Features November 1, 2000 Issue

Gear of the Year

This year’s list of top quality products reviewed in the pages of Practical Sailor includes Winslow coastal and offshore life rafts, Andersen winches and the Standard Horizon HX350S handheld VHF radio.

As we have each year since 1995, PS editors selected the top 10 products tested during the past year. Looking back to that first year (was it really five years ago?!), 1995 saw us select the inexpensive Davis Echomaster radar reflector, which in the anechoic chamber at the Stanford Research Institute outperformed much more expensive reflectors. This was the same year that we published performance data from MIT for the ingenious self-pitching Autoprop. In 1996 we were impressed with the Lowrance GlobalMap, the first cartographic handheld GPS. Pettit ACP-50 bottom paint grabbed our attention in 1997, managing to hold top spot among many paints tested for several years to follow. The Spectra 180 watermaker’s low current consumption won honors in 1998. And last year we celebrated the Spade anchor, a plow with a better design.

The Standard HX350S VHF.

This year’s choices were, as we have come to expect, sometimes difficult, sometimes a cinch.

Chafe Gear: Perma Buoy
In the January 15, 2000 issue we conducted abrasion tests of numerous chafe materials for your dock lines and anchor rodes—leather, towels, hose, rubber, and polyester fabric. The winner was Perma Buoy’s neoprene rubber. A 3/4" guard goes for $8.40. Not a big ticket item and maybe not the most important purchase you’ll ever make for your boat, but around here, when hurricane season rolls through you sleep a lot better knowing you’ve got tough, reliable chafe gear on your dock lines and mooring pendant.

Submersible VHF Radio: Standard HX350S
We all know that anything on a boat can and probably will get wet—sooner than later. Handheld electronic devices, such as VHF radios and GPS, are revolutionizing navigation and communications, but they’re more vulnerable to damage than fixed-mount equipment. The early waterproof VHF radios of just a few years ago were expensive, but as more companies make them, prices are coming down. In the February 1 issue we conducted several tests of leading handheld VHF radios, including receive sensitivity, frequency error, and a good old-fashioned dunking in a bucket of water. When all was wrung out and dry, the Standard Horizon HX350S was our pick. It was the only radio tested that is sold as a complete package with drop-in charger, belt clip, lanyard, watertight AA battery tray, 100 mAh rechargeable battery and DC charging cord.

Average discount price is about $280.

Antifouling Paint: Pettit Trinidad SR
As noted above, Pettit ACP-50 has been our top bottom paint since 1997. No longer. While this multi-season ablative paint continued to perform well in our 1999-2000 exposure tests, it was overtaken by Trinidad SR. Trinidad has long had one of the highest copper contents of any commercially available paint—65% to 75%—but with SR Pettit has added a “slime blocker”—2% Ciba Irgarol. Apparently it works. About $130 per gallon at discount.

Bottom Paint Strippers: Peel Away
Sanding a boat’s bottom is an odious job. Tiring, too, whether you use a power sander, wet sand by hand or flail away with a scraper. We know of no simple way other than paying someone else to do it.

Always in search of better products, we have been testing paint strippers for many years. In 1993, we began testing a number of so-called “safe strippers.” Well, you can’t ingest them and they still can burn the skin, but they do not contain the known carcinogen, methylene chloride. Peel Away was in 1993 and remains in 2000 the most effective chemical bottom paint stripper. It generally takes a long day or overnight to work, but waiting for it to work while you sleep is a whole lot easier than sanding.

In this year’s test, reported in September, we tried home variety Peel Away #1 as well as the Marine Safety Strip. Both performed better than the other products tested, mainly, we think, because they go on in a thicker gel, and with strippers, thickness is everything. Peel Away #1 has different ingredients, but sells for half the price of the marine version—about $20 a gallon vs. $43.

Life Rafts: Winslow Coastal & Offshore
Beginning in the May 1 issue and running through to August 1, life rafts took center stage. Tested in an Arizona wave pool, with the able assistance of volunteer PS readers and the US Coast Guard, more than 30 marine and aviation rafts for inshore, coastal and offshore use were scrutinized. The June Double Issue reported on coastal models and the July 1 issue contained the report on offshore models. Test criteria included in-water factors such as stability and drogue performance, design, fabric, and items contained in the survival equipment pack (SEP). Our choice, as well as the near unanimous pick of volunteers, was the Winslow Canopied Coastal Plus ($2,675) and the Winslow Ocean Rescue ($6,695).

Small Boat Furlers: Schaefer SnapFurl
For years, CDI owned the small boat furler market. It pioneered the concept of a PVC headstay luff extrusion with its line of Flexible Furlers. They are especially popular among trailer sailors because the durable PVC can’t be kinked like conventional aluminum extrusions. Now CDI has competition. In the April 15 issue we examined furlers with PVC extrusions from CDI, Harken, Hood and Schaefer. CDI and Hood have the lowest prices, Harken the highest. Schaefer’s SnapFurl is about 20% more than CDI, but way below Harken. We summed up the SnapFurl thusly: “Innovative snap-together foil; stainless cage, feeder and aluminum upper swivel; and ball bearings make this a premium system at a low price.” We called it a Best Buy.

