Friday, December 30, 2005

Back From The UK

Well, now, I'm back from Christmas Holiday with my sister and brother-in-law in England. This is not really about boating or sailing because we didn't see a single boat while I was there. Too bad. Not really.

The UK is a spectacular place. That's not just hyperbole. Think about this: They were a coherent (mostly) society 1000 years before us. They've survived their horribly violent beginnings, their rise to world domination, and drift away from same but remaining as a world power - something no other society has successfully done in history. Most are violently finished after their rise to power (see the Greeks, Egyptians, and Romans. Germany. USSR.). This has had the obvious effect of creating a nation of reasonable people. And friendly!

The English government seems complicated but apparently very resistant to subversion. Unlike our which is, most people feel, so corrupt as to no longer be representative. Before you flame me with your indignation, I remain an American and I do love my country. However, you'd have to be rabidly blind to see that special interests actually run the country via political action committees, election donations, and so forth. There's a lot to love about America, but there's also a great deal to be very, very worried about.

Anyway, this isn't a rant about the accelerating loss of rights here. It's really about the UK.

This is not to say they don't have problems - they most certainly do, but their approach to them seems, well, more reasonable. And they seem far more tolerant.

But all that aside. Here's the thing: natural beauty is appreciated in the United States mostly because of size. I mean, the Grand Canyon is beautiful because of it's grandeur, it's massive - it's, well, grand. The Grand Tetons, Rocky Mountains, Yellowstone, Great Plains, the bad lands - they are all beautiful in their wildness, their ability to humble, and their sheer size.

Not so the UK. Remember it's slightly larger than New England. That's pretty big, but it's been in use continuously by one society or another (or more) for over 5,000 years. And they've been taking care of it. So the natural beauty comes more from the obvious care than from the expanse. It's just a different sort of natural beauty, not better or worse - but for the most part it can be beheld in one look. There's something extraordinarily satisfying about that.

For instance, since England was almost denuded of trees because of the need to build ships and produce charcoal. Trees are precious; it's apparent because almost all trees over about 50 years show signs of pruning and shaping. Estates hire people just to manage their forests.

When you look to fields, you can see how they have been cared for. The beautiful shapes, and the perfection of form!

There are other incredible sights, too - here a house from the 1700's is considered very old, and all things considered it is. But in the UK, the place is just getting the lived in look! They were building places to last (and still are because lumber is so expensive). My brother-in-law mentioned houses built in the 1940's are still considered 'new' houses!
Roman Steps
We went for a walk on a path along the Clwyedog River in North Wales. You may notice the river isn't all that big. In our standards, it's a healthy stream. It's an example of what I was saying before about being able to grasp the natural beauty in one exquisite look.

Yet it was a source of power for mills and furnaces and what have you when the US was just getting started!

We started at Bersham Iron Works, which is also the Bersham Heritage Centre, and ended up at Nant Mill, about a mile or so walk. In that mile, aside from the two places I mentioned were, in addition to the mill races, a 'roman steps', a beautiful waterfall, and an ancient bridge. And the path, although muddy, was very well tended.

Walking is very popular there. Even when it was frost cold (unusual for the western part of the UK) we met other walkers with their dogs and children. All with a smile and a "Good morning!" or "Good afternoon!" Waterfall

In the US, it would be very unusual to see these sorts of sights without long periods of travel between. There, we're talking about ten minutes of strolling. Power walk, and you're by this stuff before you know it! You just can't help stopping and exploring and even touching some of these things. The sense of antiquity, of history, is almost overwhelming.

You can't hardly swing a dead cat without hitting something of historical significance. Really. I say this, of course, not having a dead cat to swing, but had I had one and the room to swing it, you could guess the results.

Well, we went for lunch on Boxing Day (which, oddly enough has nothing to do with pugilism orAncient Bridge the Boxer Rebellion but is the day after Christmas see Wikipedia's Boxing Day) to a place called Frogg Manor, a real manor house that is now an inn and restaurant - the owner seems to do everything. He was vacuuming when we came in, was the social host, and as he is also a spectacular chef, prepared our meals. His attentions were friendly and welcome. A bit of a nut, too.

If you're ever in Chester, UK, best go there. You will be very happy you did!

One of the bad things about the UK is that they use pounds like we use dollars. This is very disturbing, especially in restaurants. A meal in a pub for three here would cost $50 or $60. I'm talking about a hamburger and beer each. It's still 50 or 60 over there but in pounds, the dollar value is like 1.7 times 0r $85 to $102. So you have to think about that some. It's really the only downside of the UK.

