Volume 14, Issue 40 ~ October 5 - October 11, 2006

The U.S. Boats Show This Way Comes

Be afraid, be very afraid …

by Paul Foer

October comes in with fading light and the Sailboat Show and goes out with Halloween, closing the sailing season. The show itself is a pre-Halloween party with its strange traditions, oddly costumed yachting enthusiasts flitting from boat to boat with bags full of goodies and those new boats beckoning us with the treat of sailing off to the mysterious, dark, deep ocean. If the prices are not enough to scare us, the absolutely ghastly gear and equipment that pops out and says boo! may do the trick.

Trick or treat, shoes off your feet, add something new to your fleet

This time every year, I’m reminded of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes and the movie based on it starring Jason Robards. It’s about a circus that shows up in an otherwise quiet town every October with a parade led by none other than the Prince of the Lie himself, Mr. Dark. Setting up colorful tents and attracting crowds from all around, Mr. Dark preys upon people’s emotions, fears and deepest desires. But beware: There is a terrible price to pay if Mr. Dark grants your wish.

Enter the mysterious Boat Show circus at your own risk. Pay your ticket and walk down the dock. Remove your shoes and step aboard the yachts in all their finery. Perhaps your weakness is for the timeless and classic Hinckley that lulls you from the same familiar and prime spot every year. Maybe it’s the smoky aromas from the Fleet Reserve’s beef grilled over the flaming pit that entices you. Maybe it’s just the latest and greatest thing you’ve just got to have.

Whatever our naughty and nautical hearts desire may be found here but for the asking — though there may be the devil to pay. The gadgets and gear seem like treats, but they may be tricks.

Poet John Masefield asked but for a tall ship and a star to steer her by, but today’s sailors are enamored of stuff and things, of gadgets and gear.

Let’s navigate the boat show and see what amazing and new things at the circus will delight and beguile, enchanting and enticing us to part with our dollars to realize our dreams.

Meanwhile, the devil is making work for idle hands.

Winch Buddy may be a drill sergeant

Winding through a crowded tent, you may come upon Winch Buddy. Looking like a big pistol, Winch Buddy is a drill (encased in waterproof fabric), whose purpose is adding electric power to the winch. No need for you to labor over cranks. If physical activity supported by mechanical advantage is not enough, add electric power. Why not go power boating?

Now that you know the drill, we move on through this days-long circus to the nifty labor-saving device from Glendinning Controls that feeds out and reels in your power cords, presumably along the dock, but maybe into the drink if you’re not paying attention. A remote-control device makes it so easy, thus taking away another form of physical activity and giving you power to gain yet more power, perhaps bringing light to the dark when you are tied up with the air conditioner, microwave and television going. How’s that for going down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and sky?

I hope we got her on tape

Sticking to the subject, adhesives are aplenty, among them the new epoxy that does not blemish when cured and the Atomic tape that welds itself, as I learned from the attractive lady who asked me to point my fingers at her as she applied the tape. I gladly obliged, and she wrapped, bound and captured me.

“Ouch,” I complained. “You’re cutting off my circulation.”

The atomic lady unpeeled the tape from my now-throbbing fingers, releasing me and showing the power of her space-age adhesive. Inured by thousands of us in our topsiders and foul weather costumes, she continued spiel for the gazillionth time: It’s being offered here at the Boat Show only, at the price of two for one. How can one turn that down? Mr. Dark guarantees you’ll get just what you want.

At another tent, the hawker might be calling out, Step right up, children of all ages, come inside and see the amazing Splicing Nut. Watch the demonstration, ladies and gentlemen. Splicing Nut allows any landlubber to instantly make his or her own splices.

We step up and, hey, what we see is kind of neat. It’s like a stay-lock fitting but made of plastic and intended for rope, not wire. Take the braided rope and put it on and around this nylon male nut. Then thread the female coupling around it and, voila! instant eye splice — though it still looks like a piece of line with a plastic nut around it.

They say it’s stronger and better than a bowline because a bowline can come undone. I guess one can come undone, especially if one never learned how to tie a bowline to begin with under the watchful eye of an old salt (now there was a nut!) Why learn to splice? Why learn to tie a bowline? Let Mr. Dark’s circus show you the easy way to do it.

