June 2012 Archives

Sat Jun 16 20:01:57 EST 2012

Final Voyage?

I have finished the final voyage of the season, and potentially of my career as a mariner. It started like most of the others: we loaded up the fridge, filled the ship with students and off we went. I wish I had a lens wide enough to take a photo of the stocked drystore.

We sailed up to Coles Bay again and exchanged the students for another group who had been hiking for the past few days. The weather was pretty good most of the way, but the trip across Storm Bay sickened the students, as usual. Once we were past that, we had a day where we set nearly every sail:

Nearly Full Sail

We dropped the kids off at Maria Island for a bit, so here's the obligatory happy snap:

Maria Island

The second half of the trip involved a quick getaway back to the D'Entrecasteaux Channel as the weather forecast wasn't looking good. One night we were motoring into a 25-30kt wind and I spent 45 minutes up aloft with another crew applying sea-gaskets to the sails. It was dark and the ship's pitching swung us around on the shrouds, while we held on rather tightly. Out on the footropes, the motion of the ship pulled the yards away from us and drove them back into our stomachs as we stowed sail.

Once we were in the channel, we had a number of days at anchor because the forecast wasn't that great there either. We didn't let the kids just sit around and do nothing, though; we drilled them in the handling of rope and sail and put them through a navigational test and a test where they had to move a load along the deck using rope.

All told, it was another successful voyage, and one that's given me just enough time at sea to get my coxswain's ticket. Now it's time for the classes back ashore.

Posted by Jack Kelly | Permanent link | File under: windeward_bound

Mon Jun 11 08:34:11 EST 2012

The Marlinspike Sailor

Hervey Garrett Smith's The Marlinspike Sailor is probably my favourite book in the ship's library, as it is one of those rare books that's both entertaining and instructive. The dry humour that runs through the text makes it a very endearing read. This is what it has to say about rope ladders:

Almost every yachtsman at some time in his career feels that he must have a rope ladder, primarily for swimming from his boat. This is a perfectly logical desire which can be satisfied in two ways. He can walk into the nearest marine supply store and buy a serviceable rope ladder for less than ten dollars, or if he's so constituted he can take some salvaged material and spend seventy-five dollars worth of time making his own. It is to the man who chooses the latter method that these remarks are directed.

In addition, the drawings are excellent and are much more useful than the photographs which plague some modern knot books. It's a beautiful book, and it makes me wonder: why is there almost nothing like it in the computer science world? The closest analogues that I can think of are some of the literate programming texts (where a lot of effort goes into the code's presentation as well as the code itself), and the dialogue Designing an Authentication System: a Dialogue in Four Scenes. There's no shortage of hacker folklore, as evidenced by The Jargon File. So why is it that there's such a gap?

I think there are a few reasons. Firstly, ropework is so much more tangible than code, making it much easier to appreciate without special training. It's easier to describe a knot than an algorithm. Secondly, the computing world necessarily places a big emphasis on the clean exposition of ideas, which means that there's little room for side-stories and anecdotes. Finally, thinking of programming as engineering or construction, which is how it was taught at my university, seems to leave little scope for books with heart. Thinking of programming as an art or craft can encourage it.

Posted by Jack Kelly | Permanent link | File under: windeward_bound, readings