THE CHOICE OF A BOAT

All of us remember the old sailor’s retort to the man who reproached him
for soaking his clay in bad rum. “There ain’t such a thing under heaven
as _bad_ rum,” he sagely remarked. “Of course some rum is better than
another, but I have been knocking about the world for more than fifty
years and never did I drink a glass of rum that deserved to be called
_bad_, and I got outside of some pretty fiery tipple in my time.”

The same is true in a general way of boats. There are many types of boat
and each has some peculiar attribute to recommend it. No two craft, for
instance, could be more widely different in every way than a Gloucester
fishing dory and a Cape Cod cat-boat, yet each when properly handled has
safely ridden out an Atlantic gale. Of course if their movements had
been directed by farm hands both would have foundered. In point of fact,
there is no royal road to the acquisition of seamanship. Experience is
what is needed first, last and all the time. It is true, however, that
the rough sea over which the learner has necessarily to sail may be
smoothed for him, even as the breakers on a harbor bar are rendered
passable for a homeward-bound craft by the judicious application of a
little oil.

The choice of a boat depends upon a vast variety of circumstances, the
chief of which is the location of the prospective boat owner. If he
lives on the Great South Bay, for example, he should provide himself
with a craft of light draught, almost capable of sailing on a clover
field after a heavy fall of dew. Equipped with a centerboard and a sail
a boat of this kind, if of the right shape and construction, will be
found comfortable, safe and of moderate speed. A man may also enjoy an
infinite amount of pleasure aboard her, after he has mastered the secret
of her management. There are so many sandbars in the Great South Bay
that a boat of light draught is indispensable to successful sailing. The
same remark applies also to Barnegat Bay and adjacent New Jersey waters.
There are some persons who believe that it is impossible to combine
light draught and safety. They make a great mistake. A twelve-foot
sneakbox in Barnegat Bay, with the right man steering, will live for a
long time in rough water that would sorely try the capacity of a much
larger craft in the hands of a lubber. The same is true of a sharpie.

The man who makes up his mind that he wants a sailing boat should study
well the geography of his vicinity. If he lives in New York or on the
Sound his course is easy. He is sure to be within reach of a yacht or
boat club from whose members he can get all the information he needs.
They will tell him the boat best adapted to his requirements and his
finances, and if they persuade him to join their organization they will
be conferring upon him a favor. I have traveled a good deal among the
yacht clubs of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, and I never came
across a more generous, more obliging and more sportsmanlike body of men
than those enrolled on the rosters of these enterprising associations.
They are convinced that there is more real pleasure to the square inch
in the possession of a stout boat capable of being managed by a couple
of men, than there is in the proprietorship of a big yacht that carries
a crew of twenty and whose owner probably knows nothing about the art of
sailing her, but depends all the time on his skipper. It is a pleasure
to meet these men and listen to their yarns. The earnestness, the zeal
and the ability with which they pursue their favorite pastime are indeed
commendable. And the best of it is they are always ready to welcome
recruits, and to pass them through the rudimentary mill of seamanship
and navigation, their motto being “Every man his own skipper.” The only
requisite necessary to membership in one or more of these clubs is that
you should be a “clubable” man with manly instincts. Young fellows, too,
are eagerly sought, so you need have no compunction about seeking their
doors, the latchstrings of which are always down.

By all means join a club, I say. You get all the advantages of the house
and the anchorage, and all the benefits that accrue to association with
men who are ardent and enthusiastic in the enjoyment of their pet
diversion. Besides—let me whisper a word in your ear, my brother, you of
the slender purse or may be economic instincts—it will be cheaper for
you in the end; it will put money in your purse. Your boat will be
looked after all the year round by watchful guardians, who will see that
it isn’t stripped or rifled by river pirates, and that the elements do
not mar its beauty. I confess I was surprised when I learned how little
it costs to become entitled to all the privileges of these clubs, and it
is owing to their moderate charges that the “mosquito fleet” in the
vicinity of New York is growing so big and interest in the sport is
increasing so rapidly.