Imagination takes me to an old-time pirate movie just as the grungy bosun’s mate approaches the captain.

Ay Captain, it’s time to splice the main brace with that new device I saw at the Annapolis Boat Show.

Aye bosun, and from what do ye say these new Splicing Nuts are made?

Plastics, Captain.

Plastics? The devil will find work for idle hands.

A boat hook for all seasons — and reasons

Meandering through the tents, we come upon the combination boat hook, manual washer and bilge pump. The eight-foot Bridgenorth Bailer can suck up nearly a liter of water with each pump and shoot it over 50 feet. Whoa —it may be loaded. Boat hooks have always seemed more of a danger than a useful tool, but this one should require a seven-day cooling-off period before purchase. Think of all the uses, including water fighting

If a sailor vomits and falls overboard, just pull him up with the three-in-one boat hook, then use it to pump out his stomach, finally to clean him off with the sprayer end (after dipping it in fresh water, of course). Perhaps it can be used to fight a fire — but not to quench the fires of hell.

Does your mate complain that your signals get crossed?

At another end of the circus, we come to Signal Mate, a device that automatically sets navigation lights and sound-producers as required by the Rules of the Road. A sound-producing device, otherwise known as a horn, may be used to signal your navigation intentions or to alert someone to your presence. Signal Mate is billed to “address any confusion a sailor may have about lights for anchoring, sailing or steaming.”

Some of us who actually know the Rules of the Road may find it odd that others who own boats may not know such things and require a device to handle inconveniences such as switching on the right light. Beware of the dark of night, when what you see may be the wrong light. At anchor, we don’t want the whole world to think we’re steaming.

Signal Mate says it reduces risk on the waterways in heavy rain or snow. If we sail to the Arctic, not knowing our lights and sound signals would be the least of our worries.

What about a device, or maybe a pill, that would make boaters actually stand watch and pay attention and know the Rules of the Road? Or make us take a class or read a book? Maybe there are boaters out there who don’t know their 32-point anchor light from their splicing nut, and this will help as they drill in a sheet with Winch Buddy or pump the bilges with a boat hook.

Best prevention for motion sickness

Strolling down the circus midway, we come across MotionEaze, an herbal remedy dabbed on the ear to alleviate seasickness. It claims to be “the most effective motion sickness treatment on the market today.” But a recent article on seasickness remedies in a major boating publication did not mention it.

If it’s a windy day at the show, try some before walking on the floating docks. Feel free to bring your dog, because the brochure says you can use it on your pet. “Common sense would dictate,” continues the brochure “that since animals get motion sick by the same physical processes as humans, the product would work equally on them.”

I was always told that common sense was the least common thing on Earth, but I suppose common sense would dictate that we should eat Alpo and slurp from a bowl too.

The brochure also advises avoiding motion sickness by “minimizing acceleration and deceleration and moving or turning of the vehicle.” A bit like saying avoid motion because it causes motion sickness. Pretty hard to do while on a boat. If you are subject to motion sickness, perhaps you should stay on land. However, you can still walk a dog down a dock — if it is not a floating dock.

Is it heaven — or is it hell?

Sailing may indeed be good for our souls. But in our rush to escape through sailing, we may end up making our own hell. We seem to be making our boats more like our cars and our homes, and sailing more like suburban driving and living. We take more and more stuff with us as we go to anchor and moor in the now urban waterfront creek we once enjoyed for its isolation and because it was different from home. McMansions with SUVs in the driveway and satellite dishes on the roofs line bulk-headed creeks, obscuring the heavens above.

At the Sailboat Show, we may get new unusual gear and equipment, and we may exchange our dollars for labor-saving devices. But if Mr. Dark ensnares us in his circus, we may sign everything away for our deepest desire, and end up with … a boat. Abandon all hope ye who enter here, for you’ll have the devil to pay.

See you at the Boat Show. You’ll find this scribe nursing a beer, munching a pit beef and examining the latest odd device while enjoying the circus.

About the Author: Paul Foer is an Annapolis-based writer and yacht captain who grew up operating wooden boats and using paper charts. He once sailed from North Carolina to Puerto Rico using a battery-operated Radio Direction Finder and a plastic sextant and has attended or worked at nearly every October show since.

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