Strolling Amok

Pops goes on tour.

The Delusion of Grandeur

The HMS Surprise.

The HMS Surprise.

I’m departing Sandwich, Illinois today for points West, and will likely take just over a week to get to northwest Utah. Unlike previous trips, I won’t be posting day-by-day travelogs since I intend to route my trip along stopping points I’ve used earlier. So, I will post only if I find something uniquely notable along the way.

The departure itself will be as the opportunity presents itself: thunderstorms and frequent rains will hopefully present me with a window of opportunity for one last commune with the dump station a little later. Travel is limited to empty waste tanks only, as the Innsbruck’s frame rails are already bent quite enough from travel with full tanks, apparently. If I can’t dump those tanks, I won’t travel. Since Wunderground Weather at the moment says I’m enjoying clear skies and 3 MPH breezes, it may be entirely up to me to seize any opportunity, since actually it’s pouring both heavy rain and hail in a wind stiff enough that the trailer is bobbing about. That wouldn’t be notable except that the wind is coming in straight from the nose of the trailer. This patch of turf gets pretty soggy with rain, so I may use the Mighty Furd’s 4WD to ease out, just to avoid unnecessarily tearing up the grass.

Having always been a homebody, I’ve found it surprising that I’ve recently felt a growing impatience to get back out west. The quiet urge is not to get back on the road per se, since the peculiar limitations of the Defiant make overnight travel stops more restrictive of onboard amusements than many RVs. It’s also not the lure of Wendover, Utah itself, which is relatively expensive and mediocre at best as far as resources to support a long-term camp stay. Between the flies and mice in the canal camping area that supports the salt flats, the Defiant’s new defensive systems should be put to the test. But there are other places out West that have more of a beckoning call, both the familiar and the unfamiliar. It is those ports that prod my impatience.

Not completely unrelated, I was watching the movie Master and Commander: The Far Side of The World the other evening, and was struck by the disparity of our common view of old sailing ships, and the reality of what they actually were. We tend to filter them through romantic lenses, or see them as platforms to enable roguish but lovable pirates to ply their trade. But seagoing sailing ships have actually been in continual technological development since ancient times, often being pushed hard by a combination of meeting hazardous weather, the need to carry more trade items more economically, and the need to dominate in warfare. They could make nations rich, and were a less theoretical projection of power even then. Any error in design approach meant lost wealth or lost battles, yet the failure to search for the cutting edge of what was possible posed the same risks.

The movie presented this well, as the British HMS Surprise was revealed in the movie to be a proven warship design that had been obsoleted in speed, invulnerability and firepower by newer French designs during the Napoleonic wars. Sailing ships are nothing if not a conglomeration of different systems incorporated into a whole, and the needs that each of those systems addresses tends to conflict directly with others, so advancing the state of the art has always been problematic. Fix one problem, create another. Hit a circumstance where you’ve compromised one ability in order to improve another, and you’ve got an expensive resource now at the bottom of the sea.

Shipbuilding itself quickly became more science than art. We tend to think of them as simply a bunch of wooden boards clapped together, with two or three masts stuck on to hold the sails. How tough could it be? Bigger is always better, right? Just make the boards longer. More space for cannons or cargo! Yet if you try to hold a handkerchief open out the window of a car doing just 30 MPH, you’ll quickly find that there are impressive forces to be reckoned with. And bigger means inherently weaker or less stiff. What impressed me about the movie was it giving a brief glimpse into the necessary complexity of sailing ships, the considerable manpower needed to operate them, the provisions that had to be made to get men up into the hazardous areas where the massive sails live, and the various provisions that had to be made to accommodate that many men for months at a time. Land or get stuck in a place where you can’t fully replenish your stores, and you stand a good chance of never making it to the next.

What made me think of all this is a single-spaced, one-sheet checklist I keep on the wall near the TV screen, for when the Defiant must be prepped for each little voyage, long or short. Properly disconnect and stow the solar panels, turn off this, turn on that, stow loose items securely, attach this, adjust that, etc. It’s a conglomeration of functional systems that must be attended to and accounted for to ensure a safe and mishap-free trip. Miss an item, encounter a circumstance, and reap the results. Much like the HMS Surprise, the Defiant is a fine old vessel that is now obsolete, and its limitations now stand out on both highway and rough trail, compared to newer travel trailers. Her mass of design compromises is sturdy in some ways and lacking in others, and her structure is weakened by time and miles traveled. But onward she goes through the weather that comes, at the speed she can muster, to new ports and new places. A weekend boulevard camper at the start, she’s been refitted for boondocking as well as is practicable, and sent on her way. She is now a Projection of Power, and I am her Master and Commander – not! But it is fun, and although the risks surface now and then, the voyages are enjoyable. So begins another one, weather permitting. Byarrr! Belay this musing, fortify the crew, break the shore connections, empty her hold, and hoist the sails! We’ve a port to reach a’for nightfall, ye scurvy dogs!

