October 31, 2010



Somewhere east of Lawrenceville, there's a bay-busting, rope-coiling blogger who knows what I'm talking about.

He's blogged about November in the air and in the wind and in his mind. He fears November, with good reason.

October is playful. She toys with us.

Now she is chill, now she is warm - from one day to the next, we never know for sure. But always there is hope. We remember her warmth, and it is enough.

November, though, is all business.

And his business is grim. He is here to settle accounts. He's of a single mind. When his work is done, there is no looking back.

On the east coast, our lives pitch, yaw, and roll on the waves of the seasons. Our dreams, like our boats, are launched and then put away. The rhythm of the seasons urges us on. It's now or never.

In California, the seasons are sweeter. Our November is a foggy shadow of his eastern cousin. We mark his coming with the turn of a page. We do not fear him.

Here, there is always tomorrow to do what needs doing. November becomes December, a new year begins, and still there is time. January, February, they'll do just as well. No need to hurry.

In California, our dreams and our boats are always floating. They'll be there when we get to them. Life here is so very sweet.

But is it too sweet? Does our time pass too slowly?

Do we mend our docklines only when we feel a storm coming?

Do we need our Novembers cold, dark, and unforgiving to remind us that not every winter is followed by a spring?


October 24, 2010

Drop Leaf Table

Sometimes, I don't understand Tillerman at all.

What is all this noise on his blog about furniture and tables and sailboats?

He claims some badass retailer that sells, of all things, drop leaf tables asked him to write a post named, well... 'Drop Leaf Table'.

That is confusing enough, especially for a blog ostensibly about sailing, but he goes on to say he couldn't just write that post about drop leaf tables. He would have to gradually work up to it. He has been gradually working up to it for a week, posting ten separate posts about tables, beds, guitar-shaped boats, and furniture.

I say, if you're going to write about drop leaf tables, just man up and do it.

By way of example, this is a post about a drop leaf table, and it's even related to sailing, sort of.

Here is my drop leaf table.

My drop leaf table

OK, OK, let's not argue that this is technically a drop down table. Drop down, drop leaf - close enough for me.

I am rather proud of my drop leaf table. It is not a great work of carpentry, but I made it with my own hands and for me, that alone is quite an accomplishment.

Anyone who has a Catalina 30 will know why I took on the task of making my own drop leaf table (see, I'm sticking with 'drop leaf' for the rest of this post).

The makers of the Catalina 30, bless their sweet hearts, were faced with the same problem that has confronted most makers of 30-foot coastal cruising boats. How do you fill in the settee so it will convert to a double berth for sleeping and yet still provide a table in that same space for when you're not sleeping?

Alright, I know this is pretty boring, but, somehow, I need to prove that you CAN write a blog post about drop leaf tables.

Since the Catalina 30 is what's called a 'price boat', they took the cheap and easy way out. They started with a plank of particle board, slapped some ugly plastic laminate on it, made it big enough to fill in the settee for sleeping and then stuck a flimsy little folding leg on it for converting that into a table. Voila! Now it's a double berth, now it's a table.

The problem is that a slab of particle board that's strong enough to support two sleeping people has to be pretty thick. And a slab of particle board that big and that thick ends up weighing about 800 pounds. And when you want to convert from berth to table, or vice versa, you have to pick up the whole freaking thing and wrestle it in and out of two tiny brackets. If you want to stow it away, you have to flip the whole thing over at the same time. It's almost impossible to do that without needing a chiropractor afterwards.

So, I decided to improve on things. I gave up on using the settee as a double berth and decided to just make a table big enough for two people that would easily fold out of the way for storage.

Drop leaf table folded out of the way for storage

Most well-made boats have a nice table that folds up against the bulkhead, so how hard could it be to make something like that?

Plenty hard, as it turns out. It took me about six months to find out just how hard.

Now, this not being a blog about furniture making and me not being anything remotely like a carpenter, and since anyone still reading this must be half asleep by now, I will dispense with the details of actually making a drop leaf table.

Suffice it to say that fitting into a boat something like a folding table that works in both its 'deployed' position and stows away neatly in its folded position without banging into or scraping against a dozen other things in the boat and that stays down when its supposed to be down and up when it's supposed to be up and does all of that when you're sailing or not sailing is quite a bit harder than I ever imagined.

It has something to do with being able to think in three dimensions to build such a thing and me having trouble just thinking in one dimension at a time.

Drop leaf table for two that lets you actually get in and out of the settees

God knows how they design the important stuff on a boat that has to move and yet still be able to work in all different conditions - things like sails and booms and rudders.

It must be even harder to make stuff like that than it is to write a blog post called Drop Leaf Table.


October 15, 2010

Setting The Record Straight


 I must apologize to anyone who may have read my last post.

In that post, I said the free 75-year leases being offered to Larry Ellison by the city of San Francisco in return for bringing America's Cup 34 to the city were on a few acres of waterfront property.

I was wrong. The size of the free land grab being offered to Larry is nothing like a few acres.

A quick consultation with Google maps showed me that my guess was so far off that I must set the record straight. The properties are actually much closer to 25 acres.

Now, that may not seem very big if you're in the middle of Wyoming, but in San Francisco, most people don't lease their waterfront property by the acre, or by the 25 acres. They're usually racking their brains figuring out how to pay for a few hundred square feet.

I was trying to get my head around just what 25 acres might look like in an urban setting and how much an enterprising fellow like Larry might stand to make from such nifty plots of land.

