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Big Boats and Bigger Fools

Poor fat empty pockets
Poor fat empty pockets

I have a confession to make, dear reader. The last few years I’ve been able to afford the boat I owned. I know, I know—that’s almost unheard of! Even stranger, after 23-years of ownership and 80,000 + blissful ocean miles sailed, I still loved and respected and admired my vessel’s wholesome S&S design. Best of all was the fact that, during the course of two leisurely circumnavigations of the planet Earth, I’d figured out how to sail her properly.

So, there was only one thing to do—put her on the market and buy a different vessel … one that I couldn’t afford, didn’t know how to sail, and might never love.

This is exactly what I did—lord, help me!

And I didn’t just buy a bigger boat, I purchased a craft that is 2.5 times heavier (and more trouble) than my previous one!
… during the worst economic times since, well, the Great Flood.

Why?

Masochism, mostly. A touch of self-hatred. A dash of foolishness. A pinch of self-loathing. Oh, and there’s the personal vanity thingy as well.

My wife and I have been having a ball going around to all our old snottie-yottie friends who used to lord it over us aboard their plush 42ft vessels, and saying stuff like, “… how can you live on such a little thing? I mean—it must be like lying down in coffin!”

“… only one shower?” my wife Carolyn will sniff. “That is such a shame as I’m sure you both get dirty.”

“… no watermaker?” I’ll chime in, grinning with mean-spirited happiness. “I mean, don’t all the undiluted rum drinks rot your liver?”

“… no hot water a’tall?” Carolyn will ask, feigning shock. “My, my … the drug-addled homeless in America have it better, am I right?”

Ah, the joys of moving up in the yachting world!

Everything is bigger concerning my new boat—except my bank account, which is vastly smaller.

Yes, it is a funny thing about perspective. I was thrilled to learn that the previous owner had (just prior to my purchase) paid as much for some fancy do-dads as I paid for his entire boat—not realizing at this point such frivolous spending was mandatory.

My previous boat was a sloop. It only had one mast. It sailed fast and close to the wind. My new boat is a ketch. It has two masts. It does not sail fast nor close to the wind.

Why?

“… that’s the catch of the ketch!” chuckled my aging, hopelessly off-the-pace designer. “The mizzen mast adds, as everyone knows, extra windage and weight aloft—both of which are major negatives. Thus, you end up going slower while heading lower. Amazing, eh?”

“But what is the advantage?” I asked.

“A ketch costs more,” he admitted. “And is more difficult to trim.”

“Then I will just toss away the mizzen,” I said defiantly, “and be done with it!”

“… not so fast,” said the designer. “There’s a lot of ying-and-yang in yacht design. You can’t just change one thing—they’re all interconnected. Besides, you don’t even use the mizzen off the wind as it just slews you around. And it is useless upwind because it gets back-winded by the mainsail. So there you have it in a nutshell—the glories of the modern ketch rig!”

That was my first inkling that owning and operating a larger boat would require more time, talent, energy, and money than before—for no logical, understandable reason.

But the whole ‘keep or discard the mizzen mast’ debate became moot when I realized that the mizzen spar was actually there solely to support the wind generator.

I didn’t even know I had a wind generator at first. I thought a 747 passenger jet was crashing into my aft cabin. I mean it was LOUD! The whole boat shook. I dashed outside—thinking that a huge jet plane was nose-diving into my boat at the same moment as she was experiencing a major earthquake …

Silly me. It was only my AIR wind generator responding to a five knot gust.

Whoever designed the AIR wind generator must have been a frustrated siren designer—with little chance to practice his chosen craft.

Once again, my facile designer piped up with the explanation.

“… remember how I told you that everything aboard a well-found vessel was interrelated?” he said as he began to smugly pontificate once again. “Well, this is a perfect example!”

You see,” he continued, “sound waves are just like ocean waves—they have a length and height and breadth. Knowing this—using it—and imaginatively playing with the numbers … a clever yacht designer such as myself is able to make the aft cabin resonate just like a guitar body or violin … to amplify the grating sound of the wind generator well beyond human endurance.”

“So that’s why wind generators exist? To drive yachties out of their aft cabins?”

“Mostly,” admitted my designer. “It surely isn’t to generator electricity—as almost every marine wind gen says, either there isn’t enough wind—or you should shut it down because of too much breeze.”

“Ah, you’re right,” I laughed. “Too true! I used to have a unit which operated efficiently between 18.750 knots and 18.820 knots of wind—but not in lower or higher breezes.”

“Exactly,” the designer smiled. “Because, if the truth be known, most wind generator manufactures plow all their profits back into solar!”

“Tsk, tsk!” I said.

“In fact, most wind generators are profitable only because they are subsidized by the major sailmakers.”

“Huh?” I said, sensing an entirely new angle.

