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Welcome to my sailing museum

2019 April 1

Decluttering isn’t the first trend I failed to exploit for financial gain.

In one unfortunate example, I missed the bitcoin investment boom out of some quaint and no doubt age-related mistrust of money that exists only as a figment of cyberspace.

But the lost opportunity to cash in on the decluttering craze hurts more.

That’s because I was in on the ground floor of decluttering. I was a decluttering pioneer. Some would say a visionary. I identified, refined and practiced its core principles long before decluttering was a lifestyle buzzword. 

Unfairly, all I have to show for it is a tidy house and office and some tax deductions for decluttered possessions donated to St. Vinnie’s, the local charitable resale store.

Meanwhile, nouveaux decluttering experts reap riches from an industry that includes decluttering books, websites, TV programs and services. One practitioner copyrighted a pretentious term for decluttering redolent of the mystery of the Orient—the KonMari Method—and now has a show streaming on Netflix. 

There are even certified decluttering experts who sell their in-home services for $100 an hour. The certifying agencies get in on the boom by charging a $2,000 fee for a decluttering certification. If this sounds too nutty to believe, Google it and you will see.

All of this to teach people how to throw stuff away.

Bear with me, folks, there’s a sailing connection ahead.

My decluttering zeal has caused some tension with the First Mate. A few possessions of ours that she valued even though they were in basement storage and being used only as a host for spider webs disappeared mysteriously but seemed to be victims of the KonMari Method. I was blamed and chastised as follows: “If you’re so obsessed with decluttering, do something about your boat cave.” 

Ouch. That zinger hit home.

The boat cave is a rather large room in an industrial garage whose shelves, racks, floor space and hanging apparatus are filled with tons of my sailing possessions. I mean tons literally. 

Stung by the First Mate’s admonishment, I visited the cave to assess its contents under the first rule of decluttering: If a possession hasn’t been used in the last year and isn’t expected to be used in the next year, it’s got to go. Here are some of the highlights of my finds:

• A set of Harken spreacher blocks manufactured circa 1980. These beautifully engineered pieces each have two sheaves in a 15-inch long body shaped like a bass violin and weigh four pounds. Replaced with plastic blocks weighing a few ounces that are attached to the boat with high-tech string instead of metal shackles, the spreachers would be more at home today on, say, an oil rig than a sailboat.

• A pair of massive snatch blocks. Made of heavy metal by a long defunct company called South Coast, probably during the Johnson administration, each of these implements weighs roughly the same as half a dozen of their modern-day replacements. The blocks are encased in rubber to prevent serious boat damage should they be dropped.

• A double-handled Barient winch handle. Once flaunted by winch grinders as a gnarly badge of their sailing specialty, this formidable tool made of thick, chrome-plated bronze might serve a purpose on a sailboat today as a weapon to repel pirates, but not as something you would want to use to trim a sail.

• A floating winch handle. This was a free sample from its maker that, I’m sorry to admit, went directly to the boat cave and was never used because I envisioned the handle going over the side during a race, followed by a shout of “winch handle overboard” and a quick-stop maneuver to recover it while the fleet sailed away. 

• A bag of brass headsail hanks. For the benefit of readers of the millennial generation and younger who may not recognize the term, these are spring-loaded fittings used in the pre-headfoil era to attach headsails to headstays.

• Acres of sails. The mainsails and headsails in this collection of blown-out or retired sails trace the modern history of sailmaking with the colors of their fabric, from white dacron and mylar to mustard-hued kevlar to the gray and black of molded sails.

• Plus: mainsail battens in wood, fiberglass and carbon fiber, miles of old halyards and sheets, bags of boat fittings and fasteners, a sailmaker’s palm that looks old enough to have been last used on cotton sails, three folding propellers, leaky foul weather suits in primary colors that are unfashionable these days, racing trophies, stacks of folded and annotated paper navigation charts, primitive loran and GPS units and a plow anchor of back-breaking weight with a pile of chain. 

• And a keepsake: a now-rusty device I inherited from my father that is well over 50 years old and has to be one of the first multitools ever made and perhaps the only one made expressly for sailors. Besides the usual pliers, knife blade, file, screw drivers and can opener, it has a marlinespike.

The takeaway from my boat cave survey was undeniable: Almost none of this stuff has been used recently, and most of it will never be used again.

I reported back to the First Mate, who with an innocent air asked how the decluttering went.

I patiently explained that the boat cave was a de facto museum with a collection of artifacts that tell the story of a lifetime of sailing. 

Then I declaimed: “Some possessions are just too emotionally valuable to throw away even if they’re never used.”

She said, “I rest my case.”

And I decided not to go for my KonMari certification.