A sailors magic bag…..

Bits bag, ditty bag, odds-n-sods bag….

Shouty boat owners.

Blog time : it’s late April and i’m taking a few days off from the big jobs as iv’e finished the main work on the boatbuilding shelter aside from fitting a gutter and linking that up to even more water butts in the garden…that and a few fasteners here and there to stop the plastic rattling and it’s a sign-off. In the workshop iv’e been doing hopefully the last stage of organizing and stowing stuff out of the way so that i have the best possible space to work – one small job was to sort through the bits-n-pieces that came home from the Liberty and working out what can be kept and might be useful for this project. I didn’t realize just how much stuff i’d accumulated on WABI”’ including 2 full first aid kits, boxes of batteries, spares and bits galore and my long lost ‘magic bag’ of useful stuff that iv’e carried on and off boats, ferries and even aeroplanes for years and years when i raced or delivered race boats here and there. In today’s post i thought i would take a break from the project posts and instead write up the ‘magic bag’ before i take it apart for now.

In the blog.

Before i begin though i’d just like to say a few words about the blog so…. i’m conscious of the fact that my output has really dropped off recently and that’s partly because iv’e been so busy outside either working on the shelter or in the workshop doing project related stuff ; all fine in my view because it means that iv’e been busy doing real stuff. I also stopped writing posts about health and diet related stuff because although important in my view those posts get hardly any views and the only comments seem to be from people doing the same thing which started to feel a bit like an echo chamber. Aside from my own experiences and observations i didn’t feel i was adding anything to that conversation and there are far more knowledgeable people doing the same thing and doing it better……so that’s in the file marked ‘bin’ for now. I’m also trying, once more, to video some of the work and put it out as mixed media although i’m still dissatisfied with my video work, with the build project i’m even wondering about trying a different approach which would be blog based but much more visual ; basically lots of photographs to show the process and less text or maybe just short video clips to show how i’m doing something…….anyway and back to the main story today.

How it all began.

Today i have a very posh riggers bag made for me years ago as a birthday present, if memory serves it was my mate Big Al who welded up the stainless steel hoops and skipper Mal who did the canvaswork…..must be nearly 30 years ago. Anyway the posh riggers bag has been aboard each of my own boats since then often with a little tool roll inside and a whole load of ‘useful’ bits of string, shackles, whipping twine and suchlike. On my little Liberty it went back to it’s original life as the bag that held all of the spare cordage, blocks and low friction rings that i played around with and then inside that was the little ditty bag with the sewing kit. In my big boat days it usually had my climbing harness and the carabiners, slings and lines i used to secure myself at the top of maxi boat rigs while i did jobs.

The magic bag though i found again tucked way up in the end of an under-bunk space which i couldn’t even see into and obviously rarely even had to mop out….the little Liberty was also possibly my dryest boat , certainly compared to a shoddy Folkboat, a ‘Classic’ gaffer and a wet Wharram cat. In the beginning then ……

In the beginning then the way my memory has it that i was being shouted at by a shouty kind of racing boat owner about something i had or hadn’t done – nothing to do with the actual sailing or racing although not getting the spinnaker up quickly enough at the mark was usually my fault as well…..no…..what the shouting was all about as i remember it is that something broke or fell off and it was my fault because we (I) either didn’t have a replacement for what had just fallen off/broken or the tools to mend it if we did.

In one example it was the boat’s kedge anchor which simply came off the end of it’s warp because the shackle hadn’t been tightened or moused and that was my fault (apparently) because i hadn’t seen it and done anything about it even though i’d not once seen, touched or handled the kedge up until then !. In another it was an inadequate turning block shackle that exploded under load and ‘why didn’t i carry a spare shackle with me’…..this from another shouty owner who complained about any excess weight on the boat…..and where that attitude extended to not having spares, tools, a bits box or even a basic first aid kit on the boat. One time on the same boat somebody gashed a finger on a sharp split pin end and the owner’s only thought was to shout at that crewmember not to get blood on his sails ; on that occasion i could do something about it as , by pure chance, i had a roll of PVC electrical tape in my pocket and the owner’s girlfriend (or at least one of same) had some tissues in her pocket…….thus the highly secret and sneaked aboard ‘magic bag’ was first created.

My current example……the early version was more like the Ziploc bag just poking out of the top in this view.

My early version , as i remember it, was something like 2 Ziploc or similar sandwich bags ; one with a miniature first aid kit and usually some Paracetamol tablets or similar (Acetomenophen for US readers) and a second one with some riggers tape, whipping twine, seizing wire, maybe some cable ties….that kind of thing. This was also years before Tim Leatherman designed his first multi-tool but i think i cottoned on to the use of Molegrips for just about everything that can go wrong on a boat that can’t be fixed with a hammer and a long flat screwdriver !……today of course i’m posh in that i have a multi-tool which hardly ever gets used and the Molegrips + small adjustable spanner which gets used far more. In the early days of the magic bag it also reflected that i was either a student nurse or recently qualified staff nurse so my emphasis was on minor crew repairs, their headaches and hangovers and one boat a supply of condoms…..this being the HIV/Aids era !

The current/ex ‘magic bag’ before i pull it apart.

