June 15, 2004
Brenton Cove, Newport, Rhode Island
41° 29.325 North
071° 19.319 West

A Winters Refit Tale: Part 3 of 3
Capitalist Tools & Major Vises

By Douglas Bernon

This Fluke is no fluke! A multi-meter is worth its weight in gold on a cruising boat.
Since our wedding day 14 years ago one of my roles as Husband is to be a life-sized, Ragged Andy doll that My Personal Commodore can attempt to dress as she deems I should look, which men everywhere will tell you is not necessarily the way we like. I’ve howled, whined, and lost ground every step of the way as she indulges this major vice. That should surprise no one. 

If a guy is drawing lines in the sand or the sea, it doesn’t matter much where he thinks they ought to be, because even with a GPS, no-one can determine where he really stands. Despite such ambiguities, it still can be clear when a wife’s gone too far. I can and will offer evidence.

Short detector
Even without Freud’s 23 volumes -- which, as a psychoanalyst, I’ve spent some considerable years studying -- most people would conclude on their own that for folks in the 21st century tools are still pretty much guy things. Tough, hard, rigid, probing — guy-like. No self-respecting hammer would want to be caught dead in pink tights and chiffon, for example, and if forced into such a get-up would likely seek refuge at the bottom of a tool box, skulking among broken drill bits and sheared screws.

On Ithaka, various tool conflicts like these revolve around predictable behaviors. Bernadette believes her dish towels, for example, are as sacred as the Shroud of Turin and should never get besmirched with motor oil, battery acid, or diesel fuel -- the three most likely liquids to be found on the floor of a boat. She is much vexed that I still can’t get that through my head. I try really hard to get this straight, but every time there’s some petroleum product sloshing at my feet, I instinctively reach for “the wrong towel.” Bernadette alleges that this is a crime no thinking person of any refinement (read: woman) would ever commit, and that only a dumb person (read: guy) would fail to distinguish between an appropriate absorbent material and a religious cloth.

Zyliss Vice
Here’s a case in point. My friend Ian was over on Ithaka the other day, and with Bernadette as witness, I picked up one of her brand new olive-green dish towels, which had been hanging neatly over the stove handle, and innocently asked him what it was.

Unprompted, he answered, “A rag?”

I turned to Bernadette, pleased as Punch. “I rest my case,” I said. She was shaking her head in utter disbelief, and giving Ian the exasperated look I know only too well.

Apparently this is some kind of X-Y chromosome thing. My sacrificing dish towels for roles other than God intended somehow reflects badly on La Comodora and her ilk in the face of some cosmic scrutiny that dumb persons will never ever fathom.

Sandyin all her painted glory.
In fact, I should not be surprised at this attitude, for there was, several years back, a perfect demonstration of her total disregard for the proprieties that should be observed around tools. Power tools, for instance -- hard-working, injury-preventing, time-and-muscle-saving friends-of-man -- should be accorded a certain dignity. And I don’t just mean big-bladed bad boys like table saws and jointers that can remove an appendage in the blink of an eye. Even the lowly orbital sander has a sense of itself that should not be ridiculed.

My orbital sander, which did yeoman work this winter, especially, on the decks and hull bottom, has been embarrassed to show itself in public since I first unwrapped it on Christmas morning about six years ago. Formerly dressed in biker black when Bernadette acquired him at our local hardware store, to make his debut under the tree he underwent at her hand a sex change that included being dandied up with over-rouged lips, a perm of dyed blond hair, some kind of frumpy apron, a dopey blue dress with polka dots and, worst of all, no arms whatsoever. Bernadette had even named him with the decidedly un-biker, androgynous handle of “Sandy,” as if this permanently-applied enamel cross-dressing were not cruel enough in its own right. If you were a macho sander, would you want to spend the rest of your working life forced into drag?

Counter sinks with adjustable depth collars
Despite this humiliation—perhaps because of it—Sandy remains one of my favorite tools. During this year’s winter refit, when we stripped Ithaka of everything except tools and supplies, I got to know all of my tools better, and acquired several new ones who’ve become gentlemanly allies in the slog for dignity. All the tools whose portraits are shown here have seen Mr. Sandy in drag, and in action, and not one has made a rude comment. That’s why I picture them with thanks and admiration. Indeed, among my tools, Sandy rules – an interesting parallel in its own right, now that I stop to think about it.

This winter we had a deck leak to fix, which required removing and replacing a few teak planks, and we had lots of bungs to replace.
Here’s a look at Sandy’s entourage on Ithaka. For deck work this winter, which seemed to go on forever and included replacing hundreds of bungs, after several cases of oops, when I drilled all the way into the deck, I was introduced to counter sinks with adjustable depth collars. These saved me from those frequent moments when I was not paying full attention -- like having a governor on your car’s accelerator.   For all electrical projects, my best friend this winter has been a Fluke multi-meter. It’s easily the best troubleshooting tool on the boat. When we first left to go cruising, I had no idea what continuity was, and thought polarity was a reference to Santa Claus, until an electrically-competent friend implored me to buy, in addition to basic primers on electrical circuitry and 12-volt systems, a decent digital meter. I’ve always been grateful for that advice. This is a tool of immense capabilities and pride so, to protect its honor, I’ve hidden it where I know Bernadette wouldn’t think of looking (in my workshop cabinet). It shall never be gussied up with paint.

My favorite new short screwdriver, for all those hard-to-reach spots.
We added an inverter and 110-volt outlets on Ithaka this winter, so it was important to know if we had open shorts—inevitable when playing with wires—and to find out which wires had been reversed. This handy short detector, less than $5 at the hardware store, is a gem for the job. Some hustler is probably marketing a marinized version for seven times that amount.

Not much longer than my short protector is the most compact ratcheting screwdriver I’ve seen. It’s prevented many a mashed knuckle. Because so many jobs on small boats involve fixing little things in cramped spaces, down-sized is good.

Soldering device 1
Abraham Lincoln wrote, “It has been my experience that folks who have no vices have very few virtues.” On Ithaka, I’m not sure of our virtues, but we do have three fine vises. The smallest is for soldering. It’s a Vishnu-like figure with multiple arms ending in alligator clips. Weighted for stability and armed with a magnifying glass, it’s possible to see those tiny #22 wires, tin them successfully, and apply a good bead of solder. (You can find these at Radio Shack for under $20.)

Suction vise 1
Our next larger vise has a suction clamp on the bottom. With jaws that open about three inches, it’s wonderful for small indoor projects. For larger projects that require heft, oomph, and a little more room, our Zyllis vise, which is shown mounted in this photo, and can be used in this position, but it also has a set of horizontal wood bars that clamp over one of our granny bars by the mast. When it’s set up there, the span is more than a foot, and can be arranged for major sawing and banging projects.

With jaws like that, I’ve tried to explain to Bernadette, it would be dangerous to paint this tool in frilly duds. She’s agreed to back off, if in return I’ll agree to keep my greasy mitts off the new ra…, I mean dish towels. We’ll have to see how it goes.