What I have written of New York is true, perhaps, in a greater measure
of Boston. There is no finer sheet of water for boat sailing than Boston
Bay, and no people in the world are more devoted to the sport than those
who dwell in the city of culture and its sea-washed environs. There are
plenty of yacht clubs between Point Allerton, on the south, and
Marblehead, on the north. It has been ascertained that more than five
thousand members have joined these organizations and that nineteen
hundred yachts are enrolled on their lists, most of the craft being less
than twenty feet on the water line. It will thus be seen that Boston
fully appreciates the value of small sailing craft as a means of
amusement and healthful recreation. The port from which _Volunteer_,
_Mayflower_ and _Puritan_ originally hailed, though justly proud of
those three magnificent racing yachts, has always been distinguished for
turning out stout, able and seaworthy vessels of the smaller type, and
also for breeding a sturdy race of men who know every trick of
seamanship. The majority of the boats are so constructed and rigged as
to ensure that they will render a good account of themselves in a blow
and a seaway. Thus the “sandbagger” type of vessel is rarely found “down
east,” and this, in my opinion, need not be regretted.

The catrigged boat, with stationary ballast and a centerboard, may be
said to be the type generally preferred in those waters. The Newport
cat-boat is famous the world over for her handiness, speed and ability.
I know that it is fashionable for scientific men and swell naval
architects to decry the seaworthiness of these boats. It has been urged
that the weight of the mast in the eyes of the craft is a serious
objection, a strain on the hull, and not unlikely to be carried away for
want of proper staying. The long boom also has been objected to, because
of its liability to trip. The craft has been declared difficult to steer
and a regular “yawer.” But while saying unkind things of the cat-boat’s
behavior in a blow, no critic, however biased, has ventured to deny her
general handiness.

I might remind these gentlemen that the owner of a pleasure boat does
not as a rule sail her in a blow or in a seaway, but this would not be a
fair or legitimate argument. The elements are treacherous. A summer
storm often plays havoc among the shipping, and a man who ventures
seaward in the morning in a balmy breeze and with the water smooth as a
horsepond may be caught in a savage blow, followed by a heavy sea, both
of which may sorely try the capabilities of his craft and his own
resources as a seaman.

I am such a devout believer, however, in a cat-boat of proper form and
rig, that I will defend her as a good and handy craft in both fair
weather and foul. It blows hard in Narragansett Bay sometimes, and I
have often known a devil of a sea to be kicked up off Brenton’s Reef
lightship. But the Newport cat-boat, with a couple of reefs down, comes
out of the harbor and dances over the steep waves like a duck or a cork.
I never saw one of them come to grief, and in fact they have always
impressed me as being the handiest all-round boat afloat. I have sailed
in them in all sorts of weather, and I am not likely to alter my
opinion. Many of the objections raised against them are idle. For
instance, the mast can be so stayed as to be perfectly secure. There is
also no reason why the boom should project so far over the stern as to
trip, and in this connection I should like to ask of what use is a
topping lift unless one avails himself of it in just such an emergency?
A man should always keep the boom well topped up when running before the
wind in a seaway, and by this means he may avoid much trouble and
possibly peril.

The above remarks are applicable to both salt water and fresh water, to
the yachts of the North, the South, as well as of the Great and Little
Lakes, and indeed wherever the glorious sport flourishes. In point of
fact, all the hints and directions given in these chapters may be
followed with profit on the Pacific Coast as well as on the Atlantic
Seaboard, on Lake Michigan or on the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

If any ambitious would-be mariner, old or young, hailing from anywhere
were to ask me what sort of a boat I would recommend him to build or
buy, I would answer him frankly that an able cat-boat, with a
centerboard and stationary ballast would, in my judgment, be best. I
would advise him to shun the “sandbaggers”—not that one cannot enjoy an
immense amount of exciting sport in one of them, but because they seem
to me to be only fit for racing, and I will tell you why. A man when he
goes on a quiet cruise doesn’t want to be bothered by having to shift
heavy bags of sand every time the boat goes about. It is too much like
hard work, and by the time your day’s fun is finished you feel stiff in
the joints. I have other arguments against the use of shifting ballast,
but do not think any other save the one mentioned is necessary.

