What’s it for?

“A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for. “ Rear-Admiral Grace Murray Hopper.

In my last post, I talked about the boat as a space for writing. Of course, that’s not what ships are built for but it’s now part of how I use her when I’m not sailing or ‘messing about . . .’ It’s an added asset.

For many people, including me, a sailing vessel is an object of sentiment.  I cannot look at a boat without the heart lifting to a jumble of special moments – the moment the mooring drops, the lift of the bow to a swell, the mainsail filling to the wind, the slope of the deck, the momentum through the water. However, there is a reason to be cautious, a reason to stand back and ponder.

Deep in this computer is a file with a detailed record of my expenditure for each of the ten years since I bought ‘Blue Mistress’ all of it . . . The sum is high and it’s still rising! The bottom line overshadows the sentiment. This does not mean I should sell her, but it does mean I should make absolutely the most of her I possibly can.

Plenty of others have thought the same. I have been studying the sailing vessels – the smacks, the ketches and schooners which used to trade into Bude in North Cornwall. I will discuss why I am doing this in a later post but, in comparing then and now, I have been noting attitudes from those days, (highlighted by authors I rate highly), that seem useful for today. Remember, these were trading vessel,  nevertheless:

“(A vessel) was not usually an object of sentiment to a degree that influenced the amount of money spent on her. She was a capital asset, used to earn a number of people’s livings and her success and that of the men who operated her and sailed her was judged not in terms of wonderful speed or seaworthiness, skillful seamanship or hard sailing, but in terms of money earned, first and foremost. She was not an object of romance but of everyday utility.”1

I wonder how that fits with our current thinking. The modern racing yacht would certainly fit the ‘utility’ description, whether a Vendee Globe yacht or an America’s Cup yacht. Used briefly for its build-function – then what? Some have a greater future, some a lesser one. The ‘romance’ in the desire to keep them sailing is tempered by hard fact. Some are successful. For example, below, an America’s Cup trial trial yacht earns its keep in Auckland.imag0570aHowever, older vessels may spend time idle, like ‘British Steel’ – a famous yacht of its time, waiting in Dartmouth. Nevertheless, if a reason can be found, then there’s a will to  keep them sailing.

A grand example of this is  the important and exciting project to bring a much older vessel back to life, ‘Rhoda Mary’. Once again, the success of this will be measured more than in terms of ‘wonderful speed and seaworthiness, skillful seamanship and hard sailing’, which will undoubtedly be there, more than in the romance of the idea, but in careful financial input and the promise of a sound financial future geared towards the young people of Cornwall and youngsters from well beyond its borders.

On gear:

“When gear grows old, they had always rather make shift than get new, and being seaman, they have usually the handiness to do it. How often one is told, on remarking that a rope, or a strake, or a spar ought to be replaced, ‘Ah, let it bide, let it break. ‘Tis different wi’ the likes o’us from what ‘tis with gentleman’s boats. When they sees summat be wore, or a rope’s lost its nature, they orders a new ‘un, but the likes o’us us lets it bide, till summat carries away, an’ then us knows ‘tis done for, an’ nowt more to say about it.’”2

I don’t tend to wait until gear breaks but I have learned over the years that most gear lasts a lot longer than my previous inexperience suggested.

On longevity:

“. . . schooners on the whole, if they survived the hazards of sea and shore, were very durable products. By the 1920s, the survivors had earned their initial investment many times over. The owners found themselves in possession of obsolete capital equipment which with expert management still had marginal earning potential. The owners, or some of them, profited several times over from the vessels’ continued operation. Shareholders who were chandlers, sail-makers, shipbuilders, provision merchants, brokers, all benefited in two or more ways from their interest and the connection with the vessel it gave them. Moreover, as long as freight rates covered the out-of-pocket expenses of operation, owners of old vessels did better by operating their vessels for what they could bring in rather than by laying-up and scrapping them. Old vessels were scrapped only when the discounted present value they could be reasonably expected to earn minus their out-of-pocket costs from continued operation represented less than the anticipated earnings of the alternative investment of capital acquired by the sale of the vessel at scrap value. Old wooden ships had a very low scrap value.”3

Well, there is little probably even less scrap value in my grp boat. There may be some resale value, but the market is large. So, not a financial asset then – but an asset nevertheless, and on several fronts  . . . an asset in which to sail alone, to spend time with family and friends, to experience and to learn about boats and harbours and the sea, to write in and about, and, above all, to enjoy . . . the mooring dropping, the lift of the bow to the swell, the mainsail filling to the wind, the slope of the deck, the momentum through the water . . .

1 W.J. Slade and Basil Greenhill, Westcountry Coasting Ketches, Conway Maritime Press 1974, p.32
2 W.J. Slade and Basil Greenhill, Westcountry Coasting Ketches,  Conway Maritime Press 1974,  p.20
3 Basil Greenhill, Merchant Schooners, Conway Maritime Press 1988, p.256
Images by Bill Whateley

Folksong: the answer – a plank of wood

I had spent the afternoon kneeling on the cabin sole, cleaning first the bilge then the lockers and getting frustrated because every time I tried to put something down, it either fell into the bilge, or into the open locker. I wished for a working surface to put tools on and to hammer/screw/cut on, one that would be easy to manage in a relatively restricted space. Too wide and it would be difficult to stow, too narrow and I wouldn’t be able to attach a vice, too short and it wouldn’t fit across the cockpit/cabin sole.

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Folksong: below decks

If this is your yacht – or a similar size to yours, then you need read no further as this is a short post about the space below deck in a small boat with no standing headroom. This post is for Folksong owners and anyone interested in small boats. I would welcome feedback and tips. Feel free to use and improve any ideas you find helpful here.

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Folksong: Temporary sail ties

In 2009, I wrote a post on lazy jacks. In 2012, I posted another three posts on lazy jacks, here, here and here. Then in 2013 it occurred to me that I was being very slow on the uptake, the boat is small enough not to need them. So I removed them.

No lazy jacks means that a whole series of lines are no longer there to be tangled with but it brings to the fore those vulnerable minutes between lowering the mainsail and stowing it neatly, when the wind can get hold of the sail and blow sections of it over the boat or, worse, over the side. At the same time, there may be other boats in the vicinity, so attention is divided between containing the flapping sail and avoiding the possibility of a collision. Lazy jacks are designed to avoid this so, if I have decided that the boat doesn’t need them, what is the alternative? This is the solution that works well for me.

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Shakedown sail – in the way, bodies learn then need to relearn.

We were away at the weekend so yesterday, belatedly, was my first sail of the year. There were a couple of problems, so, while it’s still fresh in my mind, here’s a short description for Folksong owners and anyone else who might be interested. If, by my not keeping quiet about my mistakes, it sounds as if I have no pride, you’d be wrong, I have lots of pride, but as I get older I find I can take it or leave it . . .

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