Well, there's one more thing. If you can avoid Heathrow Airport do it. Really. Unless you like long walks back and forth to places and queueing (lines). If you're just flying to London, then ok. But if you're going on to other places in the UK, be prepared to spend at least an hour and a half getting through customs and security, and traveling between terminals. Oh, and the signage isn't too good either. On the good side, British Airways usually holds planes for connections. And everyone there was unfailingly friendly and helpful.

Well, I have to prepare my new mainsail for putting on the boat Sunday, Jan 1, so that's what I'm off to now. If you get the chance, do go to the UK. It's spectacular!

See you on the water in the New Year!

Monday, December 19, 2005

Goin' Away

It's been a while since I've had anything to say (that is, of course, assuming you've already thought I had anything to say). In any case, I've been busy getting ready for a trip to England for the holidays.

It turns out, that this year the weather hasn't been too great for sailing. I mean, it was ok. Not too much snow, but so cold I wasn't interested in taking the boat out by myself. My friends are all busy doing holiday stuff to get ready for their families and I am as well for my trip. So, no great sailing stuff going on.

I did complete all the things I wanted to with the stuff I bought from Sailrite. But since there's no real rush to get the new sails on the boat, I don't have to go out of my way to test them all. Except for the mainsail turtle. But more on that later.

So, I'm going to Chester, UK, and it's near Liverpool. And in Liverpool, if you ever get there, is the most fantastic maritime museum that I have ever seen! It's spectacular with all of its exhibits. If you get there, go. You won't be disappointed!

Every weekend, though, I still go down to the boat and check the bilge (which always has water), the through-hulls (for cracks or leaks), clean the snow or bird-doo off, and generally putter about. If it's warm enough, and I'm going to stay for awhile, I'll light up the heater, and maybe make a cup of coffee or soup. It's kinda fun.

When I get back, it will only be a few days until New Years, so if January 1 is going to be really nice (40+ degrees and sunny), a group of us will go sailing, and I will put the new main and jib on to see how they fit and look... That's exciting, too!

Well, must pack and take care of all the little things that must be done before a trip!

See you on the water!

Saturday, December 10, 2005

First Snow

This is the day after the first snow of the season. Of course I have clean off the boat. Every year I move Inertia from her winter home to summer home and back. Winter home is Haverstraw Marina, located, oddly enough, in Haverstraw NY, about 30 miles north of New York harbor.

I've been coming to Haverstraw Marina for over 13 years - and I was docked there for 10 or 12 years before that. It's been my home when I lived aboard. I've had an awful lot of fun here. If you have a deep draft boat, when you come up the Hudson, it's a pretty good place to stay. There used to be a restaurant, but it burned down recently. However, about a mile away to the north is a bar/grill. I've never been there, but how bad can it be?

Back to Inertia - we got about 10" of snow yesterday and I spent most of the day snowblowing and shoveling. But today, I wanted to get the snow off the boat. So here's some pictures of Inertia under snow.

Today it was 35 so the sunny side pretty much melted off, but you can see that in the shade, the snow was nearly untouched. You wouldn't think it would weigh all that much, but I'd say it was enough to set Inertia down another inch in the water - that's like 1200 lbs. or so. And it's a lot of snow to remove with a plastic dustpan!

Anyway, the boat inside was dry and surprisingly warm! Ok, not shorts and tee-shirt weather, but very comfortable - well above 30. Hey, when I lived on my Ranger, there were winter days I got up and it was less than 30. Try getting dressed in that!

Frankly, the day was nice enough so that I could go sailing! Light breeze from the south, sunny, and warmish. However, it was getting late, so it was also going to get really cold.

I hope I can get out once more this year - business and other obligations are taking over prime time - and so it the weather.

January 1, though, is the traditional first sail of the season! Hey, maybe I'll see you on the water!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Old and New Friends

Well, I'm not really a joiner. I never have been. I don't like clubs or cliques. But this Friday last I rejoined my old yacht club (Hudson Cove Yacht Club). It's funny - I've been away from it for two years, but it was like I'd never left, all my friends still there, and surprisingly to me, happy to see me!

Admittedly I belong for the advantages at other yacht clubs, many of whom only rent moorings or slips to other yacht club members, or they provide them at reduced prices. This is a good thing. I've mentioned how the marine industry has slowly but surely swung back to making boating an elitist activity by charging prices that bear no relationship to value (hey - not just boating, huh?). But as a leisure activity, it seems you'd want people to stay. Or there's just a lot more money around than I can see.

So, back to the club thing - it was their Christmas Party, and it was a great deal of fun to see everyone! From what I hear, they were just as thrilled to see me. Who'd a thunk it?