This point disposed of, let us confer. Of what shall the stationary
ballast for our able cat-boat consist? Outside lead is of course the
best, but its first cost is a serious matter. A cast-iron false keel or
shoe answers admirably, and is moderate in price. Some persons object to
it, claiming that it rusts and corrodes; that its fastenings decay the
wooden keel to which it is bolted, and that its weight strains a boat
and soon causes her to become leaky. There is of course some truth in
these charges; but if the boat is built by a mechanic and not an
impostor, none of these disadvantages will exist, and the cast-iron keel
will prove to be both efficient and economical.

But if, by straining a point, lead can be afforded, procure it by all
means and have it bolted on outside. It neither tarnishes nor corrodes,
and as it does not deteriorate, its marketable value is always the same.
Racing yachts have, however, been known to sell for less than their lead
ballast cost, but such instances are rare. It should be borne in mind
that the lower down the lead is placed the less the quantity required,
and the greater its efficiency.

There are always a number of second-hand cat-boats in the market for
sale at a reasonable rate, and an advertisement will bring plenty of
replies. But for a tyro to purchase a boat haphazard is a mistake on
general principles. It is like a sailor buying a horse. Get some honest
shipwright or boat builder to examine, say, some half-dozen boats whose
dimensions suit you, and whose prices are about what you think you can
afford. There are certain portions of a cat-boat that are subject to
violent strains when the craft is under way. The step of the mast and
the centerboard trunk are parts that require the vigilant eye of an
expert.

Human nature is prone to temptation, and paint and putty are used quite
often to conceal many important defects in a craft advertised for sale.
The keen eye of a mechanic who has served his time to a boat-builder
will soon detect all deficiencies of this kind, will ferret out rotten
timbers, and under his advice and counsel you may succeed in picking up
at a bargain some sound, seaworthy and serviceable craft in which you
can enjoy yourself to your heart’s content.

But if some rotten hull is foisted on you by an unscrupulous person you
will be apt to “kick yourself round the block,” for she will be always
in need of repairs, and in the end, when she is finally condemned, you
will find on figuring up the cost that it would have been money in your
pocket if you had built a new boat.

The principal boat-builders of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and
Massachusetts are men of high character, who take a pride in their work
(which is thoroughly first-class), and whose prices are strictly
moderate. Any one of these will construct a capital boat of good model
and fair speed. I am an old crank and a bigot in many things
appertaining to boats and the sea, but I hope that any reader of this
who is going to build a pleasure craft will follow my advice at least in
this instance: Let her be copper-fastened above and below the
water-line. Don’t use a single galvanized nail or bolt in her
construction. See that the fastenings are clenched on a roove—not simply
turned down. Don’t spoil the ship for a paltry ha’porth of tar. Many
builders, for the sake of economy, use galvanized iron throughout, and
will take a solemn affidavit that it is quite as good as copper. But in
the innermost cockles of their hearts they know they are wrong. Others
more conscientious use copper fastenings below the water-line and
galvanized iron above; but copper throughout is my cry, and so will I
ever maintain while I am on this side of the Styx.

Sometimes one may pick up a good serviceable boat at a Navy Yard sale.
Uncle Sam’s boats are of fair design and well built. They are often
condemned because they are what is called “nail sick,” a defect which
can be easily remedied. Occasionally a steamship’s life-boat can be
bought for a trifle, and if it be fitted with a false keel with an iron
shoe on it, will prove thoroughly seaworthy and a moderately good
sailer.

Mr. E. F. Knight, the English barrister and author of the “Cruise of the
_Falcon_,” tells how he bought a life-boat condemned by the Peninsular
and Oriental Company. She was thirty feet long with a beam of eight
feet, very strong, being built of double skins of teak, and, like all
the life-boats used by that company, an excellent sea boat. This craft
he timbered and decked, rigged her as a ketch, and crossed the North Sea
in her, going as far as Copenhagen and back, and encountering plenty of
bad weather during the adventurous voyage. Mr. Knight is a believer in
the pointed or life-boat stern for a small vessel. He was caught in a
northwest gale, in the Gulf of Heligoland, in the above-mentioned craft,
and had to sail sixty miles before a high and dangerous sea. His boat
showed no tendency to broach to, “but rushed straight ahead across the
steep sea in a fashion that gave us confidence and astonished us. Had
she had the ordinary yacht’s stern to present to those following masses
of water, instead of a graceful wedge offering little resistance, we
should have had a very uncomfortable time of it. Many men dislike a
pointed stern and consider it ugly. However that may be it behaves
handsomely, and we should certainly recommend any amateur building a
sailing boat for coasting purposes to give her the life-boat stern.”