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15 thoughts on “The Delusion of Grandeur

  1. Yes indeed, Master and Commander is an excellent movie. It makes you wonder how much better the world of movies and books would be if love stories were just left out. I thought the beginning of the movie did an especially good job of making the audience feel like they were actually living on that ship.

    If the frame rails of your trailer are bent, making it might be worth going to a trailer shop that can weld, or a welding shop that works on trailers.

    • I’m not sure that an absolute vacuum of romantic love in film and literature would improve the field, but it is often warped into a surface-level depiction, or “gratuitous romance” frippery that has no larger context, depth, or meaning. It’s often added to scripts just because the studio thinks it will sell better. In my view, too many people consider romantic love as the only love there is, and movies often tend to cater to that. The cliche of the upset guy shooting his wife (or vice versa) right after he yells, “I love you!” reveals the closer story of what the real emotion is. And yet, some people nod and don’t see it as “conform to my will, or…” It’s not an easy topic anyway.

      You’re right about the welding thing, and I’ll have to check that out with a shop. I can’t see simply slapping on sizable beams in bending mode, because I’m already near my 7,000-pound weight limit for the axles, and most individual wheel loads are each within 100 pounds of max, so I have to be careful about just ladling on more steel without some cleverness. Since the thing has dropped axles, there may be a little room to add an upside-down “A” of a few smaller tubes that would get some tension and compression going. I suspect that a more experienced welder will have some insights for me. Thanks Mr. Boonster, Sir!.

  2. I have not seen that movie yet, but I do like that picture of the HMS Surprise! Sailing is something I have enjoyed for a long time. Hope to be doing more soon. Your comparisons are so apt! Long live the Defiant! Arrrgh!

    • I do hope you will have the opportunity to hit the water with your little sailboat this year. I tend to picture it as a thin resin shell over 100 foam cooler lids, but once you hoist the mast and sail, that thing should take off! Think ye that she might hold a cannon on her deck, say I?

      • Lol! You are closer than you think, but since she it’s only about 11′ long it is more like 50 cooler lids with no resin! I did coat her hull with a layer of paint, matey, to keep her from absorbing the water, but any other coating will have to wait till after I find that buried treasure! As far as a cannon goes, she be a wee bit small fir that. She was not made fir fightin’, matey, she is fir skating away in the shallows as needs be. Aye.

  3. Rod Duell on said:

    Nice post Doug. Your insights and perspectives are valued!

  4. Linda Sand on said:

    Then you pull into a proposed boondocking spot and, “Sail, ho!” Will this be a friendly encounter or not?

    • Nice humor, Linda, and it got me to thinking. The Defiant’s colors are best struck in solitude, most often, as I find the hum of generators and the yapping of dogs to be too vexing to gather my thoughts and contemplate The Infinite. Also, it’s really annoying! So I prefer to drop anchor in the peace of solitude, when possible. Toyhaulers and big, shiny motorhomes tempt the fates, but all else stands a chance in the absence of incessant barking. I’m all for comfort and convenience, but not when it’s boisterous. It’s simply more difficult for me to appreciate the visual and aural beauties of nature when suburbia transplants itself close by. I’m one of those people who have trouble breaking out of their train of thought to notice what’s around them, or simply let their mind wander, so distractions don’t help.

  5. James Brown on said:

    Good analogy, RVs and sailboats. I’ve been a lifelong sailor and have compared them many times. One of the old sailing truisms is the wind is always blowing from where you want to go. I’ve thought of that many times when I’ve had a strong headwind fighting my forward progress. One criteria of my current search for a replacement vessel is as little windage as possible. Older fifth wheels had much less headroom in the forward cabin, hence much less windage. The problem being most RVs are disposable items and finding an old RV worth the trouble of a refit is difficult. But nobody said sailing against the tide was going to be easy.

    • That old sailing truism probably far outdates Murphy’s Laws, and by centuries at least, hey? I think you’re right in searching for an old fifth-wheel, as they are quite compact and sensible, a distinct improvement over mid-size bumper-pull travel trailers such as my Innsbruck. The modern fivers seem to serve only as a way to keep wretched excess still towable by 3500-class pickups, and the overall heights are just ridiculous. I still come across original fifth wheels now and then – just saw another today – but finding one that’s for sale is quite another matter. Too bad the RV industry had such a bad shakeout in the crash, and most of the independents who might have been better able to search for such niches are gone or were absorbed. None of the few huge conglomerates left even sees the tidy little opportunity of offering a mid-size fifth-wheel trailer with a smaller wind profile that ordinary pickup trucks can pull. They’re so caught up in competing in the big-money luxo-market that I suspect they feel that no one would pay the upcharge inherent in a more modestly-sized fifth-wheel that can be towed by an F150 and similar. And industry reviewers would dump on it because they’d rail that you can’t stand upright in the bedroom, even though truck campers have the same trait. Until the industry becomes less myopic, good luck on your search for the real deal, James!

