20 THINGS YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW... BUT REALLY SHOULD!
Boating industry stalwart, professor of nautical knowledge and light-hearted rabble-rouser DANNY CASEY shares some interesting information in his unique and very entertaining way...
By perusing what follows, there is no question of your quality of life, employment prospects, sexual allure and material wealth all taking a pronounced turn for the better… but, in the words of Doctor Samuel Johnson, you will, at least, be much better informed.
Magazines and forums are constantly full of nautical trivia such as the real meaning of “Avast, me hearties”, “Shiver me timbers”, “The sun’s over the yardarm” and all that old tat, ad infinitum, but browsers of your cerebral, discerning calibre require enlightenment on the headiest and weightiest of matters.
While the people, time periods, places and products detailed herein are genuine and all subject matter absolutely true, some poetic licence, personal embellishment and tongue-in-cheek observations have been added to vividly enhance your browsing experience. With what you glean here, you will be able to consummately, confidently and emphatically bore anyone to death at any gathering or social event.
Even by today’s standards, most boaters – including those professing to be of a non-techno bent – would readily concede that reasonably high levels of innovation and engineering would go into a compact 55hp, four-cylinder, four-cycle outboard that displaced a tad under 975cc and weighed just under 105kg. Would it be a revelation to learn that such an outboard was actually available as long ago as 1961? Reasonably successful it was, too. Built initially by Homelite (no slouch in the power product world) using the all-alloy Crosley automotive block before being taken over by the then-parent company of Boston Whaler, Fisher-Pierce, it was honed, refined and perfected over the years until its untimely demise in 1973.
Known initially as the Homelite 55 before being rebranded as the Bearcat, this engine was quite aesthetically appealing and not at all bulky. The only thing it didn’t have was power trim, but in those days ‘power trim’ was something you did with an electric razor.
Like every ill-fated product with a reasonably halcyon past, there are legions of slavish devotees who collect and restore these motors (still reasonably plentiful in the US, apparently), and who like to share their labours of love with other like-minded ‘tragics’. Pathetic, isn’t it? Go on… have a peek on the internet.
BLIGH, WILLIAM (CAPTAIN)
When one thinks of monstrous, cruel, unsympathetic yet cowardly tyrants, William Bligh, of Bounty fame, is inevitably brought up. But nothing could be further from the truth – in fact, in terms of professionalism, humanitarianism, concern and compassion, he was head and shoulders above most other ships’ masters plying the seas for the British Empire.
He wasn’t perfect – no one supervising an unruly, inexperienced and subversive crew (many of whom had probably been press-ganged) could ever have that luxury – but he was a relatively urbane, civilised and educated man.
Why the Bounty mutiny occurred has never been satisfactorily clarified, but it was certainly not due to any undue severity or off-the-scale savagery by Bligh. He supposedly had an acid, tart turn of phrase, but I’d resort to some choice phrases, too, if I had to put up with a preening, primping, posturing Mel Gibson every day.
In 1983, there was no finer example of the immigrant made good. ‘Bondy’ was revered, venerated and deified as a true blue, fair dinkum Aussie entrepreneur who wrested the Auld Mug from the Yanks in a classic, fingernail-shredding ‘victory snatched from the jaws of defeat’ performance in the America’s Cup. Now merely known as a ‘just another Pom’.
The man who nearly did to boating in NSW what Errol Flynn did to every female he ever met. Thanks to his efforts, PWCs on Sydney Harbour are now as rare a sight as camels in Ku-ring-gai National Park. In terms of NSW boaters’ rights, he was stopped in time, but now pompously postures and struts like a poor man’s Henry Kissinger on the world stage. Interestingly for someone with supposedly green, conservationist credentials, he is not averse to burning a few thousand litres of jet fuel when the mood takes him.
This is not a joke (although the product certainly was). AB Electrolux was an early pioneer in the Swedish outboard industry before deciding – wisely – to concentrate on its core strength of electrical appliances. They sold the entire project to MCB (Monark-Crescent and Archimedes outboards). It eventually ended up as part of Volvo Penta, who euthanised it – both mercilessly and mercifully (for its customers) – in 1979. Just in case you’re wondering… no; these engines are not collectors’ items.
Not normally a product one would expect to see listed in a nautical digest but not wholly irrelevant. When William S. Harley and the three Davidsons (note: this was not a musical starring Doris Day) could not get a rudimentary carburettor to work on an early production motorcycle at their Milwaukee, Wisconsin factory, their next-door neighbour showed them how to cure the problem. The neighbour, who also produced motorised products, was called Ole Evinrude.
