October 30, 2009

Halloween On O Dock

©2009 ~Cowboy-Lucas

Halloween will soon be upon us.

From his spidery, New England mansion, a ghoulish Tillerman has raised the somber question of whether sailing is doomed. Are the shrouds of death slowly wrapping around our sport? Are our decrepit lives so busy today that we have less and less time to spend on boats?

Are we all zombies, slumped over the computer, blogging too much? Or trapped in that suffocating cubicle at work?

Shouldn't we be out in the sunshine sailing that boat we've left to moulder and decompose in some watery graveyard?

We all have our excuses for why we can't go sailing more. The job, the house, the spouse, the kids, the yard, or even working on the boat itself.

But, are these reasons as real as we imagine? Or, are we trapped in tombs of our own making, that we have carefully built over the years until we have no hope of escape?

Is this scary Halloween story from Tim Burton about you?


October 27, 2009

Rich, Corinthian Sailing


Most sailors are familiar with the term 'Corinthian' sailing.

The word 'Corinthian' connotes 'amateur' sailing - sailing that is free of any commercial sponsorship or material compensation. Traditionally, the Corinthian sailor sailed his own yacht, without a hired captain.

But no one can agree on just how the word 'Corinthian' came to be used in this way. Who first made the connection between amateur sailing, the ancient Greeks of Corinth, and their love of fair sportsmanship?

The term's application to sailing is actually relatively modern. Few people realize that it refers to the very sailing dinghy I learned to sail on - the 15-foot Mutineer - and to its larger, more famous sibling - the Buccaneer.

These two boats were born of very unlikely parentage - they were products of the Chrysler Corporation - the same company that gave us the Hemi 'Cuda and the Dodge Dart. Chrysler's brilliant engineering was applied to producing truly groundbreaking designs in sailing dinghies in the early 1970's. And the Mutineer is probably most famous for the innovative roller furling system of its jib.

Where conventional systems allow the luff of the jib to be tensioned by a halyard, the engineers at Chrysler - who had no actual sailing experience - found what seemed to them a purer solution. Rather than use a costly commercial furler, they developed a solution better suited to amateur sailors. They attached the jib to a simple piece of limp PVC tubing with ordinary hoseclamps.

The genius of this design was that, no matter how much tension was applied to the forestay, the luff of the jib hung in a graceful, untensioned arc. In the true Corinthian spirit, no competitor would benefit from the unfair advantage of a properly trimmed jib. Thus, the Mutineer was the ultimate expression of Corinthian sailing - amateur engineering for amateur sailors.

To celebrate this remarkable engineering achievement, the marketing department at Chrysler also named the upholstery in their fine motor cars for the Corinthian spirit embodied in their sturdy little sailboat, giving us, in one bold stroke, both Corinthian sailing and Corinthian leather. They hired for their spokesman famous Olympic sailor, Ricardo Montalban. And the sailing world has used the term 'Corinthian Sailing' ever since.

While, sadly, there are no surviving examples of Mr. Montalban's promotional work for the Mutineer or Buccaneer, at O Dock, we have recovered a rare example of his campaign for an equally noteworthy engineering achievement of the period, the Chrysler Cordoba. No Mutineer sailor can watch this stirring tribute to the Corinthian spirit without shedding a few tears.


October 25, 2009

How I Got My Groove Back


A few years ago, some buddies of mine were taking sailing lessons and invited me along for one of their practice sails. We sat in the cockpit of the 30-foot cruiser and took turns at the helm as we beat up the bay. When it was my turn, the boatspeed bumped up half a knot and stayed there. When I passed the helm back to my friends, the boatspeed dropped back down again. Eyebrows went up, and they wanted to know what I "was doing".

I really couldn't explain it. I'm no genius sailor. On any racing boat, I'd be lucky just to be railmeat. So what magic was I working on the helm that day that my friends in the sailing school weren't?

I wondered about that myself until just a few days ago when I was reading some comments over on Tillerman's blog about what is the best boat to learn on - a dinghy or a keelboat. Hmm, I'd spent a lot of time in dinghies before I moved to keelboats, but my friends in the sailing school hadn't. And it was in the dinghy that I'd discovered 'the groove'.

