Now That's a Snafu

The caption mentions a shaft seal leak, and it's easy to see how it happened.

I'd never be one to cast a stone here, because I've caused or dealt with this situation a few times on a smaller scale. But holy crow, I'm glad I wasn't the one to lose track of that particular line. Looks like maybe 36mm polyester braid with a tensile strength of around 24 tons. Take a few wraps of that around a propeller shaft and you could stop an icebreaker.

Checklist for Spring Launching

This information, in different form, was originally published on Boat Trader.

For boaters in the haul-out-and-hold-on zones of the chilly north, spring is a busy time. As soon as the weather breaks we start burrowing in garages and workshops, getting our gear together for launching. Of course the ease and speed of commissioning a boat in the spring is directly related to how well it was winterized when the leaves turned in the fall. Assuming that you put your boat away right, here’s a checklist of basic commissioning items to help you get underway.

Time to take off the winter coat. If you used shrink-wrap, it needs to be recycled.
  • Uncover your ride. If you use a high-quality tarp (not one of those lousy blue things) dry and fold it carefully for next season. If your boat is shrink-wrapped, take or send the old wrap to recycling. Do not throw it in a dumpster. It will come back to haunt you as a ghostly plastic nightmare.
  • If your topsides are looking dirty or drab, wash and compound them first, then wax them with good marine paste-wax. It shines better, protects better, and lasts longer than “easier” liquid wax products. No pain, no gain.
  • If you use an electric buffer, inspect the pad carefully for any debris that you might grind into the gelcoat. And keep that buffer moving – don’t hold it in one spot to hit a problem area, or you’ll have a problem area.
  • Don’t wax non-skid deck areas! Wash them and you’re done.
  • Use acid-based rust and stain removers sparingly, be careful how you rinse them, and avoid using them over an aluminum trailer.
  • Apply your antifouling paint. Don’t paint your running gear with copper-based paint without a barrier coat, and don’t paint your transducers at all.  If you have more to paint than just the bottom, here's a boat painting guide that will help.
  • Replace hull zincs.

Mechanical Systems

  • Outboard engines that have been properly inspected and winterized in the fall should be ready to roll. Even so, it's a good idea to take off the cowling and have a look around. Mice and other critters can make mischief over the winter. Double-check wires, hoses, hose clamps, oil condition, water intakes, and zincs. 
  • The procedure for inboard engines can vary quite a bit depending on what type of boat and engine you have, and can include different plugs, cooling system prep, and parts replacement. So you’ll have to follow the manufacturer’s specific recommended procedures. But the following items are pretty much universal:
  • Check all hose clamps and fittings. Tighten as necessary. Check hoses for cracking and chafe.
  • Check your wiring. Electrical connections suffer in the winter from temperature changes and humidity. Clean your terminals, change them if necessary, and spray with a corrosion inhibitor.
  • Check throttle and shift cables, lubricate with marine-grade Teflon or grease.
  • Check your seacocks for free movement and lubricate as needed. Open those that need to be open for launch (raw-water intake!) and close those that need to be closed.
  • Make sure your strainers are clear and clean.
  • Check steering cables or hydraulics for proper tightness, wear, leaks, and smooth movement of the engine, rudder, or outdrive.
  • Double-check fluid levels — lube oil, transmission oil, lower unit oil, coolant, etc. (These should have been checked or changed in the fall.)
  • Check heat exchangers for deposits and obstructions. Clear out your old zincs and install new ones. (Again, it's best to do this in the fall. And don't use acid cleaners with zincs installed in the heat exchanger.)
  • Check cooling water impellers and replace if necessary.
  • Check belts for wear and proper tension.
  • If your engine needs new spark plugs, wait to change them until after you’ve burned off last fall’s engine fogger residue.
  • Check engine zincs, replace if necessary.
  • On stern-drive boats, carefully inspect outdrive bellows for cracks and deterioration from winter weather.
Review your hose clamps before launch.

Plumbing Systems

  • Drain all plumbing lines of antifreeze. (You used the non-toxic pink stuff in the fall, right?) Dispose of it properly.
  • Fill your freshwater tanks.
  • Flush the plumbing lines with fresh water long enough that coloration (from the antifreeze) is no longer visible. Then, flush a little longer.
  • Open raw water intakes for the head, raw water washdowns, live-wells, and other plumbing systems.
  • Check all your hoseclamps for rust and tightness.

Boat Trailer

  • Spray all connections with contact cleaner.
  • Test your brakes if your trailer is equipped with them.
  • Grease wheel bearings (if you didn’t grease them in the fall), lubricate hitch mechanism, overhaul winch cable or strap and check for wear/weakness.
  • Carefully check your tires (you blocked the trailer up in the fall to prevent settling, right?), including treads and sidewalls, and inflate to proper pressure. Do the same for your spare.

Safety Gear

  • Make sure flares, fire-extinguishers, and other required equipment is up-to-date.
  • Check PFDs and stow them in an easy-to-access place.
  • Test bilge blowers and bilge pumps.
  • Overhaul your anchoring gear and stow it so that you can deploy the anchor quickly.
  • Make sure your first-aid kit is stocked and up-to-date.

Miscellaneous Checks

  • Are the batteries fully charged?
  • Is the registration renewed and have you put the current sticker on?
  • Is your boating license on board or in your wallet?
  • Sunscreen, bug repellent, toilet paper, plenty of fluids for the crew?
  • Drain plug installed? Repeat: drain plug installed?
  • Check. Check. Check. See you on the water.


The Boy Who Fell to Shore: A Cautionary Tale

Boy who fellThomas Tangvald was born on a boat under sail. He was a toddler when his mother was murdered by pirates in the Sulu Sea. He was not yet ten when his stepmother was struck by the boom and swept overboard in an accidental jibe far offshore, never to be found. And he was fifteen in 1991 when his father and young half-sister died, tossed up on a reef on the windward side of Bonaire, boat and people smashed in the middle of the night. Thomas at the time was being towed 300 feet astern of his father aboard his own leaky boat. Neither vessel had an engine. Neither had a VHF radio. There was nothing Thomas could do. He abandoned his own boat before it was wrecked, and survived the night on a surfboard. The next day he identified the remains of his father. His half-sister’s body was found the day after that.

In March of 2014, when he was not yet 40, Thomas Tangvald left French Guiana, bound for Brazil singlehanded aboard another decrepit sailboat, and has never been seen again. He almost certainly perished at sea, leaving behind a wife and two young children. But, bearing in mind the story of his short, intense, fascinating life, told by Charles Doane in The Boy Who Fell to Shore, it’s possible to entertain the thought that Thomas somehow survived, as he had survived so many other scrapes, and might be living somewhere removed from the tainted modern world from which he had learned to distance himself at an early age.

