Po-han’s Nut

Where Next?
Bob Williams
Sat 14 Dec 2013 04:17
Noon Position: 05 39.2 S 152 24.9 E
Course: North nor’ east Speed: 3.5 knots
Wind: South, F3 - gentle breeze
Sea: slight Swell: South 0.5 meters
Weather: overcast, warm, and humid
Day’s run: 36 nm sailed, 16 nm made good.

Another sixteen miles has been put behind us. It is indeed slow going, but it is progress and very satisfying progress at that. I will not bore you with the minutia of the previous twenty four hours and our struggles to keep Sylph moving in the right direction, with mostly very light winds and the current against us. Instead I will leave you with a quote from a great story by Richard McKenna, “The Sand Pebbles”. Like all great stories it is about love and friendship, set on board an obsolete US gunboat, the San Peblo, during the Chiang Kai-shek rebellion in China.

“The engine fought back. The coupling nuts would not come loose. There were thirty of them, ten to a flange, each nut four inches across, and they were welded in their threads by the rust of fifty years. Po-han held the wrench steady and Holman swung the twenty-pound sledge until his wrists felt wooden and his fingers trembled and he could hardly close his hands. In two hours, they got one nut off.
“There was an art to sledging. Amateurs use a full arm swing, and it was mostly noise and show. The best way was to move the sledge only about a foot, arms rigid and your right arm only a few inches from the hammer head, and you swing your whole body from the ankles. You made your whole body into a battering ram, and you poured the fused momentum of bone, muscle and steel into what you hit. If what you hit did not yield, all the energy reflected back into you, and it jarred you to your heel.
“The nuts would not yield. They tried each nut in turn, jacking the shaft to get the lower ones, and stopped to ball-peen again and drip more kerosene, and sledged over the nuts a second time. Holman sledged with an increasingly desperate blasting anger, and with each blow he could feel in his right hand the back jar of unavailing force re-enter him. Steel on steel struck sparks and added sulfurous flavor to the steamy, damp, kerosene smell. Both men dripped sweat. By suppertime they had loosened one more nut.
“ “Ain’t much, for a day’s work.” Holman said wearily.
“Po-han grinned. He was happy about that second nut.”

Making good sixteen miles in a day is a bit like Po-han’s second nut.

Now we are running square before a steady, gentle southerly breeze, drifter to port, jib poled out to starboard, and making a very pleasant three and a half knots.

All is well.