Small Stuff

Published: January 2011

Anchor symbol Louise Patten, the granddaughter of the Titanic's second officer Charles Lightoller, went public with a family "secret" that shed new light on what happened after the famous ship struck and iceberg and sank off the coast of Newfoundland. Patten said that her grandfather's public account at the official inquiry was altogether different than the one he told to his wife Sylvia. It had remained solely in the family and Patten said she decided to go public because she was the only one left who could set the record straight. It's an interesting story and a good example of what not to do after a boat strikes a submerged object.

Lightoller told his wife that shortly before Titanic sank, the ship's four senior officers had held a meeting in his cabin. First Officer Murdoch, who had been on the bridge when the ship struck the iceberg, told his fellow officers that the man at the helm had panicked and turned the ship to starboard instead of to port. The helmsman was used to the archaic Tiller Orders and Murdoch's command was given in the more modern Rudder Orders. Even though the mistake was soon corrected, valuable seconds were lost and Murdoch felt it contributed to the severity of the collision with the iceberg.

The British newspaper The Daily Telegraph called the helmsman's mistake "a straightforward error" that could be forgiven. The Telegraph said Patten's second revelation was much more damning and involved a "deliberate decision": Immediately after the collision, Bruce Ismay, the chairman of the White Star Line, which owned Titanic, persuaded Captain Smith to continue sailing while the crew ascertained the extent of the damage. Titanic plowed through the water at "slow ahead" for at least 10 minutes, greatly adding to the volume of water pouring into the hull.

Lightoller was the only senior officer at the meeting who survived. He told his wife that he had whitewashed his account at the inquiries to protect the White Star Line and its employees. He believed that if the ship had stopped immediately after the accident, it would have remained afloat until help arrived.

Anchor symbol Dennis Metcalfe, the president of Nantucket Moorings on Nantucket Island, contacted Seaworthy this past fall to pass on some of what he's learned about chafe protection. Metcalfe knows a thing or two about chafe; for 31 years he has been managing over 500 moorings.

Photo of mooring pendants made out of Dyneema

For most of those 31 years, Metcalfe has had trouble sleeping whenever the wind blows hard from the northeast; the next morning, he might have to replace maybe 20 mooring pendants that were badly chafed. On a few occasions, lines have chafed completely through. Some had failed internally from heat. Others failed because the owners hadn't properly secured the chafe guards or the lines had chafed against an anchor or bobstay. In his quest to reduce chafe, Metcalfe said they've tried PVC tubing, garden hose, leather, and Dacron sleeves. He's used nylon and polyester lines, both three-strand and braid on braid. While some proved to be more durable than others, nothing could guarantee he'd get a good night's sleep.

After many years of studying alternatives, Metcalfe read an MIT study that recommended using polyester line through the chock, which is where chafe occurs, and then using an eye-to-eye splice to secure it to a nylon line that runs down to the mooring ball. Polyester is tougher than nylon, but the nylon is still necessary to act as a shock absorber.

This gave Metcalfe an idea: Instead of using polyester, why not use Dyneema, the same stuff used for sheets and halyards on high-tech racing sailboats? (Dyneema wasn't available when the MIT study was done.) The fibers have almost no stretch and Dyneema is much tougher than polyester. It's so tough it's used in bulletproof vests — you wouldn't need chafe protection! He called Tom Peelen at New England Ropes and it wasn't long before New England Ropes started making its Cyclone Mooring Pendants out of Dyneema. Metcalfe bought the first 20 and put them on boats. The following season there wasn't a single failure, so he bought more of the new pendants. Nantucket Moorings is now in the process of converting all of its pendants to Dyneema.

There is a caveat to this almost-too-good-to- be-true story: Dyneema isn't cheap. On the other hand, it's the first truly bulletproof pendant — literally and figuratively — he's ever used. Several northeasters have come through since he made the switch to Dyneema pendants and he has yet to have one fail or show any indication of chafe. Given the track record of other ropes he's tried, Metcalfe says that's truly remarkable.

Anchor symbol From time to time, Seaworthy has written about clever techniques that marina owners have used to reduce hurricane damage: strapping down boats ashore; securing boats to floating docks with tall pilings; and moving boats to a better-protected hurricane hole farther inland. The latter was the plan for Dog River Marina in Mobile, Alabama, which hired professional captains to move its boats — mostly large sportfishermen — to a sheltered location up the Tenn-Tom Waterway (Seaworthy, July 2006).

