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post #1 of Old 11-22-2001 Thread Starter
Don Casey
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Don Casey's Holiday Gift Guide

So many gifts for the sailor miss the mark, so what do you get, particularly for sailors who appear to have it all? Read on and Mr. Casey will illuminate you.
I cannot tell you how many useless gifts I have received over the years. When that happens, I feel triply bad. I’m disappointed in the gift, disappointed in myself for not being more appreciative (Isn’t it the thought that counts?), and I genuinely feel bad for the giver, who, by my measure, wasted his or her money.

As with golfers or cooks or quilters, we sailors dearly love to receive gifts that support or contribute to our particular passion. But a gift selected simply for its nautical motif is likely to miss the mark. As a service to fellow sailors and an aid to non-sailors, I have decided to offer a selection of gift ideas that I am certain would light the eyes of the sailors I know—and almost certainly those of the sailors you know. These are all items with modest price tags. Regular readers will already know I consider it my mission, often a lonely one, to try to keep the cost of sailing out of the stratosphere, so high-dollar gift suggestions would be out of character.

Here, then, in no particular order, are my holiday gift suggestions. Many are available at your favorite chandlery, including here at SailNet. Others are hardware and/or department store items. Prices are approximate.

Insulated Tumblers    We have used Tervis tumblers aboard for more than 20 years. An insulated tumbler can make one ice cube do the job that requires 3 cubes in a regular glass or plastic ware. ($30 to $40 set of 4)

Insulated mugs, like the one above, should be bottom heavy with a good gripping bottom.
Bone China Mugs    
The motivation is the same here. Bone china keeps hot drinks hot for a very long time—and it is not nearly as fragile as you might think. You can often find china mugs for around $5, so you can buy just for captain and mate, or a set of 6 or 8 to outfit the galley. ($5 ea.)

Wire Drink Holders    These handy gizmos hang from the lifelines to hold drinks level even while the boat heels. Look for a style that will accommodate a mug with a handle. ($20 a pair)

Folding Cooler    Hard coolers, unless they are in use, are always in the way on a sailboat, but a folding cooler requires minimal stowage space and makes a nice hullside pad when not in use. Even where there is refrigeration aboard, a cooler is valuable for overflow, picnics, or breakdown. Bigger is not necessarily better for this item. ($25)

CD Case    On sailboats with living accommodations, music is nearly always an important component. CD cases are ideal for sailboat use. ($5 to $25)

Rechargeable Spotlight    Novice sailors may already have this aboard, but old salts will be "doin’ fine" with the plug-in spotlight that has been aboard for years. A cordless spotlight is a convenience we may not buy ourselves, which makes it a terrific gift. Make sure the light recharges on 12 volts and that it can be connected directly to a 12-volt source for continuous use. ($40 to $80)

The sailor you're shopping for doesn't have to go aloft to need a good rigging knife, there are plenty of tasks on deck that require a sharp, stainless-steel blade with a secure handle.
Rigging Knife  
A good rigging knife is a perennial gift favorite. The emphasis is on good. Fortunately you will find a broad selection of high-quality rigging knives available. ($20 to $50)

Multi-Tool   These were all the rage a few years back, and your sailor may have bought one then. However, designs have improved. If you pick a multi-tool that is light, comfortable, and has genuinely useful tools, this is a gift that will please. ($25 to $80)

Loos Tension Gauge    Every sailor would like to have a tension gauge for tuning the rig, but only a few actually spring for this tool. Both the standard and the "Pro" models come in two sizes. The smaller size is for boats under about 25 feet. ($45)

Proper Ship’s Bucket    A good bucket is a joy to most sailors. When we tie a rope to the bail and toss the bucket overboard to scoop up a bucket of seawater while the boat is underway, the strain is substantial. Typical household buckets soon pull apart. A heavy-duty rubber bucket with a thick, stainless bail securely attached will please the sailor on your list. A strong canvas bucket will get the same reaction. If a bucket doesn’t seem festive enough to you, fill it with colored tissue and add a bottle of champagne. ($8 to $16)

"Nothing is more versatile than the open-mouth canvas bag, and no sailor ever has too many."
Tote Bag    
For transferring the endless parade of "stuff" to and from the boat, nothing is more versatile than the open-mouth canvas bag. No sailor ever has too many. The best have wide mouths, double-ply bottoms, and webbing handles. ($10 to $30)