One of the first things you learn in a dinghy is how to find just where that elusive 'groove' is - that course to windward where the boat is fastest for a given trim of the sails. It's something you just have to feel, and once you do, you never forget it. Keelboats have grooves too, but they can be harder to find. You roll into them more gradually and drift out of them sometimes without even realizing it. In the dinghy, the boat takes off like a rocket when you find the groove and wallows to a stop when you lose it.

I had gone through the same ASA keelboat program my friends were going through and never heard the groove mentioned in the course of instruction at all. I remember coming out of that program thinking the school was maybe more concerned with teaching us how to get their boats into and out of a slip safely than with the finer points of sailing. Of course, knowing how to get out of the slip without putting holes in the boat or banging into other boats is a good thing, too, especially when those other boats cost more than I make in a year. Or in two years. Or in three years.

Before I went to the sailing school, I had spent a few years teaching myself in a 'family-style' daysailer. I would read everything I could get my hands on about sailing and then go out in my little boat to try things out. Besides learning about the groove, I discovered all kinds of stuff that would come in handy later.

Like learning to steer a dinghy by just shifting my weight to windward or leeward. Who knew that would one day save my marriage? It happened when I was showing my lovely wife the joys of taking a Catalina 30 across San Francisco Bay's infamous 'slot' in 25 knots of wind.

Catalinas 30's are very nice boats but they don't like to be heeled a lot. And they know when your wife is on the helm. They try to throw your wife in the water if she foolishly holds onto the wheel and attempts to steer a straight course. I discovered that no matter what the books told me about sail trim, the way to get my boat to stop trying to throw my wife in the water was to reef way down and minimize that heeling. If the dinghy hadn't shown me that too much heeling will make a boat round up regardless of sail trim, I never would have figured that out and my wife would be married to someone else today.

So, I am grateful to that little dinghy I sailed for so many years. When I finally moved up to bigger boats, it helped me get my groove back. But please don't tell my buddies in the sailing school.

They still think I'm a good sailor.


October 23, 2009

This Post Is About Absolutely Nothing


Blog readers can be so picky.

For my last post, I got up at the crack of dawn to take some photos of the crack of dawn.

Then, I came up with this brilliant extended metaphor comparing the mood on the docks at dawn with being in a cathedral - the first time such an analogy has been drawn in the history of Western literature.

Some readers liked the photos, but the big noise in the comments page was about absolutely nothing. It wasn't about anything I'd written or photographed. It was about the empty line I'd left at the beginning of the post. I've been doing this at the beginning of every post I've written since I started this blog a month ago.

Some were concerned about the mechanics of how I'd even managed this in blogging software that tries to thwart every attempt to leave unused blankness.

Others wondered about the mysterious implications of such a subtle subterfuge - much like the pimply faced cohorts of my adolescence wondered about the significance of those little stars on the cover of Playboy magazine. Did each empty line denote some sort of nautical conquest for O Docker?

Hmm, maybe I'll let the mystery linger on.

Tillerman, whose recent blank post caused quite a stir, seemed especially intrigued by the groundbreaking work I'm doing in recurring nothingness.

Before I started this blog, I was getting some notoriety for what I wasn't doing - namely writing a blog. In fact, I thought I was damned good at not writing a blog. Some of those posts I never wrote have stood the test of time very well. To this day, no one reads them.

Maybe there's a message here for me. Maybe the less I write, the better this blog will be. I've been thinking of writing a post composed entirely of punctuation marks, with no words at all.

Who knows where this might lead? Once established as a minimalist blogger, I could probably land a book deal - a substantial advance from a major publisher for promising never to write any short stories or novels. And the empty sky's the limit.

I'm getting a great idea for a TV sitcom.


October 20, 2009

Morning Light


I wasn't really a very spiritual guy before I got a boat.

It had been a few years since there was any formal religion in my life at all. Maybe a few decades.

But now, I'm a regular attendee at O Dock's Morning Light Cathedral. Worship is conducted for several hours every day.

My favorite, though, is the sunrise service.

The O Dock chapel is used for a variety of activities throughout the rest of the day - in fact, you'd hardly recognize it as a chapel then at all. But, at first light, it's definitely a place for meditation. Quiet hour is strictly observed. I don't know where the rules are posted, but everyone on the docks at sunrise respects them. The few words uttered then are spoken in hushed tones.