Mr. Knight fitted his boat with lee boards, which no doubt served their
purpose admirably. I should, however, favor a false keel and an iron
shoe as being more efficient and less unsightly. I should not advise the
purchaser of a condemned life-boat to have her fitted with a
centerboard. The cost would be high, and unless the job was done in a
first-class manner by a man experienced at this sort of work it would be
very unsatisfactory.

A “nail-sick,” clencher-built boat should be hauled up on the beach and
filled with water. Every leak should be marked on the outside with chalk
or white paint. After all the leaks have been discovered, run the water
out of her and dry her thoroughly. Next examine every nail and try the
lands or joinings of the planks with the blade of a very thin knife. Any
rivets which have worked loose must be taken out and replaced with nails
and rooves of a larger size. Through the chief parts of the bottom it
may be necessary to put an additional nail between every two originally
driven. Many of the old nails which are only a little slack should be
hardened at their clench by a few taps from inside, one hand holding a
“dollie” against the head of the nail on the outside. Melt a pound of
pitch in a gallon of boiling North Carolina tar and give her bottom a
good coat inside, filling the lands or ledges well. The garboard strake
fastenings and also those of the hooded ends should be carefully
caulked. So should the seams. The seams of the planking should also be
caulked.

There are various methods of making a boat unsinkable. Cork is sometimes
used, but it takes up too much room and is not so buoyant as air. Copper
or zinc cases, made to fit under the thwarts and in various odd corners,
have been fitted in boats, but their cost is high. Amateurs have used
powder flasks and cracker cans, with their covers soldered on, cigar
boxes, covered with duck and painted, bladders inflated with air, etc.,
etc. A boat displacing one ton will take about forty cubic feet of air
to make her unsinkable.

Before getting a cat-boat under way from an anchorage, or casting adrift
from moorings, the captain should see all gear clear, that the
centerboard works easily in its trunk, and that oars, rowlocks and a
baler are aboard. An oar is very handy for turning a boat’s head round
in a light air when she has barely steerage way on; and in case you are
confronted with a flat calm, a pair of oars are indispensable for
working homeward. A boat-hook, too, should not be neglected. There is a
story that I heard in the forecastle, of a mean old Dutch skipper who
left his new anchor ashore on purely economic grounds. He was afraid it
might rust, I suppose. The result of this thrifty dodge was the loss of
his vessel on the Goodwin Sands. My counsel to the young boat-skipper is
to see that his anchor is snugly stowed away forward, and that his
chain—if his cable is of chain—is properly shackled to the ring of the
anchor, and that the inner end of the cable is fast to the heel of the
mast by a lashing that can be cut if it is necessary to slip at any
time. If the cable is of rope, take care that it is not made fast to the
ring with a slippery hitch. Anchors cost money, and a bend that will not
come adrift is quite simple to make.

Cast the tyers off the mainsail and hoist it, pulling up best on the
throat halyards and then “swigging” on the peak till the after-leech is
taut and the sail begins to wrinkle slightly at the throat. While you
are setting the sail, let the sheet fly. Next coil down the throat and
peak halyards clear for running, and see that the mainsheet is free from
kinks and coiled so that it can be eased off at a moment’s notice
without any danger of jamming in the block. A kink in the mainsheet has
capsized many a cat-boat. Before you reeve a new mainsheet, stretch it
well and take all the kinks out of it. Take care that the running parts
of all sheets and halyards are coiled uppermost, with the ends
underneath.

Let us suppose that there is a nice breeze blowing and that your
intention is to essay a four or five mile beat to windward, and then
conclude your trial trip with a run home. Cast adrift from your moorings
or get your anchor aboard, as the case may be, and start out on
whichever tack is convenient. When on the starboard tack the boom is
over to port, and _vice versa_. Lower the centerboard and fill away on
the boat with one hand on the tiller and the other holding the
mainsheet, which should never be belayed, but may be held by half a turn
round the cleat.

