Basic Terms

Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Year Wish!

I would like to take this opportunity to express my deepest appreciation and thank all of you who have joined me on this uncharted journey! When I started this blog I thought that I would most likely be the only reader and never expected to interact with so many wonderful people! Your presence has been nothing short of inspirational! 

As the winds of time carry us into the New Year, I wish you the courage to face every storm, the strength to sail through, and the serenity that awaits you....

Happy New Year!

The Curious Sailor

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Language of Sailing...


Being new to the world of sailing, I am quickly realizing that one of the pre-requisites for the, "Teach Yourself Sailing -101" curriculum happens to be a course in foreign language.  A maritime language almost comparable with the antiquated language of Latin. I say this because just as a pre-med student is required to study Latin in order to advance through the most basic courses in medical school - A Sailor must become fluent in a whole new language before he or she ever steps foot on deck.  

It's a nautical language that originated in the earliest days of sailing. Like Latin, it has retreated from the mainstream. However, it remains in full force and is still practical  in the discipline of sailing today. The unanticipated task of becoming fluent in this new language  may seem daunting at first and is perhaps, the reason why some get discouraged from exploring the realm of sailing much past the point of sighing at the tranquil sight of a sailboat moored in the sunset.

Though I can't deny  -at first glance- the language presented itself as slightly confusing,  I am quickly realizing that it's really not that difficult. 
In fact, if you (like me) are new to the world of sailing you probably already know more than you think. 

The sailor's vocabulary is responsible for shaping a significant portion of modern-day English. Many commonly used phrases derive from the enigmatic dialogues heard on sailing ships centuries ago. For instance, 'The Bitter End',  'Loose Cannon',  -and one of my favorites- 'Three Sheets to the Wind'. These are all commonly used terms and can be traced back to the early days of sailing. So don't  get discouraged if you hear a word or a term that you are not immediately familiar with. Learning this new language can actually be a lot of fun as well as interesting. 

If you haven't watched the movie "Captain Ron" by now, stop reading, grab a six-pack of your favorite beverage,popcorn, and go watch it! Trust me you'll thank me later.. In this offbeat comedy Captain Ron successfully transforms a suburban family who know absolutely nothing about sailing into a crew of seasoned sailors over the course of just one cruise. Amidst the puns and folly, he haphazardly introduces them to all of the aspects of sailing with an emphasis on the new language. Terms like boom, mizzen, and winch, all of which describe the different components on the boat for which a fundamental understanding is required to operate successfully.  Although, every sailboat may not have a mizzenmast it's good to know what it is so you can either identify it if you do have one or stop looking for it if you don't. 

A mizzenmast is basically a second mast set right behind the main mast or the third mast furthest from the bow depending on what type of sailboat you have. Sailboats come in a myriad of styles and shapes and each is called by a different name. That's a lesson all in itself for another day. (in other words I'm still not that good at identifying all of the different variations)

Back to mizzenmast. Researching the origin of this word is where the learning experience starts to get interesting.  In my mind, words are very much like sailors. They travel from one language to the next and anchor for awhile before they move on to a new language.  In the case of the word mizzen, it arrived at its late Middle English port sometime around the 15th century. Some of mizzen's prior ports of call were French-misaine, Italian-mezzano, and Latin-medianus meaning "of the middle" (did I mention Latin earlier in this post?)  Therefore, if you have a sailboat with more than one mast, the mizzenmast would be located somewhere amidship. See how easy this stuff is? 

There are many more words, terms, and phrases that are simply not going to fit in this post so at this point my friends, I'm afraid we have reached the "Bitter End" (*wink*).  I'm going to leave off with a few commonly used phrases that you may already be familiar with but you might not be aware of their nautical beginnings. I have also started a tabbed-page bar across the top of this blog so we can all have a quick easy reference to some basic words and terms at the click of a button.  

Have fun exploring the Language of Sailing! 

Senior officers in the English Navy were known as "bigwigs" because they  wore huge wigs. Bigwig officers aboard ships were often disliked. Today it is still used to refer to the most important person in a group or undertaking and is often used in a derogatory manner.

The scuttlebutt is a cask on a ship containing the vessel's drinking water. It was named this as the container was traditionally a small barrel, the so-called "butt," which had been "scuttled" -- had a hole made in it -- so water could be accessed. As sailors would often gather around the scuttlebutt to chat, the word has also taken on a slang meaning of rumor or gossip.