Here's an aerial photo of piers 30-32, one of three properties included in the lease:

With nothing to establish scale, it's hard to get a feel for the size of this tidy parcel. So here, at the same scale, is a similarly-sized plot occupied by one of Larry's prospective neighbors:

The roundish thing with the green middle part is where a local ball club hosts regularly scheduled parties with other members of the National League. Larry would be just two doors away, so that might add something to the value of his modest lot. He needs to consider that, because the only other thing adjoining his lot, on three sides, is San Francisco Bay. And you know how tiresome it can get having to look at water all day long. And you can see that if Larry wanted to buy a ball club of his own, he'd have plenty of room to build them one of those roundish things with the green middle. He's got about as much space as his neighbor.

And if he wants to invite some friends over for the day, there's a convenient two-acre parking lot across the street that's also included in the deal. You know how some offstreet parking can improve a property's value.

Of course the pier 30-32 site is the smaller of the two main parcels.

Here is the more comfortably-sized pier 50:

Again, from this aerial shot, it's hard to judge scale, so here's a helpful hint. Those two long gray things on the right are container ships. See:

This would be a great spot for Larry to tie up a few of his boats. There's even enough space so that he could leave his dinghy in the water, too. You know what a pain it can be to have to haul your dinghy up on deck after every sail.

As I hinted, I was starting to wonder just what Larry might collect in rent on these parcels if he decided to sublet. He already has a ramshackle place with a view of the ocean in Newport, Rhode Island. He might want to just stay there.

I figured Larry is a pretty busy guy. He may not want to bother building anything on the piers. After the Cup is over, he might just want to rent out the space for parking. This would probably be the very least amount of income he could get out of these piers.

I checked around and it turns out that people are paying around $250 per month for someplace to park their cars near the water. In San Francisco, it must be a prestige thing to have a parking space near the water. Here's a place in the snooty Marina district where you can park your car near the water for $250 per month:

And then, I had to do some math. A typical parking place is about 10 feet by 20 feet, or 200 square feet. Since there are 43,560 square feet in an acre, you could park about 200 cars in an acre, leaving some spare room to maneuver. In 25 acres, you could park 5000 cars. And at $250 per car, that's $1,250,000 per month, or $15 million per year. After 66 years, that comes out to $990 million, assuming the price of parking in San Francisco doesn't go up.

But, it always does.

And Larry is a pretty smart guy. He could probably figure out some use for his real estate windfall that would bring in more than a bunch of parking lots would.

So, I think it's pretty safe to say that this little deal will be worth over $1 billion to Larry if he plays his cards right.

And he usually does.


October 11, 2010

The Thrill Of Victory


What's wrong with me?

I've been trying to write this post for a week.

By now, everyone knows that the San Francisco Board of Supes has voted to extend a formal invitation to Larry Ellison and his peeps to hold America's Cup 34 in the city.

What amazes me is that some folks think that's news. Did anyone really think the Board wouldn't approve the 'terms' of the proposal?

Like every other city in this country, SF is scratching, trying to figure out ways to just keep the lights on. Along comes a plum worth an estimated $1.2 billion and the supes are gonna say "no" to that?

I'm not exactly sure how they figured the Cup would bring in $1.2 billion - I guess all of those extra quarters in the parking meters are supposed to add up.

So why did it take me over a week to write this post - especially since I've been sitting on my duff for over a month since my last post?

I should have jumped on this 10 days ago when our local yot racing association sent out an e-mail urging its membership to lobby the supes to vote in favor of the 'terms' - the list of conditions that the city would commit to and those it would expect Ellison to meet. The YRA included a link to the list of terms, but didn't really expect anyone would actually read it. Look at it yourself, and you'll see why.

It's one of those interminable documents written in language no regular guy can understand - something like my blog posts, only even worse.

It's a document obviously written by lawyers who are trying to sneak something past us and don't want real people to be able to understand - like an application for a credit card, or the ingredients for Chicken McNuggets.

But I thought it was my civic duty as a Left Coast sailing blogger to at least read the darned thing. Ugh, big mistake.

It starts out in typical lawyerly fashion, with ugly language about parties of the first part and parties of the second part, herinafter referrred to as acronyms that no one in a partying mood can remember the meaning of. I wonder how many SF Supervisors actually waded through the legal gibberish on their way to the party.

Heck, this is about bringing in $1.2 billion.




So, where was I? Oh right, explaining that as a conscientious Left Coast sailing blogger, I actually tried to make sense of the sleazy legalese and fell asleep at least three times doing so. But each time, I sobered up, shook myself awake, and pressed on.

Until I got to some very confusing parts that didn't seem to have anything to do with sailing at all. And darned if those parts aren't buried all the way towards the end of that long document of legal mumbo jumbo.

And those would be the parts about the 66 years. And the 75 years.

Why the heck is it going to take between 66 and 75 years to hold the 34th America's Cup?

Well, it turns out it's not. No sailboats are that slow. Not even Catalina 30's.

But 66 and 75 years are the lengths of time that Larry will be given free leases on several acres of waterfront property on San Francisco Bay. It's just the city's way of saying, "Thank you, Larry." Just a small token of gratitude, actually.

Several acres - they don't really say how many, but it's just a few acres.

Of waterfront property.

In San Francisco.

For 75 years.


I mean how much money could Larry possibly make from the free use of several acres of waterfront property in San Francisco for the next 75 years? He probably won't even cover his expenses for the Cup out of that.

Of course, the supes are worried that their little token of gratitude won't be enough to hold Larry's interest. Apparently, city fathers in Spain and in Italy are making even better offers.

Imagine that.

Besides getting involved in the America's Cup for the sheer love of sport that I'm sure has drawn him to it, it turns out Larry might actually make some money out of it, too.

Who would have guessed?