Would You Rather Have a Boat That Sucks Or Stinks?

Now most of you may think that is a distinction without a difference, but I learned on Sunday it most definitely is not. Let me explain.

On Sunday, my crew and I went out for an end of season sail. We were joined on the river by Laura, Will, and Brian sailing Lightning 14627, whose owner graciously let them borrow her for the day. Now, everyone in our fleet knows that 14627 rarely gets wet, and usually can be found sitting forlornly in its slip over by the PRSA committee boats. That area of the marina is also known to most of us as a bastion of mouse activity, and 14627 is a case in point of what happens when you leave your boat over there and never take her out. Mice got aboard and rather than the usual destruction of her sails due to being eaten, the mice decided to make a home in the rolled up jib. When Laura and company opened up the boat for the first time in weeks they disturbed a veritable metropolis living in said jib. It did not take very long to notice the reeking stench of mouse urine that emanated from the sail. It was so bad you could smell it from 2 boat lengths away. So much for the “Stink”, now for the “Suck”.

As we sailed out to the river, my crew and I discussed a book that I am currently reading (re-reading actually – its that good). The book is “Quicksilver” by Neal Stephenson and it is the first of a trilogy called “The Baroque Cycle”. It is a work of fiction with a heavy emphasis on science. I hesitate to call it Science Fiction as that would give you the wrong idea that it might be about space ships and ray guns and the like. Instead it takes place in the late 1600’s and early 1700’s and some of the major characters are people like Isaac Newton, Wilhelm Gottfried Leibniz, Christopher Wren,and the other great scientists of the enlightenment. The story begins in Boston where fictional character Daniel Waterhouse is summoned back to England by Royalty to settle the argument between Newton and Leibniz over who it was that really invented Calculus. This was an argument that raged for decades. I imagine it was something like the arguments over Global Warming that we have suffered through the last ten years or so – but I digress. Dr. Waterhouse leaves Boston on a very fast sailing ship which is a good thing as they are pursued by none other than Edward Teach AKA Black Beard. It is in this passage where the scientist and the first mate have a discussion of “The Suck” and why because Teach’s ship suffered from it, they would get away. “The Suck” is described as what happens when a ship is overly heavy in the stern and leaves a large wake. The wake actually “Sucks” the boat back into itself thereby slowing it down. Teach’s ship really sucked and they do get away. This is a phenomenon first described by the Bernouli Brothers who also are known as the savants who figured out exactly how a sail works in pulling you through the water. I could not help but think of how this applies to racing our beloved square bottomed boat, the Lightning. As racers we all know that you sail faster upwind when you keep your weight forward in your boat thereby keeping your stern out of the water. This avoids leaving a wake, and keeps you from suffering “The Suck”.

Now, back to Sunday. We were having a great daysail out there, and were totally relaxed, not worrying whether we kept our weight forward and noticed how we could not keep up with 14627. This was not an entirely bad thing because of the stench that wafted off of her as she sailed. In part it was because the three of them weighed about half of what we did, but it was also due to “The Suck”. I was sitting too far back in the boat, relaxed and sipping a beer, and we were leaving quite a wake behind us. In other words, we sucked. This is what brought to mind the question I opened with: Would you rather have a boat that sucks, or a boat that stinks. On a beautiful indian summer Sunday in November, while out for a daysail we all agreed, we would much rather suck than stink. On the other hand, if we had been racing on a Fall Series Sunday the reverse would of course be true. On the other other hand, it is best to both not suck  AND not stink. This is easily achieved by both keeping your weight forward while sailing, and getting your boat on the water regularly so the mice don’t take over.


PS If you are at all like me, and you are interested in physics, and like an epic tale, I highly recommend “The Baroque Cycle” to you. Sailing, science, piracy on the high seas, political intrigue, it has it all. Not for the faint hearted though, if you read the whole thing you will have consumed some 3000 pages. “The Baroque Cycle” is made up of 3 books: “Quicksilver”, “The Confusion”, and “The System Of The World”.