Mailport October 15, 2002 Issue

Mailport: 10/15/02

Electro vs. Paper Continuum
I had to respond to Bill Zierdt's letterunder "Plodding Luddites Unite" in the August 1 issue. His complaint about electronics has been the bane of our computerized navigation and communication business since we started over 10 years ago. Although Bill seems sincere and obviously knows quite a bit about flying and sailing, I think he misses the point of electronic navigation. All electronic devices are simply aids to navigation and piloting and not a replacement for traditional techniques and skills. Indeed, any good computer navigation system can be made to upload routes to your GPS or print out charts and routes on paper as a backup. Routes saved this way are rarely lost and charts printed out from digital files can easily pay for the cost of the software. It's hard to fault a system that produces its own back-up.

Any mariner who would rely solely on electronic navigation without a manual backup is a fool. However, computers can greatly lessen the tedium that leads to errors common to even the most experienced navigators. Imagine a dark night in a crowded seaway with a tired, shorthanded crew. Quick! Are we in the channel? The confidence that an accurate, easy to read electronic navigation display provides is immeasurable.

Few professional navigators with dividers and a plotting sheet can equal the speed and accuracy of a vessel displayed on a NOAA digital chart with GPS positioning. That's just one of the reasons why the US Coast Guard uses computerized navigation systems on all its cutters.

As a pilot and sailor myself I can understand why Bill feels like digital technology might be getting a bit out of control. It looks as if many mariners are depending on systems that are too vulnerable to failure, thus placing themselves in a dangerous position. However, the truth is that there are reliable computers all over your boat and aircraft now. The GPS is a computer, both your VHF and SSB radios use microprocessors, even that fancy new sailing watch is computer controlled. These devices work pretty well and their benefits are taken for granted as a part of our lives.

It's a good thing that Bill's ancestors didn't follow the movement Ned Ludd inspired. If so he might not have a boat, certainly not an airplane, and we would all be watching television by candle light!

-Steven Bowden, SeaTech Systems
Kemah, TX


The title of that Mailport subhead was ours, not Bill Zierdt's, lest any extra heavy Ludd be attached to it. Steven, thanks for that balanced approach.We don't think your viewpoint is much different from Bill's; you're just coming at the subject from a different angle. This is what makes the topic worthy and brings in people from all points of view. The discussion has no perfect ending, but it's worth promoting because there are more and more people out there who really don't carry paper charts, and haven't any knowledge of dead-reckoning at all. We owe it to these people (fools though they may be) to keep the discussion going, although it will make sense to keep the discussion as practical as we can.

For some great background on electro-charting, see the Riprap column in this issue.

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Cloaked in the Clear
I have had an ongoing interest (tinged with concern) in the various piecesthat you have run about radar reflectors and their effectivness or lackthereof. A recent practical test may be of interest to your readers.

In July this year we participated in a race from Halifax, N.S. to the islandof Saint Pierre, a French possession off the south coast of Newfoundland.The cruising class boats were accompanied across the Cabot Strait by one of the new Canadian Navy's coastal defence vessels, HMCS Glace Bay. The fleet of seven boats were mostly fiberglass in the 35- to 45-foot range with aluminum masts, but it included a 65-foot steel schooner with wooden masts, a 40-foot steel sloop with an aluminum mast, and ourselves, a 38-foot wooden cutter with a wooden mast. There was also a trawler type motor yacht about 45 feet along for the ride. Everyone had some sort of radar reflector aloft, covering the usual range of types that you would see among well-equipped boats. The weather was fine with very moderate seas and no rain. We had following winds, so no one was sailing at a significant continuous angle of heel.

HMCS Glace Bay has the latest and best of radar gear, well tuned, withattentive operators who knew that we were there. In spite of this, shereported that none of the fleet of yachts was visible on radar at more than five miles' range. There did not seem to be any significant differences between the boats in terms of radar visibility, nor between the targets provided on their S and X band equipment.

Now, assume a dirty night with lots of clutter from rain and seas, awatchkeeper with other things to do, aging radar equipment that may not be optimally tuned, and a closing speed of 15 or 20 knots. I suspect that such a vessel could pass through our little fleet before its crew even focused on the fact that we were there.I'd like to hear your observations about active radar reflectors/transponders at some time.

-Wilson Fitt, S/V Christina Grant
Halifax, Nova Scotia

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Breaker Panel Ideas
That's a good article on breaker panels (August 15). It's nice to know there are no real defective ones.

I would like to mention a pet peeve. Here at Malone Boatbuilding we work on a variety of boats, and there's always the same problem: The function of switching gets mixed in with the function of over-current protection. Let me give an example. Typically, to turn on a cabin light or a radio, one must turn on the breaker first, maybe also a main breaker. This is really quite a nuisance. It's like having to turn on a breaker at home before turning on a light. This kind of breaker should always be on. Also, on the same panel, there will be breakers for the running lights and spreader lights. These serve switching functions as well as breaker functions. You can't climb the mast to turn on the spreader lights. These should be located separately from just breakers.

An even better idea is to have all the over-current breakers in one panel and have toggle switches for switching purposes. I could see having power for the running lights, the steaming light, and the anchor light all coming from one breaker; and then divide it up with three toggle switches, one for each function.

Well, there you go. It's off my chest.

-Bruce Malone
Malone Boatbuilding
Rockport, Maine

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...Where Credit is Due

To Raritan Engineering, Millville, NJ: "I purchased a Lectra/San MC Type-I marine sanitation device on November 19, 2000. The installation took some time and wasn't complete until April 2, 2001. The unit worked fine until February 2002, when the electrode failed?3 months outside the 1-year warranty. I discussed the situation with a Raritan technician and finally ordered a new electrode. When the new electrode arrived I installed it and sent the defective one back to the factory for analysis. After analysis Raritan credited my account for the price of a new electrode. What a pleasant surprise!"

-Tony and Pat Renk, S/V Fairweather
Carenage Bay, Trinidad

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To Ideal Windlass, East Greenwich, RI: "I purchased an anchor windlass for my Tayana 37 from Ideal Windlass Company, East Greenwich, Rhode Island in April, 2001. My decision was based in part on the tests done by Practical Sailor several years ago. It was a custom- built unit purchased directly from the factory at a very competitive price. I have been very happy with the windlass. It has superb workmanship and performance. In a recent trip from Rhode Island to George Town, Exumas, The Bahamas, via the ICW it vigorously hauled in my all-chain rode and 35-lb CQR almost 100 times without a hitch. Then for some reason the unit started to bind up. After talking to Pedro at the factory of possible causes, I shipped the unit back to Ideal and they determined that one of the components which secure the motor in place had loosened. Ideal replaced the component and did not charge me anything, even though the unit's one-year warranty had expired. The quality of the product and the service I have received far exceeds my expectations. Hats off to Ideal, an ideal company with an ideal product."

-Patrick Maslen, S/V Intrepid

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To Forespar Products Company, Santa Margarita, CA: "After searching for months I discovered through a rigger that the non-functioning mainsail furling device on my Columbia 50 was of Italian manufacture, represented at the time by Forespar; it is a predecessor of their EZ-furl product. My unit was totally missing its main bearing. I contacted Forespar engineer Mark Coholan, who agreed to fabricate a new bearing for me, even though they had not represented that product since 1985, and he had never seen any two of their units alike. Hecharged me only for the materials, saying that to charge actual labor andoverhead would make it ridiculous. He made, press-fitted and shipped the new bearing in less than one week. How's that for servicing a product for which they have had no responsibility for 17 years?"

-Bob Morrison
Newport Beach, CA

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