At a loose ends: 
A nautical term for a rope when unattached and therefore neglected or not doing its job. Thus 'tying up loose ends' indicates having done a complete job or having dealt with all the details. 

Barge in: 
The word barge refers to the more common, flat-bottomed workboat which is hard to maneuver and difficult to control.  They would bump and bang into other boats thus the term . . . "barge in."

Loose Cannon: 
Today the term "loose cannon" refers to someone who is out of control, unpredictable, and who may cause damage, just as the canons would do if they were to break loose on the decks of the old sailing vessels. 

Three sheets to the wind: 
This expression meant that one did not have control of the vessel because one had lost control of the sheets or lines. Today the expression is used to refer to someone who is drunk or does not have control of himself or herself.  

Bitter End: 
The last part of a rope or final link of chain. The end attached to the vessel, as opposed to the "working end" which may be attached to an anchor, cleat, other vessel, etc. Today the term is used to describe a final, painful, or disastrous conclusion (however unpleasant it may be). 


Saturday, December 19, 2015

Dear Santa....


It's the holiday season! A time for joy, cheer, and goodwill towards men! I know, it's a bit clich├ęd  but I love this time of year as I'm sure many of you do. No matter how old or young you may be,somewhere in the back of you're mind you are wondering if you made Santa's naughty or nice list and hoping that the big box under the tree has your name on the tag.

As of late, I have been working on my Dear Santa list.  I really hope he understands it this year since I'm not really sure that I do.  There are many unfamiliar items on it this time around and I hope Santa is checking it twice. I've had to check it ten times already to make sure I'm asking for the right things. For instance, never before have I asked for blocks and sheets!  Well, maybe the blocks -when I was a little boy-  but I was never happy when I got new sheets for Christmas!

Now, for the veteran sailors who may be reading this, they know exactly what I am asking for when I say blocks and sheets.  However, if you are new to sailing like me the next paragraph might  be helpful. 

When it comes to sailing terminology, A 'block' is actually a pulley that helps to guide and work the various ropes or lines on the boat. The ropes or lines that I mentioned above are actually called 'sheets'.  So if you have a rope that you use to work the mainsail that would be known as the main sheet.  Now you try.... What would you call the rope used to work the jib sail? (5 second pause for jeopardy theme music...) Correct!  A jib sheet.  (I really hope Santa is reading this)

So there you have it. Sailing is a different world and with that comes a different language. I think my next post will be all about the language of sailing.  I may even add a reference tab so we can easily access unfamiliar terms (hint-hint Santa) and learn the new language together.

In closing, I am going to try to answer a question I am often asked, "Why do you want to learn to sail and eventually live aboard a boat some day?" Although, there is no specific answer to this question I have been inspired to provide a poetic response. 
In keeping with the spirit of the holiday season, I rearranged Clement Clarke Moore's "The night before Christmas"  and present to you...     

"The night before Passage" 

'Twas the night before passage all set on the hook,
 I gazed at the stars for the night's final look...

With sheets neatly coiled, not a fray or a kink, 
I headed below for an end of night drink...

Reposed and content, with good spirit in hand,
I pondered the life I endured once on land...

A time so trite, filled with chaos, unrest,
I traded it in for a life without stress...

This new world I choose, it suits me so well.  
I'm at home on the water, be it a wave or a swell...

Tomorrow I sail, to a far away place...
With wind in my hair, salty spray on my face...

A new port awaits with a welcoming smile,
At this journeys end, I'll stay for awhile....

So I say to my friends, some go and some stay,
Some stick to the path but I sail away...


I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and Safe and Happy New Year!!

Curious Sailor

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Stepping the Mast...



When I first heard the term "Stepping the mast", I couldn't help but think of the scene in the movie, Pirates of the Caribbean where Captain Jack Sparrow -calmly standing atop the the mast of a sinking ship- effortlessly stepped from the boat to the dock in one well timed  step without so much as getting his boots wet.  This is not the meaning of stepping the mast. 

