In Praise of the Bucket
In our discussion of the Wonder Wash machine in Chandlery this month, we note that on small boats, things often need to serve more than one purpose. The bucket is a good example. It can be used as a bailer (nothing more effective at ridding a boat of water than a scared man with a bucket, as they say); as a toilet (fit with an attractive lid); as a stowage bin for wet stuff like masks and fins; as a deck-sluicing tool; as a container for all the little parts you're working with on a mechanical job; as a drogue; as a roll-dampening device when weighted and hung overboardfrom a spar; as a tool container hung from a bosun's chair; as a waste container; and, we note in the Chandlery piece, as a laundry tub.
There are plenty of other uses, too. The trouble is in finding just the right bucket. My wife will tell you that my addiction to buckets is on a par with my addiction to knives, cheap watches, rope, and cool little flashlights. Over the years, whenever I've been tasked with finding birthday presents for the friends of my children, I've invariably come home with a mini Mag light, or sometimes a hank of colorful parachute cord or 50 feet of flag halyard. "What could be more fun that these things?" I ask my incredulous spouse and incredulous children, who had imagined wrapping up something more along the lines of a Transmogrifying RoboZaur or Mall Lounging Barbie.
I realize that a gray bucket may not strike exactly the proper festive note at a six-year old girl's birthday party, but really, it should. If the kids only knew.
Once you find a bucket with the right shape (the kind with one flat edge, shaped sort of like a "D", is particularly good on a boat), you have to modify it, usually by removing the metal bail and using the holes to reeve a lanyard. Sometimes you have to drill new holes. If the bucket looks as if it might last for a while, or costs more than $8, you would probably take time to splice the lanyard on, and if you're Dale Nouse, you would then dress the lanyard with square-knot spirals, Turks' heads, and various other decorations. In any case, you need a good bight of line from hole to hole, with a fixed loop in the middle for attaching another line.
There are several close cousins of the bucket on board, related by their ability to take up little space and yet serve lots of purposes.
The lowly beach towel can be used as blanket, sun shade, wind block, pillow, sarong, and curtain.
The fender can act as marker buoy. It can be trailed behind the boat as a swimming float in a current. It can be thrown to a man overboard.
The boathook already has a dozen well-known uses—aside from grabbing mooring pendants, it pulls things in, fends things off, wings sails out, supports awnings and sun shades (see beach towel, above), grabs dancing errant halyards, and now, in the guise of the "multi-purpose boat pole" (see the August 15 issue) it swabs, squeegees, and paddles.
The point is, space aboard a boat is always at a premium, and the more purposes a bit of gear can serve, the more you come to appreciate it.
It's unfortunate that the redundancy and clutter we strive so mightily to eliminate aboard boats is regarded so differently ashore. The other day, friends came over to repo the sofa they'd left with us for a couple of years. Now there's a big open space in our living room, and my wife is thinking of a way to fill it. I keep telling her that we already have a chair, and if she needs it where the sofa used to be, I'll be glad to move it over for a while if someone wants to sit there. Better yet, we could get three or four buckets and put boat cushions on top. That way we'd have... more buckets! Also spare throwable devices—except the cushions don't throw very well. (See our story on that next month.) So, maybe three buckets, up-ended, with folded beach towels on top. Sure, that's the ticket...