Small Stuff

Published: October 2012

 In the last issue of Seaworthy, there was a "slight inaccuracy," which is how Myron Hittinger, a member in Harstine Island, Washington, put it. The boat shown on the back cover crashing through a wave was actually in Morro Bay, California, and not in Oregon. The boat, Mojo, was being chartered by George C. Scott and his wife.

 And now for a lesson in gratitude, or at least a lesson in why you should take care when securing your dinghy: Charles Holly was zipping across Lake Erie in his 270 Sea Ray last summer when he spotted something bobbing up and down in the water a few hundred yards away. As he got closer, he could see that it was a dinghy with a small outboard—a NEW (his emphasis) Mercury 9.9 -hp four-stroke. The fuel line was disconnected and the dinghy's painter was floating in the water.

While not exactly the Mary Celeste, the dinghy did have some value and, like a lot of people, Charles assumed he had "salvage rights." And in centuries gone by, that may have been true. Under current state laws, however, making a claim was probably more trouble than the dinghy was worth, but it didn't matter because his wife insisted that he "do the right thing" and return the dinghy to its owner, whoever that was.

Doing the right thing wasn't easy. Because they had to tow the dinghy at a glacial 8 mph, the trip back to the marina took an extra hour-and-a-half. Shortly after he got back, Charles contacted the Coast Guard and learned that the lost dinghy had already been reported missing. He was put in touch with its owner, who, far from being grateful, cheerfully asked if he would deliver the dinghy to his marina.

Charles said no.

An hour or so later, the guy picked up his dinghy, thanked Charles again and then, as he was scurrying away, said something about maybe buying him a drink sometime. That was it. Charles thought that the man could have at least offered to pay for some of the fuel.

Charles did the right thing, which, as he said later, was reward enough. As for the dinghy's owner, he clearly needs to do a better job securing his dinghy and maybe brush up on his own obligation to "do the right thing."

 From time to time, Seaworthy likes to revisit our "Do-It-Yourselfers Gone Amuck" theme with a good photo. The one on the right is from Dan Rutherford, a marine surveyor in Cape May, New Jersey, who noted that the boat's electrical system included butt connectors, twist-style connectors, cut wires, and multiple conductors in some of the butts. If you're not sure what all of that means, imagine a house made with bricks and duct tape. It was, he said, an accident waiting to happen.

If you do your own electrical work, don't think that the same techniques you use in your home will also be safe and effective in your boat. They won't. Unlike a house, a boat bounces, rocks, and occasionally pounds, always in a damp, corrosive environment, and its electrical system must be constructed to a considerably higher standard—the ABYC E-11 standard. You, or whoever does your electrical work, must follow the E-11 standard to the letter ( If not, you could wind up with a dangerous mess like the one on the above.

 When Elaine Dickinson retired after 26 years as the managing editor for BoatUS Magazine, her plan was to make up for all of those years writing about other people and their boats by spending as much time as possible on her own boat, a 42-foot Catalina sailboat that she owns with her husband Jack Hornor. After an entire year, here are a few things she's learned: If you wait until the end of January to leave for the Bahamas, you F-R-E-E-Z-E all of the way to Florida. Also, bridges and locks open painfully slowly in cold weather. And even when you reach the Bahamas (Abacos), the average daytime temperature and blustery winds in February mean you'll spend almost as much time in sweaters as you do in bathing suits. The vision she had of diving overboard before breakfast every morning was not to be.

The biggest lesson came in South Carolina as they were being pelted by hail in an especially ferocious thunderstorm: Lightning can whack your boat. More to the point, lightning did whack their boat. Both Elaine and Jack, a marine surveyor, knew a lightning strike was a possibility, but once the storm struck, they became so preoccupied with avoiding tug and barge traffic as well as not being maimed by flying hail that they didn't give lightning much thought until, KABOOM, it hit their mast. Then they gave it a lot of thought. In addition to scaring them witless, the lightning destroyed the boat's electronics and, they learned sometime later, left some weird exit marks under the boat's hull. Despite the damage, the hull wasn't leaking.