Sailing Hat    A sailing hat is one that shades the face and ears from 10:00 to 2:00. Stay away from yachting and fisherman’s caps. Nothing stands up better to the harsh treatment a sailor can give a hat any better than canvas. Many prefer a wide-brimmed canvas hat, such as a Tilley or an Ultimate. Others are more comfortable in a billed cap. On the latter, a neck flap is a definite plus. ($15 to $40)

Sunglasses    Save your sailor from cataracts by outfitting him or her with a pair of killer sunglasses. A wrap-around style offers the most protection for on-the-water use. Make sure the lenses are polarized and that they shield out 100 percent of UVA, UVB, and UVC. ($50 up)

Sou’wester    Sailing days aren’t always full of sunshine. Your sailor will have foul weather gear aboard, but the hood on most foul-weather jackets is annoying, at best. It impairs vision, hearing, and even head movement. The solution is a waterproof hat with an extra long brim in the back, called a Sou’wester. It also makes your sailor look smart. You too. ($30)

Cruising Guide    Most sailors have a "someday" trip they talk about--a summer Downeast, a winter in the Caribbean, a voyage to Tahiti. With the explosion of cruising guides in the last few years, it is possible to enhance your sailor’s big dream by giving a guide of the area he or she seems to find so alluring. If the price of a guide exceeds your budget, then a chart of the area provides a similar magic carpet ride at a lower fare. (Guides, $15 to $85, Charts $15)

"When cruising in foreign waters, etiquette requires flying the flag of the country you are visiting."
Courtesy Flag    
This is the same as the guide or chart only more whimsical. When cruising in foreign waters, etiquette (and sometimes law) requires flying the flag of the country you are visiting. Putting a courtesy flag aboard is a symbolic first step. ($15)

Shop Vac    If your sailor is also a tinkerer, a shop-vac is a tool he may not have but will surely find indispensable after owning one. You want small but powerful. Don’t buy a 12-volt vacuum cleaner. You want the power of a 110-volt motor. Enhancement projects typically happen at the dock anyway, and if not, a small inverter will handle the modest power requirements of a small shop-vac. I can personally recommend a little unit called a Stinger I see sold in most home-supply stores. ($25)

Impact Driver    Here is another overlooked tool that no sailor should be without in the corrosion rich sailing environment. This tool converts a hammer blow into torque to unscrew frozen fasteners. When it is needed, this tool can, and usually does, save the day. ($20)

If your sailor already has all the essentials, consider giving a book; there are always new editions and new titles well worth owning for any sailor.
    Books make excellent gifts for sailor(s), who tend to be a literate lot. Unfortunately, this gift idea is frustratingly broad, given how many sailing books are available. John Kretschmer recently offered a list of the 10 best sailing adventure books [Overlooked Books], any of which your sailor would enjoy—if he or she has not already read them. A reference book can be a more substantial gift, and those that cannot miss are This Old Boat (Don Casey), Boatowner’s Mechanical and Electrical Manual (Nigel Calder), and The Annapolis Book of Seamanship (John Rousmaniere). And there is some wonderful nautical fiction out there as well, like the Hornblower series or books by Patrick O’Brian. ($10 to $50)

Flag Set    This may be the best gift idea of the bunch. Signal flags today have very little practical use, but every sailor would love to own a flag set just to be able to "dress ship." Nothing makes a sailboat look more festive than 40 colorful flags popping in the breeze. That makes a flag set an innately festive gift. ($75)

Depth Sounder    If you want to spend a little more on your sailor, I offer one final gift suggestion. Speedtech builds a portable depth sounder with the size and look of a yellow two-cell flashlight. The operator simply sticks the end in the water and pushes the switch to get an instant depth reading. Every sailor can imagine sounding channels and potential anchorages with this nifty device. But even if actual use turns out to be less frequent than imagined, it won’t matter. This is one of those rare items that is just tres cool. ($150)

That’s the list. Happy shopping.

Suggested Reading:

Tips for the Gift Giving Season by Joy Smith

Classic Coffee Table Gems by John Rousmaniere

Overlooked Books by John Kretschmer

Buying Guide: Freshwater System Pumps

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