Mailport March 2001 Issue

Mailport 03/01

Toilet Talk
I’ve become intimately familiar with the Raritan PHII over the course of 17 years of ownership, including 11 years of living aboard. During that time I’ve also picked up two PHIIs that were discarded by owners who apparently thought they were beyond repair. Upon inspection of the first one, I discovered that the 50¢ piston O-ring was flat on one side. I replaced it and it worked perfectly. I swapped our old PHII with this one and have the old one in storage for parts.

When I investigated the second PHII I discovered that the spring that holds the ball valve down (see picture on page 10 of the September, 2000 issue) had been installed upside down. It may not be obvious to the casual observer that this spring is conical in shape. The picture shows it installed correctly with the small end down on the ball. If installed the opposite way the ball sticks up inside the spring and will likely be prevented from completely sealing. The result is substantially reduced flushing water flow, and therefore aggravatingly slow flushing.

If you guessed that this knowledge comes from having reinstalled the spring improperly, you’re correct. It can be very difficult to debug this mistake if you’re not aware of the subtle differences in the ends of the spring. There’s no warning in the owner’s manual. You’ll only notice it if you stare carefully at the parts diagram. Incidentally, I experimented and found that the head will operate with the spring removed, and the flushing water increases even more…to the point that it outruns the exhaust side. I assume the spring is a safety feature to prevent flushing water from entering the bowl if the user forgets to turn off the valve.

Having come to learn the PHII’s idiosyncrasies, I’m pleased with it, agree completely with your evaluation, and have no desire to switch to another head. Besides, I have a lifetime supply of spare parts!

Steve Van Slyke
Gig Harbor, Washington

After reading your article on manual heads I want to relate my experience with one of your recommended units.

In 1995, while outfitting my Westsail 32 for live-aboard, I decided to spend the big bucks and get a Wilcox-Crittenden Skipper head. I had a series of problems at installation, starting with the inability to get standard 1-1/2" PVC sanitation hose onto the tailpiece. I had to grind the tailpiece down to get the hose on far enough to clamp it.

After getting inlet and outlet hoses on, I filled the bowl with a bucket of freshwater per instructions on priming but before I could start pumping I found I had water leaking from the bowl gasket and the pump shaft packing. I stopped the bowl leak by tightening the bowl gasket but could only reduce the pump shaft leak to a slow drip. At this point the head worked well except for the pump shaft leak.

After several months of living aboard the pump piston began to seize in the pump cylinder. This necessitated the first of many disassemblies of the head for cleaning and greasing.

I ended up having to tear down the unit at least four times a year to grease the piston. I would replace every part in the rebuild kit once a year. I never stopped the leak in the pump shaft despite many changes of packing material. I did notice that the threads for the pump shaft packing nut were partially missing due to a void in the casting of the pump base.

I noticed during one of my frequent tear-downs that the pump shaft was worn where it was supported at its inner end and decided to replace it. I ordered a new shaft from Wilcox-Crittenden and after tearing my head down I found during reassembly that the new shaft had the keyway machined grossly off the centerline and the pump handle could not be installed. Wilcox-Crittenden replaced the shaft.

After one more year of cruising with a continually wet head floor and sticking pump I decided to eat my investment and purchase what had been my second choice in heads, a Groco Model K. All hoses slipped right on and the unit has functioned leak- and trouble-free for more than a year without need of servicing.

Robert Stewart
Birmingham, Alabama

Ronco Holding Tanks
In September 2000, you reviewed holding tanks from several manufacturers. Anyone who has tried to outfit a boat with new tanks knows how challenging it can be to best utilize the available space.

Getting the most usable capacity while minimizing the amount of space made useless by inconvenient plumbing routes and tanks is close to impossible with off-the-shelf tanks. Having installed a few tanks myself and observed many other installations, I must highly recommend Ronco Plastics. I have found that their selection is equal to or better than their competitors. You can have a custom tank made for only a couple of dollars more. When you buy a custom tank you get to fill all the allotted space, and you can select the sizes of the fittings so you don’t waste space and money with reducers and adapters. Also, you can place the fittings where you want them so you have the most efficient plumbing route with the least number of elbows, and place the inspection port exactly where you need it.