The story with my current, soon to be ex, magic bag……was that i thought about that one quite a bit and put it together just before we went to collect my last boat off it’s mooring when i bought it in the spring some 5 years past. That one reflected the fact that i didn’t want to and up putting loads and loads of useful ‘stuff’ on a boat that was smaller and lighter than my previous one…..thus things like shackles and fastenings would all be smaller but that i expected to have to do running repairs just to get the boat sailing. I’m glad i had the bag with me and it was in use most days during that first week and only got forgotten about because i packed it away in a locker when we stowed the boat to go on a trailer to come home. Then, back home and at the yard i had a whole back of truck full of tools and boxes of bits to work from and over time that boat acquired it’s own specific toolkit and spares outfit.

What’s in the bag then ?

I’m glad you asked because i’m going to get around to that except with the caveat that i don’t do lists and that what i carried on that boat reflects that it was a 22 foot cat-ketch with an outboard motor and simple gear….and nothing like the boat that preceded it ( 26 foot Frances with inboard diesel) or the boat that followed it : 22 foot classic gaffer with an inboard engine. Some things are generic and have been for some time, thus i always have a selection of repair tapes, cable ties, whipping twine , small cordage etc……but then each boat iv’e had has also had it’s specific stuff. This bag for instance used to have the spare plug for the outboard and a sheer pin for the propeller but very few shackles because i hardly ever used them, the similar bag for the Frances had a lot more small electrical stuff in it because one of my main jobs had been a complete re-wire and i was still fettling that up until i sold her.

This version wouldn’t be too far wrong for the boat that i’m building now because it will also be a simple boat with mainly lashings in the rig and just a small outboard motor, perhaps not even that. The first aid/medical stuff is mostly out of date though so that would all need replacing so that element of the bag (one of the Ziploc bags) is now on the shelf just next to the workbench as an instant mini first aid and medical kit without having to open up the big ones either in the house or workshop. For those who like this kind of thing though i thought i would add a general guide to the kind of stuff that iv’e used, carried and found useful in the past.

Tools. Generally speaking i don’t find multi-tools that useful although i still have one (old Leatherman super tool) because the pliers, file and knife blade are good. What i do have is the largest flat blade screwdriver that will go in the bag plus a small ratchet screwdriver with a selection of bits ; the main tools are a small Mole/Vice grip and yes i know many sailors and engineers hate them, a small adjustable spanner (ditto) and strangely a tough pair of medical shears/scissors. In one example i was aboard a maxi yacht where the mate had cleverly taken all of the excess weight off the boat including the toolkit and spares crate, and the some dozen industry professionals all had a belt mounted multitool…..none of which would open a big and hard tightened shackle that had to come out……i heard the owner shouting from where i was sat below working up the tides for the day and discretely handed the bowman my Molegrip and spanner combo…..sorted…..and i think the last time i sailed with that particular shouty owner and smart-arse of a mate.

Fasteners. In fasteners i first think of a few nuts and bolts although i carry less than i used to because M5’s and M6’s are generally useless on the big boats i used to sail and my small boats generally only have one big bolt maybe in the centerboard…..if that comes out or breaks then iv’e got a bigger problem anyway. What i do carry a lot of are what i also think of as fasteners, thus cable ties right up to 600mm and right down to miniature, several different rolls of tape ; PVC electrical tape, repair tape and of course a half roll of Gaffer tape. In there as well some split pins, seizing wire and whipping twine.

Bits and pieces bag.

Shackles that were compatible with my anchors but none for the rig as i hardly ever use them, Jubilee (hose) clamps, small rolls of Dyneema cordage…..the main cordage pack being with my rigging bag. One small bag of mixed sandpapers. Small tube of PU (Gorilla) glue, one of Superglue and a syringe pack of Epoxy glue plus mixing sticks . In the same vein there is a pack containing some notepaper, pencils and Sharpie markers and there used to be a small measuring tape. The one toothpaste sized tube of adhesive Sikaflex isn’t there any more because i used it and haven’t replaced it…..in fact won’t until i need the bag again because it goes off in the tube.

Personal care kit/s.

The main part of the bag reflects that my past function on other people’s boats has been the care and repair of myself and other crew members, thus a small but effective first aid has always been a part of that and later on when it was more obvious that i was the go-to person for injuries and medical problems that side became an increasingly important part of my own kit. I note that in this bag i had a heavy selection of analgesics (painkillers) that maybe reflects the problems i was having with back injuries and my various joint problems up until i had my knee replacement but also antihistamines and when i could get a hold of them basic asthma inhalers because iv’e often had to apply them to sufferers who haven’t got theirs aboard the boat.

Aside from the obvious care and repair kit the most heavily used items in that section were disposable gloves, great for dirty repair jobs on oily engines, a flat-pack of kitchen roll concertina’d into another Ziploc bag and then some basic hygiene kit….a small bottle of kitchen detergent which i’ll happily use as anything from washing the dishes to shampoo, a small tube of toothpaste and a throwaway brush, a deoderant stick and some form of sun block.

Keep or take apart ?

I doubt i’ll be sailing at all this year unless something unplanned comes along so i don’t need the magic bag as it is but equally i don’t need any of the tools or bits-n-pieces anywhere else so it may as well just get hung back up on it’s own peg in the workshop. I had a lot of fun looking through it mainly because it reminded me of so many small incidents on boats that i learnt from…..even if the learning process was only which motormouth of a racing boat owner to not sail with . I didn’t intend this as a guide for other itinerant sailors who crew for several or many different boats – back in those days i was a bit of a crew tart in that i would crew on anything and everything that floated and raced , good bad or indifferent…….much like their owners who at least took me sailing .

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