June 15, 2004|
Brenton Cove, Newport, Rhode Island
41° 29.325 North
071° 19.319 West
Winters Refit Tale: Part 3 of 3
Capitalist Tools & Major Vises
By Douglas Bernon
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
This Fluke is no fluke! A multi-meter is worth its weight in
gold on a cruising boat.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
Sandyin all her painted glory.
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?
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.
Counter sinks with adjustable depth collars
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.
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.
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.
My favorite new short screwdriver, for all those hard-to-reach spots.
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
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.)
Soldering device 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.
Suction vise 1
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.