Ronco’s delivery is very quick and contrary to the Value Guide listed in the article, they have always thrown in the fittings I’ve requested for free.

Mark “Loeb” Soldan
Belmont, California

Hunter Fan
I just finished reviewing the October 1, 2000 review of the Hunter 320. What struck us most was not the information contained in the article, which was probably very true, but the arrogance and condescending tone of the article.

The reviewer seems to think that production boats are not worth the material to build them and that anybody who owns one is not worthy to be called a sailor. Some people are content to own a sailboat that is intended only for inshore or coastal sailing. Many Hunter owners turn into high-performance sailors after getting experience with coastal sailing!

We are proud Hunter owners. Not everyone can afford a custom yacht. Hunter (and other production boat manufacturers) has made it possible to own a nice sailboat without mortgaging our souls. The boats are reasonably priced, well made and believe it or not, can be raced, in spite of what your reviewer thinks. Hunter owners race their boats quite admirably and win a good portion of the time. Owners of larger Hunter sailboats take them to the Caribbean, across the Atlantic and to other far-flung places. As for the Hunter 320 not being an offshore boat, we are sure Hunter agrees.

As one of the two largest builders of sailboats in the US, we guess Hunter is doing something right.

Sam and Maureen Marks
Amelia Island, Florida

Lifejacket Bags
Lifejacket bags (February 15, 2000; July 15, 2000) that use zipper closures can be extremely dangerous. We learned that in less than one season the zipper can freeze shut from corrosion (even faster in a saltwater environment). No zipper = no access to the lifejackets inside the bag!

Lifejacket bags can be very useful, especially in dinghies, but the ONLY safe ones use a hook and loop (Velcro) closure; these are corrosion-proof, and are available from West Marine, among other retailers.

Steve Taylor
Milton, Massachusetts

(Editor’s note: Both pot-metal and fine-mesh plastic zippers can seize up in damp, salty conditions. Here’s another good reason to carry a knife.)

Outboard Motor Brackets
Your outboard bracket article was good…as far as it went (October 15, 2000). The field tester(s) failed to take into account the important matter of how well these brackets perform on a pitching, heeling boat. The article did recognize that most small sailboats use these outboards and brackets as auxiliaries. An auxiliary is not for just the no-wind situation. Motorsailing to make headway against a tide, going directly upwind in a storm to enter a refuge, clearing a fouled motor of seaweed, kelp or line, or clearing a swamped motor of water, all create situations where the functioning of the motor mount is more than a matter of convenience.

My comments are based on 22 years of experience with a Catalina 25 in remote areas of southeast Alaska and British Columbia coastal waters.

The head of the motor must be high enough so it is very difficult or impossible to swamp it. Mount placement is the start of this. The propeller must always be in the water, not occasionally. Depending on transom height you may need a long leg on the motor. To my knowledge, OMC makes the longest available.

As power is applied, regardless of speed through the water, the hull “squats,” putting the head in danger of immersion. Rolling and pitching, often combined in an encounter with a wake, cause the propeller to pull out of the water. Motorsailing can make this worse due to heel. Motor height must be infinitely variable to take these varying situations into account.

The best solution I have seen is the OMC, customized so it can be “locked” at any height needed. This is done by mounting two cam cleats on the transom top. A line goes from one to the top of the motor mount where it is secured to an eye strap or a hole drilled in the mount to pass a knotted line. This keeps the motor from going down. The second goes from the cleat to a turning block mounted with an eye strap low on the transom and then led to an eye strap on the transom high enough so the mount can be pulled all the way down. Motor weight and thrust create powerful forces, especially when seas are running high. Do not skimp on the size of all this gear! The motor will stay at the height locked in by the two lines in tension.

The mount may need to be separated from the transom by a spacer so that the motor can be tilted all the way upwards to clear it of seaweed or whatever. It also puts the head of the motor in an easy position to take off the hood so the plugs can be pulled and seawater removed in case of swamping.

This must all be done on a boat in wild motion. It should all be capable of being done one-handed. The OMC is the only mount that has enough lift to do this.

George de Tuncq
Fairfax, California

Last spring I removed an eight-year-old OMC outboard bracket from my Ericson 25+ and purchased the most expensive bracket in West Marine’s Catalog, the Garelick 71090. To ensure the requisite block and mounting holes would be correct I built a stand and mounted the bracket with my 4-stroke Yamaha 9.9 hp.

