Thursday, May 7, 2009

My Boat is Bigger Than Your Boat

Went out sailing today with a raft of enhancements and was actually coming to grips with them little by little with a fickle breeze providing foiling where one could find it. On the way out the channel, against what must have been a four knot current, several leadmines asked if I was OK. Apparently here in California, the only reason a boater gets into the water is if their boat is sinking. Yes yes I'm fine never mind just making an adjustment. Carry on, as you were.

In keeping with the irony theme it would be perfect if, having waved off all those offers, one were to then encounter a problem requiring assistance. As I foiled merrily across the swell out to the nearest oil platform, tacked, and foiled up nearly to the starting line for the cruising boats I could almost feel myself being smug - that's how well all the new stuff was working. Little self-recoiling ski feeler? Check - bouncing along without a hint of the old geyser effect - seemingly much more efficient, and never tripped tip down once though it spent a fair bit of time underwater. Adjustable linkage length? Performing flawlessly, though it does need a port tack counterpart. Stiffer wand doing its thing - the bowsprit is now the bendiest part of the setup. Aft mainsheet keeping itself out of trouble, except when I forget and try to pass the tiller around the end of the boom!

I sailed into a hole near oil island #1, floundered a bit and while righting the boat suddenly a popping sound and slack shrouds. But everything still seemed attached...with a sinking feeling I followed the shrouds up to the hounds and noticed a new kink in the mast of all things! Random failure. I thought sure it was abrasion from the batten cams but later inspection would disprove the theory. Full on failure about a foot above the join, standard C-tech spar, two years old.

So now I am bobbing merrily about, collecting various bits in anticipation of assistance at some point. Disconnect the shrouds and prodder from the mast and coil them on deck. Untie the clew/outhaul/cunningham. Pull the lower mast section out of the sail and secure it to a compression strut with the sheet. Pull the short broken bit of the upper mast out of the sock and shove it into life jacket. Pull the upper mast out of the sock and tie it to the deck with the tail of the mainsheet. Roll the sail up and jam it onto the deck, and tie it on roughly this point a beautiful 25' white power cat pulls up and asks if I am OK. "I'm fine" I respond, "but my mast is broken so I will require some assistance". "Oh" says the driver, "well, the Coast Guard will be here in a few minutes" and he zooms off. Not quite what I had in mind, but there's not much I can do about it! I bob around some more, wondering if turtled is the most stable mode, or if I should right the boat, when I note an absolutely HUGE black vessel bearing straight at me from 500 yards off. Before I have time to contemplate the amount of confetti a moth can generate getting sucked through twin screws on a boat like that, he has backed down, pointed his stern to windward and is parked twenty feet from me. The boat has something like 30 old airliner tires tied on the side for fenders. After exchanging pleasantries with the deck hands and explaining about my mast, it occurs to me that I have never seen any boat this big go into the channel near my club, let alone been assisted by anything like it. I mean, it has a few 20' shipping containers positioned athwartships on the aft deck, and I can barely see the tops. We chat about the water temperature, which is 65 and would have been a problem had I not been wearing, as I always do, a 3mm farmer john under my shorts and spray top. Apparently they are a tender for the local oil platforms and responded to the distress call put out by the catamaran driver.

Meanwhile, something like 30 cruising boats just to weather of me continue racing, assuming I suppose that it is normal for 150' oil platform tenders to stop and shoot the breeze with turtled, rigless moths for 15 minutes. Nice.

Now it is the fire department's turn. They have extremely nice big (maybe 30') red boats with twin diesels and usually when one is motoring toward me it is inside Alamitos Bay to threaten me with a ticket for speeding. But today they are all business responding to my distress call. Except I didn't call, and would have preferred not to bother them, but no matter they are here, and none of my erstwhile clubmates seems to be lifting a finger, so what the hell. I tell them it's probably best to just haul my boat up over the stern and that it probably only weighs 50 pounds, and they are OK with that. They pirhouette and come at me with a swim platform, hook the bowsprit with a boathook and before I know it the moth is on the aft deck and I am wandering around an expansive immaculately white griptex dance floor. We could have fit another moth up there with no trouble at all. Another identical red power boat shows up from downtown Long Beach to supervise. Turns out these boats have another engine just for the pumps and a huge chrome bow nozzle for fighting fires. All in all an impressive day for working boat exposure.

Normally this mast thing is an overnight repair and back on the water tomorrow but I lack an appropriately sized inner sleeve at the moment, so I am down to rigging the new mast. Sounds like it's time for a replacement anyway.

Saturday, May 2, 2009


I wonder if there's some sort of cosmic index measuring how closely one's life matches one's plans for it in the final analysis. If there is one I must be pegging the meter on inverse correlation. None of this seems real. Perhaps I am truly John Malkovich, and he is me, and we are each simply doing our level best given the circumstances.

There is a point at which the Moth ceases to be merely a boat and assumes a larger significance, as though invested with an ambition or longing for the impossible. Flying has always been the next best thing to impossible, and with the possible exception of sex, flying in a moth is the closest most of us will come to transcendence, in a physical sense. Which is why foiling is so popular I suppose.

But that altered state can extend onto land as well, and that is where the definition of Mothing gets blurry. Velocity prediction programs. CNC programming. CAD. XFOIL. Epoxy. Clearly the lure of the design and build is as strong for some as the lure of flying, which makes it all doubly intoxicating.

It seems clear to me that this is why professional boat designers do what they do: sit and think all day about new ways to accomplish things in a slightly more efficient, or elegant, or just plain smarter fashion. They dig the whole process, from soup to nuts. Mothing is just another way to check that box, but on a highly personal level, so when you combine the two, look out.

Perhaps that is why the foils on the production boats seem to get better and better with time: there are factories of smart dudes thinking about how to do this stuff, with all the machinery and resources needed to do a completely ridiculous job of optimizing everything, and the time to spend on it.

The rest of us muddle along on a shoestring and a prayer, hoping we might actually have something to add to the mix in the odd hours away from whatever we do with the rest of our waking lives. For instance, I have no CNC machine, which left me in a bit of a fix for a rudder foil recently. My old rudder works fine but the latest trends suggest I might go better with a new one.

This is how I found myself working backward from positive to negative en route to another positive. It is like 3d photography but everything is 1:1. I could have had something machined but the journey is often as important as the destination and I thought I might learn something on the way. Which I have, but I have learned as much about myself as about the foils really. And that is the point.

There is a feeling you get when you do something a bit crazy and it actually works. Even if it is only a small thing, like splashing a mold, there is a satisfaction in a job well done which doesn't come with the purchase price of a new Moth, no matter how fast it might be - or how expensive.

It is probably this feeling which keeps some people working on new things at home, despite the fact that God is in his heaven and labor is discounted in China. CNC time might be cheap for the big boys, but good ideas are still free.