February 26, 2013 - We had an unusually soggy Miami Boat Show a few weeks ago, which gave us an opportunity to look at something we haven’t paid much attention to in a few years: waterproofing coatings for fabrics. Textile technology has seen some significant new developments since our last complete test of waterproof coatings. Chemical engineers have found new ways to impregnate fibers with coatings that can last through dozens of wash cycles. Some new after-market spray protectants have emerged as well. But are those sprays even necessary in today's nano-particle world—when chemical engineers are building weather protection right into their products?
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February 12, 2013 - Author Kathryn Miles has written a gripping article on the tragic end of the Bounty, the replica of the original Bounty used in Hollywood movies that went down in Hurricane Sandy, claiming two lives, including the captain's. The article, which appeared in the March issue of Outside Magazine, offers a detailed, and even-handed account of the ship’s sinking. Miles suggests many causes for the ship’s foundering, but it seems obvious that the ship never should have sailed. So the question remains: why did it?
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February 5, 2013 - I think sailors learn sooner than most people the importance of paying attention to little things. The devil is in the details, as they say. I learned that lesson the hard way, in a gale off the coast of Colombia when the smallest cheapest block on board our little ketch exploded in a mess. Since February is a good time for our snow-bound brethren to sit around the fire practicing ropework, I’m resurrecting an article on an often overlooked topic—gripping hitches—that can have big consequences for cruising sailors.
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January 29, 2013 - Today, I received an email with the subject line, “America’s Cup: Media Services Update - 1.” According to the email, this was the first official notice to the media regarding the upcoming America’s Cup competition in San Francisco this summer. I’m conflicted. The river—correction—ocean between Practical Sailor and the Cup is deep and wide. Apart from the gee-whiz technology behind 72-foot wing-sail cats ripping past the Golden Gate Bridge at 40 knots, is there anything in this for our readers? Is there?
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January 22, 2013 - The rescue early this week of Alain Delord, the French single-hander whose boat was dismasted and holed on Jan. 18 in the Southern Ocean, after he spent three days in a life raft offers a graphic reminder of the importance of choosing a raft that matches your voyage. In the age of EPIRBs (Emergency Position Indicating Beacons), it's easy to be lulled into thinking that prolonged life raft ordeals like the one described by Steve Callahan in his classic tale "Adrift" are a thing of the past. Had it not been for the assistance of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, who dropped Delord a better raft with food, water, and a survival suit, the 63-year-old singlehander might not be alive today. Delord was eventually picked up by a cruise ship that detoured more than 700 miles to rescue him.
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January 8, 2013 - While the rest of North America was soaking up the holiday season, our intrepid systems tester Frank Lanier and Managing Editor Ann Key were hip deep in the briney world of watermakers. Although most of the testing was carried out after Thanksgiving, I still had a lot of questions to answer as the New Year came and went—like do I really need one of these things? …
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January 1, 2013 - I want to thank our subscribers new and old who have joined us on this voyage. I say “voyage” because, if anything, that is the word that best describes the day-to-day operations at Practical Sailor. I sincerely wish the best for you and your loved ones in the coming year, and look forward to another productive 12 months of testing and reporting. For new subscribers who are just joining us, or for old-timers who, like me, have trouble remembering what happened last week, much less last January, here are some of Practical Sailor’s highlights from 2012 and a peek ahead to 2013.
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December 20, 2012 - ‘Twas the night before Christmas, and the crew couldn’t sleep.
The waves were relentless; with troughs dark and deep.
The windvane was holding a course straight and true,
toward a spot on the chart: “Les îsle inconnues.” As Cap tried to revive his brand new GPS,
Ma delivered the news: “This ship is a mess.
The diesel won’t start; the stove’s out of gas,
and your fancy new flashlight is a pain in the ..."
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December 18, 2012 - I spent the latter part of last week testing two different types of man-overboard alarms. The first product, the Mobilarm V100, couples with the boat’s DSC-capable VHF radio. It broadcasts a loud distress signal on the VHF when activated, and then, as soon as a GPS fix is available (about one minute in our tests), it transmits the device’s position via the DSC VHF. The second product was the Kannad SafeLink R10 SRS, which transmits an alert via the ship’s AIS receiver and, after a GPS fix is available, the MOB position.