Toying with such notions leads to clouded thinking. So does tempting fate and getting away with it too many times. Doane is careful to separate the regrettable conclusion from the fantastic.

Thomas’s story had to be told within the context of his father’s life, his guiding principles, and his achievements. Peter Tangvald was one of a generation of shorthanded and singlehanded ocean sailors who started their adventures in the 1950s and ‘60s, and who wrote and appeared in books and magazine articles that captured the skills, derring-do, and romance of the calling, but often didn’t do a great job of revealing the downsides of the lifestyle and the character flaws of some of its pursuers. Peter was a skilled sailor and a charmer (he was married seven times)  but also dogmatic, reckless, and lucky well beyond the standard issue of the sea gods. His was a tragic act to follow but, almost inevitably, Thomas had to try.

Peter and Thomas, their many women, and most of their friends were part of the global cruising and liveaboard community, which is much larger now than it was when Tangvald the elder, along with Robin Lee Graham, Bernard Moitessier, and a handful of others became famous among sailors. Even with YouTube and TikTok and harbors stuffed to the gills with plastic boats, it’s still a small part of the sailing population and a minuscule part of the population overall.

Charlie Doane (an old colleague and friend) is no stranger to this community. If you’ve read his earlier book, The Sea is Not Fullyou know how well-qualified he is to speak on the topic. He has walked the walk plenty. This is from his introduction to the new book: 

“For the fact is most people living on land don’t even know such a community exists. Just as Thomas for a time could not imagine there was a much larger society beyond the harbors and anchorages where he touched land, those on shore can’t see that those littoral refuges and the sea beyond them are home to a much smaller society…

“Once inside the bluewater cruising community, you soon realize how small and tight-knit it is, with only one or two degrees of separation between most persons within it. You realize also how spread out and dissipated it is, and how, in spite of this, people often run into each other again and again. We are, I’ve always liked to think, a small tribe spread out over a very large territory.”

Telling the story of the Tangvalds, père et fils, became a mission for Doane. He's done it expertly and compassionately, with the help of surviving family and friends who provided memories, insights, and documents. With members of the cruising tribe as a Greek chorus, he spins a fascinating, inspiring, melancholy yarn, one that will provide rich connections for anyone who has spent time in that world, as well as both inspiration and caution for those who might want to become part of it. 

- DL

Sweat Perspective in a Bitcoin World

(Bitcoin numbers revised May, 2024)

Back near the turn of the century I made a contraption to produce electricity from food energy — an exercise bike connected to an alternator, connected to a battery, connected to an inverter. I was editor of Practical Sailor back then, and spent a lot of time with a multimeter in hand, measuring electrical current in the gear we tested. I became really interested in how much energy it takes to run things, not just aboard a boat, but anywhere, and developed a frustration with energy waste and energy show-offs, both gear and people.

Seat of Power - Doug Logan photo
There's an automotive belt from the bike's flywheel to an alternator. The gizmo provided many hours of good exercise and a clearer understanding of how much energy it takes to power things.

We were a long way from breaking our addiction to fossil fuels back then and, sadly, we still are. They’re built into too much of our culture and machinery, and they’re convenient and cheap. (I mean cheap in terms of our immediate needs, not in how they relate to the state of the planet; in that case they’ve proven to be very expensive.) Worse, the demand for more and more power, even with renewable energy, still overwhelms ideas of conservation, efficiency, and better design, which are more effective ways to relieve the planet. Until pursuit of these things becomes cooler than the pursuit of horsepower it will be hard to make serious headway.

The last quarter-century has brought some incremental progress in energy acquisition and policy. Sometimes circumstances or mother nature or even human progress can intervene on the positive side. But the ever-increasing demand for energy always seems to involve bad trade-offs for good results. It's good that U.S. dependence on foreign oil has been largely eliminated, but much of the shortfall has been offset by by fracking. Public enthusiasm for electric vehicles, despite concerted push-back from fossil fuel interests, has brought about big new plans among major automakers. GM, as one example, has decided to phase out internal combustion engines and be at zero emissions by 2035: a remarkable change of policy in a massive American corporation. But the demand for lithium and other materials needed to make the vehicles means serious environmental and political disruption. Modern nuclear fission reactors are far safer and more efficient than reactors made fifty and more years ago, but the public fear of nuclear energy creates a seemingly unbreakable stalemate.  And scalable fusion reactors are still on the distant horizon.

And now we have the normalization of bitcoin. Whatever the merits or demerits may be of cryptocurrency as a means of value exchange, the computing power required by the blockchain process used to keep the system secure is massively energy-hungry. (There’s a side debate over whether it’s ultimately any more expensive than, say, mining for gold, but that’s really another issue.) As of this writing in May, 2024, the Cambridge University Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index estimates a demand of 18.3 gigawatts, with an annualized consumption of 161 terawatt-hours or 161 billion kilowatt-hours. For reference, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that utility-power generation in the U.S. produced about 4.2 trillion (4200 billion) kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2023, about 60% from fossil fuels, 21% from renewables, and 19% from nuclear power plants. So keeping bitcoin secure currently requires the equivalent of almost 3.8% of all the power generated by U.S. sources. This is not a thoughtful use of energy in today’s world.

To put it into human perspective, when you ride an exercise bike or row an ergometer or stride upon a strider at 75-150 watts of output, you might produce the equivalent of one kilowatt-hour in several workouts, maybe a week’s worth of sweat for most of us. There are a billion kilowatt-hours in a terawatt-hour. There are 19.69 million bitcoins in circulation as I type. Each one is supposedly worth $63,791. The average kilowatt-hour in the U.S. today costs 16 cents, a small sum to pay for running a microwave or a vacuum cleaner for a full hour, but a  large sum to pay for each of those 161 billion kilowatt hours needed by acres of blockchain server farms to keep churning bitcoin digits while heating the world around them.

We take energy, and the fuel that makes it, very much for granted, because most of it comes to us so easily. It’s when we see the value of energy through the veil of our own sweat that we begin to appreciate both how lucky we are to have abundant energy around us, and how greedy we are to demand so much of it that it chokes us.

(If you'd like to read about the contraption, it's in an editorial column called Seat of Power (PDF file).



Ballet of the Ancient Mariners

This is a composite vignette from three distance races, the 2017 Marblehead-to-Halifax Race, the 2018 Newport-to-Bermuda Race, and the 2019 Stamford-Vineyard Race, in which old shipmates — old in acquaintance and old in years — sailed together.