Jack sent along the picture, which he says is a good example of why boats insured with BoatUS are always hauled out of the water and inspected after a lightning strike.

As a sort of silver lining to all of this, shortly after the lightning encounter, the National Women's Sailing Association presented Elaine, a lifelong sailor, with the 2012 Women's Leadership in Sailing Award! Among her long list of professional accomplishments, Elaine served two years as chairman of the National Safe Boating Council and served a three-year appointment to the U.S. Coast Guard's National Safe Boating Advisory Council.

 Having a slip against the bulkhead has its advantages — you don't have to walk far to get to your boat, which makes loading/unloading much easier. But, as you can see, it can also have some spectacular disadvantages (Claim #12GPP00026).

According to the claim file, the driver of the car, a 39-year-old woman, first backed into a boat trailer before driving forward and launching her small SUV onto the boat. Alcohol was NOT a factor. A local television station reported that this was the second time the woman had driven off a dock. The first time was in 2009.

 Another good photo: A J-24 sailboat that disappeared from its mooring in New York two years ago was finally located—directly under the mooring ball.

 Forbes Magazine recently ran an article, "The Future of Online Shopping," which noted that buying online was a trend that was "about to explode." This is certainly true with buying used boats; what used to take days of driving around to marinas looking at boats can now be done in minutes with the click of a mouse. Aside from defects that may not be readily apparent on a computer screen, long-distance boat buying has some potential glitches. BoatUS Consumer Protection has received many complaints not only about the physical conditions of boats being advertised, but also about less-than-honest sellers. A few boats either haven't had titles or have had titles that were forged, indicating that they were probably stolen. These boats are often being sold at deep discounts. The biggest complaint Consumer Protection gets about online boat sales, however, is that once a buyer gets the boat home, it doesn't work as advertised. In some cases, the boat won't plane, won't start, or has serious structural problems. One member, for example, found that the engine in his new boat had a cracked block from freeze damage.

No matter how attractive a boat may look online, never buy a boat without a careful inspection, first by you and then by a marine surveyor. It will be money well-spent. BoatUS provides a list of qualified surveyors, listed by region, at

Most importantly, remember the old adage: "If it's too good to be true, it probably is." If a boat is being sold online for half of what it's worth, there's probably a good reason.

 This past July, a member named Jim in Levittown, New York, contacted Seaworthy with some questions about a fishfinder/chartplotter combo he was thinking about installing on his new (to him) Bayliner Trophy. Here's the deal: Seaworthy editors want to be helpful, but we're only reliably good at answering questions about things like ethanol, hurricane prep, why boats sink, and maybe explaining how a typo found its way into print. Unless we happen to own the same model GPS or VHF you're asking about, we're not going to be much help with specifications.

If you have questions about a specific make or model electronics, you'll be much happier with the help you get from the tech people at West Marine: They have hundreds of catalogs, which include features and specifications, from all of the marine manufacturers. They're also friendly, which is nice.

 Finally, a short story from Michael Karbowski, a Seaworthy reader on the West Coast: "The town of Port Townsend lies along the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the entry way into Puget Sound and the city of Seattle; we stay there overnight while fishing for halibut and salmon. If you ever stay in the marina, beware of river otters! One night we had gone to bed with dreams of catching huge halibut dancing in our heads. The fish cooler was locked and secure with 40 pounds of weights placed on top. The canvas door was snapped shut to prevent any entry into the cockpit.

"Shortly after we closed our eyes, we heard the gentle pitter- patter of an invading creature climbing onto the swim platform. None of us rushed to the door knowing that 'Fort Knox' was safe. The creature began unsnapping the cockpit canvas. We weren't worried. Once the creature discovered how secure our bait was, he'd move on to the next boat. Suddenly, we heard a loud crash. The little"#@*%" had pushed the heavy bucket over, causing it to lodge against the door. We were locked in our own boat! The otter smiled at us through the plexiglass door and then, as we stood helpless, he cleaned out every piece of bait. We had to crawl out a hatch to escape.

"The next morning, we were feeling grumpy and tired, but had to laugh at being outsmarted once again by a river otter."

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