Sheet Winches: Andersen
Few pieces of marine hardware are more impressive than the sheet winch. Made of aluminum, stainless steel, bronze, and often chromed, the winch is a robust thing, destined, it seems, to last forever. They have evolved slowly over the years. Now most are self-tailers and many are multi-speed. Barlow and Barient once dominated. Today it’s Lewmar followed by Harken. There are others worth considering, however.

In the August 15 issue we tested the above brands, plus size 40s from Andersen, Antal, Barton and Setamar. While the drum-less Setamar may represent the future of winches, we can’t help but admire the Andersen. The polished stainless steel drum is a thing of beauty. Unlike most winches, which have a coarse drum finish to prevent line slippage, the Andersen has a series of spaced vertical ribs, which manage to hold line without causing much abrasion. Andersens are priced between Harken and Lewmar. When all factors are weighed—efficiency, serviceability, construction and appearance—our choice was Andersen.

Small Boat Radar: Raytheon RL70 Series
In this issue we report on the current crop of the popular LCD radars. Thanks to their low cost, a rapidly increasing number of boatowners are able to afford the safety advantages of radar. The RL 70 radars are unique in that you can mix and match scanners and displays. A chartplotter can be linked as well. This is possible because of Raytheon’s High Speed Bus technology; it enables you to have, say, a chartplotter/radar display at the nav station and a radar-only display in the cockpit—both fed by one scanner of 2kW, 4kW or 10kW transmitting power. LCD and CRT displays can be used. Both displays showed very little glare in bright sunlight. The RL70C color display, which substitutes a TFT (thin film transistor) color display for the RL70’s monochrome LCD, is very sharp. The use of color greatly increases the radar’s ease of use and makes text much easier to read.

Batteries: GNB Stowaway
AGM (absorbed glass mat) batteries are quickly making people forget about gel cells. Both are sealed, so-called “maintenance-free” batteries. In the October 15 issue we tested a number of AGM batteries, including two spiral-grid models from Exide and Optima. A third, the GNB Stowaway, has a conventional straight grid/separator design, but lots of lead—81 pounds of it. We concluded our tests saying, “The bottom line is this: AGM cells clearly have greater high-discharge capability compared to flooded cells. Their low-current discharge is equal to or better than flooded cells. Recharging capability can be up to twice as fast.” And of the GNB Stowaway: “If you can handle the weight, the GNB Stowaway PowerCycler sealed VRLA is your best choice, in our opinion. It beats the competition by a wide margin on all counts: cycle life, reserve capacity and amp-hour ratings. This battery can handle most starting and deep-cycle needs.” With a CCA (cold cranking amps) rating of 750 and estimated deep cycles of more than 800, it is, we think, a true dual-purpose battery. Prices range between about $160 and $190.

Outboard Motor Bracket: Fulton
If you’ve ever owned a trailerable boat with an outboard motor on the transom, you can appreciate the importance of a good mount. It must be sturdy and corrosion resistant, but most of all, easy to operate, that is, lower the motor’s prop into the water and raise it out when you’re ready to sail. In the October 15 issue we field-tested eight models from five manufacturers. Many companies now distinguish between two- and four-stroke models, citing the increased weight and thrust of the four-stroke motor as a reason why mounts for this growing breed need to be stronger. We looked at two brackets by Fulton and while the smaller one (to 10-hp) wasn’t particularly impressive, the larger one (two- and four-strokes to 30—hp) did everything one could ask of it. It was the easiest of the eight to operate. Price is $200.

 

Contacts- Andersen, Scandvik, Inc., 423 4th Pl. SW, Vero Beach, FL 32961-0068; 561/567-2877, www.scandvik.com. Fulton Performance Products, Inc., 50 Indianhead Dr., PO Box 8, Mosinee, WI 54455; 715/693-1700. GNB Battery Technologies, 375 Northridge Rd., Ste. 100, Atlanta, GA 30350; 800/523-4622. Perma-Buoy, 121 River Rd., Ware, MA 01082; 413/967-7700. Peel Away, Dumond Chemicals, 501 Broadway, New York, NY 10036; 212/869-6350, www.peelaway.com. Pettit Paint Co., 36 Pine St., Rockaway, NJ 07866; 800/221-4466, www.kop-coat.com. Raytheon Marine, 676 Island Pond Rd., Manchester, NH 03109-5420; 603/647-7530, www.raymarine.com. Schaefer Marine, 158 Duchaine Blvd., New Bedford, MA 02745-1293; 508/995-9511; www.schaefermarine.com. Standard Horizon Marine, 17210 Edwards Rd., Cerritos, CA 90703; 310/532-5300, www.yaesu.com. Winslow LifeRaft Co., 11700 Winslow Dr., Lake Suzy, FL 34266; 800/838-3012, 941/613-6666, www.winslowliferaft.com.

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