It’s fifteen minutes before the change of the middle watch. Frank unclips his tether and climbs below to brace in the galley, fill the kettle, start the gimballed stove, heat water, wake the morning watch. The boat surges ahead in steady deepwater waves, nearly rail-down, close-reaching with a single reef in the main. The foot of the genoa is hoisted on the topping lift to clear the glowing water thrown to leeward by the bow. There’s phosphorescence in the arrow-straight wake, stars up among high clouds. The night is chilly, but the breeze is fresh, settled, steady, and soon the sky will brighten.


A red light glows in the nav station; Frank is updating the log as the water heats. The oncoming watch starts reaching for handholds, swinging legs out of bunks. Those on the high side lower themselves to the cabin sole, feeling with their knees for the table to stop them. Those on the low side have to grab, pull, rise, settle back, brace. Legs into pants, pants into bibs, feet into boots. Glasses, contact lenses, small beams and glows from headlamps and flashlights carefully shielded. Mumbles, yawns, quiet words, no wasted movement; everyone knows where to reach, where to sit, where to settle, wedge, brace in a tilted, pitching world in order to gear up, stay clear, get ready.

There are so many years of offshore experience in this crew —centuries, forsooth, among port and starboard watches, skipper, and navigator—that everything is done with no more ado than a chuckle. If there are aches and pains they can be saved for an organ recital over a rum some other time. Make a lane, pass it along, lean back, lend a hand, dos-à-dos, pas de quatre. “Al, here’s your other boot. I thought it was a pillow.” “Charlie, coffee or cocoa?”

In eight or ten minutes the oncoming watch is in foul-weather gear, safety gear, boots, hats, gloves. They’re starting to clamber up the companionway, taking turns with the offgoing watch headed down toward the still-warm bunks. Hot drinks are passed up, the helm is handed over. The new watchstanders clip in and settle at their stations, quickly absorbed in the last and darkest hour of the night, the fine, focused sailing, the promise of a blue ocean dawn and a booming day ahead.

Frank is standing deep in the companionway, reporting position, sailtrim, weather, course to steer, speed to find. The off-watch is quick to skin off boots and seek their bunks, pulling upwards, slinging legs across lee-cloths, cinching hitches and hooks to keep themselves secure, or lowering themselves into leeward berths, stuffing padding against drawers and bulkheads, lying awake for a few seconds under loosely settled bags or blankets, feeling the rhythm of the boat plunging through the waves, knowing that other old hands are on deck, keeping the boat as fast and safe as any watch ever could.

-- DL

Tom Cunliffe Aboard Jolie Brise

Tom Cunliffe has published a video of a daysail aboard Jolie Brise, that most famous and dashing of Bristol Channel cutters. She's owned by Dauntsey's School in England, and has been skippered for the last 26 years by Toby Marris. In the 1980s, though, Cunliffe ran her, and he has splendid memories to share in the video.

The main lessons that come out of Cunliffe's presentation, and especially his discussion with Marris, have to do with seamanship, and here the back and forth is a balm to the soul. It's about knowing the heft and abilities and propensities of the boat,  knowing the current, knowing the breeze, and most of all thinking ahead. That's seamanship, or part of it, anyway.

Seamanship, as a state of mind, is too often undermined by technology. It's not old-fashioned to say, for example, that modern, light-displacement plastic boats with wide beams, shallow bilges, fin-and-bulb keels, and conveniences like bow-thrusters are fine things that can take shorthanded modern crews across big bodies of water, usually without muss or fuss, and that when push comes to shove offshore, a vessel like Jolie Brise, progeny of experience and seamanship across generations, will preserve you when your own skills are overstretched.

Jolie Brise. Photo courtesy of Dauntsey's School

Any aspiring offshore sailor should watch this video. And any coastwise sailor who relies on mechanical forces to replace finesse, or electronic things to replace brains, should watch it, too. Consider, not with a screen, but in your mind's eye, matters of displacement, hull form, sail area, and sail plan. Consider the natural forces acting on the boat. Consider the gear you have available to do your bidding. Know when and how to co-opt the forces of nature, the forces of sail, and the mass and tendencies of the vessel.

Here's Cunliffe with a line looped around the tiller so he can steer from the weather rail. There are deep grooves etched in the tiller from helmsmen over the decades: "The great thing with these boats is always to make it easy on yourself," he says. "Don't fight it, because it'll beat you every time. What you've got to do is work with the boat and work with the wind. You haven't got a great big winch like a dustbin that's going to make everything easy for you. Instead, you've got your own sense of timing, and that's worth a dozen winches sometimes."

For some basic background, read Pilot Cutters: A Lasting Appeal.

- DL

Remembering Arvel Gentry and John Letcher, Pioneers of Sailing Science

It was nearly 30 years ago that Sailing World published "Fluid Dynamics: How Modern Science and Sailing Discovered Each Other." (You can read it here in PDF form.) The main players covered in it, Arvel Gentry and John Letcher, have gone to Fiddler's Green, Gentry in 2015 and Letcher in 2018. Both were geniuses and gentlemen of the sport.

Almost a quarter-century before that article appeared, Gentry had written a series of lessons in Sail magazine that debunked some of the popular concepts of how sails worked. "Gentry and company were weighing in with talk of stagnation streamlines, separation bubbles, starting vortices, Kutta Conditions. They were saying outright that much of what modern sailors had been taught about lift and drag on an airfoil was just rot. And they weren't appreciated."

They weren't appreciated because, as sailors and human beings, we tend to simplify concepts until our brains are comfortable with them. Well, as Einstein said, "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." To this day, despite the prodigious advances in both the hardware and software that have made computational fluid dynamics (CFD) commonplace in the design of vessels, sails, and underwater appendages, there's still plenty of mystery in how these structures operate in the real world, and it's not for want of either brain power or computer power.

A CFD image of turbulence behind the space shuttle on re-entry. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

What aero-hydrodynamicists and computer engineers have been able to do with CFD is create an animation of dynamic events, and they can make pretty accurate predictions of how things will work given a particular set of imagined conditions. But of course fifteen degrees of heel angle are not always fifteen degrees. And real waves don't observe a constant height or frequency. Windspeed varies. Wind direction varies. The same goes for the set and drift of water current. Then add in the human factor: People steer differently, and trim sails differently, and move around the boat, changing everything all the time.

As the Fluid Dynamics article says, "The essential challenge... is in trying to make a vessel move nicely through two fluids simultaneously, part of it stuck down into thick, slow-moving water, and the other part stuck up into thin, fast-moving air. Add peripheral challenges like waves, local wind dynamics, geographical effects on both fluids, and the limitations of  boat design, and you've got an excellent puzzle to solve." Which is why people like Gentry and Letcher have always been drawn to the sport, and why sailmakers and Formula One engineers and aeronautical engineers enjoy talking to each other.