HUNT, C. RAYMOND
The true originator of the fast, sure-footed, stable, deep-v planing hull, and despite today’s myriad developments, spin-offs and tweaked variations of Ray Hunt’s concept, most powerboat builders owe a huge debt of gratitude to this man in much the same way aircraft manufacturers acknowledge the virtual creation of an entire concept by the Wright brothers. Bertram, Boston Whaler, Formula and Fairey are just some of the powerboat companies who embraced Hunt’s concept and took fast offshore boating to heady, exciting, comfortable heights.
Ask any boatbuilder today what the ideal deadrise angle is on a fast planing powerboat and the answer will probably come back: between 22 and 24 degrees. This is to-the-letter compliance with Ray Hunt’s original thinking of over fifty years ago.
But lest you think Ray was a one-trick pony, he was no slouch in the blow boat sphere, either, designing many trophy-winning yawls, yachts and Olympic-class dinghies.
Further to the Harley-Davidson revelation, this American singer/entertainer/movie star was married to Ole Evinrude’s son, Ralph, until his death in 1986.
American brigantine found drifting unmanned in the Atlantic on 4 December, 1872, with the absence of one lifeboat and the entire crew. The cargo, stores of provisions, clothing and the crew’s personal items were all intact. This would have remained one of the greatest seafaring mysteries ever had it not been for the recent discovery that Bert Newton did the cabaret.
NEARER MY GOD, TO THEE
Documented semi-officially, for an entire century, as the last song played by the band of RMS Titanic as she commenced her ignominious plummet to the bottom of the North Atlantic. However, probably not so, as the band would have been ordered to imbue a breezy, ‘stiff upper lip’ spirit as everyone prepared to get very wet. According to other scholars of the tragedy, the final piece of music was just as likely to have been ‘Oh, You Beautiful Doll’ or Autumn’.
No. Not a nautical-themed comedy starring Charlie Sheen (besides, the words ‘comedy’ and ‘Charlie Sheen’ do not co-exist comfortably), but the actual, true, maximum output of any British Seagull outboard motor, regardless of cubic capacity (either 64cc or 102cc) or nominal power rating. The secret to the theoretical engine output was the various lower units, gear ratios and propellers (which resembled the radiator fan of a pre-war Morris 10).
PAPER AIR FILTER (AUTOMOTIVE)
What, you may ask, is going on here? Is this a marine-related list or not? Just hang in there, please. It may be a revelation to learn the first paper-type automotive air filter (initially cobbled together from saucepan bottoms over coarse internal paper elements), and which eventually became adopted as a world automotive standard, was actually invented for an all-conquering NASCAR stock car team by that team’s owner. His name was Carl (Mercury outboards) Kiekhaefer.
PLIMSOLL (ALSO PLIMSOLE)
For decades, the most erudite, incisive, probing minds on the planet have been tortured, obsessed and angst-ridden to the point of breakdown as to why a canvas sports shoe should have the same name as that of the man (Samuel Plimsoll) who conceived the markings on a ship’s side that indicated safe loading levels in differing sea conditions. The reason is… because the plimsoll (‘plimsole’, as in sole of a shoe, is not that widely used) has a glued-on rubber sole that encases the bottom part of the shoe’s upper. Therefore, the shoe can safely be immersed in water to that level! Aren’t you glad you have now been enlightened on such a gnawing issue?
Motor torpedo boat skippered by Lieutenant (junior grade) John F. Kennedy (later 35th President of the United States), sliced in two by the Japanese destroyer Amagiri in waters off the Solomon Islands on 2 August, 1943. This was a boat with a reputed top speed of over 40kt thanks to three 1500hp Packard petrol engines and it is truly a mystery how the waterborne version of an HSV Holden was outmanoeuvred, outsprinted and rammed by the equivalent of a Nissan Patrol.
This is something at which boaters have always excelled – gossip, hearsay, tittle-tattle and scurrilous, colourful, malicious rumours. So called because of the propensity of old-time sailors to gather at the ship’s water barrel – a ‘butt’ (cask) that had been ‘scuttled’ by having an opening cut in it to release water. Many a career has been sunk and many a job secured as a result of scuttlebutt that had more than a ring of truth to it.
SHAKESPEARE, WILLIAM (BILL)
While The Bard himself may well have availed of a longboat to bring him to or from the steps of ye olde ale house along the banks of ye olde River Avon at Stratford, this refers to another William Shakespeare – a 20th century one – from Tewkesbury, also on the Avon.
