Mailport June 1, 1999 Issue

Mailport 06/01/99

Your article on the sailmaking industry and sail materials was quite interesting and informative (February 1, 1999). As a naval architect, avid racer and cruiser, and former sailmaker, I was surprised by a few omissions—cruising laminates and the overseas sailmakers with US reps.

Over the last three years we replaced the sails on our Herreshoff Rozinante. Our goals were reasonable price, long-term durability and speed. A tough combination! After talking with numerous sailmakers in San Francisco, we went with the advice of Tim Parsons at North and Jim Leech of Leech and Rudiger (an agent for Neil Pryde). Both suggested we try the cruising laminates, a sail cloth with Mylar in the middle and Dacron scrim on both sides. From an engineer’s point of view this cloth makes a lot of sense. Balanced laminates, protection for the Mylar from creasing and abrasion, and low bias stretch (good for lower aspect sails and non-adjustable masts like ours).

We went with a #3 from North, and a main, mizzen and #1 from Jim Leech. We also went from the top third of the fleet to Double-handed Season Champions for ’97 and ‘98! The cost was only about 15% more than the premium Dacrons and the weight was about 15% less. Service was top-notch from both and the sail detailing was better than I expected. Jim’s quote was also about 40% less than the majors.

After three seasons the #3 seems just as fast as the first day. No signs of stretching, crinkling or delams. The full-batten main and mizzen allowed us to (legally) increase the sail area. We would choose the same combination again in a heartbeat!

Paul H. Miller
Greenbrae, California

Wolter Heater
I have had a Wolter hot water heater aboard my Valiant Esprit 37 for nine years. When I first installed it I had a lot of problems with CO spillage. I had selected the unit because it was compact and well designed, to be mounted away from the living area. The CO problem was eliminated in the second year of operation when Wolter provided me with an inline draft fan.

The unit is mounted in the transom area of the boat with a minimum length of flue pipe. I would never install the unit in the living area as depicted in the advertising. It has worked flawlessly now for eight years.

I have talked with Defender and unhappily found that the company SPS (formerly Wolter) seems to have deceased. I think PS did a disservice to a company that made mistakes but ultimately had a superb product.

Ted Wasserman
Brookline, Massachusetts

Most unfortunately, the Wolter water heater is not back—it’s dead, I was a witness to its demise and almost underwrote part of the funeral.

Last April I bought a Wolter water heater, sans ductwork, from an independent marine HVAC technician., who supplied me with a phone number for SPS Marine. I later found out it had been changed.

By the end of April I had contacted SPS concerning flue parts and a fax from them consisting of a price list and descriptive information about flue parts—plus descriptions of the heater and a very appealing-sounding companion cabin heater working off the heater’s hot water. So far so good.

On May 29 I faxed them asking for technical advice about my planned installation. The main question was whether or not I’d need the blower fan they supplied for the flue. I received no answer. I began telephoning. The phone was never answered.

On June 6 I faxed them a message entitled “Urgent!” The message asked if they were still in business, stated that I had been calling and had not gotten an answer, needed parts and wanted them to contact me.

On June 8 I received a call from a man who identified himself as Jim, who told me that he was a manager and that he had convinced his boss “to let me take the business home and work it from there.”

During this call I ordered the flue parts which Jim advised me to get, and authorized a charge against my VISA account in the amount of $311.81. Jim told me he’d ship that afternoon or the next day.

The next day, June 9, I faxed Jim again expressing concern about the possibility of SPS going under, asked if I should order replacement parts, expressed interest in the cabin heater, and asked more technical questions. I got no reply.

The parts did not arrive on time. When they were several days overdue I checked with VISA and found the charge had been posted on June 14. UPS told me I should have received the shipment three days after they got it but could not track it without a tracking number. The SPS telephone number was not being answered,

On June 18 I faxed again, expressing sharp concern and asked for a UPS tracking number. No reply.

On June 21 I faxed still again, stating that I still wanted the parts but gave Jim a deadline of June 22 to assure me SPS was still in business and that I’d get my parts, or I would notify VISA of a disputed charge and suspend payment. No reply.

I think it was after this that I tried to track SPS down. I called the Better Business Bureau which covers the Symington, Michigan area. They’d never heard of SPS. Neither had the local police department or the Chamber of Commerce.

I called the Symington City Hall. They hadn’t either. When I mentioned that the fax identifier was COMTECH/SPS, the clerk was able to identify COMTECH as belonging to a business once at the SPS address. They furnished a telephone number in Salt Lake City, Utah.

