To Our Readers

By John Flanagan

Saturday, August 14, 1999

My mechanical
mentor, Herb

SADLY, I spent the last week fixing up my boat without Herb. Since I've owned this boat, I've never tackled a major boat project without his help until now.

Herb VanVlack fixes boats for a living. He says he'd rather sail them than fix them, but I'm not sure.

To Herb, every nautical deficiency is an opportunity, every object aboard or ashore is a tool and the ultimate creative moment is the "parts run."

Herb's parts runs don't stop at Sears, Kilgo's, NAPA or West Marine.

They embrace the entire electronic, mechanical, nautical, military, automotive and industrial infrastructure.

Boat parts aren't like car parts, after all. You often have to make them up. Only 40 or so examples of my boat were ever built, in France, in the 1970s.

The boat is French but the engine and spars are English. Therefore, its parts come in all sizes: millimeters, inches, liters and pints.

To Herb, this is no problem. Rather, it's an excuse to create a really enormous tool kit.

Herb has a little ball-peen hammer he truly loves. He can use it to remove oversize nuts. Tap, tap, tap...tap, tap and it's off.

He'll tap a large bronze propeller off its shaft with his little hammer before the boat yard machinist can find his prop-pulling tool.

"Ask it; don't tell it," is his motto. Don't force a part to do what you want all at once. Give it a tap and wait for it. It's like steering a boat. Turn the wheel a little and wait.

Herb has other rules of thumb. Everybody he knows has memorized his mantra: "righty-tighty, lefty-loosey."

Turn a bolt, screw or winch to the right to make it tighter, left to make it looser. Simple, but everybody gets it wrong sooner or later.

Herb's favorite tip came from Eustus, an old Louisiana electrician he once met who called him "Hebby."

"Hebby," said Eustus, "there are three things you cannot trust: snakes, wimmen and E-leck-tricity."

John Flanagan is editor and publisher of the Star-Bulletin.
To reach him call 525-8612, fax to 523-8509, send
e-mail to or write to
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, Hawaii 96802.

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