewer functioned" is the "slow food movement" of technology and hardware. It's easily mistaken for the jerking knee of the Luddite, I suppose, but it's not a rejection of machinery in the form of mechanical or electronic aids, but a rejection of crappy and/or superfluous mechanical or electronic aids.

As our odyssey progresses, such technological aspects of life loom larger in our thinking, as do some of the hidden pitfalls of taking a young person to sea with only a virtualized classroom. It may be a case, dangerous for sailors, I believe, where we expect more from technology, and less from each other.

This is perhaps not true of the choice to install a poorly made but "right-priced" piece of plumbing in a boat, but may extend to plotters and AISes and autopilots. Instead of aids to our authority as autonomous skippers, such technologies can shield us from direct experience of our environment, until we become accustomed to ceding our authority to our tools.


If I was, rhetorically speaking, simply sailing past a waypoint under autopilot, would I have had such a discursive wander in this post? Perhaps not, but not all parables are, strictly speaking, algebraic. Sometimes, like the albatross, they wander with the wind.

And now I have to go turn off that refurbished Thinkpad, which has likely finished a well-deserved defragmentation cycle. You wouldn't believe how sturdy the bag is that came with it. Compared to today's, I mean.

BONUS LINK: Speaking of refurbishment, and at sea, too, check out these renovated sea forts and oil rigs. You could defer swallowing the anchor indefinitely!

2013-08-29

Wanchoring

Like this, only with minor rust spots and a couple of dents.

I've had reasons to deploy the 33-footer's anchors this year, both the 22 pound (10 kilo) steel Danforth Hi-tensile "lunch hook" (with 13 feet of chain and 200 feet of 7/16th-inch three-strand rope rode, and the 15 pound aluminum Fortress FX-23 (with 15 feet of 3/8" chain and 210 feet of 5/8-inch three-strand nylon rope rode).

Like this and still pretty minty after several anchorings.
As mentioned previously, while the Fortress and the Danforth bear a superficial resemblance, I use them in different conditions. I favour the Danforth for "no wind" conditions (because it is good enough when one does not expect a wind shift or increase and is always ready to deploy), and the Fortress for when I need better holding (due to the heavier rode and greater fluke area) and anticipate a wind shift that might break out the anchor, which must reset quickly...which I've found the Fortress generally will do, faster than the Danforth. I have bigger Bruces and CQRs in storage that I could use instead of the Fortress, and even a venerable "yachtsman's" aboard Valiente, but to this point, they have not been necessary. The Fortress's rode is substantial enough, however, to switch to a heavier 33 or 45 pounder should we ever need it on Valiente. I don't know if my back is, however.

It's a bridle because it has two attachment points either side of the bow, but it's a snubber because it hooks on only one spot on the chain rode. Sailing terminology ain't easy.


Because this particular Fortress, aided by waterline snubbers and perhaps a bridle I will employ on Alchemy, will be both the "lunch hook" and the kedge anchor (and maybe the stern anchor, too), I like to play with it on Valiente as much as is practical...in the sense of "we need the practice".


The bobstay plate supports both the bobstay (the top hole) and, if desired, a snubber that can be pinned beneath it. Note that this brings the attachment of the boat to the anchor down to the waterline, and relieves strain on the deck gear.

Similar to Alchemy's setup, this bobstay tang attachment has nice stretchy nylon, which helps to lessen "hobbyhorsing" at anchor. Photo (c) The Hacking Family


We recently anchored out in the closest quarters yet...at an event in Toronto's inner harbour called "Sail-In Cinema".  While the event itself was an unqualified failure (we were too far from the screen and the advertised frequencies over which we were allegedly hearing the soundtrack emitted only the sounds of silence, and static), it was an Instructive Evening for the crew.

