Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A sailing bike

Headline news the other day on NZ National Radio was of the chemical scents of Rouen being blown across to Kent to the surprise of the natives all of whom, perplexed what to do next, telephoned the fire brigade. - We get a good deal of random news. We even get occasional English football results in the Sports report. There will be a few minutes from the Australian Open telling you that Jockivic Jockivicich has just beaten fourth seed Velovic Craddich whatever that might mean, then there will be a few minutes on the sacking of the coach of the Proteas, whatever *that* might mean, and then they will conclude by wantonly telling you that West Bromwich beat Arsenal two nil at Tottenham Court Road. - There will be no other football news, just the one result. - It leaves you with the odd but consoling feeling that somewhere in the world there is still a crowd of people in red scarves trudging out of railway stations with the aim of singing Abide With Me.

All this air moving from country to country and its resultant chemical chaos has made me contemplate again whether I ought to make a proa or a clinker-built pram dinghy. Life is unsustainable if you haven't got something to make. I can fit anything inside our van provided it isn't longer than eight foot eight inches. A pram dinghy is slow, but I can fit one inside the van, and it's light enough for me to manhandle into the water without assistance.

The children's Optimist (seven feet seven inches long) is designed for nine-to-fifteen-year-olds and I weigh the same as a heavy nine-to-fifteen-year-old, and from looking out of the back door and seeing it's both windy and a high tide, I can be on the water with the sail up within fifteen minutes. The proper dinghy sailors are still rigging their sails half an hour after drawing up with their boats on a trailer. I stopped to talk to one who had recently bought two old boats - an Australian 125 (a 12.5 foot long plywood sailing dinghy) which he said was surprisingly good, though a bit uncomfortable for the passengers, and a Hobie Catamaran which was too heavy for one person to manoeuvre. - He told me both were for sale - 'anything's for sale' - and was dreaming of building a Sunburst from a kit. I learnt (yet again) that unless you can launch a boat easily, it won't get used.

Our Optimist is not, however, fast, nor is it pretty. You need a lot of wind for it to be exciting and fun. As a mathematician might put it, Exciting + fun = 1 - Watery Grave.

The proa is an outrigger boat shaped the same at the ends. They go très fast. To tack, you remove the mast from one end and prop it up at the other. I gather it's called shunting. Here it's happening at 4.15 and at 6.55. I further gather you can do away with the dagger board. The hull is deeply Vee-shaped instead, and the downside seems to be an 8 inch rather than a 3 inch draft. More likely to hit underwater things like beaches. The wind is arranged always to blow from the outrigger towards the hull, so the outrigger is used for throwing your weight onto.

Plywood is eight feet long, so if it unbolts in the middle I could have a sixteen-foot long version, ample for one person and feasible for two. An outrigger is very small, and easily made to unbolt. (If you have the evening ahead of you and nothing to do, here's A Wordy Report on My Version of Gary Dierking´s T2 Pacific Flying Proa. Gary Dierking is an American now living in New Zealand. Chris Grill could be an Englishman from his spelling, but he appears to originate in America.) However, moving the mast is a bit of a rigmarole, and that blog suggests he only capsizes when he's shunting. The problem with sailing is that you're operating the system with the engine going at full speed and you can't throttle it back while you fiddle with the sail and try to change direction.

John, who is entirely rational, tells me to build a proa since we already have the Optimist and won't learn anything from a slightly bigger dinghy. - Life, full of vexing dilemmas.

However I 'spect that at the cost of a huge amount of time and effort I'll make something that doesn't work. But it did make me think about a long-cherished idea I wanted to try out, which is what would happen if I fitted an upside-down short wooden mast inside the only available hole - the steering tube - of my bike and built a Corriboard sail round it.

 The mast

This - including carving the mast from a piece of applewood, and making a cardboard pattern, and cutting two bits of matching Corriboard and duck-taping them together, only cost an hour.  There's a little bit of rubber at the back holding it in place so it can only flop from side to side by four inches. It's pinned to the mast by a 3mm screw, and the mast freely rotates inside the handlebar tube on a plastic washer, so I can remove it at will.

A sail. And yes, that is a mudguard. It is among the features of a useful vehicle, as opposed to a racing cycle.

With the wind behind me my daily ride usually hits 10km after exactly 20 minutes, but now - wind behind me -  it is 19 minutes. Total ride is now 55, 54 or 57 minutes, which I otherwise manage only when there's no wind at all and it's a cool morning. However N=3, and there's always the suspicion that what I am experiencing is the New Toy Pedal Harder effect.

Naturally I couldn't stop meddling so I got out the old front wheel discs and popped them on, and very soon recalled why I'd taken them off, which was because they turn the front wheel into a reverse weather vane and it feels like someone else is also hanging onto the handlebars. And my speed dropped to what it was without the sail, so they came right off again when I got home.

 The uncontrollable front wheel disc

However one ought to be warned. HPV rules v. kindly allow the wind to slow you down but they don't gen'rally allow it to speed you up. The HPV movement regards Rules as boring, but there are a few pedants who will get all upset and anxious, and until they go and enrol with the UCI where Rules belong, it may be best to avoid sails for racing.

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Thursday, January 17, 2013


There was a reasonable tide and some exhilarating wind today so I nipped out in the afternoon for an hour's sailing, and it was brilliant - I was even having to hang over the side to keep it upright, and storming along at oh, a good four knots. But in a sudden gust, I capsized. All of a sudden I thought "Oh - OH!" to myself and then I sat in the sea wondering why I wasn't sinking even though I couldn't touch the bottom, and I realised that's what they make you put a buoyancy aid on for. And far from panicking, I went all calm and started thinking "Right, this is what I have to do" and went about doing it, merely wishing the sea wasn't quite so cold and the bailer was a bit more voluminous and wondering when I dared climb aboard again. I was amazed at how long it takes to bail all the water out of a tiny boat like an Optimist. Now I have to repair the sail, because the poley-gaffy-thing got twizzled up round the mast and stabbed a hole through it. And I must have turned turtle, or else the sea is shallower than I thought, since there was mud on the top of the poley thing when I got back. Had to sail round looking for my bits of foam, too, which had all floated off. (I have bits of foam to kneel on, cos I'm old and wimpy.) And my holey soleys stayed on and my glasses stayed on and my hat stayed on and the bailer stayed attached to the boat so everything went right, insomuch as it can given the circumstances. -

Right, how d'you know I'm not a Proper Sailor? - cos I don't know what the name of the poley-gaffy-thing is. It's probably called a garboard strake or a bosun or something. -