Laws of sailing: after years of sailing, regular columnist Chris Caswell shares his own personal collection of sailing aphorisms and essential laws for taming nautical nature.
Over my years on the water, I've managed to create my own mental bulletin board that is covered with little nuggets of wisdom that I picked up during the course of sailing. Some were acquired from books, many were passed along by other sailors, and more than a few were earned the hard way. These little truisms are perhaps as close as sailors get to haiku, the deceptively simple Oriental poetry where less is more.
In the sailing world, many of these aphorisms can pass as laws of nautical nature, since they seem to be immutable in some sort of cosmic way. Why these laws are so true is a cause for great head-scratching but, believe me, these are truly the way things work in the real world.
A great many fall under the more general heading of Murphy's Law, that great and omnipotent explanation for everything that goes awry, but most of these laws are far more nautically specific than the rather general Murphyism: "If anything can go wrong, it will."
So here are some of Caswell's Laws of Sailing. I haven't bothered with explanations because they all seem fairly simple to grasp. If you don't comprehend any of them, well, just stick around. Spend enough time on the water and you'll come understand them all.
* Stainless steel isn't.
* Painting the bottom of your boat will always require one pint more bottom paint than is contained in any standard paint can.
* Always remember that a weather forecast is just a horoscope with numbers.
* The depth of the bilge where engine parts fall is always the exact length of your arm's reach plus one inch.
* In every repair, a little blood must flow.
* The most expensive winch handle always goes overboard first.
* The likelihood of the failure of reverse gear is directly proportional to the speed at which the dock is approaching.
* It's far better to be on shore wishing you were out there, than out there wishing you were on shore.
* No sailboat is impressed by your years of experience.
* Charter boats always sleep two fewer than advertised.
* The best weather occurs the day before departure.
* The second best weather occurs the day after you return.
* The most likely location for a deck leak is directly over the owner's bunk.
* In any repair, the part most likely to break is either the most expensive, the most difficult to replace, or both.
* The two most dangerous words in sailing are, "Watch this."
* If you can step down into a life raft, it's not yet time to go.
* Wind is free--it's the sails that cost a fortune.
* Three things always get sailors in trouble: weather, weather, and weather.
* Jiffy reefing isn't.
* Never buy the Mark I version of anything.
* Saltwater will flow through the following items, listed in order of decreasing frequency: your GPS, the electrical system, your bedding, a bilge pump, a marine toilet, the engine cooling system.
* The only time you can have too much fuel is when you're on fire.
* A sea trial for a prospective boat purchase should be like a skirt: short enough to be interesting, long enough to cover everything.
* Depth sounders are only accurate when confirming that you are aground.
* If you have a new boat with no problems, you'd better start worrying.
* You can always predict the direction of flow for a strong current by pointing toward the stern of your boat.
* Never let your boat take you someplace your brain didn't get to five minutes earlier.
Though it was more than 30 years ago, I can still clearly see my father, my mother and I standing in a boatyard, tired and stained from having just finished painting the bottom of our sailboat. As we watched, a huge sag formed and grew, dragging the thick, reddish paint downwards into several huge drips. My mother looked at the two of us, shrugged her paint-spattered shoulders, and said cheerfully, "Oh well, you'd never notice it from a galloping horse." Now there was someone who really understood Caswell's Laws of Sailing.
With more than 40 years as an award-winning boating journalist and as a former editor of both Yachting magazine and Sea, Chris Caswell is a well-known racing sailor in the USA with silverware in everything from Lasers to ocean racers. The author of six books on boating, Caswell is a dedicated sailor who says he's owned more boats than he wants either his banker or his wife to know about.