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Kiribati wreck
Kiribati wreck

A Thoroughly Modern Look at Amazingly Modern Boats

I’ve been called a sailing traditionalist — perhaps because I grew up on a funky old 1924 schooner with tarred hemp anchor rodes, Egyptian cotton sails, and kerosene running lights. Alas, time moves on. It’s 2014! Ticky-tack is currently all the rage. Weak is fashionable. Shoddy is chic. And if I want to keep my job as a marine journalist, I have to move with it.

Obviously the issue is my mindset. I shouldn’t think of modern fiberglass vessels as weak — think of ‘em as biodegradable! Look at the positive side: they’ll break up quickly on the beach if they pound in a four inch chop for more than four seconds. Mother Earth surely appreciates the eco-friendly advantages of having fiberglass boats with such little actual fiber or glass. During recent sea trials on a BendyToe, I was heard to mutter appreciatively, “Finally! A sailboat as weak as my morals!”

What’s structurally wrong with oil cans, anyway?

Besides, a little flexing is good. For instance, each time a kayak passes one of these vessels and throws up a wake, the new owner gets a chance to review his paperback library as all his novels are tossed off the shelves. Or, while beating to windward, you should repeat to yourself, “A boat should look pregnant around the chainplates!”

“The hull, deck, bulkheads, mast and cabin should all move in opposite directions!”

Likewise, keels should act as sacrificial protrusions and snap off if they strike a jellyfish, semi-submerged plastic bag, or floating Styrofoam cup. I mean — why end up stuck hard aground when you can buy the ‘auto-eject’ keel option for only a few more pennies! Actually, if you are buying a new boat you can ignore the rig and the hull — just check out the electro-do-dads.

“Is she Blue-tooth-equipped?”

What is Blue-tooth? This is when you leave your music app playing on the iPad in the main cabin — and listen to it from your portable Jambone speakers in your life raft as you float away from your sinking vessel.

Isn’t modern audio-tech awesome?

A lot of these modern terms are just re-issues, really. For example, the current buzz word for ‘interface’ is just the plain old missionary position, Silicone Valley style.

However, since this is a family publication as well as a marine one, I can’t go into much graphic detail re: modern marine electronics for adults. But this silliness has been going on for a long time. For instance, most shipboard engine room TV monitors have a P-channel — you know, showing movies in which Linda Lovelace wears a captain’s hat and not much else.

But how do we get off on these ridiculous tangents?

If you buy a modern luxury watercraft, you’ll want to immediately post some selfies aboard it, and having a mast on your sailboat is the perfect backdrop for that selfie (I really haven’t got time to define these terms; ask Obama if you must). Anyway, you can lean against the mast in a seaway and it looks exotic — regardless of whether you are uploading them to Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or the FBI’s most wanted list.

There’s no need to have a marine GPS aboard if you have a Geo-tagging camera… just take another selfie of yourself — and read the lat/lon off its image details!

Sweet, eh?

What’s the difference between a sloop and ketch? Well, a ketch has two aluminum poles to lean against for your selfies! Just think of that, double the selfies for nearly the same investment! (Perhaps this is why Joshua Slocum turned Spray into a ketch near the end.)

Of course, the mast isn’t limited solely as a pole for leaning — you can hoist the cocktail flag up it as well. Ditto as a great place to hoist you and your GoPro vid cam. Even if they should drop you and you die, you’ll have a great final video at the funeral!

It’s also nice to keep your vessel neat and tidy — but don’t fuss over a little dust. Sure, it is okay to use a 12-volt vacuum on your cabin sole if you’re at anchor. But don’t make the expensive mistake of plugging in a large 110-volt shop vac. Many a modern marine interior has been sucked down the hose long before the owner could cry, “Is she paid for yet?”

All new boats in the US are equipped, by law, with holding tanks. Alas, many marinas don’t have functioning pump-out facilities that actually work. So we have a problem. But, American ingenuity being what it is, we also have a solution as well.

The secret is fluid balloons. These are similar to water balloons, but contain different ‘ammo’ so to speak (Hint: if you are a teabagger, funnelate any passing vessel playing NPR — and if you are a liberal Demo, aim for the Rush Limbaugh crowd). Then don’t think of it as slinging s**t at each other, think of it as modern political discourse, a la Washington, D.C.

If you are looking for a racing sailboat, make sure the boatbuilder offers a racing stripe and some cool transom graphics. Some forward thinking companies offer a ‘yacht racing package’ that includes spinnakers, cockpit speakers, divorce lawyers, and hangover remedies.

Now that’s modern marine marketing!

Cruising vessels are a totally different kettle of fish—they have much wider cockpit seats for the more commodious, beamy-butted cruising wives, for example.

Yes, cruising vessels and their crews are both “…built for comfort, not for speed!”

Most vessels never go anywhere anyway, of course, primarily because they have an experienced, knowledgeable skipper who knows (from hard experience) that if you don’t leave the dock, you have far few problems afloat.

“Plus,” said one thoroughly modern mariner, “I primarily enjoy the bill paying, anyway. I mean, I don’t like storms or docking, or having the wind violently shake those white flopping things. I mean, what’s the big deal about wasting your life away in a plush, posh marina while sipping rum and laughing at the ‘gullibles’ who actually do attempt to take their vessels offshore!”

Certainly, many rock huggers who own dock queens would agree. “Why untie your lines and make a fool of yourself, when your broker can secure your vessel once-and-for-all?”

Good point.

“Actual hands-on sailing — really cruising under sail — is a bit old-fashioned, isn’t it?” postulated yet another cyber sailor. “I mean, with today’s cut-and-paste combined with Google Images… isn’t it kind of silly to get wet while posting sailing pics of… well, rounding Cape Horn, for instance!”

…more good thinking!

Plus, it is all getting a tad ‘ordinary’ out there, isn’t it? Only one vessel that crossed the Pacific last year didn’t issue an eBook on Kindle (primarily because the crew drowned off the Galapagos just prior to its uploading). Why do something that’s been done so many times before already, when there are untaken selfies to be claimed as yours?

Ah, human progress and technical advances are in the air, I guess. For example: modern sails are much lighter — and not just because the sailmakers have left out all the luff-tape reinforcing that was standard just a few years back.

“We members of the yacht-rag industry soon realized we had a problem,” one loose-lipped sailmaker in his cups recently told me, “We convinced our customers our low-stretch materials didn’t stretch — and they somehow got confused and translated that to mean, well, that they didn’t need to replace their racing sails every couple of months. Yikes!”

“…and the solution was…” I probed.

“Just to blurt out the truth,” he cried in frustration, “and tell ‘em that the resulting ‘hard spots’ caused
by the no-stretch carbon-and-interlaced-cabbage-leaf-soaked-in yak-urine fabric would soon make his sails fail catastrophically.”

Whew! Another marine industry slump averted!

Cordage is another area where great strides (in profits) can be made. For example, when a marine supply salesman talks a novice sailor (who isn’t sure whether to pull in or let out his mainsheet while hardening up) into buying some hi-tech line:

“You wouldn’t want the end of your boom to ooze out another quarter of inch during a fifty knot gust, now would ya?”

No, of course not.

True, a spoil-sport might point out that modern recreational craft don’t really do anything much different or better than older, cheaper ones — but they’d be dead wrong.

The bottom line on modern boats is that they have never been so capable of draining a bank account. Rejoice!

Editor’s note: Cap’n Fatty Goodlander is obviously getting dizzy from all his circumnavigations.

 

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