There's still mystery in sailing because the elements we sail in are always chaotic, slightly or greatly. It seems likely that there are some people who, by nature or practice or both, are better attuned to the what's coming through the chaos pipeline than the most powerful and sensitive computer program. Will that always be the case?

- DL 


The Gold-Rush Clippers

This was first published in the May 1989 issue of Sailing World after Thursday's Child, skippered by Warren Luhrs, bettered the record of the clipper ship Flying Cloud on the New York to San Francisco run via Cape Horn. Flying Cloud's record had stood for 135 years. Reprinted by permission.


Picture of the world of 1848. The Industrial Revolution was well underway. Scientists and inventors had changed the face of society with steam engines, electrical wonders, and the machines of mass production. Everywhere, it seemed, farmers were leaving their fields and joining the lines of factory workers. The modern rules of life were facing down the old ways, and there were full-blown political revolutions happening all over Europe. There was a new book out called The Communist Manifesto, whose authors were taking things a step farther, talking about the inevitable triumph of the industrial working classes.

FC - Wikimedia commons
Flying Cloud, designed by Donald McKay, held the New York to San Francisco record for 135 years. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Victoria was queen. In three years there would be a Great Exhibition with a Crystal Palace and other wonders of the modern world. There would be a yacht race around the Isle of Wight, with a black schooner from America taking home the trophy that would bear her name.

The planet Neptune had recently been discovered. Big-city doctors were beginning to use general anesthesia in surgery. Steam locomotives and short-run railroads were common; European mail could be delivered from Boston to New York in a matter of hours by train and steam packet. It was almost incredible, but you could send a message at almost the speed of light: Morse’s telegraph lines were being strung up everywhere. Edison and Bell had arrived — they were in diapers, but they were here. In July, there was a big women's right convention in Seneca Falls.

Not far away from all this modern hubbub, along the Mississippi in places like Independence and Council Bluffs, the westbound traveler looked across the river and saw… well, Indians. What lay on the other side of the Big Muddy was about as different as you could get from the world of Queen Victoria and Karl Marx.

Out there, these were the days of Jim Bridger and Kit Carson, mountain men and isolated trappers. The great trails through the wilderness — the Santa Fe and the Oregon — had been traversed, but it was no cakewalk for settlers to get to California and Oregon. There were the Comanche, Blackfoot, Pawnee, Creek, Cherokee, Cheyenne, Kiowa, and Crow, and it wasn’t even close to the time of the last battles when they were driven off their land once and for all.  Cochise and Geronimo were peaceful young Apaches in 1848, and wouldn’t be heard from for another 20 years or so. Sitting Bull was a teenager. George Armstrong Custer was a 10-year-old schoolboy in Ohio.

In 1848 there was no question that the Native Americans ran the continent west of the Mississippi. Even if you were wise enough to enlist the services of an expert trail guide, it was by the good graces of the natives, or your own smarts, or luck, that you made it through without a fight.

Then there was the territory itself. The rivers carried names like Snake, Wind, and Cimarron. They were places called Hell's Canyon, Muddy Gap, Devil's Hole, Cripple Creek, Purgatoire, Death Valley. Winter was terrible in the mountains, and the desert was worse. If you strayed off the trail in a blizzard, or took the wrong cutoff, you were — not to put too fine a point on it —  doomed. There were grizzly bears, wolves, mountain lions, and rattlesnakes. And smallpox. Heading west was something to mull over carefully.

Rush to the Gold

Early in 1848, gold was discovered on John Sutter’s land in the Sacramento Valley. Word spread quickly, and everything changed. Danger? Hell — California here I come! By the end of the next year, 80,000 people had rushed to the Pacific. Emigrants of all nationalities flocked from every direction as fast as possible, by any means they could. For Easterners, one alternative to the risky wagon train was to ship themselves around Cape Horn. Most people booked passage on the scores of slower vessels, some decrepit, some sound, that were thrown suddenly into the California run. Others who could afford it demanded faster transport.

It wasn't only the Forty Niners who needed delivery to the coast; the goods to sustain them had to get there, too. Prices were astronomical in California, and there were huge profits to be made by getting the goods there quickly. For a few years, until the market was glutted and freight shipments lay wasted in the streets, ships bulled their way around the Horn laden with anything and everything their owners could throw on board. The faster the ship, the better the profits while the prices held high.

King philip

The Gold Rush didn’t create the clipper ship. Fast sailing ships had been called clippers for a long time, and they’d be known by that name well after their day in the spotlight. American sailors had developed a serious appetite for speed after the War of 1812, when it had made all the difference between a loss and a standoff with the world's greatest naval power. By mid-century Yankee ship design had reached a high stage of evolution, and sailing speed was a matter of interest not only to shipowners, to whom it meant good business, but to the public, excited by the idea that faraway exotic worlds were being pulled within reach. When R.H. Waterman brought the bark Natchez into New York after a 78-day run from Macau in 1845, he was lionized in the streets.

The early years of the Gold Rush did, however, make legendary a certain breed of clipper that sailed for about a decade between ‘49 and’ 59. These ships were unique in two inseparable ways: They were built strictly for speed at the expense of cargo-carrying ability, and they were driven by speed demons. Waterman was such a demon, famous for his China passages aboard Sea Witch and Natchez, and there were maybe a dozen others who became household names  in their time. Some, like Philip Dumaresq, commanded several ships; others were associated with a particular clipper, even if they sailed her for only one record-breaking passage: Ashbel Hubbard of the Flying Dutchman, Freeman Hatch of Northern Light, John Williams of the Andrew Jackson, Josiah Cressy of Flying Cloud, Asa Eldridge of Red Jacket, and J. N “Bully” Forbes of Lightning.

Of all the designers and builders who entered the fray, Donald McKay quickly rose to the top of the heap. Even before the decade of the California clipper, the speed records set by his ships had eclipsed many others. It wasn't just that McKay's ships were fast; they were outstandingly handsome, sturdy, and well-finished. These attributes helped them lure the best drivers, and success begat success. They became legends in their own time. McKay made his name with his first clipper, Stag Hound, launched at his East Boston yard in December of 1850. His second, built the next year, was Flying Cloud.

Flying Cloud is a good focus for a clipper ship discussion for two reasons. First, her record run from New York to San Francisco was not bettered for 135 years, until 1989, and then only by a high-tech, high-performance sloop that could skim the water with no cargo aboard. Second, she truly represented the state of the art. Samuel Eliot Morison, in his Maritime History of Massachusetts, summed her up this way: “McKay built faster clippers, but for perfection and beauty of design, weatherliness, and consistent speed under every condition, neither he nor anyone else surpassed Flying Cloud. She was the fastest vessel on long voyages that ever sailed under the American flag.”