In case you're interested in joining a yacht club, be aware they run the gamut from effectively social clubs only (with no facilities) to down home, earthy clubs with spare facilities, to great big clubs with grand mansions for club houses, 24 hour launch service, formal dinners and other occasions. You choose - it can be as little as a couple hundred bucks to many, many thousands.

If it's an accredited club, you're all set for 'reciprocal priviledges'. Cool beans.

Although this year I'll stay at Barron's boat yard, next year I'll try to join City Island Yacht Club or Harlem Yacht Club, both on City Island.

There's something to be said for joining at least one club!

See you on the water.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

New Projects and A Company You Should Use

Well, today has been a day of frustration with brick-and-mortar stores. I could not find anything I wanted, or if it was there, there wasn't enough for the project.

As I may have mentioned, I've received most of my sails from Somerset Sails, and although they seem well built, there are a couple of nice pieces missing - not their fault. I wasn't specific enough in my specifications.

For instance, on my current mainsail, I have reef points on the luff that contain some strapping through the grommets with rings on either side to hook on the gooseneck reef hooks. This is really nice because you can hook either side, you can rig lines to the eyes to pull down the sail from the cockpit, and you don't have to struggle to get the grommet itself on the hook. The new sail doesn't have them, and it's because I didn't ask for them.

Anyway, I thought I'd go ahead and pop over to the nearest West Marine Store for the rings and webbing. Ok, I realize that a brick-and-mortar store needs to make a profit because they need to pay for a lot of overhead. So we pay the premium for having what we want in our grubby little hands right away. Well, this works out fine if the store has what we want and enough of it.

Well, they didn't. They had exactly the wrong amount of rings - I need 6, they had at most 2. But the rings were either $8.99 each or $9.99 each - depending on the ring thickness. Also, I needed 3/4" polyester webbing to go between the rings. They had 1/2", and it was $.99 per foot! So, I didn't buy it.

I got home and thought, "Hey, I'll go online and see what has!" Not only did they have what I wanted, while I was there, I thought of two more projects they had the stuff for - namely, the boat name on the new sail cover from Somerset Sails, and for my new asymmetrical spinnaker I've devised a tack attachment point on the bow roller that I have to make strapping for. More on that later, though. I also thought I'd make a nice bag for the new mainsail (Martin at Somerset Sails indicated I'd use a long tube made out of something like plastic tarp material. Apparently, with the very flexible full battens, you don't remove them). I thought I'd use one of my old sails as material for a mainsail turtle. So I ordered a 10' zipper for just that purpose.

The long and short of it: the 3/4" webbing - $.10/ft., stainless steel ring: $2.99, 10 ft. #10 zipper: ~$17.00. I ordered more stuff, so my total bill was around $90.00. And I got to talk to a knowledgeable human being. So, if you need anything for making, repairing, strengthing, customizing or almost anything else to do with sewing, sails, covers, canvas anything, or whatever, go to or call them at 800-348-2769.

This by way of saying, if West Marine had had any of the stuff I wanted, I would have bought it and paid a lot more for it. Moral of the story: If you're going to run a retail business you must do one of two things, preferrably both:

  • Have a good inventory of the items you sell
  • Have good pricing on those items
If you don't, especially in this day and age of online shopping, you're screwed.

Ok, so I can't do the project today. But there's nowhere I could go to get the stuff to do it today anyway, so if I wait until next weekend, so what? Or during the week.

The next frustration was with Home Depot. But that's not really sailing, so I won't go into it. But once again, it's a struggle with a brick-and-mortar.

Now, for the downhaul project for the new asymm - My friend Laura has one and she's rigged the thing so that when she uses it, she has to remove the bow roller so that she can attach a block to the bolt that holds the roller. That means she can't anchor when she's going to use the asymm. Here's my idea: I bought, from Sailrite some 2" webbing and 2 - 2" D-rings. You can see where I'm going - I'm making a strap ending in the D-rings. The strap goes around the bow roller, and a shackle holds them together. On the shackle goes a block, et voila! a downhaul! So, if this works, feel free to make one of your own.

You're probably wondering where the mess goes when I'm using the anchor - well, it slides off to the side and gets tied to the hooks below the roller-furler gear. Or it just hangs down. I'm sure I'll figure it out.

When I get to these projects, I'll let you know. Pictures and all.

On another note - I had to send one of the sails back to Somerset Sails as it wasn't constructed the way we had discussed. I called Martin and mentioned it, and without hesitation he said to send it back. No hemming, no hawing. Bim, bam, thank you, m'am. Admittedly, I'm a little disappointed that I had to do that, but I am forever grateful that there was no discussion. That's service, and that's the kind of companies we should support!

See you on the water!