One of the best things about a boat that you can spend the night on is being able to attend the sunrise service the next morning. And this seems to hold at any marina or mooring or anchorage I've ever been to.

There is no clergy at Morning Light. No liturgy or hymnals. All most folks seem to need is a chalice of holy coffee. I've looked for the stained glass windows. I know they're there from the rose and yellow and amber and gold that's glowing everywhere. Maybe I'll find them some day.

The service at dawn is the perfect time to pause, collect one's thoughts, and give thanks.

And to reflect.


October 19, 2009

Waiting For The Engine Guy


Engine guys - you can't live with them, you can't live without them.

They've got you by the fuel injectors and they know it. I spent most of Friday waiting for the engine guy.

I think Einstein first got the idea for relativity - you know, everyone's watch gets out of synch just by travelling around the universe - because he was waiting for a diesel mechanic to show up.

Night before: "I'll be there first thing - 9:30 AM.......or 10"

11:15 AM: "I'm on my way"

12:30 PM: "Headed there now, 10 minutes away"

1:15 PM: "I'm at the gate now."

At no point does he make reference to any of the previous conversations we've been having about when he was going to show up.

I think in the engine guy's decelerated frame of reference, his watch really does say he has arrived at 9:30 am. Einstein probably had equations that would have predicted that.

But, there's another kind of time shift at work here that makes everything come out even. Physicists will tell you things have to work out right for observers in any frame of reference, or a theory falls apart.

Ordinarily, waiting at home for the plumber or roof guy to show up, I would be bouncing off the walls waiting that long. But waiting for the engine guy is different. I'm at the marina. On the boat. Time is moving a lot slower for me, too.

I can wander around the docks all day long and find stuff to do that makes time disappear.

What's that ancient wooden tugboat doing circling over by the boatyard ramp? I've never seen that around here before. Ten minutes gone.

Uh-oh, a monster piece of driftwood is floating down the fairway, just at the surface. Someone could bend a prop backing into that. Better wait for it to get to somewhere where I can reach, so I can fish it out.  Fifteen minutes gone.

I think I'll walk down to the office and ask about that slip that looks like the previous tenant has left. Maybe I'll move my boat over there. It's easier to get in and out of than mine. But, wait, it looks narrower than my slip. Better measure it. Where did I leave my tape measure? A half hour gone.

There's my dockmate who wants to talk about how my varnish job is holding up. And she just varnished the gunnels of her Whitehall rowing boat. Do I want to check it out? Well, it's a Whitehall, and they're cool. Sure. Forty-five minutes gone.

This stuff must be part of some universal field theory. As soon as one thing passes by, something else I must check out comes along, and there goes another 15 minutes, a half hour, an hour.

The engine guy finally shows up at 1:30 - according to my watch. Am I pissed? Not at all.

On O Dock, I've had a busy morning, too.

The universe is in perfect balance.


October 14, 2009

Basil: I Learn The Sad Truth


This is so depressing.

I'm even more inept at horticulture than I ever imagined.

You may remember my previous post about being unable to raise healthy basil plants in my kitchen. And about my awe at how easily Bonnie seemed to be able to produce bushels of basil, almost at will. It was a classic case of basil envy.

Well, I made a shocking discovery in my kitchen this week that has left me completely demoralized.

You see, I was secretly assuming that Bonnie was just working with a better grade of basil. My ineptitude alone could not explain the difference in the size of our basil plants. Maybe she had tough, street-hardened New York City basil, while I was trying to get by with this laid back, drifty, unfocused California basil.

That theory, it turns out, is just so much fertilizer.

Not only are our plants from the same stock, but Bonnie has been supplying the very basil plants I've been trying to grow all along.

In fact, I've been up against a pro.

Here's the photo I posted of my basil plant:

Ah, but zoom in and you'll see that little tag from the garden shop stuck in the pot:

That's the side that's been facing up all the while I've been nursing along this pathetic, unfocused, wimpy little plant. Here's an even closer look:

Well, I turned the plant around to do a thorough watering and, for the first time, took a close look at the other side of that little tag:

Holy crap!

It turns out that not only has Bonnie been overly modest about her gardening skills, but that she's this major, big-time basil mogul whose basil plants are distributed all over the country. I didn't have a chance against this kind of competition.

Check it out. Here's her website.

