April 10, 2011

Mr. Neptune Visits O Dock

I'm down at the boat for the first time in a few weeks, doing the usual maintenance and wine drinking.

We came down late Friday night after work and, arriving in the dark, noticed that something was amiss with one of our dock lines. Not thinking much of it, as there are four other lines securing the boat to good old O Dock, we turned in for the night.

In the light of day, I took a closer look at the 5/8 inch line and discovered this:

Hokey smokes! No noticeable chafe two months ago and now the line was almost shattered.

Then, I looked across the fairway and saw this:

Yikes! Where a finger pier and two boats had been, there was now a big open space and some orange caution cones placed on the dock.

And then that storied little light bulb we read so much about in unimaginative writing went on in my foggy brain.

The Tsunami!

I wrote in a post just last week about how easy it is for those of us who live thousands of miles from Japan to turn away from news reports and return to our comfortable lives. And here was Mr. Neptune reminding me in that playful, ironic way he has that it's really just one big ocean. What happens in one little corner of it, eventually, in one way or another, affects all of us. This may have been just a tiny ripple compared to what happened in Japan, but the message was there.

The wave had crossed 5000 miles of Pacific Ocean, and then another 10 miles of San Francisco Bay. It curled around a rock breakwater, through the marina entrance, and another few hundred yards right up to O Dock, and practically snapped a dock line that had a breaking strength of 10,000 pounds.

But Mr. Neptune wasn't quite through with me. He had another lesson up his watery sleeve.

It seems Mr. Neptune has been reading this blog and all of those wise-butted comments I've been sprinkling across the blogosphere. And, apparently, he has not been pleased. I mentioned that there were four other lines tying my boat to O Dock. Mr. Neptune left all of those untouched.

There was, however, something unusual about the line that he destroyed.

If you're reading this, you probably know that signature photo I use of a Flemish coil. It's not a photo I just swiped from the internet. I actually wound that coil on one of my docklines just so I could make the photo for my Blogger profile.

After I took the photo, I was so pleased with my handiwork that I left the coil in place on O Dock and it has been there for the past two years.

So, which line do you think it was that Mr. Neptune travelled 5000 miles to single out and destroy?

Should I take this as a sign?


April 8, 2011

To Caulk Or Not To Caulk


Sometimes I think Laser sailors have no imagination at all.

A while back, Tillerman was lamenting having too many regattas and not enough weekends to fit them all in. He asked his readers to come up with excuses for not sailing so he'd have some time for other things.

Frankly, I think the pressure to free up some weekends was coming from another member of his household, but that's just my own theory. And please, don't ask how I arrived at that theory.

But how vast is the sea that separates Laser sailors from those of us with keelboats!

For a keelboat sailor, finding excuses for not going sailing is as easy as falling off a Laser. I have a keelboat, and, because of that boat, I hardly ever go sailing.

In fact, there are some keelboat sailors who never sail at all. They are on the dock every weekend working on one thing or another that needs either fixing or 'preventative' maintenance.

Before I got a boat I thought 'preventative maintenance' meant work you do to keep stuff from breaking. Now I know the only thing it prevents is me from sailing.

The problem is I'm outnumbered. Fighting on the side of good, it's just me. But my enemies are many - an evil axis of rust, corrosion, UV damage, delamination, electrolysis, metal fatigue, and all sorts of other gnarly things with fangs and teeth that go drip in the night.

For many in my position, maintaining a keelboat in itself becomes the primary focus of life. They become gurus - not of sail trim or boatspeed or racing tactics, but of plumbing, electronics tinkering, rig tuning, and diesel engine karma.

Eventually, a hierarchy develops on the docks among those who never sail - the novices (like me), the journeymen, and the masters. But above them - at the very top -  is the most holy and sanctified dock yoda of all, the ultimate high priest of boat maintenance - the Varnish Master.

Every dock has its resident Varnish Master. He is aloof and deigns not speak with the unwashed (guess who). He bestrides the dock like a colossus. His gait is measured and steady. His gaze straight ahead.

Like any other high priest, the Varnish Master is generally a quiet, contemplative individual of few words, closely in touch with both his inner conciousness and the spiritual world. Certain practices of his art may be performed only during specific phases of the moon and alignment of the planets.

