Editorial March 2002 Issue

Tools and Bilges

We have an article on off-the-shelf toolkits this month. Some kits are better than others, and one or two might even be worth buying if you're in a hurry. But try not to be in a hurry, as we were when we had to do some fast outfitting, grabbed a kit, threw it into a shopping cart and then into a boat, and then forgot about it until we needed it. The best thing about these kits is that you can snap the tools in and out of their nifty recessed molded spaces, and thus give yourself some sense of order amid the chaos that you've either discovered or created.

Tools, obviously, are of critical importance to most sailors—at least to sailors who wreck their own boats rather than pay someone else to do it. (Around the house my wife calls me "Cut First, Measure Later Logan," but she fails to see how a fix-it attack that is both impatient and bullheaded can lead to greater improvisational skills later on.)

For many of us, tools, like rope, are things we can't get enough of. When you mangle things on boats yourself, you need a good selection of harmful tools, and it's amazing how many of them don't come in the kits we review this month. Only one of the kits, for example, comes with a hammer. Most don't include locking pliers. Honestly, in impatient hands a set of locking pliers (ViseGrips-type) is surely the most powerfully destructive device known to man, outside the thermonuclear range. I keep three sets—big, small, and needle-nose (for crushing more delicate objects).

Aside from a good carpenter's claw hammer, you need a wooden mallet, a couple of really big screwdrivers, a propane torch—and a hacksaw. For heaven's sake, only one of these kits offers a hacksaw, and it's not the same one that has the hammer.

No kit would be expected to include the huge, obligatory, self-enlarging collection of tapes, lubricants, sandpaper, sealants, and fasteners that we seem to need. The absentee list goes on, of course, but we would all do well to follow the advice in the sidebar of the toolkit article, called "Toolkit Targeting." In a nutshell, it says, "Don't ship the shop. Know what you'll need, and just ship that."

One of the tools I find handiest is the two-foot, flexible, spring-bodied, plunger-activated grabber-claw gizmo that you use to fish wires and messenger lines through things, or retrieve screws you've dropped in inaccessible places like a crevice in the bilge. In the latter case, the grabber is only useful if the crevice isn't obscured by oily crud.

Speaking of oily crud (and what topic could be dearer to our hearts) we also have an article on bilge absorbers. The open-topped test bins, filled with water, oil, and antifreeze, have been in the middle of the office for a couple of months now, and I'll be glad to get rid of them. But they've been a constant reminder of why you don't want to let your bilge get foul in the first place, just as you don't want to ignore maintenance chores or leave messes around. Such habits ain't seamanlike, which on a boat means you're inviting trouble and danger. (It's the same thing on land, but on land you can often get in your car and drive away.)

Years ago we went on a short cruise when my son and his friends were about seven, an age that involves lots of running up and down the companionway and lots of mess. After the first couple of days, when Uncle Dave and I got tired of sweeping up the broken crackers and little plastic juice straws and wrappers and other detritus, we pulled up the bilge cover and said, "Have a look down there. See that pump? Well if you're not neat, and you don't clean up your mess, those straw wrappers are going to clog that pump, and then if we spring a leak and start taking on water, the pump won't work, and the water will rise and rise, and finally the boat will sink and then…we'll die!" (Follow with evil laughter.) That little half-ruse actually worked for almost an hour.

-Doug Logan

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