My first sailboat came with clothespins

These brightly-colored closepins liven up cocktail hour. Photo by Christopher Birch

August, 2022

By Christopher Birch

The boat was a 1971 Tartan 30, and the previous owner turned her over to me broom clean. Every storage locker and shelf space in the cabin was bare. She was as empty as a frat house keg at dawn. She carried zero cooking equipment in the galley, zero equipment manuals on the shelves, zero tools anywhere. Nothing. Boat hook? Nope. Winch handle? Nope. Anchor? Nope. Sail ties? Nope.

The only ancillary thing onboard the boat was a purple Crown Royal bag with gold piping containing a collection of old clothespins. Also in the bag was a note on a folded yellow piece of paper that read:

Take proper care of these clothespins.

Treat them fairly.

The clothespins were old and tired. The metal springs were rusted, and the wooden tongs were gray and worn. Many were broken and unusable. But I was in short supply of boat gear, and I surmised it was better to have a collection of clothespins than to not have them.

The way I saw it, the note was the prime asset. It was crazy. It was also intriguing. The more I thought about that note, the more I liked it. It provided a test of sorts unlike any other in the sailing world. I accepted the custody of the pins as an honorable challenge and vowed to live up to the demands they required.

When we raced the boat, our motto was “Win it for the clothespins!” They deserved the glory of victory. Rolly anchorages were avoided because they were hard on the pins. When I decided to sail the boat to the Bahamas for the winter, I justified the trip as the right thing to do for the pins. They needed shelter from the harsh realities of a cold New England winter, and I wasn’t going to let them down. It went on like this for all my years with that boat.

When I finally sold her, she sailed off to Stonington, Connecticut, with the same clothespins and the same cryptic note in the same purple Crown Royal bag with gold piping. (She also left with sail ties, an anchor, a winch handle and a boat hook, I might add.) I hope the new owners enjoyed those pins as much as I did. I wonder what ever happened to them.

Newer clothespins have had a prominent role aboard all the boats I have owned since. Not just for laundry on lifelines but also for pinning a towel to the wing of the dodger to provide shade for the dog; for clamping the oil change pump hose in a no-drip position; for securing chip bags in the galley locker; as an anti-roll device when secured athwart a pencil on the nav desk; and even serving as a security assist for our macramé plant hanging gear above the corner of the galley. I always keep a collection of them on the hinge rod of the cockpit table. It’s a comfort to know I can always find one there when I need it. I also like to fiddle with their alignment during cocktail hour. I’ve noticed that our guests do too.

Earlier this year, I learned that a new deluxe clothespin had entered the market. Built entirely of stainless steel and powder-coated in bright colors, they are strong, won’t rust, won’t leave stains on clothes and won’t interfere with your compass readings if you happen to have a habit of storing them on the hinge rod of your cockpit table. I read about them in another publication (thank you, Sailing Totem!) and promptly purchased a set for S/Y Sundance. Rust stains are now a thing of my past. Much better to have a pop of color in your clothespins than on your clothes.

Unfortunately, these suckers are expensive. At $29.95 per 20-pack, they are nearly ten times the price of the traditional rusty spring/crappy wood variety. But they are the Rolls Royce of clothespins and, I think, worth every farthing. I splurged immediately and haven’t regretted it since.

When the time comes to sell this boat, I plan to purchase a bottle of Crown Royal – a nice something to sip on while I write my note to the new owners.

Christopher Birch is the founder of Birch Marine Inc. on Long Wharf in Boston. He is now out cruising full-time with his wife, Alex, aboard their 36-foot Morris Justine. Follow their voyage at