In working with the bracket I discovered what I believe is a design flaw. The springs touch off on long horizontal bolts and over these bolts are aluminum tubes. Apparently the tubes are there to increase the effective diameter of the bolts and prevent the ends of the springs from slipping past the bolt, but in my bracket first one and then a second spring slipped over the tube/bolt, thereby rendering the springs useless. The ends of the springs need to be much longer; the aluminum tubes are not a reliable fix.

I returned the Garelick 71090 and purchased a Garelick 71038, which according to the West Marine catalog and the labels on the box is suitable for up to 20 hp, 115 lb. To my surprise after I opened the box and read the instructions I found a not-very-prominent statement saying the bracket should not be used with 4-stroke 9.9-hp engines. I was not happy, and returned the bracket to West Marine where the sales staff were also surprised to learn the bracket is not suitable for 4 strokes.

I ordered a Fulton MB18200134, which I’ve been using for four months, and I agree with you: It’s a very good bracket. However, I would have greatly appreciated more detailed dimension drawings in the instructions.

Why did I replace the OMC bracket? First, over eight years of use I learned that the life of the gas-filled cylinder is about 2-1/2 years, and at $100 each, well… Second, having only the up or down positions is unacceptable. The position of the motor should be adjusted to the sea state and how the boat is loaded. On my boat, the previous owner had mounted the bracket low to ensure the prop stayed in the water even with extreme pitching—it did. However, the boat squats under power and even in calm seas at hull speed water was very close to the power head, with an occasional splash up to the cover. What I didn’t realize was saltwater was getting past the cover seal and pooling under the cylinder block. Eventually it corroded through the plate that separates the upper and lower units. For an auxiliary engine on a sailboat, having an adjustable bracket is not an option, it’s a requirement.

Harlan Holmes
Marina Del Rey, California

Your assessment of the Minn Kota Power Up pointed out some of it’s failings. However, I feel that the most important problem with the lifter is that it cannot be overcome. If, for example, the lifter motor burns out, as mine did, in the up position, there is no way to lower the auxiliary. On the Chesapeake Bay you cannot always sail home.

It is true that the manual does indicate that the lifter is intended for freshwater use only, but you don’t find this out until you have purchased the unit. To West Marine’s credit, they refunded the purchase price after Minn Kota refused.

I mounted a 9.9-hp Yamaha 4-stroke on the unit. The weight is near the maximum rating. The motor burned out after about 10 uses. Obviously, the unit is not intended for outboards weighing as much as the 9.9 4-stroke. I should have realized this, but the manual did not state this restriction.

Carl Degen
via e-mail

Where Credit Is Due
To Capt. Jack’s, Port Ludlow, Washington: “I recently purchased a copy of Nobeltec’s Visual Navigation Suite through Capt. Jack’s, a mail order firm. After the program was installed on my laptop, I was unable to get the charts to load. By the time I called Nobeltec, they were closed so I called Capt. Jack’s order line. Amos, through whom I had placed my order, took the call and immediately recognized the problem. He took the time to walk me through the chart installation procedure and in about 15 minutes the program was working properly. Not often do you find someone taking telephone orders who can also troubleshoot products. I feel Amos and Capt. Jack’s should be complimented for their customer service.”

-Frank Dean, Edmonds, Washington

To Scanmar International, Richmond, California: “We have had a Monitor windvane steering system on First Light, our Hans Christian 33 T since 1997. We have not had to contact the company for any reason since the initial installation; the unit has worked flawlessly. We sailed from Hampton, Virginia last November to Bermuda/USVIs and are now in Venezuela. Upon returning to Oregon for a month of cranberry harvest, we learned that Scott was attempting to reach us to send us (unsolicited) redesigned lower steering tubes. Scott at Scanmar had somehow learned that we had experienced difficulty in large seas with the sacrificial tube breaking while underway. Scanmar had remedied this problem, sought us out and sent the two redesigned tubes to us at no expense to us. This extraordinary support is not what we have come to expect, unfortunately, from many in the marine industry.”

-Charles Hall, via e-mail

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