Do not make the mistake of trimming in the sheet too flat, but let the
boom off till it is well on the quarter and keep the sail well full, not
allowing it to shiver. This is called steering “full-and-by,” which
signifies as close to the wind as possible with the sail not shaking. If
your boat is well balanced—that is, if her weights are well adjusted and
her sail of proper cut—she will carry quite a little weather helm. So
much so that if you allow the rudder to come amidships or on a line with
the keel she will fly up in the wind and her sails will shake. This is
by no means a fault unless it is carried to excess, and it may be said,
indeed, that there is something radically wrong with a craft that
requires lee helm—a defect that should be remedied at once.

The young sailor should bear in mind that to accomplish the best results
in beating to windward the sail should always be kept full. Nothing is
gained by sailing a boat right in the wind’s eye with the sail
shivering. The boat then points higher but she goes to leeward like a
crab. Instances have been known of a fore-and-aft racing yacht sailing
within three points of the wind, but these are rare, indeed. The
ordinary cat-boat will not often do better than pointing up within four
points of the breeze, and her best windward work is generally thus
accomplished. There are occasions, indeed, when what is known as a
“fisherman’s luff” may be indulged in with profit, such as when rounding
a mark or shooting up to an anchorage where there is little room. The
maneuver consists in luffing the boat up into the wind so that the sails
shake, and she shoots dead to windward by her own momentum. If the boat
is a heavy one she will shoot quite a distance. Care must be taken to
put the helm up and fill on her before she loses way, or she will get
“in irons” and acquire sternway, or perhaps pay off on the other tack.
If a boat acquires sternway the helm must be shifted at once. The rudder
will now produce the reverse effect to what it would if the boat were
going ahead. Putting the tiller to starboard turns the vessel’s head to
port, and _vice versa_ in the case of sternway.

The beginner will find that his boat spins along quite merrily and obeys
the slightest touch of the tiller. He should not relax his vigilance in
the least, but should keep his weather eye skinned for sudden gusts of
wind or catspaws which may be seen ruffling the water to windward, in
timely season before they strike the boat. As the little craft begins to
heel or list over to the pressure, luff up a little so that the
fore-leech of the sail begins to shiver. If there is not weight enough
in the puff to put the lee rail under, sail her along with just the
suspicion of a shake in the luff of the sail, so that if she goes over
far enough for the water to threaten to come over the lee coamings and
deluge the cockpit you can put your helm down and luff up until the boat
comes nearly head to wind, at the same time lowering away your sail and
making preparations for taking in a reef.

If you are a novice, and the water is neither too rough nor too deep and
the breeze seems likely to last, and you think your craft is not up to
carrying a whole mainsail, there is no reason why you should not drop
anchor and reef your sail in leisurely and comfortable fashion. If you
feel at all nervous take in a couple of reefs.

After sail has been shortened set the mainsail, hoist up the anchor
again and thresh her at it. You will observe that she inclines less to
the puffs under the pressure of the reduced sail, and that the lee
gunwale is always well clear of the water. Watch the boat well; look out
for coming squalls, and be prepared to ease off the sheet and luff up
instantly should occasion arise. If there are other boats in company
with you tacking toward the same point you must remember that those on
the starboard tack have the right of way, and thus when you are on the
port tack you must keep clear of them. I would not advise a novice in a
boat on the port tack to try and cross the bow of a boat on the
starboard tack unless there is plenty of room. Distances on the water
are deceptive to the tyro, and it is well to run no risk of collision.
If the boat on the port tack will not keep away for you when you are on
the starboard tack, and seems to be making for you with the intention of
running you down, keep cool. Stand by to put your helm hard down so as
to luff right up in the wind or even to go about. If you put your helm
up and keep away, and a collision ensues, you would probably have to pay
all the damage. The strict legal rule is that the vessel on the
starboard tack must keep her course and neither luff nor bear up. If
this rule is observed you will be within the letter of the law. In yacht
racing a yacht on the port tack can be disqualified if she is struck by
a yacht which is on the starboard tack, no matter how the striking
happened; if she herself strikes a yacht which is on the starboard tack;
if she causes a yacht which is on the starboard tack to bear away to
avoid a collision. It is apparent, therefore, that no wise helmsman will
run any risks. If he is on the port tack he will give way with a good
grace and try to look pleasant. It is better than a collision, which is
sure in a brisk breeze to do a lot of damage, and may possibly cause
serious personal injuries or even loss of life.

