My Tool Pool

By Tom Neale, 6/16/2005


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There’s always some expert talking about tools in the boating magazines. I’m glad because, when I’m caught out in the islands without the right tool, I have to get on the VHF and try to borrow it from somebody else. Admitting to all the world that I don’t have the right tool is as bad as putting an ad in the paper asking somebody to tell me how to make babies. So I’m grateful for all the advice, but I keep wondering why they never talk about some of the more important tools that I keep in my tool pool.

One of the more important is my Tube Holder Tool. It’s for holding the little red tubes that always come with the can of oil spray. These tubes are like smoke in the wind. They’re usually held on with rubber bands that deteriorate from exposure to oil (never mind that that’s what’s in the can). Some manufacturers snap them into a little pincer on the cap, which is fine until you lose the cap, which is what I do as soon as I take it off. If you don’t lose the cap, the little pincer snaps off about the second time you pull out the can anyway. And have you ever tried putting one of those little red tubes back into a pincer when your hands are covered in grease? So I put my little red tubes in a CD case with the CD holder removed.

In the old movies the really cool people always impressed their friends by offering them a cigarette from a flat silver case. They suavely flipped it out and wowed the crowds—not to mention their fellow movie stars. If you want to elevate your stature among your marina crowd, just make yourself one of the Tube Holder Tools. You’ve got no idea how much mileage you can get by flipping open a plastic CD case and offering a friend a little red tube after his has just flipped into the bilge.

Then there is the Yoga Tool for cleaning the little round holes in the baskets of raw water strainers. The books imply that all you have to do is unscrew the top, remove the basket, and dump the crud. There’s never any mention of the fact that all those two million five hundred and ninety eight little holes in the basket are filled with crusty stuff. I used to go on a dock and squirt it with a hose and a high pressure nozzle. It usually came out looking like brand new--not because I got it that clean, but because I’d usually squirt the old one out of my hand and overboard and had to buy another brand new one. I’ve got a better way now, with my Yoga Tool. I didn’t even have to go to West Marine to get it. I found it one day in the kitchenware department of a grocery store. It’s a metal shaft with a point on one end and a wooden handle on the other. In the grocery store they called it an ice pick, but what do they know. It’s perfect for the job. I can sit there on the dock, hunched over cross-legged for hours, serenely punching out all the little holes in the strainer basket. Not only does it work well on the basket, it stimulates an unparalleled appreciation of holiness.

1. I don’t ever buy those classy looking suede lined “made for the perfect yachtsman” tool kits. I want tools that suit the jobs on my boat, rather than the tools that suit some marketer’s idea of what will be most likely to sell on a shelf of pretty things.

2. Cheap tools are a bad investment. The can damage components (such as a cheap wrench rounding off a bolt head), damage you (like your knuckles) and break at just the wrong time.

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One of my more critical safety tools is my Anchor Light Contact Cleaner. I don’t think many of the tool gurus have ever been to the top of a mast. They don’t realize that when you’re sitting in the bosun’s chair which is hanging just below the sheave at the top of the mast, you need a neck about two feet longer so that you can see down into the little hole from which you just removed the burned out anchor light bulb and into which you’re about to stick your finger if you’re not careful. The proper mast top electrician would never consider inserting a new bulb without cleaning those contacts that he can’t see. Of course I turn off the circuit breaker before I go up the mast, but the certainty that I did this becomes less and less certain as I sit there trying to remember if I really did turn it off–or maybe I hit the one next to it. I could ask Mel to go down and look, but I don’t like to be on top of the mast with nobody on deck to move my windsurfer out of the way in case I fall. The books and magazines say to clean off the contacts with emery cloth or sand paper or a little piece of bronze wool or stuff like that. Right! That requires sticking a finger down that hole up on high. So I always carry up one of those extra fat pencils with a big fat eraser. I stick the eraser end into the hole, feel for the contacts, and erase away. I can use the other end of the tool for writing graffiti on the top of the mast for the next guy who happens to be hanging around up there.

Anytime I’m up the mast I like to apply oil liberally to various components, such as my recently cleaned anchor light contacts. Now, the official protocol is to spray with a can of pressurized oil such as a CRC product or WD40. The first problem is that you’ve got to get this can up there in the pocket of your bosun’s chair, which is always a tight and cluttered place. Usually, as I go up clinging tightly to mast, stays, halyard, and a few other things unmentionable, I can hear a soft spraying noise coming from the pocket. It’s the spray from the can, the nozzle of which has lost its top and is being depressed by the side of the pocket and rapidly emitting everything inside. If there’s anything left once I get to the top, I’ve still got another problem. The wind always blows from the bow, (I’m usually at anchor) and I’m usually hanging on for dear life on the back side of the mast. I have to carefully prioritize my targets to be sprayed, because the first component that gets covered with that rust protecting film of oily mist is my glasses lenses. Removing my glasses while at the top of the mast isn’t my favorite thing. I don’t like to be blind as well as terrified at the same time. I could just push off and swing out around to the side a bit before I start squirting, but no, I couldn’t. Not me. You gotta be kidding. I considered a clear plastic bag over the head, but the air is rarified enough up there as it is. Then I discovered the most incredible thing in a hardware store one day. It’s straight from rocket scientist technology, I’m sure. It’s a little can of oil with a permanently attached plastic tube on the top. You pull up the little red cap, turn the can up side down, squeeze it and oil drips out just where you want. No spray, no tubes flipping off down wind, just cheap oil on demand. It’s called my 3-In-One.

Dropping for a moment to the opposite end of the boat, there’s a critical tool that we all need for painting up inside the through hull holes while painting the bottom. The paintbrush or roller that you’re using won’t begin to fit into any of those holes. So there I stand, covered with “Interlux Ultra”, contemplating climbing up the ladder and rummaging around in the drawers and cabinets to find an appropriate hole-painting tool that I forgot to fish out before I began. I’ve tried lots of things, such as rolls of toilet paper thinned down to just the right size (for my larger through hull holes) and rags wrapped around screwdriver handles and blades. I’ve even tried toothbrushes, which do a fair job until I get dizzy walking around in circles under the holes. Among other problems, none of these tools give complete coverage of the hole interiors. You have to stoop down under the holes and look up inside to see if you got paint everywhere, as that very same paint oozes out. After years of experience, I have now found the Whole Hole Painting Tool. It requires little preparation, I can actually feel how well the inner paint coverage is going, it’s free, and it’s something that I don’t have to rummage around to find. It is always handy. I hold my hand in front of my face. I fold my thumb down out of the way. Of the remaining 4 fingers I choose the longest. I fold the rest down out of the way. I stick that remaining finger into the paint and then up the hole. I hope I never need to get on the VHF to borrow that one.

Copyright 2004-2005 Tom Neale