June 2, 2013

The case of the missing corkscrew

TO MY UTTER ASTONISHMENT, West Marine is asking $115 for a Leatherman tool without a corkscrew.  Now West Marine is one of the largest retailers of boating equipment in the world. You’d think they’d know that when seasoned boaters buy the marine equivalent of a Swiss Army knife, they take for granted the fact that it features the two tools dearest to their hearts, a gadget for removing Boy Scouts from horses’ hooves and a corkscrew for removing stoppers from bottles of wine.

I actually own two Leathermans (Leathermen), one that was given to me years ago by my dear wife and one that I found on a deserted beach on the wild side of Vancouver Island.  I naturally assumed they came with corkscrews, but yesterday I had a good look, and I’ll be darned if neither of them has a corkscrew.

Now, I am not an oenophile myself, otherwise I would have realized this long ago, but I know it’s dangerous to get between a sailor and his wine. I am a beer drinker myself, having been brought up in a family where drinking fancy-schmancy wine was for poofters, though I have learned to moderate those views slightly over the intervening years. Both my Leathermans, although bereft of corkscrews, have bottle-cap removers that will remove the cap from a beer bottle with jolly ease. 

The makers of beer seem better to appreciate the danger of separating a sailor from his grog, and make it relatively easy to open cans and bottles of beer, even without special bottle openers.  I also know (and greatly admire) some yachties who can remove caps from beer bottles with their teeth — mostly Australians who were weaned on beer and  encouraged by their dads to practice cap removal from the time the first teeth appeared in their tiny gums.

But there is little more frustrating than not being able to reap the benefit of a bottle of wine because you can’t get the damned cork out. It’s true that there are some enlightened vintners who sell wine with screw-off caps but even we beer drinkers know that the cork-pulling majority look down upon screw-off wines.  They scoff even more at wine sold in boxes with plastic liners, which I think is cleverest solution to the wine drinking problem that anybody ever came up with.

Sailors are resourceful people, however, and I have heard of cases where, in extremis, they simply knocked the neck off the bottle with a hammer.  You have to have a lady’s stocking handy if you do this, however, to strain the slivers of glass out of the wine, and a lady willing to donate one. Other frustrated sailors have rummaged in their tool boxes and found a long thin screw to plunge into the cork, after which a pair of pliers can be used to remove the cork with a combination of brute force and desperation.

Finally, I have to note that the latest flier from West Marine says they’re going to have a Leatherman sale soon. The price of the $115 model lacking a corkscrew has plummeted to $49.99. This is an extraordinary discount, of course.  I think it must be a manifestation of lingering guilt. But no matter how far they lower the price, they’ll never be forgiven fully until the Boy Scout remover has a proper little corkscrew right alongside it.

Today’s Thought
If you find an Australian indoors, it’s a fair bet that he will have a glass in his hand.
— Jonathan Aitken, Land of Fortune

Workers earn it, spendthrifts burn it;
Bankers lend it, women spend it;
Forgers fake it, taxes take it.
I could use it.

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


Jack said...

corks, are so last century, even worse the plastic imitation corks. Embrace the Boxed wine, ideal for the sailing vessel. usually 3 times the volume of a bottle, reseals and keeps the contents fresh and drinkable for up to 3 weeks, (though I can't say I found one on-board last that long)... I add a link from Forbes which hopefully will help you see the light. As for Boy Scouts leave them in the horse's hoof, shouldn't been there in the first place ! Cheers Jack


Anonymous said...

Hi John,

Both the multi tool and the Swiss army knife should be carried. The multi tool is the brute force while the pocket knife is the finesse. The multi tool makers understood this and created belt pouches for their tools leaving the pocket free for the knife. I say carried because you may want them any time. I also keep a rigging knife and a heavy sheath knife handy in the cockpit.

The best multi tool ever was the tools-all-pro by Crescent Wrench. You knew it was superior because it was sold in the Tool department instead of Sporting Goods. Sadly, they no longer produce it.

I stay simple with the knife and prefer the "Spartan" model which is light but has all the important bits, including a corkscrew. Incidently, even if you don't drink bottled beer the bottle opener on the Swiss Army Knife is the best tool I've found for adjusting tubular turnbuckles.

Don P

Bill said...

It's worse than you think. As Robb White once pointed out, the primary use for the "corkscrew" is getting that first link out of the can of Vienna sausage. There is no other good way to do it.

If you have a wine emergency, just pound the cork down into the bottle and use your engine dipstick to keep it from blocking the bottleneck while you pour.

Paul Mullings said...

You still have wine bottles with corks????? Screw caps have been the norm here in NZ for years!

John Vigor said...

North Americans and Europeans of taste and discern do not drink wine from screw-top bottles. There are some screw-tops available for the lower classes, presumably to make it easier to drink from the bottle, but most dedicated wine-drinkers pretend not to know about them. In fact, they classify drinkers of screw-top wine as only slightly higher on the social scale than we beer drinkers.
John V.

Mete Uz said...

You will be glad to know that you can get to your wine without a skinny screw or stockings. Just use a bolt, rod, twig or the handle of a tool to push the cork into the bottle. It does take a bit of finesse though, otherwise just as you lean into the tool with all your weight, the cork pops into the bottle like a hydraulic piston and you get squirted in the face!