Features November 1, 1998 Issue

Top Ten Products for 1998

Our editors’ annual selection of outstanding products is based on superior performance and value. Categories include sail handling systems, cruising equipment, hardware, cordage and marine electronics.

As we have for four years now, Practical Sailor editors reviewed all of the products evaluated during 1998 and produced a list of 10 winners. As we said last year, eliminating the “losers” is easy. The more difficult job is choosing between two top quality products that run neck-and-neck in our ratings. But we’re up to the job.

Here are the winners for 1998.

In-boom Furling: Leisure Furl
It took more than a few years for jib furling to catch on. But once they were perfected to the point that sailors trusted them not to jam, they caught on like wildfire. Even long-distance solo racers rely on furlers. It was just a matter of time, we suppose, for mainsail furlers to catch up.

Most early mainsail furlers worked on the main’s luff. But they had liabilities, including high cost and poor sailing performance, due to the small roach and absence of battens.

In the August 1 issue, we evaluated three in-boom furlers—the John Mast Hi-Low Reefer, ProFurl and Leisure Furl. While we found features on each that we liked, we named Leisure Furl as the top choice.

Of it we wrote, “Leisure Furl’s open-ended mandrel, two-part clew harness and adjustable tack fixture allow for good draft control via the roller. The ability to reef downwind and to use a preventer are very significant and suit Leisure Furl well for offshore passaging. Although far more expensive (from about $9,000 to $16,000), Leisure Furl outstrips its competitors. From design to hardware, it is the class of the in-boom furlers.”

Low-Energy Watermaker: Spectra 180
As Editor-at-Large Nick Nicholson has been reporting in the pages of Offshore Log, finding clean freshwater is becoming increasingly difficult, especially in Third World countries. He, like many other cruisers, decided to fit his boat with a 12-volt watermaker.

In the January 1 issue, we reported test results of six small watermakers, each capable of supplying the freshwater needs of a 40-foot boat. The kicker, of course, is current consumption. Draw ran as high as 38 amps, which would require running the engine while making water.

Though Nick chose Village Marine’s Little Wonder, based on its all-around performance and long record of reliability, the Spectra 180 from Edinger Marine Service stood out as a breakthrough product.

“The entire system,” we wrote, “is powered by a small 12-volt pump and motor—about 1/8-hp.—no larger than the water pressure pump on a 35-footer. This is possible due to the unique design of the Clark pump, a remarkably energy-efficient pump created specifically to power this watermaker.”

The secret is in the design of the Clark pump, which uses two opposing pistons and cylinders with a single connecting rod. The results of our tests were indeed remarkable, just 8.6 amps to deliver 9.5 gallons of water per hour. Calculated watts per gallon was just 11.8. The next lowest number was 34.6; others ranged up to 48.4.

The Spectra 180 was also the most expensive watermaker tested, at $4,650.

Hatches: The Bomar Seabreeze
Four years have passed since we did a comprehensive evaluation of deck hatches. In the July 1, 1994 issue, we concluded that the best quality hatches, particularly for offshore use, are cast aluminum. We especially liked the Bomar and Atkins & Hoyle models. Among the less-expensive extruded aluminum hatches, we noted that Lewmar had the most models as well as the lion’s share of the OEM market.

Not much happened in the way of hatches for the next several years. Then in late 1997, Bomar introduced its new Seabreeze hatch. We wrote about it in the January 15 issue.

What makes the Seabreeze different is that it lets air in and keeps water out, even when closed. Air and water both enter through machined slots in the top rim of the lid and fall to a channel in the aluminum extrusion. Water runs out through vents in the external gasket, while air circulates down into the lower extrusion, then up through a gap between the lid and base. “In essence,” we said, “it’s a miniature but very long Dorade. According to Bomar’s wind tunnel tests, an 18" x 18" hatch will move more than 875 cubic feet of air per minute through a boat in 6-mph wind.

Another interesting aspect of the Seabreeze is its two-position dogs, one that snugs the hatch but leaves the air channel open, and a second that shuts everything down tight.

Where a 19" x 19" traditional cast aluminum Bomar hatch lists for $605, the same size Seabreeze lists for $435 and discounts to about $290.

Low Cost Handheld GPS: Garmin 48
GPS makers come out so frequently with so many new models, it’s difficult to keep up-to-date, especially now that electronic charting is available in handheld models. In the December 1998 issue, we’ll report on five new 12-channel GPS models from Garmin, Magellan and Apelco.

While we found features to like in all five, our pick is the Garmin 48, which discounts for about $260. Its small size fits nicely in your hand and can be operated with one hand. Initialization is easy, the display is bright with excellent contrast, and it has a nautical navaid and city database. In short, we said, “It’s a winner.”

Fast Setting Anchors: Bruce
In 1998, we initiated what we hope will be an on-going series of anchor tests. For starters, in the February 1, 1998 issue, we decided to look solely at the ability of an anchor to set itself in sand. Our 11 test anchors included the usual suspects, from the CQR, Delta and Super Max plow types to the Danforth, Fortress and West Performance lightweights.

For the test, we set up our apparatus, including a self-tailing winch, Dillon dynamometer and an array of blocks, at a nearby beach. Each anchor was hand-dropped in shallow water marked with stakes every 10'. Then we winched it in, three times, at different scopes. We measured how far it took each anchor to set itself enough to register a 200-lb. load on the dynamometer.

The winner was the 22-lb., $160 (at discount) Bruce, which took no more than 2' to set at any scope. It was followed by the Super Max, Claw and Fortress.

8-kW Gensets: Kilo-Pak
If you want air-conditioning on your boat, you need a genset to provide the large quantities of 115-volt AC power it requires.

