Holiday shopping for a sailor is fairly easy because every sailor and boat needs lots of gear as well as good things to eat, amenities for cruising and life aboard, neat stuff to wear, and other sailorly stuff. Here's a compiled list of many of the very best gifts for sailors.
Did you eat Thanksgiving dinner on your boat, by any chance? Do you have an oven in which you can cook a turkey or other great food? A good marine stove with an oven is a great upgrade for cruisers and even those who spend only a casual weekend in an anchorage. Think of it as an investment in happiness. On our own sailboat, which had an ancient rusty propane stove when we bought it, we installed an Origo two-burner (that's the nonpressurized-alcohol Swedish invention) stove with oven. It wasn't exactly cheap, and for a while I'd considered just getting the stove top model instead of the version with oven, but my better half prevailed. And what a great idea it has proved to be! Nothing like warm brownies in a cold, rainy anchorage as the heat from the stove warms the entire cabin. I could wax on and on, but I'll just leave it at this: I look forward to the day when we've sailed the boat far enough south (and thus still be on the boat, not shrink-wrapped) by Thanksgiving to cook a turkey aboard!
If you have a trailerable boat, you sooner or later experience a shallow-angle boat ramp that makes it difficult to get the trailer in deep enough to launch or retrieve your boat without having to back your tow vehicle into the water. Too many trailers have a tongue that is simply too short to easily use all boat ramps, and of course it's not good to immerse your vehicle's rear wheels up to the hubs in water, particularly salt water, or even worse, your tailpipe or muffler. But what to do? You could invest in a new trailer or pay a welder a lot of boat bucks to make your trailer's tongue a couple feet longer. Or you can craft an extension piece to lengthen your trailer's tongue by many feet at launch time - at a small cost. It's easy to do it yourself and requires no welding or fancy tools. Here's how to do it. You'll be amazed you went as long as you did without this simple improvement that makes your boating life so much better!
November is "Manatee Awareness Month," and if you're a boater in Florida or the Southeast, you need to be aware of these majestic creatures and take care to share their waters with safe boating. The manatee habitat stretches from the Florida Panhandle down to the Keys (Key West and Bahia Honda Key are my own favorite sailing areas) and halfway up the Atlantic coast. They frequently swim and feed just below the surface, and boat strikes are the greatest threat to their lives. Amazingly, even in areas with posted slow speed zones, more than a third of boaters fail to comply and reduce speed. Slower speed gives you a better opportunity to spot a manatee ahead, and if a collision does occur, the injury is much less likely to be severe or fatal. Are some boaters just that thoughtful and uncaring - or is greater awareness needed? Here's a great article from Sailors for the Sea to help you learn more about what you can do.
Yesterday the Coast Guard completed towing back to port the sixth sailboat crippled or disabled by bad weather in the Salty Dawg Rally fleet of over 100 boats. The sailboat Jammin suffered rudder damage and called for help. The CG cutter had been nearby to assist another sailboat, Wings, which had also sought help after rudder and engine failure. These disasters followed four previous CG sailboat assists: Ahimsa had structural damage and was taking on water (helicopter rescue of 4 crew), Nyapa was dismasted but then was able to motor on unassisted toward Bermuda, Braveheart called for assistance for an injured crew but then proceeded on by itself after the CG rescue boat was diverted to assist Zulu, which was disabled and adrift, requiring a 28-hour tow by the CG. Why so many serious problems all at once?
Bad weather, of course - worse than forecast by the Rally's private forecaster. The Rally boats were en route from Hampton, Virginia, to Tortola, British Virgin Islands, when the worse-than-predicted winds stirred up the Gulf Stream to wreak havoc. Some mariners are now suggesting that the Rally organizers should have taken a more conservative approach, as did the Caribbean 1500 Rally, which chose to leave earlier than planned to beat that weather.