At that number I spoke to a man who said he was the brother-in-law of the owner of SPS; that he had been in partnership with him, but had dissolved the partnership and taken the COMTECH part of the business to Salt Lake City with him. He said I was the second person to call him about SPS, said he’d heard rumors that his brother-in-law was going out of business, admitted he couldn’t get him on the telephone either, and offered to e-mail him on my behalf.

This he did, even calling me back in Pensacola at his own expense to report that his brother had vigorously denied that he was going out of business. The gentleman even called back a week or so later to ask if I had heard from him or gotten my order.

Following my contact with the brother-in-law, on June 23, I notified VISA of the situation and requested that payment be suspended. I sent a copy to Jim at the SPS address. It came back marked “Moved, left no address, unable to forward.”

That is the last I’ve heard of SPS or Jim. The parts never came. VISA wrote asking for a more detailed account of the circumstances, and then credited my account with a full refund,

But the story continues.

Last July my boat was struck by lightning and the Wolter electronic control module was destroyed. The module was outsourced from Fenwal, a manufacturer of gas ignition controls, among other things. The module is out of manufacture. There was a similar Fenwal module with the same critical specifications (6.8-second try time, one try before lockout) but not scaled the same way the marine version used by Wolter was. It is obsolete and unavailable as well. Available units, designed for heaters which vent directly to the exterior of motor homes, allow three 6.8-second tries before locking out. Obviously, letting propane escape into a boat for more than 20 seconds is unacceptable.

From an appliance parts dealer in Mobile, Alabama, I learned that Robert Shaw, the ubiquitous supplier of gas regulators and valves, has taken on the Fenwal line, and from the dealer I received by fax several pages of the Robert Shaw catalogue dealing with Fenwal gas ignition controls. There is apparently an igniter with a 7-second burn time and a one-try lockout, which is designed for remote mounting. I am hoping this may work. The Fenwal part number is 05-309012-153; Robert Shaw’s “Uni-Line order number” is 830-004. Through Robert Shaw it costs $125. At this writing I am trying to catch up with the RV mechanic who has been helping me to ask him to contact Fenwal or Robert Shaw to discuss suitability.

I agree that the Wolter design and manufacture is extremely good, and no other propane-powered heater I can find will fit in my boat. I wish someone reputable and solid could put it back into manufacture.

Bernard Sullivan
Pensacola, Florida

Visual Navigation Suite
On behalf of Nobeltec, and as a reader of Practical Sailor, I would like to thank you for years of presenting meaningful and objective product evaluations. Unfortunately, one of your recent articles did not live up to your normally high standards. While we commend you for addressing the technological advances in electronic charting, we feel your February 15, 1999 evaluation was factually incorrect. The article lists two main weaknesses in the Visual Series programs and we believe both are invalid.

The article states, “Visual Navigation Suite keeps all the routes displayed on the chart at all times.” This is simply incorrect. Our products include a “view” command, which simply and easily controls what information is displayed on the screen. This feature is a basic technology that has been in our products since inception, over four years ago.

The article also states that, “Visual Navigation Suite is poor, both in display and printout. You can disable quilting, but chart quality is still poor enough to keep us from recommending the program.” In addition to these negative comments, the article shows a screenshot comparing the display from our product with the display from the Cap’n. We disagree that Visual Navigation Suite’s chart display is poor and believe the screenshots are misleading. Quality of chart display is a function of the charts used, not the program. Comparing the two screen shots used in this article is like comparing apples to oranges.

The screen shot from Cap’n (centered roughly on Greenwich) was taken from a traditional north-up chart. The screen shot from Visual Navigation Suite (centered roughly on Norwalk) was taken from what is called a skewed-chart (non-north-up). If oriented north-up, skewed charts are always harder for any software package to display than traditional north-up charts.

The two comparison screenshots are also at different zoom levels. Charts display differently at various zoom levels, obviously displaying best near their native zoom level. By zooming in or out, it is always possible to improve or degrade chart display on any program.

Tim Whelan
Nobeltec Corporation
Issaquah, Washington

Bilge Pump Cycling
Am I the only person who can’t figure out how to make two switches and a relay do what Paul Collins (March 1999) claims to have done with his bilge pump?

Is there any possibility you could include a small diagram in a future issue to help electrical neophytes like myself install this on our own boat?

Steve Clarke,
Highland, Michigan

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