Skip to main content

Things in my life seem to escalate from the most innocuous of events. It seems as though something as small as a mental leaf falling on my personal snowy slope ends up triggering a mighty avalanche.

In this case, I got a new tool chest. I am an inveterate tool collector, and my big red Craftsman tool chest had finally refused to close. The tool that caused the break was that weird little roller that you use to replace the spline in window screens. Never mind that I haven’t replaced a screen in three decades; tools are about being ready if The Need ever comes.

A new tool chest is a cause for some serious pondering, because you can’t just start shoving tools willy-nilly into those empty drawers. No, the whole essence of willy-nillyness is achieved over years of putting tools back in the wrong drawers so that only you can find them. Secretaries who have had the same desk for years know of what I speak.

Over an icy Corona, I was considering whether the new toolbox should get the woodworking tools or the mechanics’ tools, or perhaps a mix of both that only I would understand. Idly, I looked inside the big bottom drawer that I hadn’t visited in a long time and, oh my God, there it was.

Half hidden under a jumble of sailmaking stuff, the shiny cylinder caught my eye. It was the sandblasting gun Stan had loaned me to knock off that grungy Zolatone finish inside my Privateer ketch.

The Privateer’s been gone for a decade, and I bought it a dozen years before that, so I guess Stan’s been wondering for 20 years when I’ll be bringing his sandblaster back. Come to think of it, he did give me the evil eye at the yacht club a while ago.

I was horrified, because I am neither a tool borrower nor a lender. I firmly believe that the borrowing of two things—tools and books—has broken up more good friendships than the borrowing of spouses.

Twenty years ago, I had stopped by Stan’s workshop because I needed advice. Zolatone was a spattery substance that boatbuilders used to finish the innards of way too many boats, and, after a season or two, it would start to unspatter. Though Zolatone seemed to come off easily, it really didn’t. And I knew that if I simply painted over it, it would continue to molt under my new paint until everything peeled in sheets like a sunburned nose.

Stan suggested sandblasting back to bare fiberglass. I liked the idea, but didn’t have a sandblaster. Stan offered his old one. I demurred, since I enjoyed Stan and wanted to keep him as a friend.

Now, I’m mortified. While agonizing over what to do, it occurred to me that if the IRS and libraries can have amnesty days, why not sailors?

Let’s have a Tool Amnesty Day, when we all return the tools and boat gear we borrowed in the misty past. I bet that, if you look through your toolbox or dock box or garage, you’ll find purloined property. Those life jackets inked with the name of your marina neighbor’s boat—didn’t he loan those to you two years ago when you had all your relatives on board? Did you buy that hose, or did it just start coiling around your faucet by itself? Why are all the screwdrivers made by Proto except the oddly shaped Snap-On, which is the brand that the skipper down the dock uses?

With the obvious exception of that sandblaster, it usually isn’t the big stuff that seems to disappear. After all, when you loan some guy your new high-torque 18-volt cordless drill, you’re probably going to stand there while he drills each hole.

No, it’s the piddly stuff that seems to migrate on its own: a screwdriver here, a hose nozzle there, a scrub brush or a pail or even that 10-foot length of line you need for a fender.


So we’re going to establish Tool Amnesty Day. If you return a tool or a piece of borrowed gear on this one day to its rightful owner, he will not be allowed to make a single snide comment. He will not be able to raise his eyebrows or let his lips curl into a damning sneer. He is not required to say “thank you,” but he will be prohibited from telling you what you already know.

I’m thinking Labor Day might be a good time for Tool Amnesty Day. Not only does the day already have an appropriate name, but it’s near the end of the cruising season, so you probably won’t need that filched tool or piece of gear much longer. Besides, it’s a time when you’re trying to empty out the boat and the dock box anyway.

Best of all, Labor Day is a long time from the next sailing season, so when you ask your buddy for a Phillips-head screwdriver in the spring, he probably won’t remember that you kept it all of last summer.

Now, if I can just find a way to get this sandblaster to fit into Stan’s mail slot, maybe I won’t have to wait until next Tool Amnesty Day to clear my conscience.