She was 229’ long on deck, 235’ from knightheads to taffrail. Her maximum beam was 40’8”, and she drew 21’6”. She registered at 1782 tons. Her rig is described in Howe and Mathews’s American Clipper Ships 1833-1858: “[L]ength of foremast, 82 feet; topmast 46; top-gallant, 25; royal, 17; and skysail mast, 13. On the main — 88, 51, 28, 19, and 14 ½. On the mizzen — 78, 40, 22, 14 and 10. [Length of] yards; on the foremast: 70, 55, 44 ½, 32 and 22. On the main — cross-jack, 56, topsail, 45; topgallant, 33; royal, 25; skysail, 20. The foremast was 35 inches in diameter, the main, 36, and the mizzen, 26. Diameter of the foreyard, 20 inches; main yard, 22; and cross-jack, 16 inches. The bowsprit was 28 inches in diameter, 20 feet outboard. The jib-boom was divided at 16 feet and again at 29 feet, with a five-foot end. The spanker boom was 55 feet long; gaff, 40 feet; and the main spencer gaff, 24 feet. The masts all raked alike, 1 1/4 inches to the foot.”

The terminology doesn’t come naturally to the modern sailor, but once you’ve located all these parts in your mind’s eye, you begin to see an awesome picture. What the particulars make obvious, even in an age of hollow aluminum extrusions, plastic, and carbon fiber, is that this ship was gigantically sparred for her size. Like other “extreme” clippers she was meant to spread many thousand square yards of sail and keep most of it up in heavy winds and seas. That was the way to speed records and profits.

On Flying Cloud’s maiden voyage in 1851, Josiah Cressy took her out of New York, around the Horn, and to San Francisco, in 89 days, 21 hours, anchor-to-anchor— an astoundingly fast passage. On her fourth voyage, begun on January 21, 1854, she bested her own time, arriving at anchor in San Francisco 89 days, 8 hours out. This was the record that stood until 1989. (There has been a longstanding debate over whether the record should have been credited to the Andrew Jackson, a clipper that made the run in the winter of ‘59-’60 to the pilot grounds inside the Farallon Islands in 89 days, 4 hours, but was then becalmed and couldn’t make port until the next day. A tempest in a teapot, you say? The most rabid fans of Red Sox and Yankees could not have been at greater loggerheads.)

The clippers of the 1850s represented a great leap forward in naval architecture. They had sharp entrance lines with radical concave bows, moderate or low deadrise with flattish bottoms and shallow, clean runs aft for minimum drag. With their enormous sail areas they were radically fast by any standard. Compare them to what came before: The original American naval frigates like Constitution, Philadelphia, and Constellation, which outsailed the British men-of-war in 1812, were occasionally capable of 12-knot speeds. Early merchant clippers like Sea Witch and the famous Baltimore ships like Ann McKim could do a knot or two better. Flying Cloud had her best day’s run during her sixth and last voyage around the Horn in ‘56 — 402 miles at an average of 16.75 knots. In 1854, the McKay-built Champion of the Seas made 465 miles noon-to-noon on December 11-12 in the Roaring Forties — an average of almost 20 knots. It would be 40 years before a steamship could equal that. In Southern Ocean conditions it’s still a good day’s run for a 21st-century warship.

The thoroughbred clippers weren’t just temperamental to sail, they were downright frightening. In order to set records they had to be sailed at the far edge of sanity. Riggers would often be sweating over the last of their work as the ships were being towed out of harbor on their maiden voyages. Everyone understood that the hemp would stretch, and that if sails weren’t reefed at the right time, and sheets and yards weren’t tended properly, and if the helm wasn't handled perfectly, gigantic objects would start breaking.


It’s hard for modern-day sailors to picture the mayhem when things did break. On her maiden voyage, Sovereign of the Seas, built by Donald McKay and commanded by his brother Laughlan, lost her main topmast, mizzen topgallant mast, and foretopsail yard over the side in a gale off Cape Horn. With a record to set, there was no option of cutting the rigging away and heading into Valparaiso for repairs. McKay re-rigged her then and there. “Theoretically, it was impossible in the heavy weather that existed to save the massive spars,” said Carl Cutler in his authoritative Greyhounds of the Sea. “...It required herculean efforts merely to prevent the spars from pounding the ship full of holes, let alone getting the ponderous weight of the spars and the backstays on board again…

“Within 24 hours the fore and main topmasts and mizzen topgallant mast, with all the yards, sails, and gear attached, were back on board and the work of re-rigging was underway. It was a task that involved everyone engaged in it in the utmost danger. The main topsail yard alone was a stick that must have weighed considerably more than three tons without the hamper attached to it, and the work of disengaging such a spar from the snarl of rigging in the heavy seaway that prevailed was a thing to tax the courage of the bravest and most active sailors afloat.”

Within 30 hours they were making 12 knots. For the record, the main topsail yard on Sovereign of the Seas was 19.5 inches in diameter and 70 feet long, about twice the size of a typical utility pole, and much heavier. To be put back in service it had to be hoisted about nine stories into the air with hemp rope and wooden blocks in a violent rolling sea, by men in soggy and inadequate clothing being whipped by a cold wind.

On the other hand, imagine the thrill of a fast passage. On February 12, 1853, Laughlan McKay took Sovereign of the Seas out of Honolulu, bound for New York with 8,000 barrels of whale oil. They were extremely shorthanded, with only 34 crew in addition to the officers. McKay closely followed sailing directions given to him by Lieutenant Matthew Fontaine Maury, then director of the U.S. Naval Observatory. Maury would soon publish his Physical Geography of the Sea, which would set the standard for all modern oceanographers. For now he was pleased with McKay’s confirmation of his theories: Sovereign made New York in 82 days, obliterating all previous records. She averaged 378 miles a day for four days straight, and 330 miles a day for another eleven-day period. In mid-March she recorded a 24-hour run of 430 miles (later analyzed and reduced by the Navy to 410.7 miles in 23:18, or about 421 miles in 24 hours). A letter from one of the ship’s officers to a friend in Boston is quoted by Howe and Matthews:

“The day we ran 430 miles she had the wind on the larboard quarter and carried all drawing sail from the topsail down, but had the topmast been sound she could have borne the topmast studding sail also. The sea was high and broken, the weather alternately clear and cloudy, with heavy showers, and at night we had occasional glimpses of moonlight. She ran about as fast as the sea and when struck by a squall would send the spray masthead high. Now and then she would fly up a point and heeling over skim along between the deep valleys of the waves, and then, brought to her course again, righten with majestic ease and as if taking a fresh start would seem to bound from wave to wave.”