With a bit of diligent research (Google) I soon learned that stepping the mast actually means to raise and secure the mast from the lowered position.  Most small sailboats are designed so that the mast can easily  be raised and lowered to allow for transport without the worry of interference from power lines, trees, or bridges.  A common sense sort of thing for a trailerable sailboat. I was just unfamiliar with the the terminology. 

So now that I've scratched the first step (1-Get a Sailboat) from my list of steps to becoming a seasoned sailor, you would think that I would have immediately moved on to the second step (2- Fix the boat). No, not today. Today was my first day as an official sailboat owner and I was going to do nothing more than step the mast, sit back, and admire her for the rest of the day. I could start on step two tomorrow. 

With a clear vision of what I planned to accomplish I realized that I didn't  know how to step the mast. I've never done it before and quite frankly, this mast thing looked like a downed telephone pole (cables and all) which had fallen over and landed right across the top of the deck. 

It was early in the day and I was at the kitchen table sipping my morning coffee pondering my dilemma. I decided to consult with the oracle which is sometimes referred to as YouTube.  A quick search returned an immediate result. A video of an older woman stepping the mast all by herself!  

For a moment I thought about skipping this particular video and  continuing my search until I came across a video that showed eight burly sweaty men pushing the mast forward whilst a boom crane hoisted it the rest of the way. Apparently, this is how I originally imagined the process but soon came to grips with the fact that I may have over thought this task. 

The woman in the video had some sort of pole  attached to the mast plate which allowed her to attach a cable to the mast and winch it upward.  Once the mast was upright and secured in place she was able to attach the forestay. The whole operation took no time at all and actually looked pretty simple. There was one problem however. I did not have the same device she had so I was going to have to rethink this.

Having watched the video several times  I convinced myself that I didn't need a special device to get this thing standing straight up in the air...  One of my first  jobs as a teenager was in the construction field. I learned how to walk 16 and 24 foot aluminum ladders up to the  side of a building without dropping a bead of sweat. How much different could this be? I'm almost a Sailor now right?   Right...  

I finished my coffee and went outside eager to accomplish the task for the day. 
I climbed into my new sailboat and started fumbling with all of the tangled stays and shrouds.  I tied one end of a rope to the mast, handed the other to my girlfriend and told her not to worry. I explained that I would do the heavy lifting and she would only have to guide and keep tension on the rope. The plan was set. I was ready to step the mast.

In accordance with the laws of nature, what happens anytime  you are about to try something that you have never done before?  A crowd gathers... 
Two of my neighbors decided to come over and congratulate me (investigate what I was up to) on my new acquisition.  "What are you doing up there?" one of them asked. "I'm going to step the mast." I replied with confidence. The other spoke up, "Do you know how to do that ?"  "No..." I responded, "...but it can't be that difficult."  They moved in closer to the boat as if they had front row seats at a major sporting event.   No pressure there , huh?

I positioned myself under the mast and grasped it firmly. I lifted it over my head and was pleasantly surprised at how light it was. This was going to be a piece of cake!  
I started the walk-up one hand in front of the other and noticed that it would get a little heavier each time- but nothing I couldn't handle.  My neighbors watched in awe as the mast continued to move in the upward direction. I was confident, I was determined, I could almost hear the original score from the movie 'Rocky,  playing in the background. That's when I came to an abrupt stop. Either, I had never considered that the companionway would present itself as an obstacle or I over estimated my height- I'm not sure which.  The fact remained however, that I could not move forward anymore and the mast angle did not allow for the rope to pull it any higher. This essentially tells me that I over estimated my height.  

My neighbors  (although smiling now) continued watching silently even as my girlfriend and I were yelling back and forth to each other, "Pull !" - "I can't !"  

I was getting no where fast and had to do something. I managed to get a a little higher by placing a foot on each of the cockpit quarter berths but it still wasn't  high enough. Did I mention that I'm not the tallest guy in the world? Still supporting the mast over my head,  the last last two options were to either bunny hop onto the cabin roof or get one foot on each of the gunnels.  No...  Neither would work and would undoubtedly result in some type of bodily harm and even  greater embarrassment!

