sounds afloat – column for Small Craft Advisor written on board – comments welcome

Last year I sold my little yacht with its diesel inboard. The slug was only 18 foot long but it had an 8hp single cylinder diesel engine with a flywheel that would  do justice to a tractor.  I both loved and hated the engine - which I came to think of as "the beast".  It sipped fuel, produced lots of drive and best of all it made an almost agreeable noise.

At a quarter revs it would shove the boat along at three knots and it was quiet enough to hear the seagulls and the water running past the boat. You could have a conversation with another human being sitting in the cockpit. It would tickover at very low revs and have the boat drifting along at two knots. However, it was fifty years old and Volvo had stopped making spares for it. Whenever it broke down I was in for a massive job.

The new to me boat, Katie L, is 23 foot long with a canoe stern and an outboard in a well ahead of the rudder. I now have a modern Tohatsu six hp single cylinder engine. I think it is sold under the Nissan brand on your side of the pond. It is frugal on gas, produces lots of power to drive the boat and charge the battery, it starts second pull every time but it sits in the back of the cockpit and fills the air with a most disagreeable acoustic clutter.  After half an hour my head is aching.

How those mobo drivers and jetski people tolerate the sound of their infernal machines  I have no idea. Just chalk it up to a fundamental difference between sailors and motorboatalists.


The upside of the noise from the Tohatsu is that I have started to really appreciate the sounds of sailing.

There are the obvious noises of the water passing the hull and gurgling around the rudder.  I love it when I have a friend on board who I trust and  I can stretch out in the cockpit, close my eyes  and listen to the boat as it goes about its miraculous work of taking energy from the wind and turning it into forward motion through the water.

I once had a clinker boat which I thought looked wonderful but eventually the noise was too much. It would slip and slop and gurgle its way along.  It was especially annoying when I was in my sleeping bag and listening to those night sounds on the boat. Even on the quietest night it would make the noise of a labrador licking its nuts. Any sort of tide would have it at full seventeen beagles drinking.  I had to sell it in the end. I am sure that I got up more often in the night to answer a call of nature while I owned that boat.

I love the  sound of a gently fluttering pennent when dosing in the cockpit at anchor.

The sound of a kettle announcing  that the water is boiled and ready for the first cup of tea of the day has to be up there with the good sounds on a boat. I also like it when Jill says "here you are" and hands me a cup of tea out of the hatch when we are under way.

I have recently been based up a mud creek on the Humber. The boats are moored bow onto pontoons and the when the tide retreats they settle down into the mud with the reed beds towering twelve feet above the hatchway.. The boat sits solid as a rock whatever the wind is doing and to lie in the bunk while the wind whistles through the waving reeds and tugs innefectually at the rigging is a wonderful thing.  But on a still night on a mooring the sound of a curlew mournfully calling out for its mate is hard to beat.

Now, the bad sounds.  The old Oyster smack sailors used to say that slap of rigging in a breeze sounded like childrens feet across the decks. Well I can tolerate any amount of noise from neighbours halyards slapping against their masts but if it is mine making the noise then I have to get up straight away and put a bungy up to tie them back to the shrouds.

The sound of the anchor chain dragging with the turning tide will have me awake in seconds. I then wait and wait for sounds that might tell me that it has failed to re-set.

Water slopping in the bilges or the chinese water torture of the drip from a cutlass gland soon has me out of bed and  making with the grease gun.

The plop of a mobile phone, binocs or wich handle going over the side is a a bad one but worst of all can be the unidentfiable ones.

One January night on the River Ore in Suffolk the temperature had fallen well below zero. I was in two lseeping bags and with a woooly hat on. I awoke to a scraping sound coming from all around the hull. It was such strange sound.  could not make sense of it. I got out of bed and into the cockpit where I shone a flashlight over the side. Crushed ice was flowing past the boat. The water on the mud flats had frozen and been scooped up by the returning tide. The boat was right in the middle of a gently flowing slush puppy of salty mud coloured partially frozen goo.  It only lasted for a few minutes but the sound will stay with me forever.

There is one more though. It occurs when you have dropped the hook and are sitting at peace in a quiet anchorage with the gentle noise of the tide, the wind in the reeeds and the birds when some twassock decides to fire up his generator so that his kids can use their game console or watch a DVD. Aaaaargh!



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13 Responses to “sounds afloat – column for Small Craft Advisor written on board – comments welcome”

  1. 19 August, 2013 at 7:53 pmDave Kay says:

    HI Dylan,
    As always enjoying your blogs, This reminds me of a delivery to the Med, rounding Cape St Vincente,
    With a glorious sunset, dolphins playing at the bow,owner and crew down below. Watching a dvd
    Pirates of the Carribean, takes all sorts.

  2. 19 August, 2013 at 11:16 pmthe skint sailor says:

    I’d say those few seconds of silence after turning off the outboard when your hearing adjusts and you hear the gurgle of the water past the hull as the sails carry you along as a good sound, along with the sound of frying bacon. One bad sound is any change in the tone of the engine when you haven’t touched it. Is it about to run out of fuel, break down or is there just yet more weed on the prop?

  3. 20 August, 2013 at 4:44 amGary Blankenship says:

    Is your Tohatsu a 2 or 4 cycle? I’m betting 4; if so how would it compare to a 2 cycle?

  4. 20 August, 2013 at 5:27 amJes says:

    I really enjoyed this, especially the bit about clinker boats. The other bad sound is the anchor rope playing on the bobstay and the whole hull becomes the sound box of a double bass.

  5. 20 August, 2013 at 7:38 amdylan winter says:

    four – so it is a bit heavier, bit noisier, but much more fuel efficient. I have only used three gallons since leaving the Humber three weeks ago


  6. 20 August, 2013 at 7:59 amdylan winter says:

    good one… you are correct….few things worse than the clatter of an outboard… few things more delicious than when it stops

  7. 20 August, 2013 at 11:03 amDavid J says:

    Nice commentary, but where are the sounds of your voice on videos? Have you stopped recording and transmitting them? If so, a pity

  8. 20 August, 2013 at 5:32 pmdylan winter says:

    I am on the boat and cannot edit and upload the films

    it will have to wait until I get home


  9. 21 August, 2013 at 4:09 pmDavid J says:

    Thanks for your reply. (I was having video withdrawal pains.)

  10. 22 August, 2013 at 8:11 pmDoug says:

    I have always liked the sound of halyards against the mast, I suppose I have associated it with being on holiday.
    I feel this blog should have links to the various sounds :)

  11. 23 August, 2013 at 5:22 amsean says:

    It’s late–past one in the morning and the house is as silent as it ever gets around here. I’m reading your blog, as usual, beer in left hand, mouse in right, when suddenly I read the following:
    “Even on the quietest night it would make the noise of a labrador licking its nuts.” Well, let me just say, the beer came out of my nose and I could not stop myself from laughing–laughing loud enough to put an end to the quiet and wake those that had chosen a more sensible hour to call it a day. Humor is most often effective when it contains solid amounts of reality and truth. I’ve been in so many nut-licking boats in my life, but never able to give the sound such a true and well deserved definition.

    Well done!

  12. 23 August, 2013 at 11:29 amdylan winter says:

    bloody nora Doug

    a flapping halyard will have me out of bed displaying my kecks to all onlookers before you can blink


  13. 3 September, 2013 at 8:42 pmLucas says:

    Wow! you write about sounds but make me even see them! great job. lucas

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