Many naval architects can’t design a good powerboat—they squat, throw a big wake, and are tippy. Some of these office-bound designers can’t design a good sailboat, either. Now, I realize this seems strange. After all, shoeboxes can be blown downwind. But a true ‘farmer’ at the drafting board can somehow manage to screw it up—perhaps by putting the keel on sideways or something. Many multihull designers started out designing tennis courts, vacant lots, and parking spaces and bring their inane sense of ugliness to each compound curve they draw. But if a yacht designer fails at all of the above—if his work truly makes King Neptune barf—then he is sentenced to design motor-sailers.
What is a motor-sailer? It is a vessel which neither sails nor motors well, while looking very ugly and extremely awkward.
It’s a boat that the Swan-owning sailboater in the slip next to you erects a privacy fence to avoid seeing.
Some MSs are so disgusting in appearance that they don’t sink… because the bottom of the oceans won’t accept the debris. Yes, even ocean junkyards have criteria.
How, exactly, is this ‘putridness’ of design achieved?
One, by using straight-edges instead of French curves. Two, by thinking that topsides make the boat and the higher you are, the better. (This might work with drugs but not, alas, with hull shapes). Three, by also thinking that Big Wakes and Big Egos and Big Money go together. Four, by desiring to ‘hot up’ the planet as much as possible. Five, by admiring large transoms, with large lettering, so you can read their stupid names.
How do I know all this? Because I’ve fallen victim. Why? Because I wanted a bigger boat. Why? I dunno. Maybe to accommodate my wider, older ass. Or my inflated ego. Or to hold all the money I thought I’d earn. I can’t remember, exactly. All I know is that it didn’t work out. None of it.
Between 2000 and 2012, I circumnavigated twice on a boat with a transom smaller than the ports in my current transom.
My current transom is so big, it blots out the sun. I had to put three sets of reef points in it before heading offshore. Topsides? I can barely see the water. We have oxygen masks in our cockpit. You could bungee jump off our bow rail. I had to go to West Marine and purchase a special “MS combo” PFD—one that first pops open a parachute, and only later (below 500 feet) inflates a life vest.
And large lettering and stupid names? Well, I named my boat GANESH. I thought English speakers wouldn’t have a problem; after all, it rhymes with ‘fresh.’ Not so. White folk can’t pronounce it. One NYC fuel dock jockey told me, over the VHF on Channel 16, “Your vessel’s name sounds like a Taliban’s sneeze…”
“Hindu,” I said, and considered if I should get into it on the radio—only to plunge onward with, “Ganesh is a Hindu god, not a Muslim one.”
“We don’t serve foreigners,” said the Brooklyn dock boy as he rang off.
Now you’d think that a huge boat with a huge transom which is worth a huge amount of money and is a huge hassle to own—would have a decent amount of living space. And it could; but it doesn’t. See, I had to repower her. But the engine she was designed for was no longer manufactured. So, right off, I had to pick a different engine. Of course, I consulted an expert.
“You are no spring chicken, Fatty,” he started off with—and I wondered how he’d obtained my medical records. My doctor had recently uttered those exact words. But before I could inquire, my ‘marine propulsion engineer’ rushed on with, “and for each passing year after the age of 60, you should add two horsepower…”
“But where do I start?” I asked.
“I see that you are a child of the ‘60s,” he said, nodding at my tie-dyed Grateful Dead tee shirt, “and so I’ll be blunt. How many caps of Viagra have you dropped this month?”
“Eighty-two,” I admitted, “but that’s only because its a month with more than 27 days.”
Okay, so I’m a bit of a hedonist. Besides, its aerobic. And, hell, I’m running out of time to sin!
“I’d say you need a 92 horsepower diesel,” he said.
“Wait,” I said. “Wouldn’t a larger engine require more fuel and cost more money to run?”
“Not at all,” he said. “Let’s say you need 20 HP to push your vessel at 6 knots. Well, 20 HP is 20 HP! What’s the big deal?”
So I replaced the original 60 HP engine with a 92 horsepower one and only had to double the size of the engine beds and engine room to do so. Still, there was some living space left over inside my vessel—not much, but some.