For the June report, we obtained six models from Northern Lights, Westerbeke, Kilo-Pak, Fischer Panda, Mase and Onan. Both 1,800 rpm and 3,600 rpm models were represented. With assistance from our neighbor, Kiwi Marine Services, each genset was broken in, then operated while we applied increasingly heavy resistive loads up to each genset’s rated limit, then we turned on a big air compressor to simulate air-conditioning compressors kicking in. All the while we monitored RMS voltage, cycles and the wave form. Noise levels were measured with a dB meter.

Only two gensets managed to exceed their ratings—the Kilo-Pak and Fischer Panda. We concluded that if space is tight, the 3,600 rpm $14,890 Fischer Panda is the first choice, given its 440-lb. weight and excellent sound shield. It is high-tech, with an array of expensive capacitors that store energy to handle heavy start-up loads.

But for folks who desire simplicity, we pegged the 1,800 rpm, $10,364 Kilo-Pak. If not the quietest and lightest, it is a workhouse. “It was the only 1,800 rpm set,” we wrote, “that with a full resistive load, picked up and walked away with the added inductive load.”

Small Outboards: Yamaha 2.0
Over the years we’ve tested most outboards 9.9-hp. and smaller. In the October 1 issue, we got around to the really small motors—2.0- to 3.3-hp.

Our evaluation involved measuring top speed, noise and an examination of design, features and materials. Yamaha has consistently rated at or near the top of all our outboard reports, and this evaluation was no exception. Its only real shortcoming is the lack of a forward-neutral gearshift, but that’s the way it is with 2-hp. outboards (you have to move up to the Mercury/Mariner/Tohatsu/Nissan 3.3 to get that feature).

“The Yamaha 2.0,” we wrote, “eminently fits the bill for a reliable, small engine that’s light enough at 22 lb. to be moved easily from dinghy to boat. It performs well, running quietly, and has no bad habits.” Discount price is about $540.

LCD Radar: Raytheon SL 72
We’ve followed LCD radar technology closely since its inception, and noted continuing improvement. In the August 1 issue we tested the Raytheon SL 72 Pathfinder, Simrad RA772UA 3-D model, and the JRC 1000.

“The Raytheon SL 72,” we wrote, “is the clear leader” in terms of operational performance. It was also the easiest to tune, had the best resolution, and manages its display in the most useful way. Its average discount price is about $1,500.

Anchor Rode: New England Ropes 3-Strand
As part of our ongoing reports on ground tackle, the April 15 issue contained the results of anchor rode tests. We looked at 18 nylon lines from New England Ropes, Yale, Samson, Wellington, Crowe, Columbian and Pelican. Modern ropes are incredibly strong and we did not try to break them; these 1/2" lines will take about 6,000 to 10,000 pounds.

Instead, we constructed a rather clever (if we do say so ourselves) abrasion machine that allows us to determine a line’s relative resistance to chafe. We also gave the lines to a professional rigger for input on ease of splicing. And, of course, we looked at price, feel, etc.

Though not generally used for anchor rode, we found no good reason why one cannot use braided line. It’s stronger than laid line, stows better and is nice to handle. We especially liked New England’s Mega Braid, Yale’s Brait and Samson’s 2-IN-1.

But if you are a traditionalist and prefer laid line, “New England Ropes’ Premium nylon is the best in the business,” we wrote. “For abrasion resistance, it’s in a class by itself. Other premium brands of 3-strand may be cheaper, but none is enough cheaper to warrant a Best Buy label.” Half-inch New England Premium sells for 41¢ per foot at discount.

Mast Steps: Fastep & Saf Brak
There are a number of very distinct types of mast steps, fixed triangles and trapezoids in stainless steel and aluminum, folding and removable steps. There are pros and cons to each. Safety is first and foremost—you want your foot to feel secure in the step. Somewhere high on the list of issues is the propensity of steps to snag halyards. Folding steps practically eliminate the problem, but don’t contain your foot as securely as the triangles and trapezoids, which do snag lines.

After much deliberation, summarized in the July 1 issue, we saw much merit in Alfred Gilbert’s demountable Fastep ($12.95 each). They’re made of 1/4" stainless rod, and can be left attached, or slipped in place as you climb and removed as you descend. One carries the lot of them in a bag tied to your bosun’s chair.

We were even more taken by a device Gilbert sells called the Saf Brak. It’s a short web strap with a cam cleat on one end and a carabiner on the other to attach a harness or chair to any belayed halyard. When going up the mast, the cam follows you up; coming down, it will grab the halyard and prevent your falling unless you lift the web strap. It sells for $68.95 and can be used with any chair or mast step. After using it, we wouldn’t climb without one.


Contacts- Bruce, IMTRA, 30 Barnet Blvd., New Bedford, MA 02745; 508/995-7000. Fastep & Saf Brak, Alfred Gilbert Enterprises, 2921 Wood Pipe Lane, Philadelphia, PA 19129; 215/849-4016. Garmin International, 676 Island Pond Rd., Manchester, NH 03109-5420; 603/647-7530. Kilo-Pak, Reagan Equipment, 190 S. Bryan, Dania, FL 33004; 800/824-8256. Leisure Furl, Hall Spars, 17 Peckham Dr., Bristol, RI 02809; 401/253-4858. New England Ropes, 848 Airport Rd., Fall River, MA 02721; 800/333-6679. Raytheon, 676 Island Pond Rd., Manchester, NH 03109-5420; 603/647-7530. Seabreeze, Bomar, PO Box W, Charlestown, NH 03603; 603/826-5791. Spectra 180, Edinger Marine Service, 298 Harbor Dr., Sausalito, CA 94965; 415/332-3780. Yamaha Marine, 6555 Katella Ave., Cypress, CA 90630; 714/761-7612.

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