That's so like her. She was just too modest and polite to tell me what a total oaf I've been. She even knows the latin name for basil: Ocimum basilicum.

Like I said in my first post, these professional bloggers are a sharp lot. They're street smart and wise in the ways of the world. I'll have to hone my skills if I'm going to rise from the ranks of commenters and make it in this league.

I may be in over my head.


October 13, 2009



That's the heck of keeping a boat in a marina.

Most of the time your baby will be OK on her own.

But then there are the storms.

I'm stuck here 90 miles away, trying to keep my mind on getting ready for the next meeting, but one eye is on Weather Underground.

I'm afraid to check the webcams. I don't want to know. And I can't do anything about it, anyway.

Edward raised the alarm last night that bad stuff was on the way, and I stoically waved off his offer to check my docklines. But now, I'm wondering if the stylish chafe I always leave in my docklines is such a good idea.

Well, it's only blowing about 18 knots steady. I sail in that all the time.

But, uh, gusting to 30, hmm.

And supposed to get worse this afternoon.

And pressure 27.6 !!!

To borrow a word from Joe Rouse:


Update: Oh great, I had to read this:

S winds 40 to 50 kt with occasional gusts to 65 kt...

Those weather guys never know what they're talking about, right? Do they?

Update 2: OK, I couldn't stand it. I had to check the webcams. And that made me feel so much better. Here's the view from the Berkeley hills, showing all my favorite landmarks just where they always are:

See, nothing to worry about, after all.

And here's the view from the OCSC sailing school docks, showing conditions on the Bay. Not nearly as bad as I thought they would be. I can rest reassured, now.


October 11, 2009

Less Is More Like It


He Who Must Be Obeyed has ordered up yet another of his writing projects (is there no end?). This one has something to do with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. That alone told me I'd better take it very seriously. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was one serious dude.

Even though he was only an architect, he hung out with the intelligentsia of the 1930's - a very picky group. People doted on his every word. He'd say something like "less is more" and everyone would just fall all over themselves writing that down. No kidding.

It must have been the way he said it. I think he used a long, dramatic pause after the "Less".

At any rate, He Who Must Be Obeyed has also seized on this "less is more" thing and has commanded that we write up something about 'minimalism' - which is really just a minimalistic way of saying, "Less is more."

When I first got my boat, I was a fanatic about boat maintenance.

I'd spend every waking hour polishing, cleaning, varnishing, and checking a million little things. But, I started looking around O Dock and saw that no one else was doing that. A lot of my dockmates snootily looked the other way as they went by, somehow offended that I was waxing my topsides. I just wasn't fitting in.

It took me a while to ease into what is the preferred behavior on O Dock - carefully studied nonchalance. It's OK to have a nice boat, but you should never be seen actually working on it. In the shadow of the yacht club, patrician attitudes permeate everything. It may be alright to be seen sweating on the other hardscrabble docks of the marina, but not on O Dock.

Lately, I've been able to take that idea of never working too hard to the next level. I like to think I've turned it into a form of art. I've started applying the almost Zen-like idea of minimalism to boat maintenance.

I've discovered that I like having weeds growing along the waterline. The marine growth puts oxygen back into the water, so is much healthier for the environment. In the galley, I find the gentle drip-drip-drip of the faucet soothing and restful. And the rhythmic cycling of the pressure pump adds a cheery, syncopated beat. A silent cabin just seems eerie to me.

The harsh glare of sunlight off a freshly-scrubbed deck is jarring to my sensibilities, too. So, with agonizing patience, I've allowed the deck to return to its natural, mildewed state. And all of those seagull droppings that used to get on my nerves are just so much artwork to me now - nature's Jackson Pollack. I'm just careful to take off my shoes before going below.

The same holds true for docklines. Who wants those crisp, white lines that just shout 'newbie'? On O Dock, nothing is more gauche or annoying. I've learned from my dockmates to let the lines age and develop a nice chafe - the sign of a confident, salty veteran who knows what he's about.

And to think of all the hours I used to waste fussing around with the engine - oil changes, filter changes, impellers, zincs, belts. But is this not a sailboat? Do I not threaten its very sailboatyness by lavishing all that attention on some ridiculous collection of machinery that has nothing at all to do with communing with the wind and the sea and with nature?

