September 6, 2011

Buying boaty bits

A FRIEND IN MISSOURI tells me he’s building a boat one bit at a time — a barometer here, a portable bilge pump there. He already has an anchor, which is stored in my garage.

He reminds me of somebody else. Long before I could afford a boat of any size I started collecting boaty bits. Bits that would be useful later on. It was a delicate operation, or rather series of operations, because we were poor and bringing up a family. Each boaty bit needed lots of discussion and lengthy justification on my part. Each boaty bit subtracted something from the fund for diapers or formula or day-care, or something else that should have affected my conscience. But boaty bits always seemed to overrule conscience.

One of the first bits was a Pilot Pal radio, a small portable direction finder and marine-band receiver. A lovely little instrument that enabled you to pin-point the position of your home, by day or night and even in fog. A fascinating little radio, and the very latest in technology. You could also listen to people on boats calling for help on 2.182 MHz.

“But we already know where we live,” June pointed out.

Sigh. No matter how much you love them, it’s hard when they don’t understand. But I justified long and hard, and in the end she agreed on condition I gave up half my beer allowance to the diaper fund. I don’t know whether my little sons suddenly needed fewer diapers; all I know is that after three months or so my beer allowance was back to normal and I had my Pilot Pal safely in my sticky mitts.

Then came a brass clock and barometer set. You needed those to practice on, of course, long before you could afford a boat. And one day I was passing a military surplus store when I saw an old steering compass going cheap. Obviously, a canny purchaser of boaty bits couldn’t pass up a bargain like that.

I was also one of the first in town to own a Barlow-Wadley communications receiver. It’s advantage over the Pilot Pal was that it had upper and lower sideband and I could sit in bed at night and listen to aircraft pilots talking to ground controllers at Cairo airport. Cairo, Egypt, that is. A continent away. Imagine that. Quite fantastic. Just what I would need when I got my boat.

And there was the question of a chronometer for navigation. This question came up after quite a few years of collecting boaty bits, by which time my sweet wife had gradually been brainwashed by constant justification. One day, of her own volition, she went out and spent about six month’s salary on a Rolex wrist watch for me. It wasn’t a fancy gold-and-diamonds edition, just a plain workmanlike stainless steel job, but it kept time beautifully — and crossed the Atlantic under sail three times. I still wear it every day, 40 years later.

I’m afraid that was the zenith of my boaty bits collecting career. Nothing thereafter was quite as glorious, although I did somehow acquire fathoms of rope, some great Steiner 7 x 50 binoculars, a couple of good Swedish Silva hand-bearing compasses, a hand-held VHF transceiver, a portable wind-speed indicator, and loads of books and charts.

There came a time when I realized that if I kept buying all the boaty bits I needed, I wouldn’t be able to afford a boat. So I stopped buying boating bits, and by the time I had enough saved for a boat most of the boaty bits were obsolete and I had to start again from scratch.

I expect there’s a lesson there, somewhere, but I don’t care to learn it. If collecting boaty bits is in your DNA, there’s no point in you, or anybody else, fighting it.

Today’s Thought
There is no better ballast for keeping the mind steady on its keel, and saving it from all risk of crankiness, than business.
— J. R. Lowell.

A young girl in a short skirt climbed onto a bus and walked slowly past two gray-haired old men.
“Hey George,” said one. “Remember Vietnam?”
“Yep. I do, I do.”
“Remember those pills they gave us to take our minds off women?”
“I do. I do.”
“Well, I think mine are beginning to wear off.”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

1 comment:

Aaron Headly said...

All too true. And further:

By the time you get a boat, there's no room on it for all the things you bought 'because it'll be great for the boat.'

I own three stoves in addition to the one already installed. Sigh.

I think that this is a problem for all hobbyists, actually.