Alas, my range was minuscule. I barely had enough fuel aboard to limp from fuel dock to fuel dock. So I added more fuel tanks which, pretty much, filled up the main cabin, forepeak, and aft cabin.
We now sleep in the aft head, curled around the ‘porcelain pillow’ as we call it.
And the guy wasn’t exactly ‘full disclosure’ on the “20 HP, big deal,” statement. It turns out a 92 HP diesel runs too cool while lightly loaded and glazes its cylinder walls. Thus, you need to run it at 60% of its full load, if you want it to last for more than few months.
“Well, of course, there’s that,” sniffed my marine engineer as he drove off to cash my mega-check.
Needless to say, a bigger engine and more fuel weigh more, which makes my boat sit lower in the water and slows it down under sail.
This is a problem. My design waterline is now so low that you have to be PADI certified for a compression dive to see it.
And, actually, ‘slows it down’ barely covers it. I can barely tell the difference between ‘anchor up’ and ‘anchor down.’
Small speed boats keep swinging up alongside and asking, “Are you aground?” and I shoot right back, “How would I know?”
I don’t have a knot meter on my boat—a ‘tear-away-a-day’ calendar is sufficient. There’s no rush. And it is a good thing I named her GANESH because she is so slow that, well, reincarnation better be true. She’s a good boat on a long trip—and so slow that even returning to my slip from the fuel dock takes a while.
Yes, we have to factor in continental drift on long passages. True, jellyfish often pass us. And, no, she is not ‘quick in stays,’ which means, when tacking, we throw the helm over, have dinner/desert/coffee/sex and then straighten out the helm and sheet in on the new tack.
Once, off Cape Horn, we were passed by a glacier.
I tried everything—new racing stripe, a dollop of carbon fiber dripped in the bilge, 3DL sails from North, new sailing gloves, Harken shoes—nothing worked.
Once, while being measured to compete in the Heineken Cup Regatta of Sint Maarten, Alfred, the kind and considerate measurer, said, “Hey, have you considered starting the day before?”
It is embarrassing—having a sandbar silt is faster than my vessel can sail.
Needless to say, a 43-foot vessel with as much windage as an aircraft carrier needs a big anchor and a long, massive chain. Did you hear that recent report of an earthquake in Mill Valley? Actually, that was me dropping the hook in San Francisco Bay.
We don’t encourage the use of sunblock on Ganesh. If our anchor is up, you tend to slide forward, if its down—you ooze aft. Yes, my sailboat isn’t much of a sailboat but its a hell of a water slide.
Not that I hoist those ‘white floppy things’ much anymore—not since I hoisted aboard the 55 gallon drums of antifreeze, lube oil, ATF fluid, etc, on deck.
Another factor is that spinning a larger engine requires a bigger battery bank. I’ve had to buy eight new ‘deep cycle’ batteries, which has put me in deep debt as well. Just the battery water alone is a problem to stow.
Yes, everything on a cruising vessel is related. To recharge the larger battery bank, I’ve had to add some solar cells, so there’s very little deck left. And, suddenly, shadows became a major issue.
For instance, my wind generator shadows my solar cells and makes them less efficient. Why do I have a wind generator? Because I have an aft cabin, which is really just like a giant soundbox or floating guitar that amplifies the sound so much we can’t even enter the aft cabin without our Bose Noise-cancelling headphone firmly clamped to our skulls.
Why not shut off the wind gen?
Because we need the electrical power because our solar cells are shadowed by it!
And, yes, I want to weep when people hear about me and swoon with admiration for my laudable lifestyle. “Such a simple life,” they email me innocently, “So Zen!”
But I don’t mean to belly-ache. We all have our crosses to bear. And, occasionally, we have fun aboard Ganesh. I hit the starter button and my new engine roars to life. My wife tosses off our dock lines. We’re free-free-free to go anywhere we want.
“Where to, skipper?” my wife sings out.
“To the fuel dock,” I cry.
“I love yachting-per-gallon,” she sings back.
“Yes, the wind-is-still-free!” I harmonize, “And it’s a sailor’s life for me!
Bio note: Fatty and Carolyn are currently sneaking Ganesh up to fuel docks in Southeast Asia at night—and draining the diesel fuel hoses.