Photo of the Turner Marine facility

The reason Dog River moved its boats rather than, say, strapping them down ashore is because the marina is only a foot or two above normal high tide. Sonny Middleton, who owns Dog River, says that the surge in past hurricanes has wreaked havoc with boats ashore, even when they were strapped down. He notes that during the most recent hurricane, Katrina, the marina office and West Marine store on the premise were destroyed.

The Turner Marine facility, which is directly adjacent to Dog River, is equally vulnerable to surge. Unlike Dog River, however, most of the boats at Turner Marine are slow-moving sailboats and trawlers, and there isn't enough time to move them up the Tenn-Tom.

What to do? Turner Marine's owners, Keith and Prince Turner, stepped outside the box — way outside the box: Since they couldn't lower the surge, they spent a hefty sum to raise their marina. The 11-acre storage area is now over 10 feet above normal high tide. For additional assurance, they added rip-rap walls along the southern and eastern ends and bought a 50-ton travel-lift to compliment their 25-ton lift. In future storms, boats can be hauled out of the water faster and there will be a much greater likelihood that they'll survive the surge.

Anchor symbol If you're looking for a winter project that will make your life better, probably much better, next spring, consider changing the discharge sanitation hoses at your boat's head. Sanitation hose gradually absorbs discharge odors to produce that unmistakable time-to-change-the hose smell. If you're not sure, rub a rag along the discharge hose and sniff.

Swapping out sanitation hose is not for the squeamish. The job is slightly less unpleasant if it's done in winter, when odors are less intense. Note, however, that bending thick-walled hose can be a challenge, especially when it's colder. Placing the hose in boiling water may help to loosen it up but you'll have to work quickly. An obvious corollary to all of this is that you don't want to skimp on hose quality; the better the hose, the less often they'll have to be changed.

As to which hose is considered "good," several years ago, Practical Sailor did a test and recommended something called an OdorSafe hose as being clearly better than the others. It's available at West Marine and comes with a lifetime warranty against odor permeation.

If your hoses don't need changing, here are some suggestions to help keep them fresh-smelling for as long as possible:

  • Take a few extra seconds to flush waste completely through to the holding tank.
  • At the end of the day, close the seacock and pump fresh water through the discharge hose.
  • Empty the holding tank frequently.
  • Use only propylene glycol antifreeze (nontoxic) when you winterize the head. Alcohol-based antifreeze can deteriorate hose, causing it to be permeated by odors that much sooner.

Anchor symbol BoatUS Marine Insurance has joined forces with the Association of Marina Industries(AMI) to host three presentations on hurricane preparation at AMI's highly regarded International Marina and Boatyard Conference (IMBC) on January 26-28 in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. If you live along the Atlantic or Gulf coast, encourage your marina's management to attend. Aside from speakers, there will be vendors with state-of-the-art products that have proven to reduce damage.

International Marina & Boatyard Conference ad

IMBC is not just about hurricanes; there will be many other topics and vendors of interest to marina managers. It's a terrific conference. To learn more about IMBC, go to: or call 401-682-7334.

Anchor symbol Rather than sitting around the house getting on your family's nerves, consider taking a boating safety course this winter. The new BoatUS Foundation Online Learning Center at offers a no-cost online boating safety course that makes learning easier and retention stronger with the use of animations, videos, and interactive activities. The course is great for boaters or anglers who need to take a boating safety course — it's valid proof of boater education in over 30 states — and it's also a great option for those wanting to brush up on important safety topics. It is designed so you can start, stop, and continue where you left off at any time. Some boating safety courses cost over $100, and in some parts of the country, it may be hard to find a classroom course near you or that fits your schedule. This free course makes sense.

One thing that sets the BoatUS course apart is that it goes beyond what you would expect in a basic course. For example, you might already know that most boats must have a fire extinguisher aboard, but if you have a larger vessel, the course will show you why it is wise to have more than the minimum requirements and understand what to do in the event of a fire on your boat. The course will not only tell you, for example, how many life jackets you need to have aboard, but also demonstrate in a short video how to fit a life jacket to a child so they won't slip out. Upon completion of the course, you can also print your own certificate to provide your state's boating agency as proof of boater education (for states that accept the course). In addition to the certificate, a few states require a small fee to issue a boating safety card or document. For $5, you can get a certificate suitable for framing.

Anchor symbol Seaworthy reader Cliff Moore sent along this photo of a boat he saw in a dumpster at a marina in New Jersey. At first glance it looks like someone got tired of paying the bills on a racing sailboat that wasn't performing up to its rating, so…

Photo of a sailboat sitting in a dumpster

In this case, though, Moore said the boat had dropped its keel and the travel-lift operator needed a place to set it down for a few minutes.End of story marker