 I finally looked down at my - now laughing- neighbors and barked , "Could you  get you're ass up here and help me! "  They  gleefully did! One neighbor assisted with the rope and the other climbed aboard relieving me from my awkward position.  I was now able to climb up to the cabin roof and successfully complete my very first mast step....  With a little help from my friends that is...  :)

Here's the  link to the video I watched showing how simple it's actually supposed to be with the proper equipment (moral of this story). It's been viewed over 40 thousand times so I don't feel so bad... Lol



Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Happiest Day in a Boat Owner's Life...

We've all heard it said  before, "The happiest day in a boat owner's life is the day they buy a boat, and the day they sell it." While I agree with the first part of that saying I'm not so sure the latter is always true. I've bought and sold boats before and though I was always happy on the day I bought one, I've always had mixed feelings on the day I sold one.  I've also observed this reaction with previous owners that I purchased from.

Despite knowing that the ultimate objective is to finalize the deal, there always seems to be that awkward-  'I'm going to miss you -hug-kiss-sob' -moment once the deal is done. You know what I'm talking about. It's the good bye at the train station moment or the returning the puppy you found and wished you had never called the number on his tag moment. It's the moment where the memories of every bad experience you've ever had with the boat just sort of vanish and you're suddenly overwhelmed with feelings of separation anxiety. This is kind of what I noticed the day I took delivery of my sailboat.

If you looked at the pictures in my previous post you are most likely thinking two things. 1-Why would anyone be excited about handing money over for this shipwreck?   2- Why would the person collecting the money NOT be jumping for joy?  

I don't know how to answer that because just the opposite happened on the day we closed the deal. When the boat arrived, I was totally excited and the seller was sort of melancholy.

He pulled up and we greeted each other in person for the first time. We had only spoke on the phone to this point so this was our first face to face meeting. Neither of us were in negotiation mode anymore... We were both content with the deal as discussed over the phone and decided to finalize our transaction over a few beers In the garage. 

During our conversation he explained that he originally had the same intentions for the boat as I do. His plan was to carry out a restoration and sail her as far as she was willing to sail. Unfortunately, his schedule didn't allow for it and he wasn't even sure he could actually carry out the task because she was in such bad shape. As the conversation continued I asked him about how he had come to acquire the boat. His response was somewhat brief. He quickly reverted to explaining all of the steps he was going to take to make her seaworthy again. He spoke of all of the modifications and upgrades that he was going to execute. He spoke of all the places he was going to sail. As the beer continued to  flow, I noticed he kept correcting his sentences from, "I'm going to fix..." to  "Um, I mean I was going to fix..."  I wondered to myself, is he catching a buzz or getting sentimental? Maybe both... 

Throughout the conversation he would look over his shoulder in the direction of the boat and exhibit a half-smile and let out a  quiet sigh. That's when I finally realized he had not made the separation yet. There seemed to be a strong emotional connection between him and this little boat with three huge  holes in her hull. It was that awkward moment.

Suddenly, I found myself overcome with empathy and in that instant, 
I wrote the check!  This guy was having second thoughts and I was not about to let him ruin the first day of the happiest day in this boat owners life!  :)

Leave a comment, let me know your thoughts on the saying... 

Friday, December 4, 2015

Negotiation time... "I'll make him an offer he can't refuse..."


So now that I have come across the boat (NOT) of my dreams I did in fact see a bit of 
potential in this sad little unwanted vessel. The positive aspects were adding up quickly. For starters, I was already in possession of a reference book that would guide me through an inexpensive restoration  -yeah right- Additionally, she was small enough that It would take no time to put her back in ship-shape condition. Did I say 'yeah right' already? Finally, I knew I could get it for next to nothing. " Why?" you ask...   Well, that's simple... I figured I would make the seller an offer he couldn't refuse! 

In 1972 "The Godfather" portrayed by Marlon Brando coined the term, "I'll make him an offer he can't refuse".  For those of you who saw the movie or read the book you probably remember the original violent connotations associated with the term as it was first expressed. Believe it or not, this euphemism is one of many defined tactics of skilled negotiation known as  brinksmanship. I often wonder if Mario Puzo took this into consideration when he wrote the line in the story. There are scores of research and writings on the skill of negotiation. Some consider it to be an art and science and actually carry out very successful careers as  negotiators...

