Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Science of Sloppy Sailing

(First posted January, 2012, it seemed worth re-posting, to me. I guess the first cool breezes of fall help me relax.)

It doesn't come easily to me. Sloppy dress--easy. Sloppy appearance--haven't shaved in a week. Sloppy topsides--easy. I've learned to like substantial rub rails and dock rash, and can ignore seagull poop, at least in moderation. Sloppy marinas-- my favorite ones, since properness for appearance sake rubs me all wrong. But sloppiness in functional things also rubs at me, even on my laziest day. Perhaps even in this, I need to learn to change gears.

Being an engineer works against me. I like things to work correctly and efficiently. There's also my active nature; my wife thinks I just can't sit still.  She says I should relax more when cruising, not understanding that tinkering and adjusting and generally fooling with things is at the heart of messing about in boats. Just sitting--if for too long--is torture. Give something to fix--not something unpleasant, preferably something rewarding--and I'm much happier.

Sloppy sail trim. I just can't do it.  I've owned too many performance boats, where speed was everything.  Why would I buy a high performance boat, suffer all of the compromises that accompany that choice, only to sail slowly and poorly? As a cruiser I still see poorly trimmed sales as just plain ugly. I don't grind and trim all day long, but I spend a few minutes getting very close to right and then leave the autopilot to stay close. But I hate the look of a wrinkled sail, over trim, or an uncontrolled twist that would better suit an Annette Funicello movie.

Sloppy anchoring. I loath doing something twice that I could have done once, had I paid more attention. I enjoy doing something efficiently, easily, and with the minimum number of steps. I can't just drop a pile of chain on top of the anchor and hope for the best. I can't just drop a second anchor, some place or other, because I'm too lazy to set the first one properly and I worry. If a second is needed, it will be placed rationally and the rodes connected rationally. I'll spend a few moments gauging what the tide will do and how I will swing. I'll pay attention to the feel of the ground when the anchor takes hold, estimating what the bottom must be like and how the anchor will like it. I like to spend the afternoon securely parked and the night sleeping peacefully. Sloppy anchoring would give me more exercise. Mid-night excitement too.

Sloppy navigation. Well, perhaps I am guilty of this.  I've spent too much time with shallow draft boats. I tend to glance at the chart in the morning, memorize what I think I need to (where I'm going and places the bottom might be shallow and rocky), and then just sail.  I watch the GPS in a general way, but not the details.  I've sniffed the bottom a few more times than was strictly necessary, entering an unmarked creek while distracted by daydreams of what the afternoon at anchor might bring.  But I don't think I'm sloppy when it counts.  Grounding on a coastal sandbar to be deadly. If the Chesapeake had rocks I'd be more attentive. I've piloted many miles of hazardous coastline; I'm only sloppy when it's safe to be.

Sloppy docking. Nope, just too embarrassing. If getting sloppy means putting other boats at risk, it's not acceptable. Now, when it comes time to flemish the dock lines, scrub the deck, and hide all of my "cruisers stuff", I'm sloppy and loving it . I don't have a problem with leaving a beer bottle by the helm. I've sailed off with fenders hanging more than once; I swear some of those were intentional-- a short move--and the rest.... well, at least I'm not sloppy when it comes to trying  fenders in place. Of course, I did leave a rather nice spring line in Cape Charles, nicely coiled on the dock.  It occurred to me when I reached Cape May.

I'm too cheap to be sloppy with sail covers or window covers. But I don't mind a kayak lashed to the side decks and a jerry can lashed to the stern quarter rail, if they serve a good purpose. I don't mind fishing from the dock or leaving some cut bait on a board, so long as we are still fishing.

Sloppy planning. I've made progress. When I first started distance planning, I made a list. Now I leave more on the boat and sometimes untie the lines without any firm notion of where I'm going, the desitination determined by the wind forecast. A float plan? Pretty funny.

Unfortunately, the reality is the opposite. Somewhere in my subconscious, as I motor out the channel, I'm considering the forecast I read, considering the waves I see on the horizon, factoring my mood, and making a very informed decision. Sloppy and rash planning is just plain difficult for us old farts; we've made or seen a lot of mistakes and just can't aim ourselves  toward a grand epic without real effort. Descending from a grand snow and ice climb in the Tetons with a long-time partner, we questioned why, in all the years of climbing together we had never experienced a real epic, not in thousands of climbs. Although we had cut it a bit thin a few of times, we knew the line between epic and dead is thin, and we maintained a safety margin. We had stayed just within our abilities.

Sloppy maintenance. I'm not sloppy when it comes to quality of work. I keep my boats a long time, really try to make every fix or modification and honest improvement, and then sell them for more than I paid. I keep my work area neat when on the hard; basic courtesy to the yard and my neighbors. But if we're talking winterizing and spring clean-up... well, I've covered that before. I'm not above used parts, dumpster diving, and re-purposing, but only if I can match or improve upon original quality.


Maybe there is hope for me. I have a few sloppy traits--the megayacht group  in Cape May pointed them out--a foundation I can build upon. I could learn to like the curve of a stalled sail. I can try catching fish with the spinnaker. I suppose, so long as I am becoming old and physically decrepit, I need to encourage decay of my mental faculties without further delay.

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