The prevailing SE foofy wind clearly was no strain on the ground tackle.
The anchor drop (performed ably by Mrs. Alchemy in the uncharacteristic and welcome absence of shouting and the customary sailorly epithets) and backing down went well.  The trick is to lower the rode to the bottom (in this case 32 feet below the roller) without letting the chain pile on the shank.  As has been pointed out, the doughty but underwhelming Atomic 4 cannot provide a great deal of reverse to set the anchor, so it is best accomplished with decent technique, i.e. yank on the bugger until you sense it is starting to bury.

A calm, nay, torpid evening.
It was clearly not a night to fray nerves or chafe rode. The C&C 29 crew of the boat below seen on the right actually scrawled a cell phone number on a piece of paper towel and then Zodiac'd away to a dinner at a nearby club. "Confident or foolish" would be revealed shortly thereafter, but given the parking lot aspect of the anchoring situation, you can guess which way it went.

The Hunter 42's crew to the left proved to be old hands at fending off.
There's one in every crowd: After all the sailboats anchored in a near-perfect semi-circle, Mr. Skyhigh Flybridge Shirtless Powerboater came in and dropped his hook directly in front of us (later, others), cranked up the stereo and barbequed like he was replicating the destruction of Dresden. Oh, to see ourselves as others see us.

Just prior to ignition of the incendiaries.
This well-equipped and ably crewed Hans Christian 38 was the first one we'd seen outside of sailing magazines. A pretty boat, but note the well-protected stern.
I don't consider canoe sterns particularly practical, but they certainly look nice.
 As the evening proceeded, the foofy SE wind backed to a foofy NE wind.  We noted how the all-chain rode boats obediently rotated 90 degrees, while our lighter vessel, with mostly rope rode (even if oversized) began to wander. We fended off a 42 footer and later a 29 foot Bayfield. It was more annoying than particularly hazardous as we were fully fendered and moving at cold-syrup speed.
Picture this with double the density. I had to stop taking pictures and wield the boat hook and the "sorry!"
It did, however, make me consider the value of bridles, all-chain rode and even the seldom-seen (around here, anyway) riding sail. In addition to its obvious qualities as a yaw-reduction tool at anchor, the recent discussion on LED-lit boat exteriors did not consider that the relative rarity of riding or anchor sails off a boat's backstay is an equally if not superior method of finding one's boat in a dark anchorage. Heck, one could put a luminescent initial smack in the middle of the thing, and it would clearly identify one's boat without casting appreciable light on surrounding boats, all the while keeping one's bow toward the prevailing wind.



I suspect one or more of these anchoring techniques, added to the proper anchor, which I feel we had, would have allowed us to, if not enjoy the silent movie more, kept us from wandering like a lost toddler in traffic to the same degree as we did. How did I know it was the right anchor? I was hosing and poking good, gummy Toronto harbour clay out of the Fortress's "mud palms" for some time the following afternoon: the anchor, even with the weak set in reverse, had clearly dug deep with all the gentle tugging. Nonetheless, with the rode scope reduced to 1:1, also known as "vertical" (basically by me pulling the boat to directly over the anchor's set point), the anchor came out cleanly, if not clean, so to speak. Having hauled anchor now multiple times by hand, the Danforth seems to require more effort than the Fortress beyond what the seven pound difference in weight would suggest. Not effort ever likely to call for the installation of a windlass, however...it's just not that hard a task unless we anchored out every night in this boat...which we are unlikely to do. Alchemy's all chain, all the time, however, is a different story. So are anchor/marker buoys, also called trip lines, a topic for the future.

So, it was an educational, if not particularly entertaining, evening of Adventures in Tight Anchoring. On the way back to the marina (a 15-minute motor), just in front of us, a C&C 41 hit an Island tender squarely amidships with a bang that sounded like glass being chucked into a dumpster, so it could have been worse. Our son spotted it before myself and the missus; we are pleased at his as-yet non-myopia and his improving watchkeeping skills.

Bonus retro post: Parody of how some folk might test their anchors.