On Sovereign’s earlier, maiden voyage, the re-rigging triumph would probably have been impossible if it weren’t for the fact that Laughlan McKay was a master carpenter, having served as such aboard the frigate Constellation, and had brought with him a mostly hand-picked crew of 105 — a huge crew to ship aboard a clipper. Most clipper captains were unable to attract decent crews, either in numbers or expertise, and sailed shorthanded, as McKay did in his Honolulu-New York run. Those who did ship out were generally miserable about it, and were treated miserably as well. They were paid a few dollars a month to endure unheard-of hardship and danger with no time off, bad food, and bad company. “Americans would not willingly accept such wages for such work,” said Morison. “Coasting vessels, paying $18 a month, absorbed the Yankee boys with a craving for the sea. The shipowners could have obtained American crews had they been willing to pay for them, but they were not. Like the factory owners, they preferred cheap foreign labor.”

The crew problem, the rise of steam power, and the cost of operating fast, low-capacity ships in pursuit of markets no longer frenzied — these were the main factors that brought about the demise of the Gold Rush clippers. But the 1850s, a decade of often painful social and technological transition that foreshadowed the American Civil War, were golden years for some of the most exotic ships ever to sail.


The Drift of the Drazel

Back in the 1980s there appeared a few articles in Yacht Racing & Cruising (and later Sailing World) under the name Ebon Bilgewater, a determined and sometimes hapless young sailorman. This is a lightly revised version of the original from Sailing World, September 1986. Reprinted by permission.


The engine was flat busted. I’d had 15-round bouts with its injectors, water pump, transmission, fuel lines, alternator, and virtually all of its gaskets. When its puny mounts gave way during a slight altercation with a cutlass bearing early one spring, I decided to take it out and leave it out. Sailors, I reasoned, had managed pretty damn well without engines for a long time. Would clogged injectors have left the Santa Maria wallowing helplessly? Would Drake or Nelson have turned tail because of a leaky transmission? Would the Vikings have whined that they couldn't go sacking and pillaging because they weren't getting a charge on their batteries?

With my old friend Abednego Hawser at the tiller of Drazel, I slid into the inflatable, mounted the oars, and towed the yawl out of her slip and down the west side of City Island. It was a gray April morning, not cold, but silent and placid and just a bit smoky on the surface. The mist, I decided, was a good sign. It portended a sou'wester, and a sou'wester meant a broad reach, due east down the Sound, 62 miles to a new home and a new mooring with swinging room. I kept the little plastic blades singing, and pretty soon I had Drazel rippling along. We cleared Old Tom in a half hour, and no sooner had we turned east than the fresh sou'wester, good as gold, came darkening the water up from the Throg's Neck. I thought it was a bit early for it to be showing up, but I wasn't complaining. NOAA, coming from the handheld VHF, was predicting the arrival of a high-pressure system with brisk northerly winds. Perfect.

Western sound
The Drazel's voyage took her from City Island, lower left, to the Thimble Islands, upper right — 62 nautical miles — at the speed of a toddler walking tentatively and sitting abruptly to cry every so often.

I climbed aboard Drazel, hoisted up the dink, pulled the plug, and pretty soon had it stuffed down the lazarette. Meawhile, A.H. had set the big jenny and eased the sheets, cinched down the vang, hoisted the board a foot or two, and had Drazel humming along like a snipe at five or six knots. This was going to be a fine old sail, straight down the rhumbline. My record for the passage, which I'd set alone two years before on a cold, blustery day, was 10 hours. And that was with a hulking, sulking engine stinking up the bilge to the tune of 500 pounds and more.

Sat. 0600. Wind S.W. 12-14 kts. Booming past Hart Island under 150%, main, and mizzen. Leaving Executioner's to port. Speed approx. 6 kts. Current just turning fair. Tickety Boo.

0700 Wind S. 0-3 kts. Drifting in fair current off Hempstead Hbr.

0800 Wind -0-. Still drifting. Turned slow circle in eddy w. no steerageway.

0900 Wind W. 5-8 kts. Rain, fog. Put up light-air jib and reaching at approx. 3 kts. to N.E. Figure we'll get over to the Connecticut shore, pick up the northerly early when it comes in.

1030 Wind S.W. 5-8 kts. Rain stopped. Pretty thick fog. Passed some racing boats powering for the starting line of American YC Series off Rye. Friend on As Larks Harmoniously gives a shout and a wave. Asks if we can spare any diesel. He's spitting over the side. Been sucking up the dregs from the fuel tank to feed the starving injectors. I laugh derisively. Would Isaac Hull have been spitting diesel all over Constitution's topsides?

1230 Wind -0-. Drifting off Stamford. Turned another circle or two. Fog is scaling up a bit. Tide turning foul. No records today. NOAA still calling for northerly. Wish it would show up.

1300. Wind W. 4-6 kts. Fog lowered and raining again, but nice to be moving.

1330. Wind crapped out again. This is getting silly. Where's that northerly? Rain stopped. Visibility lousy.

1400. Wind N. 10-12 kts. Here we go. Reaching along shore at approx. 4.5 kts. Making maybe 3 over bottom. Good enough for now. It's all downhill from here.

1430. Wind lay down and died again. We're ghosting along, just bucking the current. NOAA says the northerly's blowing now. Where do those guys work, Phoenix?

1500. Wind E.(!) 8-10 kts. Weird, but we'll take what we can get. Short-tacking along the shore off the Norwalk Islands to stay out of the worst current, making maybe 2 kts. over the bottom.

1700 Wind dead as a smelt again. Drifting off Fairfield under hazy sky. Current turns fair soon. NOAA still reporting a stiff northerly. I mean, come on.

2000 In 3 hours have drifted to about middle of Bridgeport Harbor. Clouded up and got dark about an hour ago. Two tankers moored here offshore with lights ablaze. Put on battery-powered running lights, set up 1-hour watches with A.H. Getting a bit nippy out.

2200 Wind E.N.E. 12-15. Changed to 120% high-clew and beat offshore at approx. 6 kts. Got about an hour of fair current left. Good and cold now.

2230 Tacked and headed back for CT shore, figuring we could fetch Milford. About 5 mins. later the wind rolled up its eyes and expired. And the rain started again. And the current's gone slack.