Now,  I'm not going to turn this into a thesis on the subject of negotiation because it could go on for a very long time. I will go on to say however, that negotiating skills are something we all possess. We negotiate all our lives from the time we are children for extra cookies or more play time,  as teens for a later curfew or higher allowance, straight through to our adult years such as buying a car, a house, or a job interview. Negotiation is an inherent skill that lies within us all and should not be discounted when buying you're first sailboat no matter how overwhelming the level of anticipation or excitement. Believe me, I was excited and perhaps for some cosmic reason I really wanted this boat but I wasn't about to let the seller know that! 

I was pretty sure the seller didn't own a horse and I wasn't about to go hurt this guy's dog or cat if we could not come to terms , so the brinksmanship tactic was off the table. Besides, that particular tactic is better suited for mobsters, lawyers, and politicians and wouldn't really apply to this transaction.  Nevertheless, there are many other tactics and styles and my plan was to utilize every last one with the same conviction and confidence that Don Vito Corleone had when he got Johnny Fontane that acting role he wanted.

Before making the first call to inquire about the boat I decided to thoroughly inspect it for any nicks, dings,  dents, scratches, or imperfections that I could potentially use as bargaining chips when it came to discussing price.  As I said in my previous post, the trailer was worth  more than the $600 asking price -hands down- but this is a package deal right? So I decided to group it as such and use the condition of the boat to get the price down. Needless to say the closer I looked the worse it got.... Here's what I found:

Stress Cracks on the deck-

Normally stress cracks on an older boat are common and fairly easy to repair with a little grinding and gel coat application. This is not the case here..  In looking closer it appeared that the forward deck was under some serious upward tension at one time. Possibly from incorrect tensioning or excessive pull of the fore stay (a steel cable that goes from the top of the mast to the bow of the boat to keep the mast from falling backwards). Did she sail through a gale? A hurricane ? I don't know but that crack looked serious. 

The Swing Keel-

Not sure if you can tell from this picture but the keel is severely corroded. It's apparently a very photogenic keel because it looks so much better in this picture than it does in real life. This will have to be removed and refurbished or replaced. 

The Cockpit-

Ok... It's kind of dirty... Will need to clean this up.

The Forward Cabin-

Boats are made for water but the intent of the design is for the water to be on the outside of the boat. This is a direct result of water damage inside the boat. Rotted wood, delaminated fiberglass, and a compromised structure! Major issue!!

The Aft Cabin-

Yes, full of water and leaves. Note the discoloration on the stringer. This is due to saturation and again, another major issue!

The Hull-

More stress cracks? These look like they could run deeper... Another Major issue! 

More of the Hull-

This really caught my attention. For the life of me I couldn't figure out the cause of this defect. Were they bullet holes? Was the seller already engaged in the brinksmanship negotiation tactic? Come to find out the person he bought the boat  from had a few enemies that took a pick-axe to the bow. 
Wow... If this boat could talk huh? 

Ok... Inspection is over. I think I'm ready to make that first phone call... 

I dial the number on the -discarded whiteboard- sign and he answers on the first ring. I introduce myself and say," I'm calling about the boat for sale." I'm psyched at this point because I have all of these bargaining chips as shown in the photos above. 
The first words that come across are this, "Yes, hi...  Umm... Listen the boat is really not for sale the trailer is though and it's worth at least $850. If you buy the trailer you will have to dispose of the boat."
In that one single statement, this guy devalued all of my bargaining chips!
 He essentially shut down my negotiation strategy before I even had a chance to implement it.  He's good...   

Without even thinking about it I replied, "Yeah, I noticed the condition of the boat.. definitely scrap, but I called around and there's not a salvage yard  within 100 miles that will handle  the disposal for less than $300 bucks.... So the best I can do is $300 and I'll take this headache off your hands."  There was a 30 second pause of silence that seemed to last an eternity. He was processing my immediate response. Apparently, he blanked during that pause because he had no idea what a salvage yard would charge, he obviously never thought about it. I had no idea either but I knew the trailer would easily appraise between $900 to $1200 so, at $300 I would be way ahead of the game.
At 31 seconds, he finally replied, "I can't go less than $350."  In that moment I realized that I completely swayed his thinking from the fact that he thought he was only selling the trailer and successfully put the boat back into the negotiation as a bargaining chip...   Boat disposal would now be an expense he was not willing  to deal with. I made him an offer he couldn't refuse....

I replied, "Deal!"