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December 12, 2012 - I’m pretty certain that when historians and economists look back on the 30-year-old, $20-billion tax break for turning corn into fuel, it will be seen for what it is: political pandering masquerading as “clean” energy policy. Practical Sailor has covered the effects of ethanol on marine fuel systems in depth over the last several years. Most of our focus has been on helping prevent the problems that ethanol causes in engines and fuel system. I bring up politics in this post only because it relates to an upcoming PS article on recently enacted federal regulations that require fuel-vent filters on new boats with gasoline inboards.
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November 27, 2012 - If you have not yet heard the name Nichole Rider, you will. A star athlete in high school and college, Rider was paralyzed in a car accident in 1995. Technically quadriplegic, the 39-year-old sailor has limited motion in her arms and hands and almost no ability to use her legs, but like her friend and sailing mentor, Kerry Gruson, she refuses to let her disability define her. Gruson, a former New York Times reporter, and another disabled sailor, Juan Carlos Gil, first introduced Rider to sailing in 2010. Two years later, Rider has a laser-beam focus on the 2016 Para-Olympics in Brazil.
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November 20, 2012 - Being stuck on the west coast of Florida, with two shoaling channels offering the easiest access out to the Gulf of Mexico, I’ve suddenly become more interested in centerboard cruisers. Generally, I’m not a huge proponent of adding moving parts to a cruising sailboat, but the attraction of being able to make reasonable progress to windward, feel secure in a blow, and explore skinny-water paradises that are off limits to conventional offshore designs is hard to resist. So this week, I started a short list of 35- to 45-foot boats that look promising. It's just a start, really, and I’d be interested in hearing thoughts from other sailors regarding their favorite centerboard cruisers. (No, Finisterre does not count.)
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November 13, 2012 - In an extensive and carefully worded report, a US Sailing investigative panel cited inadequate lookout as a key factor that likely contributed to the fatal April 28, 2012 accident involving the Aegean, a Hunter 376 participating in the 125-mile race from Newport Beach, Calif., to Ensenada, Mexico. The panel also found it likely that the Aegean inadvertently motored beyond a waypoint set near North Coronado Island.
As the report states: “Based on all factors, the panel concludes that the skipper set a waypoint that took Aegean on a path that intersected North Coronado Island, that Aegean was motoring under autopilot as she approached the island, and there is no evidence of any intervention to prevent Aegean’s running into the island.”
The report also indicates a need for better safety practices, improved race management, and points out weaknesses in the SPOT tracking system, calling the portable GPS tracking device "unreliable in transmission of position fixes on a timely basis.”
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October 30, 2012 - By now, most every Practical Sailor reader is probably aware of the fate of The Bounty, the tall ship of Hollywood movie fame. It sunk in stormy seas off Cape Hatteras on Oct. 29, as Hurricane Sandy bore down on the Northeast. At the time of this writing, the ship’s captain, 63-year-old Robin Walbridge of St. Petersburg, Fla., was still missing at sea. Crewmember Claudene Christian, 42, was pulled from the water, taken ashore, but pronounced dead in the hospital. In all, Coast Guard helicopters airlifted 14 crewmembers from two life rafts. The rescuers arrived on the scene quickly, not long after the famous ship sank below the waves. Some dramatic video footage of the U.S. Coast Guard rescue swimmers and helicopter crew at work is posted here.
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October 24, 2012 - We made an unpleasant, although not surprising, discovery this week as we revisited the topic of ground tackle. Many readers will recall that we began a series of mooring chain tests back in 2006, with corrosion reports in 2007 and in 2008. As one Practical Sailor tester put it, the test could be described as an attempt to determine how long it took our hard-earned money to turn into a pile of rust. (As it turned out, this happened a lot faster than we expected.) At the end of 2.5 years in the water, when we decided that no one in their right mind would trust their boat to any of the seven badly corroded 5/16-inch chains, we pulled them out for the final inspection.
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