2330 Wind W.S.W. 0-4. Making approx. half kt. to the north with light-air jib up.

Sun. 0100 Dead in water. Intermittent rain. Decent visibility to shore, but black on water to south. Seabirds toward Stratford Shoal setting up unholy racket. Then heard nasty thrumming to the east. Pretty soon could see two vertical whites with a red low to starboard., and another red and green combo to port. One green missing. Figured it was buried in the inside red. Went below to check light configuration. Went back on deck, watched bearing. Didn't change. Went below and woke up A.H. Got VHF, went back on deck, flashed a Delta at the tug's bridge, then shined a light at our mainsail. Called tug on 13. "This is Drazel, WRV 3622, calling the tug with barge alongside heading west a mile off Stratford Point...." "Drizzle thizis (indecipherable)" the excellent fellow answered. "Zat you lil thang jes off ma po ba wi tha lil dinky laht?" I confirmed that it was, since there were absolutely no other numbnuts out there for us to be confused with. "Moan come jesabit to ma stab." Thanked the man profusely, for monitoring 13, for keeping a good watch, for not plowing this poor old blowboat under.

0200 Wind totally slack. Have drifted with foul current back to Bridgeport. Getting set down on easternmost tanker. Let go anchor in 60 feet of water. Listened to NOAA to get the hourly amusement.

0230 Wind N.N.E. 7-10 kts. Hauled up anchor and got going again on a close reach. Making maybe 2.5 kts. over bottom. Raining again.

0430 Bloody frikkin cold now. Once in a while start shaking like dropped jello. But we've been moving forward for a while now, and the current's turning fair. A.H. heated up some coffee with the propane torch.

0530 Off New Haven breakwater. Sky has lightened a bit in east. Wind has spun around and bit the dust again. We're down to our last few Fig Newtons.

0630 Wind N.E. at 6-8 kts. Heading E. closehauled at 2-3 kts.

0730 Wind E.S.E. at 12-15 kts. Drazel booming along at 5-6 kts. in pea-soup fog. Course S.S.E. Wind has built and veered for an hour. Boatspeed variable, no lobster-pot floats to gauge current, D.R. plot a mess. Blowing one long, two short on the conch, waiting for another tug to issue the coup de grace. A.H. at the tiller with eyes that look as if they've been stuck on by a taxidermist, singing "farewell and ad-ieuuuu, my fine Spanish ladies, farewell and ad-ieuuuu..." 

0815  Tacked N. No sooner trimmed in on starboard than the wind gasped its last. Adrift again. Finished the Fig Newtons, thought of  Géricault's “The Raft of the Medusa.” Agreed with A.H. to continue due N. when possible, run boat up on nearest rock, swim ashore, move to Wyoming.

0930 Still drifting in the soup. NOAA says they're sorry, but the low-pressure system that was supposed to move offshore keeps circling around itself. Forecast now for light and variable northwest winds, locally on-shore, with mixed clouds, fog, and sun. Bet they got a good laugh out of that one. Got out the plastic oars, lashed them to a boathook and whisker pole and started paddling.

1030 Fog scaled up enough to see the East Haven shore. Anchored against foul tide in 40 feet of water. Lay on the deck and yelled obscenities.

1130 Wind N. 7-10. Sky turning blue. Making about 2 kts. eastward over the bottom.

1200 Wind N. 12-15 kts. Bright blue sky. Changed to 150% and making about 5.5 kts.

1230 Wind N. 15-20 kts. Drazel rail-down in flat water, beam reaching at over 7 kts. Branford Reef coming up to port.

1300 Short-tacking up to shore, taking turns with A.H. running the jib around the mast, sheeting home without winch handle, yelling and whooping and jumping up and down.

1330 Rounded up, dropped genoa, jibed around and coasted up to mooring, 32 hours out of City Island. Average rhumbline speed... just under 2 knots.

Once ashore, fed, washed and napped, Abednego and I decided not to move to Wyoming. We knew that Poseidon had wrung us out a little for good reason: Our senses had become honed to the slightest nuance of wind and current. Our eyes were keen and our hearing acute; our hands freeze-dried, thawed, pickled and hardened — and not a single speck of engine muck under our well-chewed fingernails.

Ebon Bilgewater is the brother of Ambrosia Bilgewater.

Do Not Tease the Cutlass Bearing

Back in the 1980s there appeared a few articles in Yacht Racing & Cruising (and later Sailing World) under the name Ebon Bilgewater, a determined and sometimes hapless young sailorman. This is a slightly updated version of one originally called “Beating the Bushing.” Reprinted by permission.

Anyone who has spent some time around auxiliary sailboats will be familiar with the curious sensations generated by a worn cutlass bearing: a deep, low buzzing in the ears, as if a giant mosquito were hovering nearby, and a tingling numbness in the legs akin to what is felt by some motel visitors after standing on their Vibro-Beds for several hours. The numbness is most noticeable while motoring through a glassy calm with a hot sun beating down relentlessly overhead.

The trade name is Cutless, but most people call the innocent-looking part a cutlass bearing. Photo courtesy of Johnson/Duramax

 The more worn the bearing, the more intense the sensations: In yawls and ketches with neglected bearings, watching the mizzen shrouds vibrate for more than a few seconds will induce optical illusions and nausea. So it is both a seamanlike and medically sound practice to change cutlass bearings when they become worn; and, as in everything else, there is both a right way and a wrong way to do it.

Before getting into procedures, a word about the cutlass bearing itself is in order. First, the proper term for the item is "stern bushing" or "stern tube bearing." But even more proper, if you’re a boat-parts purist, is calling it a cutLESS bearing, because Cutless is a trade-name for the stern bushing made by a particular company. However, the word “cutlass” is widely used, especially because experiences with this particular boat part remind us that a cutlass is a type of sword, habitually used by pirates to hack innocent seafarers into tiny, indiscriminate pieces.

The bearing sometimes lives in a strut; sometimes, logically enough, in a stern tube projecting below the boat or embedded in the trailing edge of a keel. What it bears is the propeller shaft, which first comes out of the engine's transmission and then goes through the stuffing box. The cutlass bearing is the last thing that holds the shaft on its way to the propeller. Theoretically, the shaft makes its way through the bearing straight and true; the clearances between shaft and bearing are minute and precise. No matter how well-aligned the shaft, though, within a certain number of years it will wear down that bearing surface and start to bounce around at a high frequency, thus causing the medical problems referred to earlier.

Cutlass bearings have traditionally been made chiefly of brass or other composition metals like monel, which is an alloy of mostly nickel and copper, used extensively for marine propellers and shafting. The bearing surfaces used to be made of lignum vitae; now they're usually vulcanized rubber, arranged in longitudinal grooves that lightly hold the shaft and allow water to flow in and out as far as the stuffing box for cooling and lubrication. Some cutlass bearings today are made entirely of plastic, so that inserting and removing them is simply a matter of adjusting their temperature (by refrigeration or subtle use of a torch or hair dryer) to let them expand into or contract out of tight places.