As long as the engine runs, I figure it must be OK. Remember, I've got to remove the settee cushions and pull out plywood covers just to get to the damned thing. Obviously, if the boat manufacturer felt it was necessary to access the engine frequently, they never would have designed it that way. Do I have to pull the seats out of my car just to check the oil?

Minimalist maintenance has also helped me stay in shape. When I got the boat, the mainsail went up and down the track far too easily. I wasn't getting any useful workout from it at all. But now, after years of studied neglect, it takes a solid 50 lbs of force to get it moving (and you can do warm-up reps by using a longer winch handle). This has been great for my pecs and deltoids. And, an added bonus, the halyard sheave at the top of the mast just glistens now under the added load.

So, I owe a great debt of gratitude to my colleagues on O Dock. They've helped me discover what it means to be a true sailor, to be free as the wind and unfettered by heavy responsibilities - the key is minimalist maintenance.

And they've also taught me another of life's cardinal lessons:

Just before that major engine inspection is due - sell the boat.

Less is more.


October 7, 2009



This whole blogging thing is still very new to me, at least from a blogger's perspective, and I'm very much the kid in a toy store - pushing all the buttons, and listening to the funny new beeps. I'm discovering things that I guess everyone else has known forever.

Something struck me this week that made that little light bulb pop up - the one you usually see over the heads of cartoon characters.

A blogger whose name I didn't recognize had added me to his blogroll and that, in turn, led someone else my way. The ever-watchful eye of Sitemeter helped me figure that out. I visited a new blog, found some cool stuff, and made a new connection. And who knows what that might lead me to?

It rang in my rather thickly-padded head that that is what blogging is really about - reaching people who we, as ordinary dufuses, never could in any other way.

And just as I was thinking about that, something else came in over the transom - an e-mail from a newly-minted author who's promoting her new book by speaking at the Berkeley Yacht Club this Friday night.

She's Janna Cawrse Esarey, whose “The Motion of the Ocean” tells of her two-year cruise around the Pacific, but is really more about the stormy relationship with her hubby both before and during the cruise.

That interests me because I intend to blog quite a bit here about how trying to keep my wife happy has influenced many of the decisions I've made about sailing over the years.

Janna also discusses her battle to get her story published - something that may interest other writing sailors or sailing bloggers trying to take it to another level. I think she's been rather successful. Either her two cats are named Simon and Schuster, or she's scored with a major publisher.

And so, because of this blog, yet another connection has been made in my life.

I'm starting to feel like James Burke.


My Pathetic Basil Plant


Basil plant?

This is supposed to be a sailing blog. What does a stupid basil plant have to do with sailing?

OK, nothing, but other serious bloggers get away with posting about their basil plants and nobody takes them any less seriously for it.

Bonnie recently posted about her basil plants and dozens of people commented. She went on to talk about all of the plants in her garden, but frankly, I wasn't too interested in those.

When I got to the picture of the basil, I just went all ga-ga.

There was this verdant patch of basil, overflowing its bed, even after Bonnie had picked off leaves for some salads and for - get this - pesto! Damn, she even makes her own pesto! I just stared at the photo, this sick feeling at the pit of my stomach.

You see, I've had this quiet crusade running in my kitchen for the past couple of years trying to get basil - any basil - to grow. You may have guessed by now that I'm not big into horticulture. I don't believe in fussing with plants too much. I do this kind of tough love thing with them.

They get a pot, a place in the sun, and a reasonably regular water ration. That's it. After that, they're on their own. I don't have the time for any mollycoddling.

And most plants in our kitchen have bought into the program quite nicely, thank you. We have a gaggle of 'Christmas Cacti' that put out this unbelieveable bounty of red and pink flowers every year. I've never understood how they know it's Christmas. Our nearest calendar is in the next room, where they can't see it. But the Christmas Cacti are definitely happy campers.

Not so, my basil plants - most of which are long departed. They seem content enough for a few weeks. Some have even made it a few months. But eventually, they all start looking like the one in the photo there - a few scrawny twigs, some wilting leaves, and a gloomy aura of impending death hanging over the pot.

I know what's about to happen. I'll come home from work one day, and there will be the crumpled remains of an ex- basil plant. No note, or anything.

I usually bury them in the back yard, but lately I think some of the neighbors are getting suspicious.

