The Good Old Days???

By Tom Neale, 9/2/2010


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I miss the good old days of boating. Like when the high tech way to change your oil was to get a drill pump and connect it to an electric drill. There was only one thing for sure when you used one of those. You either changed oil naked or you ruined every stitch of clothes you had on.

These pumps had two hoses and an impeller in a little plastic case. All you had to do was hold one hose in the oil dipstick hole. And hold one hose in the oil waste container. And hold that container in place so that it wouldn’t fall over and dump all the old oil in the bilge. And hold onto the electric drill and squeeze the trigger. And hold on to the pump body so that it wouldn’t spin around and around when you pulled the trigger, spewing oil from the hoses in ever widening circles. I know my math is weak, but that always turned out to require at least five hands for me and at least 5 hours cleaning up after the job.

These were the good ol’ days. When I change oil today, I disengage a valve lock, turn the valve, and flip a switch. The oil flows through my X-Change-R into a waiting bucket and in less than 5 minutes the job is done. What a drag!


Another thing I really miss is our old alcohol stove. I understand that these are much improved today, but I fondly remember ours from the good ol’ days. Ours was built into a counter, right next to a sink, on a 27-foot sailboat we cruised in the ‘60s. For some reason, I’m having a difficult time remembering exactly how we lit it, although I remember we used matches—long matches— and I remember we always sort of hoped that it wouldn’t light, and I remember that the one not doing the lighting would always be standing on the companionway steps holding a fire extinguisher. The idea was that alcohol stoves were safer than propane stoves because alcohol evaporates and drifts upwards, rather than collecting in the bilge causing explosions.

Despite this, we managed to have regular explosions. But in the interest of political correctness, I never called them “explosions.” The term was, “significant conflagrations,” which we had almost every time we lit the thing. I frequently wondered if it wouldn’t have been better to just go ahead and have the significant conflagration in the bilge. That way I wouldn’t burn my eyelashes and hair every day. But the safety experts were, in the final analysis, right. It was indeed better to have the significant conflagration on the counter top. That way, we could see it better and spray it better. And it blew out the companionway (where I was standing with the fire extinguisher) rather than out the bottom. I also think that’s why alcohol stoves were reputed to be so clean. Every time we lit ours, the resulting significant conflagration would burn off all the dirt on the counter and all the grease on the dishes. Unfortunately, since it was next to the only sink on the boat, it was also next to where we brushed our teeth. As I said, I understand that alcohol stoves are much improved these days. But if I had one, I would really miss that good ol’ taste of charred toothbrush bristle.

Mel with squirt sink in background on Tartan 27, around 1969
One benefit of these hand pumps at the sink was that they would save water. It only came out in little squirts per pump and the only outlet for our 30 gallon tank was at that sink by the stove, which was the dish washing sink, face washing sink, hand washing sink and tooth brushing sink. About the only thing we didn’t do in that sink was take a shower in it.

To shower we would heat water in plastic bags. I would paint them black, and leave them up on deck in the sun. One of us would pour while the other crouched in the cockpit chasing around the down-coming splashes of water with a wash rag. I’d have to prop up cockpit cushions around the coaming when Mel had her turn because she was always afraid somebody would “see” even though the closest boat was a mile away. Today, we make our own water from the sea and our boat has two regular house type showers plus a Raritan hot water tank that heats water with electricity. And do I miss the good ol’ days, running out of water in the bag with eyes and ears full of soap and the scuppers still plugged with the dirt I’d cleaned off the rest of my body. Go figure.


Tom When He Thought He Knew Were He Was Going and How to Get There, 1973
The proudest memory I have of those ancient times was that we all used to navigate like the true hoary seamen of old that we were. We were masters of our own destiny and we knew where we were going and how to navigate properly to get there. It’s just not the same today. I still miss my Esso map. Just one map covered the whole Chesapeake Bay, complete with nice little drawings of buoys and light houses. It was very user friendly, as long as you didn’t particularly care where you were, and I didn’t.

My biggest problem was figuring how to fold it back up after I’d used it. If you didn’t refold it in the exact same reverse order from which you unfolded it, you’d end up with something 10 times bigger which wouldn’t fit in the hole where you’d stored it. And if you didn’t fold it in exactly the same creases, it began to self destruct. If you did fold it in the same creases, only the creases would self destruct. At first this wasn’t so bad unless a picture of a lighthouse was in the crease, but soon the whole thing would be in separated sections and your problem was solved. You’d just pull out the section you needed and never worry about folding it.

Tom’s Tips About Modern Boat Eletronics

1. Read the instructions, but do it the way that best suits your psyche. If you have trouble with working in the abstract, consider the following.
2. Some read through the entire manual and then sit down with the “device.” These, unlike me, are very smart people.

Click Here for More Tips

Now I have modern paper charts from MapTech and I just turn the pages as I go—no folding necessary. I also use a Standard Horizon CP300i chart plotter loaded with C-Map Max charts. One little chip has charts for the whole East Coast and the Bahamas. A little blip tells me where I am. This is really great. Now I no longer call to get a bridge opening at a bridge that I already went through two hours ago. However there would be one problem, except that Mel, my wife, has taken care of that. This electronic stuff can be pretty complicated for a good ol’ guy like me. But I don’t have to worry about figuring out how to work it because Mel read the directions as soon as we got the chart plotter, and then she hid them and won’t tell me where they are. That way she doesn’t have to worry about me keying in the wrong settings and going to the wrong place. I just have to go where she tells me. I hadn’t met my wife in the good ol’ days when I had that Esso map. I don’t really miss the good ol’ days.

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Copyright 2004-2010 Tom Neale