The Toronto Boat Show starts on January 12, 2013, so one’s mind somehow turns to the love of boats, plans of sailing the oceans on a tall ship, bareboat cruising through remote Caribbean islands, races around Toronto Islands and flying that new Code Zero sail I ordered last summer and only got to try out once.
So boo to Barry Humphries (better known as Dame Edna) for speaking ill of my all time favourite nautical author in the December 15/22, 2012 edition of The Spectator. “I suppose nautical books in general have never appealed to me and I certainly never understood the fuss about Patrick O’Brian,” he writes “whose books seem as phony as his Irish lineage.”
In spite of appearances, O’Brian didn’t claim to be Irish, and O’Brian wasn’t his birth name, which was Russ. One thing O’Brian and I have in common is that we were both born in Buckinghamshire, England. Another is that we love the sea.
Patrick O’Brian wrote the second most popular series of naval fiction after the Hornblower epics by C.S. Forester, although the books did not become hugely successful until he obtained a new publisher in 1989. Jack Aubrey, O’Brian’s hero, is in many ways a more rounded character than Horatio Hornblower, and more interesting to our times. That could be because the author was writing from 1970 until his death in 2000.
C.S. Forester started his series in 1937 and wrote until his death in 1966, so the careers of the two men barely overlapped. Many feel O’Brian was Forester’s successor in the naval yarn business.
The O’Brian books, however, are more deeply detailed historical novels, since the author set his stories around actual events and there’s nothing phony about them at all. He also introduces a great deal of technical sailing lore, fascinating to today’s sailors, who can barely image handling hundreds of lines and dozens of sails to get a square rigged ship properly trimmed. At the start of the series Aubrey has been made Master and Commander of his ship, and ends up an Admiral. Sadly, O’Brian died before he finished the final novel and the partial story published in 2004, is an inadequate end to a glorious saga.
Dry humour plays a great part in the books, with dreadful puns and twisted quotes introduced into the conversations between Aubrey and his constant companion Dr. Stephen Maturin. Who can forget the scene in the 2003 film “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World” where Aubrey (Russell Crowe) asks Maturin (Paul Bettany) to tell him which of two weevils, crawling out of a ship’s biscuit on the dinner table, he would chose. Maturin picks the largest weevil. Aubrey cries: “I have you. In the Royal Navy, you should always pick the lesser of two weevils.” It was hard not to laugh out loud in the movie theatre when the scene played out.
I keep several Hornblower books in the small library on my boat, for occasional reading when all else fails. But I have an entire collection of the Aubrey-Maturin stories to choose from and probably re-read the whole series every few years. The action is compelling, the historical turn of events fascinating, the plots thrilling and the characters have become cherished companions during long nights on the water.
My own little sailboat is uncomplicated to sail. It has the minimum number of bits and pieces to help it handle well and I can take it around Lake Ontario single-handed if necessary. Without assistance, I can reef the sails, trim the lines and steer with the simplest of aids. I prefer to dock and undock without the help of others, since every arrival and departure is practice for the one time when I have to dock alone, in the dark, in a howling gale and pouring rain. I am pleased to say that although I tend to stay off the lake when nasty weather threatens, I have managed to dock in quite foul circumstances on my own and with the boat undamaged.
These days, it is very pleasant to have another soul on board to share the load. Diane is adept at handling the tiller, while I leap about on the fore deck, or haul the sails up. We have many chums who like to come out for a day’s sailing and they are always put to useful work. Last summer, we had a teenage boy staying on board, in return for boat cleaning and crewing duties. Some days it was a relief to be able to send an agile youngster crawling out to the bow in 10 foot waves, to fix a recalcitrant furling gear, or up the mast in a bosun’s chair to free a jammed halyard.
Summer in Toronto Harbour is a busy time having fun sailing with adults at the Harbourfront Centre sailing program as well as cruising my 27 foot sloop Peccavi around the lake.
In the spirit of sharing knowledge, those about to go sailing, might enjoy my abbreviated nautical notes. They might not make you a better sailor, but at least you’ll speak the lingo. And if you read any of the O’Brian books, which can be purchased at good bookstores such as Nautical Mind, you will understand more about duty, honour and the brotherhood of the sea.
NIGEL’S NIFTY NAUTICAL NOTES
So you’ll know your aft from a hole in the water!
PARTS OF THE BOAT
Bow – front
Stern – back
Port – left
Starboard – right
Aft – towards the stern
Fore – towards the bow
Mast – held up by the forestay at the bow, the back stay at the stern and the shrouds at the sides
Boom – pole which runs out of the aft side of the mast and holds the foot of the mainsail
Cabin – downstairs
Companionway – used to go down to the cabin
Galley – kitchen
Head – loo
V-berth – V-shaped bunk in the bow
Cockpit – open area at stern
Locker – storage area
Keel – heavy iron weight keeps the boat upright
Pulpit – safety railing around the bow
Pushpit – safety railing around the stern
Mainsail – large sail run up the aft side of the mast
Jib – a triangular sail run up the forestay, which does not come back past the mast
Genoa – large jib sail which comes back aft of the mast
Reef – system for making the sails smaller when the wind gets stronger
Halyard – line for hauling up sails
Sheet – line for controlling sails, attached to the loose corner of the jib or genoa, or to the boom and traveller in the case of the mainsail
Guy – the line attached to a sail but not in use, so a guy becomes a sheet when the pressure is put on
Rode – line tied to an anchor
Line – any other piece of rope on a boat
Traveller – sliding device for controlling boom and mainsail
Winch – two-speed device for hauling in lines, usually has a handle
Cleat – a jamming device used to hold a line
Tiller – controls the rudder, larger boats have a wheel
Rudder – controls the direction of the boat
Compass – shows which direction the boat is sailing
Tack – to go from one course to another with the wind passing over the bow of the boat: Stand-by command: Ready to go about; Action command: Helm’s alee or tacking
Gybe – to go from one course to another with the wind passing over the stern of the boat: Action command: Gybing
VHF AND SAFETY
Mayday – repeated three times followed by the details of the imminent disaster
Pan pan – repeated three times followed by the details of the moderate danger
Securité – repeated three times as a warning of something about to happen
MOB – man over board; pushing the MOB button on the GPS registers the exact position at the moment
GPS – device using several global positioning satellites to determine the boat’s exact location, speed and course
Col regs – collision regulations, determine who has right of way etc
Buoys – red and green and other coloured floating markers showing the safe channel or warning of obstacles or navigational rules
Knot – speed in nautical miles
Bowline – knot with a non-slip loop
Clove hitch – knot for attaching line to post
Reef knot – flat knot
Round turn and two half hitches – temporary but strong knot
Figure of eight – stopping knot
WHAT TO WEAR
Always when on deck – life jacket
Hot weather – shorts and a T-shirt
Cool weather – jeans and a sweater
Any weather – a rain proof jacket
Foot wear – non marking rubber soled deck shoes or sneakers
Fair winds and happy sailing!