The Salty Dawg Rally this year reportedly drew some 115 sailboats, while the Caribbean 1500 Rally drew only 35. It's notable that the Caribbean 1500, which has a registration fee and conducts stringent boat inspections and safety requirements, seems to have lost popularity (it was a much larger fleet when I first sailed in this rally a decade ago) while the Salty Dawg, with no fee and a more "liberal" attitude of encouraging sailors to go it on their own, has grown quickly. Sailors are an independent lot, of course, and don't like to be told what to do and when to do it, but safety is one thing I wouldn't mess with. Fortunately there have been no fatalities in the Rally, as there were in a NARC Rally a few years ago, but if I were about to put my boat into a crossing rally during iffy fall weather, I'd think long and hard about whom to go with.
Coming soon to a marine chandlery near you? It's not likely the fashion statement of the year, but we're starting to wonder if these things might actually work? Called Boarding Ring glasses, designed and produced by a French company, these glasses have 4 lenses (2 forward, 2 peripheral) that are each surrounded by a tube in which fluid moves to provide an artificial horizon. The idea is that since seasickness is theorized to result from a disconnect between what the eyes see on a moving boat and what the inner ear tells the brain about movement and orientation, the "true" visual horizon supplied by the glasses will send an orientation signal to the brain in tune with inner ear signals. The idea sounds good (better than the glasses look!) - but we've yet to see research on how well they actually work. I first heard about these about a year ago but still haven't seen anyone wearing them in the U.S., but they're back in the news now after being nominated for an international DAME award for innovative products. They can apparently be ordered online from the company website. I'm looking forward to seeing them in use one day soon. In the meantime, here's a run-down of other available medications and products for seasickness.
A year ago, the tall ship HMS Bounty sank a hundred miles offshore in Hurricane Sandy, and the captain and one crew died. At the time many sailors were horrified to hear the captain had put to sea with the storm approaching, and over the following days, weeks, and months more information trickled out in the press, leading to many debates about seamanship and boating safety issues. Now CNN has put together a noteworthy retrospective covering the sinking and related events and investigations, along with an extensive interview with one of the survivors. The article includes a slide show and links to related videos and previous stories with more detail about the event, the investigations since, and the pending lawsuit by the crew's family. While the Coast Guard investigation report has yet to be released, this article helps summarize where things stand and reminds us of the importance of safety at sea. As one of the most dramatic sailing disasters in recent years, understanding this tragic event can ultimately help other boaters think more about the consequences of their actions.
At the end of this sailing season, my boat was hit by a particularly nasty collection of bird droppings as it swung on its mooring. After struggling with the usual soap-and-water scrubbing, I decided to try a new product: Starbrite Bird and Spider Stain Remover. While the product isn't miraculous, it does have some value. Read the review here to see my results.
The movie All Is Lost, starring Robert Redford, from Academy Award-nominated writer/director J.C. Chandor, opened in theaters nationally this last weekend. It's a film every sailor should see, though perhaps not for the reason you might first think. It's a great drama, and Redford is terrific, but from a sailor's perspective, I think it's unrealistic and riddled with flaws. But these are the kinds of things one can learn from even if they make the movie a disappointment. Read my review for examples of what I'm talking about, then see what you think.
Yesterday NOAA issued a release stating that as of April 13, 2014, the US government will stop printing traditional paper marine charts. The announcement comes as a shock to many sailors who grew up and learned navigation with paper charts, but the actual effects of this change should be minimal. First, NOAA will continue to maintain electronic charts in both ENC and raster formats (see here if you don't know the difference) - and they will be regularly updated as always. Chartplotters and navigation apps both rely on these NOAA charts for US waters, and we should see no change in these. Second, NOAA will continue to allow commercial vendors to make and sell NOAA-sourced paper charts, as they have for decades. In reality, most boaters have been using such "private" charts already (such as regional booklet charts, waterproof charts, etc.), rather than the individual paper charts printed by NOAA. These more readily available charts often include additional information, such as waypoints and marina data. So we probably won't see changes here too in the types of paper charts most of us have been using. Overall, this change may mean little, except perhaps to lend more weight to the argument that paper charts aren't needed anymore, given how many mariners use electronic charts exclusively. That's a different issue altogether, and one I won't go into here - except to make a general claim that paper charts still have some value on boats even if you have a dozen backup GPS devices with independent batteries, etc. We'll save that debate for another day.