Saturday, December 05, 2015

Boats and Floaty Things: Homemade Drift Sock

This is a commercial drift sock with a durable
straps sewn over the cone for added strength.
I'm basically a canoer with occasional lapses into fishing. I've never been a big fisherman. I'm kind of ADHD and don't have a lot of patience. Frankly my sympathies have always lain with the fish. But, anytime your doing stuff in a boat, you may find yourself needing to sit somewhere on the water without drifting into the weeds.  I've used this little trick to park offshore and do nature photography. If you're into murdering like, Bambi and Thumper you could probably make your canoe or boat or raft sit still for you using a home-made drift sock.

This thing we're going to make is a takeoff of an old sailor's trick called a sea anchor. Basically, a sea anchor is a line or chain, attached to a boat at one end and to a big something or other full of water at the other end. You can also use something like this to help keep your nose into the wind or your boat on course in a heavy breeze. A drift anchor is a smaller version of the sea anchor and comes in very handy in high winds or choppy seas. A very small one can be used to help you stay on course at the cost of a little drag. If you've ever tried to paddle in a stiff breeze, keeping the boat on course can be a real challenge. Even a small motorized skiff can struggle to stay on course for home if a wind comes up.

We sailors are nothing, if not innovators. There are several ways to go at making a drift sock. The quickest is to tie a line to a five gallon bucket and throw it overboard, tying the other end to the loop on the stern of your canoe or to a yoke at the end of a rowboat or skiff.  You can use a smaller bucket if you're trying to keep the boat turned into the wind. A larger bucket will help you not to drift. I've even seen a workable drift sock made from an open umbrella tied by the handle to a drag line behind the boat. 

Here are several other ways to create a quick emergency drift sock. You can fill a garbage bag with water and drag it along behind the boat. One interesting solution I've seen involves tying 4 to 6 ropes to the hem of a dress like a parachute. A bit of wire can be used to keep the dress open. Don't sew up the top of the dress (use a dress not a skirt).  The skirt part will balloon out as you start moving and catch a lot of water. As the water hits the waste of the dress, it slows because the hole is smaller.  The narrowing at the top will slow the forward motion by funneling the water together while still allowing it to pass through so that the dress doesn't act like a parachute and kill your motion altogether.

You can buy a commercial drift sock for $20 to $100 depending on the size of your boat and the amount of freeboard it exposes to the wind. If you have a low profile canoe, you can get away with a smaller drift sock. An Indian-style canoe with high gunwales is a lot more lively in a stiff breeze. A drift sock is simple a cone shaped something or other that is held open at one end and narrow or closed at the opposite.  Commercial ones are made of durable rip-stop nylon or canvas. You can make one yourself by taking a piece of nylon, canvas or polyester and stitching it into a cone shape. At the wide end, hem a wire loop into the edge of the cone. Add 4 grommets evenly spaced around the large end just below the hem. Most craft stores have two or three foot wire hoops that work nicely in this application.

To attach it to the boat, create a simple harness. Tie four ropes or some parachute cord to the 4 grommets at the large end and tie them to a steel loop or carabiner about 4 to 6 feet from the cone.  Then clip the carabiner to a line that you attach to the stern of the boat and drag behind it. If you're lucky, the stern of your boat has a cleat or loop you can attach the drift sock to and you won't have to jerry-rig it. It's not hard to do in any case.

To set up your sock to prevent your boat from drifting, throw the drift sock upwind of the boat and let it fill up. It won't stop you from drifting entirely, but it drag will definitely slow you down in a stiff breeze.

© 2015 by Tom King

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Emergency Man Pizza

Don't step away while you're broiling your pizza. They burn easily.

Let's face it us guys have all done some version of this when the wife was gone and not supervising us or during those magical years before we were married. That said, if you have your druthers, you'll probably prefer a real pizza made by someone who knows how.

BUT - if you're really desperate for that pizza-ish goodness and you don't have any frozen ones, there is something you can do to temporarily satisfy your craving while Dominoes finds your house and you find enough change under the sofa cushions to pay for the thing.

Voila' - The Emergency Man Pizza

You need three things:
  1. Flour tortillas 
  2. Spaghetti sauce, tomato ketchup, picanta sauce - practically anything that's saucy and made from tomatoes.
  3. Cheese - also a flexible ingredient in desperate circumstances. I once made this dish with cream cheese.
 Here's how you make it:
  1.  Lay out however many "pizzas" you're going to want.
  2. Smear your tomato sauce on the pizza. Season to taste. I have a friend who likes to put cayenne on his. I like mine a little more mild.  Don't make it too thick or the crust will get too soggy. Just a light smear is best.
  3. Sprinkle on a nice covering of cheese. Mozzarella is best, but you'd be surprise how good Havarti or Cheddar are in a pinch.
  4. Add anything else you want - onions, peppers, olives, mushrooms, leftover hamburger or some lunch meat, pineapple or sardines - whatever pops your cork. Make it as dry as you can because flour tortillas get soggy pretty quick if you make 'em too juicy.
  5. Stick them on a pizza stone (recommended) or a baking sheet in the oven and turn it on broil.  Don't go away. It takes just a couple of minutes. If you go to pee while they're in the oven on broil they'll turn out black around the edges like the ones in the picture above.  I mean, they're still edible, but they're better if you don't burn the edges.  You can also put them in the oven at 425 degrees, but that takes 8 or 10 minutes and this is, after all, an emergency situation.
These are great with a nice salad or you can just eat as many of them as you can make till you aren't hungry anymore. You probably won't want to show these to your wife or offer them as a food substitute. She is likely to doubt your sanity, which she already rates as "iffy" anyway.

My advice is eat them fast and clean up the evidence. Ketchup/cheddar/tortilla pizzas are generally viewed as barbaric by the fairer sex.

Alternate Microwave Method:

You CAN stick these babies in the microwave, but they will come out soggy. But if that's all you've got, you can roll them up like a pizza burrito and eat them that way and they're still pretty good.  Call 'em pizzaritos and it sounds like you meant to make them like that.  A little sour cream in the middle and you're in good shape.

Tom King
(c) 2015

Saturday, June 06, 2015

The Writing Life: Advice from CS Lewis

A young American girl - an aspiring - writer wrote CS Lewis asking him for advice on how to write. In his letter to her, Lewis made five of the best suggestions I've heard. Lewis had an incredible gift for getting huge ideas into not very much prose. I use these suggestions when I read through my stuff and brutally edit out the drivel...

Here's Lewis' advice:

1. Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure your sentence couldn’t mean anything else.

2. Always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one. Don’t implement promises, but keep them.

3. Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean “More people died” don’t say “Mortality rose.”

4. In writing. Don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was “terrible,” describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was “delightful”; make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers “Please will you do my job for me.”

5. Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say “infinitely” when you mean “very”; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.

So, if somehow, you can manage to avoid foggy, complicated, vague, abstract, touchy-feely, sesquipedalian loquacious writing, you may look up one day and discover you're not such a bad writer after all.

Just sayin'

Tom King (c) 2015