      • There’s somebody out there who understands the RV industry better than I do, but let me take a guess about the emphasis on the “luxo-market”, as you called it.

        What if a big part of industry profits is tied to financing RVs. That is certainly believable under the Zero Interest Rate Policy of the Federal Reserve: financial organizations get their hands on free money from the Fed, and then loan it out to the suckers at high interest rates.

        If that is all true, then the RV industry needs to sucker people into jumbo loans on luxo-rigs, and make the whole idea of paying cash seem ludicrous and out-of-date.

        If so, then this is just one more example of market-distortions (to the point of absurdity) brought on by the free-money-from-the-Fed culture.

        • Hey KaBloonie, we don’t talk about politics here, unless of course I talk about it and then disable comments so I’m not contradicted by someone who actually knows what they’re talking about. 😉 However, I have no little doubt that financing is a big contributor to RV profits, and then it’s a lot like real estate: ask to see a modest house in your budget range and all you’ll be shown are the bigger ones, because it’s mo’ money and mo’ profits all-’round. Except for you. Playing to emotions and perceived peer pressure works wonders to separate the customers from the suckers, and I’m sure it’d be the preferred process even without the ZIRP, but it makes such a nice catalyst. We do gravitate toward self-indulgence, especially if it’s on sale.

          But I’m not sure about the ZIRP’s contribution in the big picture, because banks usually won’t make loans on RVs. There’s only one RV-friendly loan source out there that I know of. Perhaps manufacturers do self-fund though – I just don’t know and hopefully will never have the chance to find out.

  6. Doug, Interesting article, I’ll make note of that movie. I like the comment about no politics except from you. Maybe we know some of the same people. 🙂 What type of frame does your trailer have, do you know if its boxed or an “I” beam designed? With being an older rig I would guess that its boxed and that’s good. Does it have a particular area that’s cracked or bent or is there wrinkling in the side walls? Post some pics of several areas and we may be able to help you more. It may be possible to put a sub frame in it or do an axle flip. Some of the newer trailers have frames that are so weak that they crack or fold sideways. To me older is often better as they often have 6 to 8 inch box frames.
    Often times when it comes to items like RV’s I buy used ones. I recently looked at a new unit and slammed the door three times before it closed and the wall shook as I did it. I also couldn’t stomach drilling holes all over a thirty to fifty thousand dollar RV while rigging it out. Most of what is spent on an old rig to get it ready would also have to be spent on a new rig, solar, vents, surge protection, good tires etc. Don’t give up on her yet.

    • Well Ron, I might occasionally bring up topics that may be best solved by politics, but by nature I have neither the capability nor interest to discuss politics intelligently. It’s like math, which fascinates many, but I’m just not there. Neither to I enjoy arguing, as many do, and politics is often used as their path to nirvana, not thoughtful solutions.

      The trailer’s frame rails are fully-boxed 2′ x 6″ beams. They are straight except for a gentle bend over the dual axles, which allows the tail end to be around 2″ lower than the forward length. The trailer’s dropped axles have been remounted to the bottoms of the springs to boost ground clearance a bit. So far, the body is not showing any distress, and it’s possible to “straighten” the frame with the rear stabilizer jacks. The frame rails don’t look folded or stressed at any one point. My challenge would be to add supporting structure to take out the bend, but not in such a way as to add a lot of weight or concentrate the stress at one new point. The spring mounts are right in the way of where I’d like to add material. I wanted to post a side-view photo that shows the frame dropping more at the rear, but my cellular signal here is pretty bad where I’m parked, and it can’t be done. It’s possible that the bending may have been a one-time event, and won’t get any worse with care. Sure.

      I’ve looked at newer rigs, but the Defiant is all modded out and works so perfectly for me, that all I see in new ones is the amount of work needed to match the Defiant’s functionality. Trashing the resale value of an $18,000 trailer gives me pause too, while anything I do to 20-year-old trailer seems more like an improvement. I’d even insist on matching tire sizes – no way I’m going to leave my new D-rated tires behind and live with marginal C’s! In the end, every time I look at new ones, it makes me more determined to make the old one keep going. It may have issues, but none of them are cripplers yet, and she’s all paid for.

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