Rhumb Lines June 2012 Issue

The Man Who Glued Too Much

When PS Technical Editor Ralph Naranjo told me he was interested in doing a report on epoxy, I was thrilled. Ralph ran a boatyard for 10 years on Long Island Sound and is mad about glues and fibers and anything that has to do with building boats. I had one small concern: The project could “spiral.”

Occasionally, our testers end up like Alice, disappearing down the rabbit hole of product testing—probing this, analyzing that, until the situation becomes “curiouser and curiouser” and our tester drops off the map—no emails, no Christmas cards, no inappropriate Facebook posts. When our tester is finally located, the conversation goes something like this: “We’re shutting you down Dr. X, before someone gets hurt.”

It did not reach that stage with Ralph’s epoxy test, but nearly so. We got our report, but not until Ralph tested the epoxies to a fare-thee-well, built two watercraft, and destroyed more test panels than I care to count. While the dust and wreckage from testing has been mostly swept away, suspicious odors still linger in his basement lab.

“We still have some long-term testing to do,” Ralph explained. (This is an all-too-familiar ruse.)

It could have been worse. It could have been me. Put simply: Epoxy and I don’t get along.

Somewhere in my office is an old U.S. passport that caused a great deal of grief when my wife and I were cruising. The photo depicts a dirty, crazy-eyed, ape-like creature. Long matted hair lies clumped near the ears and forehead. The name under the photo is mine, but the photo is not me. It is my cryptid twin: EpoxyMan.

I tried to explain this to the head of security in Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia. We were in a small, windowless room with a polished marble floor. He had insisted that I follow him there. On a table at the opposite side of the room, I saw my checked duffel. Inside was my ACR RLB-23, a 406 EPIRB that had cost me the equivalent of three months of cruising. Behind the bag stood two nervous airport security guards.

Their edginess was understandable. When you ask an 8-year-old kid to draw a missile, he draws an RLB-23. The agent had a printout of the RLB’s X-ray image in one hand, the notorious passport in the other.

“Can you tell me about this photo?” he asked. He was American—immaculate haircut, sunglasses, black suit. I liked his suit. It did not shout CIA, only whispered.

“I was fairing our rudder and having trouble getting the epoxy to cure,” I said. “You ever work with epoxy? Nasty stuff, particularly in the tropics. It seems my mixing ratio was off. Anyway, I’d forgotten I had an appointment with the passport office that day—”

“I meant the thing in the bag.” He took off his glasses and looked me in the eye. I saw no chance for sympathy. He was not the kind to muck up a mixing ratio.

I told him that I was taking the EPIRB back to the U.S. for a factory-recommended battery replacement. I explained it all in great detail, so he would not think me a liar. In his eyes, I could see what was thinking: What kind of sucker pays $1,300 for an EPIRB that needs a $900 battery every five years?

He lobbed more questions. My replies prompted more amusement. Eventually, he grew bored. I was an idiot, perhaps, but no terrorist. I was free to go.

I have a new passport, with a bland photo, but it doesn’t make a difference. I’m the guy who gets wanded three times before every flight. I have my own category on the travel watch list: a man who cannot be trusted with glue.

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