If there was a dictionary definition of "Dock Talk", it might read something like this.
v. Offering of one's wisdom of boating knowledge by any person who has owned, taken a ride on, or been within 200 feet of a boat in the past 20 years. n. Often the origin of many boater's knowledge of boating. Commonly takes place in locations other than on a dock.
From where does our boating knowledge hail? Many of the opinions and beliefs that we embrace so strongly today are the direct result of "Dock Talk." Who hasn't shared and spread tidbits of boating knowledge? Although many opinions may stem from firsthand knowledge, there are often ideas and opinions about things that we really have no personal experience with at all. We've "heard" it somewhere, or we've read it, then we just kind of adopt it as our own and spout the same info to other boaters at a later date, often with great conviction.
Sue and I initially discovered the phenomenon of "Dock Talk" when we were searching for our first cruising boat. In particular, we were searching for reliable information regarding the overall sailing characteristics, safety, and reliability of cruising in light displacement vs. heavy displacement sailboats. We began our extensive survey by asking every boater we knew to give us his/her opinion. This ranged from Joe Sailor on a typical dock anywhere to many of the top industry professionals. What struck us was that everyone had a very strong opinion on the matter, usually at one end of the scale or the other. Very few could convincingly explain why they felt that way, and only a handful had any real-life experience with both types of boats in actual conditions. It became obvious to us at this time that "Dock Talk" was present. These sailors had been strongly influenced by someone, or by some article they had read in the past, and had just adopted the position as their own.
Today when I suspect "Dock Talk" from a fellow boater, I find myself digging a little deeper to see if the information that's being dispensed can be backed up with any kind of personal experience on the subject. Did the opinion come from the information giver's brother-in-law's friend's son who chartered a 38-foot boat for a week last winter? If so, be wary, and test the information yourself to see if it makes sense to you before you blindly accept it as the truth. I've certainly found myself checking what I say in conversation with other cruisers at get-togethers to make sure I'm not guilty of the same thing.
What makes it difficult is that we can't discard all the "Dock Talk" we hear from other sailors. There's much to be learned from people with experience, regardless of the topic. The important thing to discern is whether there's some firsthand experience and logic behind the information you are receiving. With many aspects of sailing, there's no right or wrong way to do things, just different philosophies of how to do it. You'll always find people to support practically any sailing theory out there (just look at the thousands of different sailboat designs to choose from), but in the long run, you're the one in the boat that has to ride out any situation, and you must be comfortable with your decision.
A few weeks ago we met a lady who was extremely relieved to hear our new boat, Serengeti, was built in 1978. She declared with much fervor, "Any boat built after 1983 simply isn't worth buying". No, we didn't bother telling this lady about our wonderful cruising experiences over the past few years in our brand new Beneteau, so she is still out here today, influencing others who will listen and believe her convincing opinions.
Then there are the purists who preach with great conviction that roller furlers jam all the time. Funny, Sue and I managed to sail 10,000 miles with our furling headsail and furling main sail without a single malfunction. Most problems with any piece of equipment on board are usually a result of poor maintenance and/or poor technique. (A trick with furling sails is to always maintain a little tension on the sail as you roll it up, and in the case of the in-mast furler, also release the boomvang.) We both believe that the added safety of not having to venture to the fore deck in stormy conditions to douse sails far outweigh any remote possibility that the system may jam at an inopportune time. In fact we plan to fit Serengeti with a second roller furling unit on our inner-forestay.
"I wouldn't go offshore in that boat if you gave it to me," Exclaimed a good friend of ours one day as he pointed toward a ketch sitting gracefully at dock. Oddly enough, we later met the owner and found out that he and his wife have successfully crossed the Atlantic four times in the exact boat our friend was pointing to incriminatingly. Now whom do you believe?
There's also the natural tendencies that we all have to justify our past purchases and decisions. When asked, "How do you like your wind generator?" or "How's your boat sail?" the answer's usually, "Great! I love it." Often this self-justification occurs subconsciously and directly shapes our opinions of boats or gear that we own. It's the unusual sailor that we run across that will admit that he/she has erred and purchased the wrong boat or a poorly designed piece of equipment. It's just human nature. Be wary of these all-encompassing testimonials and probe further for details and specifics.
Luckily though, not all "Dock Talk" is ill-conceived or misleading. We've gotten some insightful tips that have already helped us greatly and others still that we have yet to put to the test.
One man told us how great Penetrol was for all kinds of boat-related uses. He suggested that polishing metals first, followed by a coating of Penetrol, would protect them and that the same process would give new life to dull fiberglass gelcoat. Another sailor put us on to turpentine as an agent to cut through the gooey bedding compound left behind after we removed the teak decks on Serengeti. We later discovered that turpentine also softens cured 5200 Marine Adhesive and ended up saving us a lot of time and money. (We had just bought a $14 teensy little can of Anti-bond, that does the same thing. We even did a double blind test and could tell no difference between the two products.)
Another dock-talker swore that ketchup is the be-all, end-all for cleaning old brass. We were naturally skeptical, and thought maybe this was a trick being played on us, but being good sports, we allowed the guy to paint ketchup on one of our brass ports anyway. After a few hours, a small amount of the green patina came off, but not the miraculous results that we were promised. In discussing this incident with another boater the next day, he agreed with the information giver, but told us we just didn't leave the ketchup on long enough. You need to leave it for three days or so. We may try this again, so if you see us sailing by with what looks like old ketchup stuck to our ports, it is!
The "Dock Talk" we received one afternoon, inspired us to confidently remove the teak cap-rail that tops Serengeti's bulwark. We must have really trusted that guy, because the next morning we painstakingly removed the hundreds of bungs and screws, and began prying off the rail. In the end, we were glad we followed this dock talker's suggestion. We dried several wet areas, and ground out and repaired some other areas of rotted wood before re-fiberglassing the entire bulwark. It wasn't an easy job, but the results speak for themselves. The complete bulwark and cap-rail assembly is now structurally sound again and completely watertight. Plus, it looks really great. We would not have undertaken this task without the guidance and encouragement of our fellow sailor/friend from down the dock.
We've also taken another step on Serengeti resulting strictly from "Dock Talk." Before putting the brand new 300 feet of chain in our anchor locker, we coated it with linseed oil. According to our "source," this will protect and give longer life to the galvanizing. Talk to us in three years about the results of this one. I guess we decided that it wouldn't really hurt anything even if it didn't work as purported, so we figured, "What the heck."
All in all, "Dock Talk" is not such a bad thing. If you're ever bored and want some free entertainment for an afternoon, head down to the local waterfront and strike up a conversation with any salty type you see. You may find a wonderful anchorage you didn't know existed, a reliable new boatyard, or something as simple as who serves the best shrimp-burger in town. One thing is for sure, you're bound to hear a combination of some far-fetched ideas, some practical hands-on information that you may be able to use tomorrow, and maybe some recommendations that need further investigation. With "Dock Talk" like everything else in life, Caveat Emptor .