I'm starting to think the basil get some sort of nervous disorder living in the kitchen. That is, after all, where we do the cooking. They see all of the grinding and shredding and chopping that happens to their fellow basil leaves. For them, it must be like living on death row.

Maybe Bonnie's right. I guess I should move them outside.

But then they'd see the burial grounds.


October 4, 2009

Tillerman's Next Writing Project?

Arrgh, there's nothing like a salty sea tale to start the salty week. But, what's this? Is there a Tillerman twist? Will he be nagging us to follow suit?

(Update: Arrgh, is he predictable, or what?)

The ninth of November, eighteen eighty-three,
Dawned blustery cold upon the gray sea.
The wind had been raging a gale for three days
And the crew knew, if tested, their ship would miss stays.

Ahead lay the reef that all of them feared,
From the cookie's new hand to the grayest of beard,
For old Colyer Rocks had done many in
With hardly a thought for the next of kin.

They would bear off and run, if only they could,
But the garboards were mated to softening wood,
Which the seas had been working and now flooded past,
More than pumps could contain,
    though they pump till the last.

So they worked up to weather and said quiet prayers
As the ghosts of old Colyer descended the stairs.
And time was their demon as well as the sea
On that ninth of November, eighteen eighty-three.

The captain was stone-faced and knew well their chances,
His eyes bore ahead, avoiding the glances.
This course had brought him a hundred times home,
But in ships that were sounder, in seas with less foam.

As he turned to the mate to order a change,
Old Colyer struck first, having measured the range.
There was no time for boats, no time for goodbyes,
Around them the sea had begun her sharp rise.

She leapt over the rails, the ship was now hers,
Her eyes met the captain's, there were no words.
Around him her chilling arms did entwine,
Reluctant, he tasted her bitter dark wine.

She pulled him down deep, in close to her breast,
He started to weaken, then under a crest,
Her wine dark waters he heavily drank.

(This line has been left intentionally blank.)

2nd update: Curses! Now I've been DQ'd from Tillerman's writing project because I was over early. I correctly predicted the subject of the next writing project hours before it was posted.

Shouldn't I get some points for clairvoyance? Through the ages, we visionaries have often been scoffed at. Copernicus, Einstein, now me. How much scoff can we take? Well, I'm saving this post for the next Tillerman writing project - Most Nautical Clichés In One Blog Post.


October 2, 2009

Blogging At 2 AM


A famous Rhode Island blogger once suggested that drunk naked blogging is a bad idea.

He's probably right - it sounds like he was speaking from experience - but I can neither confirm nor refute his theory. It sure sounds like it would be fun to try though, under properly controlled laboratory conditions.

But I think I've discovering a follow-up to the theory, which, quite modestly, I call the O Dock Corollary:

Blogging at 2 am, even if not drunk or naked, is a bad idea.

Well, OK, for me at least. Does this happen to you, too?

I tend to be something of a night person. I stay up much later than I should, wandering the internets, reading blogs, and stirring up mischief.

But I think I sometimes drift into a curious corner of the space-time-jelly donut continuum. Time seems to be behaving itself, but it's the words that are expanding and contracting. I find that things that sound profound to me at 2 am often sound profane in the glaring light of day.

I'll post something, congratulating myself on some lyrical legerdemain, and then drift off to sleep.

Then I read it the next morning, sobered by sunlight, and cough up my morning coffee. Yack! I wrote that? Sometimes, I make a mad dash for that little trashcan icon that erases my mistyping, hoping no one's actually read it yet.

Before, I could get away with this, since I was just posting a comment somewhere, and who reads comments pages, anyway?

But now that I'm rolling my own blogstuff, there's absolutely no place to hide. Feedburner has efficiently transported my words to both of my readers and the odds are good that at least one of them has a friend who has a friend who knows a good libel lawyer.

So I think I'm implementing a pier review process (uh, we're on O Dock, remember?).

Henceforth, nothing goes out at 2 am that hasn't first gone through the copy desk during daylight hours.

Why am I boring you with this? Well, I'd like to know - is it me, or does this happen to you, too?


October 1, 2009

Is This The Ultimate Blog Post?

Judging from what's going on over at Proper Course, minimalist posting has become very hot.

As we are always on top of current trends here at O Dock, this post will tell you anything you need to know about any subject in the universe. Just click on the link below: