Mailport August 1, 2003 Issue

Mailport: 08/01/03

Chart Kits
Thanks for the favorable mention of myself and Landfall Navigation inyour recent article on Chart Kits [May 15]. I'm sorry you did not mention Waterproof Charts out of Punta Gorda, FL. Paul Ravenna really pioneered the private waterproof charts and did/does a good job of designing charts that cover the right areas.

Also sorry that you mentioned the federal margin on charts. Given thegenerally inadequate margins on marine products, all the consumer isgoing to have in a few years is the West Marine Mega Gorilla, which will not serve them well after the rest of us are out of business.

-Capt. Henry E. Marx
Landfall Navigation
Stamford, CT


You folks do a fine job with this publication. I have been a subscriber for a while now, and find the articles informative. In your recent chart kits article, you failed to mention a fine book and chart establishment, The Pilothouse in Philadelphia, PA. They have a good selection and have always been more than helpful. Their contact information is as follows:

Pilothouse Charts, Inc.

Hope this is useful to others. Keep up the good work.

-John Gerry
Via e-mail


Sailing Simulators
I just read your review of sailing simulators [June] and I generally agree with your conclusions on many of them. However, I was disappointed to see that Virtual Sailor 6.0 was not included. I feel that this sim has several advantages over others, including realistic weather, scenery, wave action, and boat graphics (utilizes DirectX).  The $25 sim is downloadable, and there are hundreds of add-on downloadable boats and additional world-wide scenery add-ons at no extra cost.  It also features online racing, however I have found this to be glitchy.  Overall, though, it is an excellent cruising or racing simulator for the price. See

-Don Lincoln
Howell, MI


Just got the double issue, and was surprised that you didn't include Virtual Sailor in your article on sailing simulators. While no simulator can be all things to all people, Virtual Sailor comes closest to duplicating the entire sailing experience on a computer, in my opinion. I'm not associated with them in any way other than as a user of their programme.

You can download a fully-functional demo from them and give it a look:

-Karin Conover-Lewis
Via e-mail


Your review of Virtual Passage 2.0 was very positive, with sailtrim functions the only negative you chose to highlight.  I might note, however, that  Virtual Passage does have automatic sailtrim under the Options pull-down. In fact it optimally trims sails when you select auto sailtrim, or you can sail in a wind-steering mode so that it points to an optimal trim angle. It is discussed on page 21 of the manual.

-Richard McNider


Penetrol for Gelcoats
With regard to the gelcoat maintenance article in your June 2003 issue by Nick Nicholson, I recently “restored” my fiberglass hardtop dodger with Penetrol, and I was quite surprised with the results.  It looks virtually new again (it is forest green and had faded slightly from the sun over the past two years).

Penetrol is a liquid (apparently non-abrasive) and it does not appear to have any negative impact on the gelcoat—it brought the color back to "as new" condition.  All you need do is apply it in small sections (perhaps 4-6 sq. ft.); let it dry a few minutes, and buff it off.  From there it's just a matter of waxing the surface for protection.

Since this is the first time I've done this, I can't predict any long-term negative implications for its use, but it certainly performed well without apparently harming the surface.

Use of Penetrol was suggested by our local West Marine person, after I asked about one or two other products (basically various levels of aggressive compounds).  He mentioned his navy blue gelcoat had faded to a light blue color, and Penetrol brought the color back to original—so I decided to try it myself.

-Bob Fuller
Via e-mail


Satellite Radio
I’m a long-time Practical Sailor subscriber, and the name of my boat, AirWaves, is indicative of what I do for a living: I'm the 32-year co-owner of a broadcast radio group with four stations in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Your story on XM and Sirius [June] was well written. Please allow me to offer some additional information regarding iBiquity or HD-Radio, as it's now named.

XM and Sirius do offer multiple format offerings and many channels (not all) are commercial-free. That said, the top 5-8 channels have more subscribers (remember you have to pay for XM and Sirius) actually listening to them than all the other channels combined. Diversity of program channels is great in theory, but most of us really want the basic choices of Top 40, Adult Contemporary, Country, Classic Rock, News/Talk/Sports, and Oldies. Smooth Jazz and Classical both attract a reasonable audience, but all other programming only garners a small percentage of overall subscribers.  The more esoteric choices such as Portuguese mining-disaster music are wonderful in concept, but are more marketing hype than anything.

What XM and Sirius want and sorely need is your monthly subscription income, as they're both bleeding red ink at a horrific pace.

HD-Radio for the rest of us (that's normal AM/FM radio with "1's" and "0's" to make both bands digital) does, as you indicate, sort of remove the real advantages of XM and Sirius; plus, as always, AM/FM radio in analog or digital form is free for the listening.

Group operators in most markets now also own and/or control 3,4,5 or as many as 8 different AM and FM stations, and offer the same mainstream programming choices as XM and Sirius, again doing it as a free service to our listeners.  We also offer local news, community information, and weather reports that XM and Sirius do not.  Our own company brands with AccuWeather, and we offer boating forecasts for Lake Michigan that are very accurate. This is but one example of how local radio wins over national competition like XM and Sirius.

Bottom line?  You can buy your XM and/or Sirius digital radio, pay your monthly subscription fees, and be dazzled  by the dozens and dozens of programming channels, but if you're like most of us you'll quickly lose the fascination with so many offerings and go back to basics. Or you can buy an HD-AM/FM radio, get digital-quality versions of the same analog stations, and spend the money you'd send XM/Sirius monthly on more serious things like that new triple-block you know you need to buy the next time you stop at your local marine store.

Fair sailing! 

-Bill Wertz
Fairfield Broadcasting Company
Kalamazoo MI


Nice review of this new technology. An important difference between XM and Sirius not mentioned in the article is that the Sirius music channels are 100% commercial free. Some XM music channels have commercials. For me, the extra $3 per month for Sirius to not get commercials is worth it. 

-Jeff Lennox
Shelton, CT


Peel-Away Success
I've only subscribed to PS for a couple of years but I've become living proof that your advice is perfect. First it was with the Casio Sea Pathfinder watch. The perfect choice at the right price. Second, your bottom paint strippers review [September 2000]: I can confirm that Peel Away is the most amazing marine product I've come across. It was everything you said and more. It took three of us three hours one evening to apply the paste and papers, and three hours the next evening to remove it and power-wash the hull to a beautiful white gelcoat finish. Actually, removing it was the easier part since half of it was almost falling off on its own. The guys at the marina couldn't believe how great the gelcoat looked and wondered if we had spent several days sanding. In fact we hadn't yet used any sandpaper. Thanks for helping make life easy at the boatyard.

My only recommendation is that you suggest in the future that stirring/mixing the paste may be necessary. Our five-gallon buckets were full of air bubbles and quite lumpy. It took us 30 minutes to realize that if we stirred the product into a creamy consistency it would go on much easier.

The boat previously had leftover patches of VC17 with a few badly applied coats of Micron CSC on top of that.

-Nathan Boylan
New York, NY


How To Include Repair Costs?
I have been a long-time subscriber and find the evaluations and articles informative. A problem in your evaluation of products that is never addressed is the cost of repair to a unit. While the evaluation of the product tells me that it is a great unit, the product after purchase becomes a burden when you find the cost of repair is as great as buying a new unit. Long-term I may have saved money buying the next more expensive unit initially.

I bought an anchor windlass in 1996 for my Freedom 35. The motor was installed where I did not look at it daily. When I did do a thorough check, I found the plastic coating over the motor and gear box had rusted from the inside out. I feared I needed a new motor. When calling the company I found they did not sell the motor alone, but a motor and gearbox at a cost greater than buying a totally new unit. I should have bought a Maxwell.

I have the same problem with a well-known medium-end producer of instruments that you just gave a great evaluation to. When the units were two years old, the anemometer at the top of the mast stopped sending. You guessed correctly: I bought a completely new unit from Defender at $60 more than the replacement part.

A complete evaluation should ask the manufacturer about their replacement parts policy. If you need to replace the whole unit when only a part of it breaks, the product may not be that great.

When someone like Practical Sailor starts adding this to the evaluation, maybe the manufacturers will change the company replacement parts policy.

-Gary Johnston
Oriental, NC

We agree with your points. Unfortunately, it's tough to include information on repair costs, since they're generally handled on a case-by-case basis by the manufacturers. It's certainly true that there are more and more "throwaway" items out there, where the cost of repair is close enough to the new price to force the consumer either to buy again or move elsewhere. In some companies, apparently, bean counters have decided that it's cheaper to lose a customer occasionally than to pay for competent, on-site repair personnel, and to produce and warehouse spare parts. This may be why, in our Credit Due column, we often see companies simply replacing whole units instead of repairing them. Credit is still due those companies, but the exchange is also a sign of our disposable manufacturing culture. Remember the phrase "planned obsolescence"? That may have something to do with it, too.


In any purchase the reputation and integrity of the manufacturer and its dealers are part of a product value.  In my case, Honda showed they stand behind their products.  I purchased a Honda 2-hp four-stroke in 1999 for use on my father's dingy.  My main purchase requirements were reliability, low maintenance, quietness, and environmental friendliness. 

To my surprise, and in contrast to my prior Honda purchases, this outboard spent more time in the shop than in the water. To their credit, the dealer willingly repaired each problem at no cost, even when out of warranty.  After putting up with a new problem last summer, I decided to check out the problem myself this spring.  I went to a different Honda repair facility to get a manual. In the process they inquired about the engine's history. To make a long story short, they made me "Honda Happy," the next day, with a new replacement. 

-Brad Smith
Shoreline, WA

Brad, we've had generally good experiences with Honda engines, too, but you tell a double-edged story. It's nice that you got a new engine, but what you had to go through to get it doesn't seem right. See the exchange above.


Turning a Cleat
Nick Nicholson's Offshore Log, July 1, pointed out some obvious and not-so-obvious mistakes when tying up a boat. A walk through the marina was a good way to show how many of us are deficient in the one area of boating that we have almost total control— making fast to a dock.

What I found interesting was that there was no mention of tying a line to a dock cleat. In most of the marinas I have visited, the majority of boatowners subscribe to the "if you can't tie a knot, tie a lot" theory and build a mound of line under which you have to assume there is a cleat. 

Thank you, Nick, for reminding us that seamanship begins and ends at the mooring. 

-David Fisichella
Via e-mail

Hear, hear. In a pastime with more than its share of difficulties, turning a horned cleat shouldn't be one of them. In this case, the correct way is actually the easy way. Here's how it works, in words: Make a full, round turn around the base of the cleat. This is important. Then take a turn across and over the far horn, come back across, and lock the very next turn with a half hitch. You're done. That thing is secure. If you want to take one (1) security turn around the base of the cleat again for the belt-and-suspenders treatment, go for it. Then coil the rest of the dockline next to the cleat. If you want to impress a lubber, you can make a Flemish coil, but it's not too good for the line, the dock, or the deck. As soon as you've made the impression, shake the line free and coil it.


Express 27
Congratulations on your outstanding review of the Express 27. You got it right. I've owned mine, hull #30, for a year, and get comments nearly every time I go sailing. It's easy to singlehand with the #3 jib. I wet-sail mine, and sail in and out of the slip. As a back-up, I've got a Honda 2-hp (remember—keep it light) which will push me along at one quart of fuel per hour. My fuel can is only one gallon.

Sometimes I feel guilty that I'm not in the Bay area, racing one-design with the other Express boats. They almost have a cult following up there. But I'm stuck in San Diego, where I can and do sail every week of the year, most of the time in shorts.

-Bill Park
Express Lane
Via e-mail


Thermoelectric Coolers
Regarding your thermoelectric cooler article [June] I have two strong cautions and a comment, based on the experience of having lost a couple of coolers full of food:

1. If you are not careful it is very easy to connect the power cord in the heating rather than the cooling mode. Even if a user might sometime use the heating mode (we never have in six years) tape the connection together in the proper mode.

2. The auxiliary power outlet in our Dodge van remained on when the key was off.  We learned the hard way.

3. We have found a 40° differential is the best we can expect, which makes TE coolers rather useless here in Florida in the summer if food preservation is the intent.

-Dick Pell
Sarasota FL


I purchased a thermoelectric unit from Askeland Inc. ( Their units are not stand-alone but are conversion units for built in ice boxes.  They make both air- and water-cooled units. The water-cooled units will cool to about 45°F below ambient seawater temperature.

I installed  Model No. 2002 in my Catalina 28 MKII, as the size of thebox and the location where a compressor would be located presented some challenges. The repaired unit was returned in 10 days at no charge to me. It now maintains temperature at about 38°F while set on low. It works while sailing or while plugged into the dock. The one thing that concerns me is that it appears to run almost 100% of the time. This will put a strain on my limited battery capacity away from the dock, as the claimed draw on low is 2.75 amps per hour.

-Dave Brower
Newport Beach, CA

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