Cool Tools for Odd Jobs
Almost going the way of the dodo and the amateur ocean racer is an essential tool that has no 21st-century equal: the heavy-duty wire coat hanger. Absolutely nothing works as well for fishing under, hooking and grabbing, pushing and prodding, or recovering odd bits of flotsam and jetsam that find their way into the most unlikely places and cause the cruiser/mechanic no end of frustration. Besides being free, the wire in a clothes hanger is rigid when it needs to be, bends around corners when it must, is amenable to having a hook or loop put in both ends, and when you use it for the inevitable head duty, you can throw the stinky thing away.
There are many reasons to have kids and bring them along on your cruising boat. The top reason on my list is for their disposable diapers. Can anyone tell me why oil filters are mounted horizontally on most modern engines? Warm oil responds to gravity the second you break the seal. Nothing works quite so well for saving your bilge from an Exxon Valdez moment than a plastic-covered, elastic-banded, sticky-tape-tabbed toddler's diaper. Experiment to find the initial positioning for the tape before you crack the seal of the filter.
A battery-powered Dremel rotary tool is like Harry Potter's wand: Almost any wishful task can be accomplished with the right magic attachment. There are easily a hundred uses for this marvelous little device. Attachments include bull-nose wood shapers, carbide-tip cutting tools, and abrasive cleaning pads. I use this tool to cut away the goo-stuck ends of old engine or head hoses, put a new slot in the stripped head of a wood screw, taper down the flange of an oversized elbow in a head, or drill pilot holes for screws in just about any substance, including Kevlar.
Dentists aren't the only cheerleaders for the daily use of dental floss. Nothing compares to it for quick and easy repairs to awnings, sails, favorite work shorts, and chafing gear. The floss slides easily behind a square-headed sailmaker's needle and fills its own holes with its waxed coating. It's tough, durable, and never twists itself into a project-delaying maypole in between stitches. I use it to whip the ends of cut lines on sheets and running rigging and to form a loop in the tail end of a halyard so that a messenger can be attached firmly and securely before removing the line from the mast.
Clear heavy-walled plastic hose should be stored aboard any vessel with a system that stores or moves fluid: fresh water, raw water, gray water, fuel, hydraulics, refrigerator compressor oil, the list goes on. I suggest that you carry both a 3-foot section of clear tube in every dimension to match the hoses on your boat along with 3-inch-long sections of copper tubing that match the inside diameters of the hoses. At some point, to diagnose a problem, you're going to want to watch the fluid going through a hose. Air pockets in raw-water intake lines and bubbles in a pressurized water system indicate blockages or leaks. Use the clear tubing to check the amount of diesel or water left in a tank by removing the inspection plate, pushing the tube to the bottom, then covering the top of he tube with your thumb. When you pull it up, the length of material held captive in the tube equals the depth of the contents of the tank. When filling an empty tank, I stop every 5 gallons, plunge my designated tank tube into the tank, then mark the height of the contents in the tube with a magic marker. Using this method, I always know my exact liquid reserves, give or take a gallon, while avoiding the chance of a misread gauge.
Have I sung of the virtues of clothespins? They can be used in the galley to close bags of chips and cookies, hold on-deck chartbooks open to the proper page, hang towels on lifelines, and clip the back of my baseball cap to a tuft of my remaining hair. One critical application is to take the two pinchers apart and use the perfect wedge at the finger end to stop those rattling locker doors, loose drawers, or companionway washboards that drive you crazy on overnight sails.
After a rum-filled night at Foxy's, sailors may well mistake every dark hull in the British Virgin Islands as their own before finding their way home. The anemic beam of your flashlight just won't do the trick. I always put a length or two of sticky reflective tape on both sides of the mast just above the sail cover, and I'm surprised at how far off a small beam of light can set the strips glowing. I also put a small strip on my mainsail head board and a corresponding mark on the mast near the sail track at the exact heights of the tightened luff for each reef point. In the dark of a squally, wind-filled night, this visual clue tells me exactly how tight to make up the halyard.
R.J. Rubadeau has learned these tricks while logging more than 170,000 miles under sail.