September 2013 Issue
All is Lost and Found
Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without
A photographer friend stumbled upon this photo of my wife, Theresa, from our cruising days. It was taken in Fiji around 1995. She doesnít usually look this serious; it probably had something to do with having two guests on board a cramped 32-foot Atkin ketch for a couple of weeks.
I thought the image illustrated well something that Iíve been thinking about lately: the value of resourcefulness while cruising. This notion of the self-sufficient sailor came to mind most recently while watching the movie trailer for ďAll is Lost,Ē in which a single-handed sailor (played by Robert Redford) tries to keep his beloved Cal 29 afloat. In the movie, which is due to open in October, Redfordís sailboat is holed when it strikes a shipping container. From there, the film follows the usual survival-tale plot: Man relies on his wits and a few makeshift tools to survive.
Although few sailors ever face the improvise-or-die scenario that writer-director J.C. Chandorís hero must confront, we inevitably find ourselves jury rigging something onboard. My friendís photo offers somewhat awkward proof of our own penchant for MacGyvering. Few of the items in the background are being used for their original purpose. Most of the stuff looks like it was scrounged from the dumpster of the last boatyard weíd hauled Tosca atóand it probably was.
We sailed an old wooden boat and had very little money, so we survived on what others left behind. If something broke, we salvaged what was left and found a new use for it. We held onto the most useless-seeming items, having learned from experience that it might be the perfect substitute for a broken part of the self-steering vane, anchor windlass, or throttle cable.
A few details in the photo caught my eye: a snapped sail batten used to secure rolled-up charts; two spring-clamps from broken worklights used to keep charts from blowing away; a malfunctioning LORAN C receiver used to mount the GPS strapped below it; a discarded plastic sunglasses case (super-glued to the shear clamp) used to store navigation pencils; a flashlight holster (suspended from a used pipe cleaner) that held our compass dividers; and the essential roll of duct tape (peeking out from the top shelf), good for fixing almost anything.
Iíd like to say our creative solutions once got us out of a life-threatening jam, but they didnít. Our cruising lives, however, did become a little saner once we finally recognized: You can either fix it yourself, or learn to live without.