The cutlass bearing here lives in the projection of the stern tube outside the keel. Note the painted-over set screw. Doug Logan photo.

 The cutlass bearing to which I am referring in this cautionary tale is one of the older variety: It is to the all-plastic bearing what Ahab, at the height of his monomaniacal fury, is to Skipper, of Gilligan's Island.

Problem: You have just bought a used displacement sailboat. In the surveyor's glowing report, there is one sentence that disturbs you: "Cutlass bearing needs replacement ASAP." You sail the boat for a full season, and whenever you run the engine, you worry. Gradually,you begin to hear the giant, invisible mosquito. Little by little, the vibration of the cockpit sole takes hold of your psyche, until, as the first golden leaves of autumn drift down into your anchorage, you resolve to haul early and have at the bearing, before it causes a problem. You haul and block the boat, remove the prop, loosen the shaft at transmission, slide the shaft easily from engine, and stare haughtily at the naked interior of the cutlass bearing. Now, all you have to do is remove it.

If your cutlass bearing lives in a strut outside the hull, you’re in luck. You can skip all 12 steps in the next section and go directly to the conclusion: “The Right Way: Three Easy Steps.”

The Wrong Way: 12 Easy Steps

  1. You understand that the cutlass bearing has been embedded in the aft end of your keel for 14 years, and that it is likely to be a bit recalcitrant about coming out. All right, then, the first thing you will have to do is remove the set screw that (you think) keeps it in place. The screw might be in the side of the external strut, or in the keel at the side of the bearing, or inside the boat, aft of the stuffing box somewhere in the stern tube. It will probably be painted over, or stripped, or both. Also, if it’s inside the boat there will be tankage, or plumbing, or some engine or cockpit part that will prevent you from turning your hex wrench or screwdriver more than a twitch at a time. (If the screw is not already stripped, go ahead and strip it; get that step out of the way. Maybe you can get hold of enough of it with Vice-Grips to move it, or if that doesn’t work, hit your Vice-Grips with a hammer. You didn’t like those Vise-Grips anyway. Or just face the music and drill it out. You can tap a new set of threads before you put in the new bearing.)
  2. Next, listen to some pundit tell you that a bearing can be knocked out with a dowel or a piece of pipe of a bit smaller diameter. If you are foolish enough to try to tap the bearing out with a dinky little hammer and a broomstick handle held against the bearing, and find that it doesn't work, you will probably be foolish enough to think a little more force is necessary. In that case, the best thing to do is go and get the jack of your foreign car, place it between your engine transmission and the cutlass bearing, and crank it right up.
  3. After you have put the remnants of your automobile jack in an appropriate receptacle, you will probably want to lose your temper, go to the hardware store, and buy a four-ton hydraulic jack. By all means, do so. They're surprisingly inexpensive, and pack quite a wallop.
  4. Place your new hydraulic jack between your engine transmission and the cutlass bearing, using all sorts of blocking materials and galvanized pipes in between. You will be dimly aware that you are skating on very thin ice over very deep water. It will be exciting. Go for it.
  5. As you pump up the pressure on the hydraulic jack, and near its maximum capacity, you will begin to hear creaking and moaning in the boat. You will be tempted to pay attention to these sounds. You may even think that the boat is trying to tell you something, like: Stop. The bearing isn't going to move. Quit bothering it, or you’ll be sorry. But you won't listen to the boat, will you? No, you are quite sure you've got all the angles covered.
  6. Sooner or later you will reach a point where you will want to give the jack One More Little Pump. By now things are very exciting, with strange and exotic sounds coming from everywhere. You know the bearing has to give, and you know it will be on the next stroke. Oh boy. You can hardly wait. Just to be on the safe side, though, remove yourself from the area and do that last stroke by remote control. Tie a piece of flag halyard to the jack handle. Take off the doors or hatch to the engine compartment, lead the flag halyard over the top of the engine, and pull the pump handle in the comfort of your main cabin.
  7. You have now pulled the handle that extra stroke. You have heard even more strange and portentous sounds, but, as you cringe your way back to inspect the bearing, you find that it hasn't budged. You're good and mad now, aren't you? Go ahead, show that bearing a thing or two. Give it the Old What For.
  8. For the Old What For you will want to be fully braced, knees bent, feet wedged against something solid, hands holding the length of flag halyard in a pose which, if the flag halyard weren't there, would remind an onlooker of a late 19th-century pugilist.
  9. Now begin your last Herculean tug. The creaking and groaning will resume. Increase tension. The cords in your neck will stand out like the striated vertical ridges on the slopes of a brewing volcano. Your fingers, wrapped by turns of a stretching, humming polyester boa constrictor, will turn a royal maroon. You will probably want to grit your teeth and grunt something like, "Come on, you little...," and more to the effect that if the cutlass bearing doesn't move, you will somehow punish it severely. What you don't realize, and you will understand quickly in hindsight, is that it is impossible to intimidate a cutlass bearing.
  10. At some point during the Old What For you will hear a loud noise; a giant cracking, clapping sound, much like what you would hear if you happened to be standing near a sequoia when it was snapped off halfway up the trunk. The flag halyard in your hands will go slack, and simultaneously you will punch yourself in the nose. You will then fall backwards into your companionway ladder, which will shatter like a prop in a Three Stooges gag.
  11. Now you can pick yourself up off the cabin sole. Your ears will be ringing, but you can be thoroughly pleased with yourself. Judging from the sonic boom, the cutlass bearing has emerged from the stern tube at Mach+ speed, flown through the chain link fence of the boatyard, and landed at the far side of a neighboring parking lot. 
  12. Check your work. Remove the jack and all blocking materials from the bilge where they have fallen. Look down the stern tube. The cutlass bearing is still there, is it not? Now look behind you. Your two aft engine mounts are sheared off, are they not? And the transmission is now resting directly on the turn of the bilge. What a nuisance.

The Right Way: Three Easy Steps

  1. Find yourself a comfortable stool, or a boat cushion will do. Place it on the ground near where the cutlass bearing is located in your keel or strut. Sit down.
  2. Take a new hacksaw blade, wrap one end of it in a rag so you won't hurt your hand, insert it in the cutlass bearing, and begin sawing. Saw for quite a while, until you’re through to the stern tube all along the bearing.
  3. Take another new hacksaw blade, begin at a point about 90 degrees away from your first cut, and saw for another long time. At some point during your session, the cutlass bearing will slip from the stern tube like a jellybean from the mouth of a child, and land in your lap. This may hurt, but you should be glad of the pain.

Ebon Bilgewater is Ambrosia Bilgewater's brother.