Did you know, for example, that critical stages of the varnishing process may commence only two hours after sunrise on days when the relative humidity is below 40 per cent, the temperature below 80 degrees, and the wind not above eight knots and out of the east - the traditional direction of the Epifanes factory?

Varnish Masters serve an elaborate apprenticeship, progressing through ever finer levels of varnish awareness, which are curiously analogous to the grades of wet and dry sandpaper that most of us laymen find so unfathomable.

Eventually, the Varnish Master enters a transcendant state wherein he is at last able to hear the sound of 800-grit sanding.

I realized long ago that I do not have the rigorous mental discipline that is required of a Varnish Master. I have accepted my lot and am content with annual applications of Cetol. But, please, do not reveal this to anyone. I suffer enough humiliation in life as it is.

My Cetol  requires no special gift or intellectual refinement to apply, no incantation of holy texts, no cultivation of sacred brushes, no careful meterological observation, no selfless dedication to a life of endless labor and spartan deprivation. To the Varnish Master, my Cetol is the symbol of all that is base, rotten, uncultured, and morally bankrupt in life.

But in the harsh marine environment, I cling to it for survival.

In a way, Cetol is the touchstone of my slipshod approach to boat maintenenance. I'm just trying to get by - to put off the inevitable for another season. I still hold onto hopes, however slim, of sailing occasionally. And that makes me feel guilty whenever I do manage to sail. I know that somewhere, in the deep recesses of my boat, rust is winning another battle. And it is like any mortal battle - the weak and the unprepared and the uncaulked shall perish.

But unlike the unfortunate Laser sailor, I, at least, can find an excuse to not go sailing whenever I wish.


April 1, 2011

A Kernel Of Truth


You must admit that popcorn is one of the great miracles of life.

Scientists know all this absurdly complex stuff about the structure of matter, right down to subatomic particles, but no one has any idea how popcorn works. If anything, a dried kernel of corn, when tossed into a boiling pot of oil, should just burn up or, at best, explode into something you have to scrape off the ceiling.

There's simply no rational explanation for how it turns into those neat little puffs of food that are unlike anything else.

I think God made popcorn when he was either very drunk or absolutely bored out of his mind. It's really one of his best jokes.

So why do I bring this up?

Well, Carol Anne has asked us to write something about food and this is the best I could do. You don't want to hear me sermonizing about sauces, semolina, and saucisses, do you? I don't know the difference between a soufflé and a sous-chef.

It's much better that I stick with something that I know - or that I used to know.

I was munching on some microwave popcorn last week and stopped in mid-bowl (and with popcorn, you know how hard it is to stop in mid-bowl). What the heck was this yucky stuff I was shoveling down, I thought. The crud tasted so much of chemicals that I started thinking back to the halcyon days of my youth when I was actually pretty darned good at making real popcorn.

If you think about it, the sad state of popcorn today is really emblematic of everything that is wrong with us. It is said we don't make anything in this country, anymore. Well, we certainly don't make popcorn. When did it become too hard to measure out some kernels, put some honest to goodness vegetable oil in a pot, set the flame properly, choose some seasonings, and get busy?

Must everything come pre-measured, pre-packaged, sealed in cellophane, drowning in diacetyl artificial butter flavoring, and laced with tocopherols (whatever the heck tocopherols are)?

Are we no longer masters of our own destinies? Can we not pop our own corn?

I marched myself over to the market (well, OK, I drove there), picked up some popping corn (they had only two kinds on the shelf, next to the 342 kinds of microwave popcorn), and vowed that I would start saving America right then and there, one kernel at a time.

Back home, I measured.

I poured.

I waited for my three test kernels.

I spread to the critical one-kernel depth.

I moderated the flame to perfection.

And dammit, I popped!

And, perhaps most important of all, I removed from heat at just the critical moment. No burned and pungent embarrassment for me, thank you.

I may now proudly report that I am once again master of my own kernels!

But what about you? Are you a slave to that wimpy, oily bag of pre-packaged mediocrity? Are you content to let the heirs of someone named Orville call the shots for you from their power base somewhere in Nebraska?

Throw off your chains! Take charge of your life and season to taste!

And please, if you know where I can find that spicy, yellow-colored popcorn seasoning I used to get when I was a kid, tell me, please.

That's still driving me nuts.