The beginner may, after threshing to windward for an hour or so, begin
to feel homesick. Let him then put his helm up, easing the mainsheet off
at the same time until he gets the boom at a right angle with the mast
and the boat dead before the wind. He will at this time have to pay
particular attention to the steering, giving the boat “small helm” and
giving it to her quickly in order to keep her steady on her course.
Steering a cat-boat in a stiff breeze and lumpy water requires both
skill and experience. I should counsel a green hand to lower the peak of
the mainsail and run her under easy sail until he acquires the art. In
that case, should he accidentally gybe the boom over, the result is not
likely to be particularly disastrous; whereas, if the sail were peaked
up, the boom might snap in two or the boat herself might broach to.

The centerboard should be hoisted up into the trunk when running before
the wind, and the boom should be kept well topped up. In some small
cat-boats there is no topping lift and the sail has only one halyard,
which hoists both the throat and peak. This is a faulty rig. Throat and
peak halyards should be separate, and a topping lift should always be
fitted.

I think it my duty to warn the inexperienced boat sailer against gybing
his little craft. It is a maneuver that requires skill and care,
especially in a brisk breeze. If you must gybe, lower the peak so as to
“scandalize” the sail, and haul the boom well aboard as the helm is put
up. As the wind shifts from dead astern and comes on the other quarter,
carrying the boom over, ease off the sheet handsomely and take care to
meet her promptly with the helm as she flies to, which is invariably the
case. You can then hoist the peak up again.

If you have women and children aboard the boat, gybing should never be
resorted to if the wind is strong. It is far preferable to luff up into
the wind and tack and then keep off again.

In coming to anchor or picking up moorings make the boat describe a good
sweep, so that she may come up in the wind and lose her way exactly
where you wish. You can then either let go the anchor or pick up the
moorings, as the case may be. Then lower the sail, furl it snugly, put
on the sail cover, stow away everything neatly, haul taut the halyards
and the mainsheet, which you should coil up, and leave everything tidy
and in readiness for getting under way next time.

When, on a wind with a light breeze and in smooth water, it becomes
necessary to heave to to let a boat come alongside, haul the mainsheet
flat aft and haul the fore and jib sheets a-weather. If in a fresh
breeze, flatten in the mainsheet, let the jib sheet flow, and haul the
fore sheet a-weather.

For small open boats the anchor should weigh one pound for every foot of
length up to twenty feet length. If the boat is ballasted, another half
pound per foot should be added.

If you have the misfortune to get stuck fast in the mud or on a sand
bank, you must act quickly. If you ground while running before the wind,
lower your sails at once. If you have a dinghy, run out your kedge
anchor, with a line fast to it, astern into deep water and try to haul
off. Work the helm to and fro. Run from side to side so as to loosen the
boat from her muddy bed. If the tide is rising and your kedge does not
drag, you will be sure to get off.

If you run aground while close-hauled, let go the mainsheet, put the
helm hard over and try to back her off with the jib, at the same time
using a boathook or oar to try to shove her into deep water. If you have
any passengers, concentrate all their weight as far aft as possible.
Send out a kedge, and let all hands clap to on the line. If the tide is
on the ebb, you may probably have to wait till high water. Now comes a
ticklish crisis. If your craft is beamy, with full bilges, she will take
the ground and lie easily as the water recedes. If, on the other hand,
your little ship is of the deep and narrow kind and is not provided with
“legs,” you will have to improvise something in that direction to
prevent her from careening on her side. “Legs” are not fashionable on
this side of the Atlantic. They are props of wood shod with iron, one
end of which rests on the bottom, while the other fits under the
channels, or is lashed to a shroud. If you have no other spar available,
unbend the head of the mainsail from the gaff. Stick it in the mud jaws
downward close to the rigging and lash it firmly to a shroud. List the
boat over to the side the gaff is out by guying over the boom and
putting any extra weight you happen to have on the same side. The boat
will then take the ground in safety.

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