It was a crisp Saturday morning in early spring. Six of us had assembled to commission our sailing club’s older 32-foot sloop for a season on the Chesapeake Bay. I had just joined the club and was hoping to make a good first impression.
The boat was already in the slip, and we spent an enjoyable day getting her ready, talking about how much fun we’d have sailing. One of the last chores was to bend the genoa onto the headstay and roller furler. Easy job, let’s see how the new guy handles it.
Crouching on the bow, I inspected the crusty, 25-year-old furler. Seemed straightforward enough. This model’s two swivels employed a stainless steel clevis pin in each to hold two shackles—the top to attach the halyard and the bottom to attach the head of the sail. I removed the shackle on the top and turned away for half a second to grab the halyard. I then heard a something I never want to hear again.
That was the sound of a 25-year-old, furler-specific clevis pin disappearing into the muddy water, never to be seen again. It also was the sound of my good first impression with my new club members going down the drain.
I briefly considered diving in, but I knew I’d never find it, probably already buried in the muck. The water also was still in the 40s.
I quickly confessed what had happened. My new shipmates could only stare back at me in muted disbelief. They already knew the implications. No spare and no workaround. Had to have two pins for the furler to work.
Fortunately, the two pins were exact duplicates, and somehow I hadn’t managed to lose the other one. I got on the phone with the local chandlery.
“Yes,” they said, “we have a bunch of clevis pins.”
I told the club members I would be back in an hour with a new pin. They, of course, knew that the new guy was on a fool’s errand. The chances of finding a part off the shelf that could fit this old furler were somewhere between not a prayer to nonexistent.
Fifteen minutes later I arrived at the store with my precious cargo in hand and was directed to the shelf with the clevis pins. Plenty of pins, nothing even close.
Reality was sinking in. Five thirsty guys milling about on a boat, and the only thing standing between them and happy hour was a new guy who screwed the pooch. I made a last-ditch appeal to the parts desk manager. He flipped through his big reference books and then said, “Yep, here it is, I can order that for you…it will take four to six weeks.”
I started wondering what punishment the club might dole out to a new member in this situation: shunning, keel hauling, permanent cleaner of the head?
The parts manager gave me one last glimmer of hope: “You might check with the local rigging shop.”
Of course, the local rigger!
When I got to the rigging shop, the sign on the door with a smiley-face clock said closed but back on Monday at 9 a.m.
I was a dead man walking as I made my way back to the car, trying to figure out my next move. I could abandon the club, I thought, just never return to the boat and move my family to the West Coast—the sailing is really good out there.
Just about then, another customer arrived at the shop. Turns out he had arranged to meet the rigger even though the shop was closed. Maybe all was not lost.
Five minutes later, the rigger showed up. He dispatched the first customer quickly. Without a word or a smile he gave me a quick nod, as in, “OK, now what’s your problem?”
I held up the pin and said, “Please, kind sir, have you a clevis pin like this?”
He grabbed it, eyeballed it for half a second, and without a word disappeared into the bowels of the dark shop. I followed. He stopped in front of a work bench cluttered with bits and pieces of rigging and pulled out an old, dirty, cardboard box. It was full of old, dirty parts.
Hunched over the box, he rooted around for a couple seconds, then turned and held something up for me to see. It seemed to shine and sparkle in the gloom as if lit up by a spotlight from above. Cue the celestial chorus.
It was the exact pin I needed for the ancient furler! I could not believe my good fortune.
So, what did I do? Of course, I pushed my luck, looked a gift horse in the mouth, and asked if there was another one in there. In my defense, I half expected I would somehow find a way to lose the new pin on the way back to the boat. I needed some insurance.
He rooted around a little more and lo and behold held up another one.
“How much?” I asked. He apparently didn’t know or care that I was willing at that point to pay a king’s ransom.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said, which actually were the only words he said to me that afternoon.
I practically flew back to the boat and found the guys sitting in the cockpit, about to hit the grousing stage. Exactly an hour after I had left, as promised and to their astonishment, I was back with the goods.
We quickly finished rigging the genoa, the boat was ready to sail, and we retired to the marina bar. As the evening progressed, I was toasted variously for my diligence, seamanship, and general bonhomie.
When I got home, I composed a letter to the rigging shop’s owner, extolling the virtues of his rigger. The rigger has since become the owner, and he and I have been friends for years and have worked on many rigging projects. He’s still a man of few words, but I’ve never forgotten that small act of kindness that saved my butt.
What about the extra pin? I tossed it into the boat’s old, dirty spare parts box and forgot all about it—until many years later, another crisp spring commissioning morning, and that devious roller furler caught someone else with the same slippery pin. The latest new guy said sheepishly, “I dropped a pin in the water.”
I could hear the panic creeping into his voice as I remembered my own brush with disaster. He would never know how lucky he was.
“Check the boat’s spare parts box,” I said with a quick nod, happy to pay it forward.