This William (Bill) Shakespeare was a Pommie powerboating legend who set a world ON catamaran speed record of 104mph on Lake Windermere in 1970 only to be killed at virtually the same spot, practising for the British Grand Prix on 23 October, 1971. To this day, his body has never been found. Although this happened over 40 years ago, Bill Shakespeare’s revolutionary design cues were copied and appropriated by European sportsboat builders for decades after.
Smoked, wrap-around windscreens and sleek, droopy decks meeting swoopy, slightly concave sides were all crafted and wrought to perfection by ‘Shaky Bill’. If you want to see one of his boats in action, search for the movie clip of Alistair MacLean’s ‘Puppet on a Chain’ on the internet. It has one of the best speedboat chases ever filmed – through the Amsterdam canals – and it’ll jolt you clean out of your seat.
STERNDRIVE (INBOARD/OUTBOARD) POWER UNITS
For decades it was widely believed the father of the sterndrive power unit (ie. an inboard engine with an outboard leg) was Jim Wynne. He supposedly knocked together the first prototype from scratch in his garage and sold the whole concept to Volvo in 1958, who duly introduced it as the 'Aquamatic'.
This is not true, however. The inventor was actually Charles Strang of Kiekhaefer Corporation (Mercury) who later went on to be CEO of Outboard Marine Corporation (OMC). Strang and Wynne were contemporaries at Kiekhaefer at the time and, although Strang had invented the entire system from go to wow, Carl Kiekhaefer thought it a pointless concept.
Around the same time, Jim Wynne left Kiekhaefer and Strang handed him the whole project, magnanimously saying: “Do what you want with it.” Wynne reaped the whirlwind, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of dollars in royalties amassed over the years, which Strang forfeited when he abrogated control of the project.
When Carl Kiekhaefer reluctantly decided to compete with Volvo by producing his own Mercruiser sterndrive, it beggars belief that he never asked any questions about how Strang was able to come up with a 'clean sheet' design in just a matter of weeks.
The first real supertanker disaster. Off the UK’s Cornish coast on the morning of 18 March, 1967, the master of the Liberian-registered Torrey Canyon (built in 1959 to originally carry 60,000 tons of crude oil but subsequently lengthened to increase capacity to 120,000 tons) woke and went to the bridge, where he worryingly discovered the ship was to the right of the Scilly Isles, in a narrow stretch of water between the Scilly Isles and the Cornish mainland. There had been a huge navigation error, as the ship should have been to the left (seaward) side of the Scilly Isles, with only the Atlantic Ocean to port.
For the tragic pedants and ‘anoraks’, the blunder supposedly occurred because a) the helmsman was actually employed as the cook(!), and b) the ship used finicky and temperamental LORAN navigation instead of the more reliable and accurate Decca system.
Steering this huge ship through the relatively narrow channel would have been the equivalent of threading the Manly ferry through the upper reaches of the Lane Cove River, and the inevitable happened: she struck Pollard’s Rock on the infamous Seven Sisters’ Reef and began to break up within hours.
In the days that followed, the Fleet Air Arm and the RAF, in an effort to set fire to the oil so that it would burn off, unleashed fusillades of bombs and cans of aviation fuel into the area around the stricken ship, until it finally sank on 29 March, 1967. Due to an unusual prevailing wind pattern at the time, most of the Cornish coast escaped unscathed, but thousands of tons of unburned oil snaked a trail as far as Guernsey in the Channel Islands. There, it was rapidly pumped into a disused quarry where it remains to this day – a filthy, pungent, malodorous argument for why you should still use charts!
The nom de plume of Samuel Longhorne Clemens, author of such down home, folksy (and not in the least segregationist or racist!) classics as Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. The highly plausible name ‘Mark Twain’ was merely part of the statement ‘By the mark, twain’, meaning a depth of two fathoms (2 x 6ft) as measured by a crew member on a Mississippi river boat.
Bestowing huge publicity, universal recognition and unrivalled kudos on one particular, pioneering brand, the word ‘Zodiac’ was, until very recently, an ill-informed and wholly incorrect term for inflatable boats in general (in the same way people used to talk about ‘Hoovering’ the floor). TV and print journalists are still guilty of this transgression, as their commentary or copy regularly accompanies pictures showing inflatables or rigid inflatable boats (RIBs) which, in many cases, are not made by Zodiac.
Many people might be aware that Zodiac has a large swimming pool accessory business, but would know nothing of the huge division that manufactures aircraft escape chutes and automotive airbags.