“Oh, yeah,” said the designer. “It is an open secret in the industry. Here’s what happens—ketch owners can, on average, only tote their mizzen masts around for five years or so before they are overwhelmed with the desire to make them pay. And, since ketches are traditionally so under canvassed as to be slower than jelly fish—even the dumbest of owners know that they need more sail area. Thus, they purchase a new expensive mizzen staysail—a very delicate, very colorful sail which gets torn to shreds by the wind generator within minutes of being launched!”

My designer wasn’t the only marine industry member amused by my 2.5-times-more-expensive plight. Even my gas-dock jockey joined the exploitation by attempting to swing aboard (via the fuel-dock crane) a 55 gallon drum.

“Wait one second,” I said. “I’ve got plenty of diesel, gasoline, oil, and antifreeze … what’s in that sucker?”

“Hydraulic fluid,” he beamed, “that magic elixir of the Big Boat Boys!”

It turns out the electric autopilot on my new boat was hydraulic-as-well-as-electric.

I wasn’t sure what this meant, but I had the sinking feeling that learning about it would be expensive.

In an awkward attempt to avoid this, I lamely queried, “… and why do I need hydraulics?”

“I am glad you asked,” said the dock jockey as he continued to confidently swing the large drum on deck. “You see, whenever you have to do something efficiently which requires tons of pressure on a big boat, you need hydraulics—because, well … you do! Alas, there’s an inherent problem. Hydraulics are really just rods moving within o-rings, and everyone knows how weak rubber o-rings are. Thus, once pressure is applied, hydraulics leak. Once they leak, they stop working until you fill them up again … so they can leak more. Hence the 55 gallon drum!”

“Can’t I just replace the o-ring,” I asked timidly.

“You’d think you could,” admitted the dock jockey with a wry smile, “but you’d be wrong. No matter how many sizes of o-ring you carry, you don’t carry the right one. Do you know why?”

I had to admit I did not.

“Because the size you need is clearly labeled THE SIZE YOU DON’T HAVE! That’s its actual part number! Simple, eh? See how smart these hydraulic folks are? They literally will drip-you-to-death financially!”

If this wasn’t bad enough, my local ship’s chandlery shocked me with the latest trend in ‘progressive pricing’.

“I’ll take another package of tell-tales for my new boat,” I unthinkingly told the woman behind the counter at Cheapo Charlie’s.

“… and the square footage of the jib those tell-tales are going on?” she asked.

“Gee,” I mused. “I dunno. About 2.5 times bigger, I guess.”

“And what did you pay for the tell-tales on your smaller boat?” she asked with another sincere smile.

“Ten bucks!”

“… twenty-five smackers, then!” she beamed.

“You mean to say,” I sputtered, “that your prices are keyed to vessel size, not merely the product?”

“Absolutely,” she said. “After all, you’re harnessing more wind and gaining more forward-drive with these tell-tales than you were before—why wouldn’t we charge more?”

All of which paled in comparison to pulling into a marina. I had, of course, expected to pay more for a longer boat—but that was merely the tip of the iceberg.

“What’s her beam?” asked the dock master.

“Fourteen feet,” I admitted.

Oh, ‘double-wides’ are expensive,” he chuckled, “as, of course, we charge by the cubic area …”

“… what about my pubic area?” I asked, shocked.

“Naw, cubic,” he laughed, “but we’re a modern company, Fatty. Thus, we’ve discarded yesteryear’s quaint yardstick of LOA. That’s so restrictive! Why not factor in depth as well?”

“Depth?” I muttered in amazement.

“Sure,” the dock master said. “Water costs money. We had to pay for the dredging. And we might want to stow some submarines on the harbor bottom—which would be impossible if your vessel was particularly deep-drafted. See the logic? You have to pay, dude! It is that simple.”

“Okay,” I said, attempting to stand-tall and appear big-boat-ish. “So the dockage charge is length times beam times depth, right?”

“… don’t forget air-rights,” he chuckled. “After all, we might want to rent out the airspace above your vessel for model airplane demos … or as a staging area for tiny aeronautical shows … which we couldn’t do if your sailboat has a mast.”

“… and, if my sailboat has a mast, I have to pay extra, right?”

“YOU’RE GETTING IT!” he beamed.

My shoulders slumped. I dejectedly marched back to my dinghy. But my wife wasn’t there. Just a note that read, “I’m at the jewelry store—buying a 2.5 times bigger diamond!”

Editor’s Note: Cap’n Fatty and Carolyn have just purchased an Amphitrite 43 built by Wauquiez—which they plan to immediately sail into bankruptcy.

Cap’n Fatty Goodlander has lived aboard for 52 of his 60 years, and has circumnavigated twice. He is the author of Chasing the Horizon and numerous other marine books. His latest, Buy, Outfit, and Sail is out now. Visit:
fattygoodlander.com

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