Mailport November 1, 2003 Issue

Mailport: 11/01/03

Pump Noise—A Good Thing?
Well done on the review of freshwater pumps [June].  I have a couple of comments, though, the first of which is admittedly pretty niggling: Your 13.8-volt power supply represents power available only while the battery is in a charge state rather than what might be more commonly experienced while out sailing or on the hook.  Higher-than-normal voltage would also help explain some of the superior performance results.

Secondly, regarding freshwater pump noise, I still use the old belt-drive PAR pumps partly because they are noisy.  A plumbing leak in a boat should be attended to promptly, lest it turn into Noah's ark in reverse, and suddenly.  The errant clack-clack of the trusty old PAR gives ample audio signal of  impending doom. It also is a guest water-use monitor available to all on the boat without discrimination.

On the other hand, that Flojet Sensor VSD has enough attractive features that I may want to have to just listen a bit more attentively.

-Giff Jones
Seattle, WA

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Depthsounders
I found the review of depthsounders [September] very well done, as usual. Having been through three different sounders over the past five years, I continue to have a serious pet peeve with their displays. When relying on the depthsounder as I crawl into a new anchorage late at night, it is damn near impossible to reliably tell the difference between 63 feet depth and 6.3 feet depth. Just a few days ago, thanks to my wife's insistence that we suddenly went from 50 feet to 7.2, then to 6.3 feet, we avoided a grounding in the dark. My son and I were both staring at the same display and he insisted that it was reading 63 feet.

The difficulty in accurately reading the values is because the manufacturers use the same size characters for fractional depths and for full-foot increments. The insertion of a decimal point to differentiate those two values (63 vs. 6.3) is not readily visible under the stressful conditions of darkness and groping one's way into a harbor. Why not have the fractional values (0.3 ft) in a smaller font size, or at least flash the fractionals to indicate that the number is not 63?

I have found this deficiency to be true for the Raytheon, the StandardHorizon (both the DS45 and the DS150), and the Signet.

I guess if I had set the depth alarm to indicate when we were in less than10 feet of water, it would have helped. But with all the different alarmsnow on a boat, I find it hard to differentiate the depth alarm from the cellphone buzzer, the bilge pump buzzer, and all the other devices.

Maybe the manual does contain advice on dealing with this problem, but I can't recall reading that. Perhaps PS can ask the various manufacturers for their response to this problem.

-Harvey J. Karten, M.D.
La Jolla, CA


Great review on numerical depth sounders, an essential item that too many are being lured away from by fancy digitally simulated fishfinders.  But just as the numbers are difficult to pick out of those multicolored displays, some of the totals in your ratings chart don't add up.

-Duffy Mazan
Via e-mail


This is what comes of adding a column at the last minute before deadline. Bleary arithmetic. It's the parts that matter, not the sum. No change in rankings or results.

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Cruising Guides Follow-Up
We'd been planning to publish a Riprap column later in the year with readers' suggestions for good cruising guides that we missed in our September article on the subject, but it turned out that we couldn't schedule it until early '04. Since cruising guides make good presents at the holidays (especially in northern parts, where we dream balmy dreams in December) and because we wish only the best for our fellow scribes, we decided to get underway now.


A couple of quick comments about your cruising guides article:

1. Sadly, John McElvy, author of Cruising Guide to the Nova Scotia Coast, died this past year.  He was a wonderful man and a truly dedicated sailor, both coastal and offshore.  He loved Nova Scotia and his guide was a labor of love.

2.  Unless I missed it, you made no mention of the Taft (now Rindlaub and Taft) Cruising Guide to the Maine Coast.  It is excellent and I suspect that you will get hundreds of letters pointing out its omission. 

-John Chandler
Istanbul, Turkey


I agree with your statement in your September article, "Coastal Cruising Guides, "...the topic is too big to address properly in one article." For the Maine sailor there is only one cruising guide—A Cruising Guide to the Maine Coast, by Hank and Jan Taft. It is an invaluable reference and is considered the bible and definitive guide to the Maine coast. Every sailor I know has and uses it.

-Richard Beauchesne
Camden, ME


It's hard to imagine that you could write about cruising guides without paying homage the dean of that genre, Julius Wilensky. His guides to Long Island Sound and Cape Cod and the Islands were classics in their day. Not only did Mr. W. put in his own harbor maps and approaches, but he personalized each entry. Then he printed them spiral-bound on water/tear proof paper! He also loved to travel to local yacht clubs, where he would present slide shows on the various cruising grounds.

For my favorites, I would put the Tafts' Cruising Guide to the Maine Coast at the top of the list, and the Childress' and Martin's Cruising Guide to Narragansett Bay and the South Coast of Massachusetts as second.

Personally, I always found Duncan and Ware's Cruising Guide to the New England Coast elitist, stiffly written, and out of date as soon as it was published. 

-Alan J. Zimmerman
Via e-mail


Greetings from Captain's Nautical Supplies in Seattle. We enjoyed the cruising guide review in the September issue.  Too bad the Northwest guides omitted the "Charlie's Charts" series, North to Alaska, and U.S. Pacific Coast by Charles and Margo Wood, and the Jo Bailey and Carl Nyberg "Gunkholing" series, Gunkholing in the San Juan Islands, and Gunkholing in South Puget Sound. These authors are perennial favorites in our store.

-Emery Shrock
Seattle  WA


I have looked at and own many of the Pacific Northwest cruising guides. From Olympia, WA to Desolation Sound, BC, there are many good guides, and you just have to look over the ones available for the areas of interest and decide what's applicable to your style of boating—emphasis on marinas, anchorages, history, etc.

The series by Don Douglass and Reanne Hemingway-Douglass are, in my mind, the best available for north of Desolation Sound and the west side of Vancouver Island. The guides' primary emphasis is on anchorages, and they have sketches for probably all reasonable ones and applicable information for the rest. A significant number of the spots don't even have names and you have to locate them on the chart with the lat/lon information.

I circumnavigated Vancouver Island last year and found the South Coast BC and Vancouver Island West Coast guides as valuable as the charts and Coast Pilot. There is sufficient history and local information given to make interesting reading, along with route-planning for various types of cruising.

They are expensive, but for useful information I think you get more than what you pay for. My one complaint is that the binding seems to not be the best quality — some of the pages in my west Vancouver Island guide came loose and it appears that with time this will be the case for all the Douglass guides after significant use. Their web site is www.fineedge.com.

As with all guides some of the information can get a bit dated. Certain amenities might not be available due to a changing economy in a relatively remote area. I never did find the number of sea otters where they were supposed to be located. They apparently ate every thing and left, so I have an excuse to go again to some new areas also covered by these guides (as if I needed an excuse)

-Gary Mohr
Via e-mail


The Douglass books are far more important than the article implies. Don and Reanne have done a terrific job, especially in the more remote areas of British Columbia and in Southeast Alaska. Don is a real adventurer. Tell him he can't go in there and he goes in. His books give complete directions of how to anchor in places I won't go near. He takes his boat through poorly charted or uncharted rocky passes that I wouldn't risk under any circumstances. The Waggoner, by contrast, focuses on the better anchorages and safer passes, and the latest information about facilities. People who really cruise these waters agree that the Douglass books and the Waggoner complement one another. They read Douglass, they read Hale. They get out the charts and tide and current books and think about it. If they decide to go in, what they find comes as no surprise. At $40-$80, depending on the title, the Douglass books are expensive. When you consider what went into making them, however, they are worth every nickel.

Next, even though they are dated, the Wolferstan books (Bill Wolferstan, by the way, not Don Wolferstan) are part of every good cruising boat's library. Bill covers history more than most others, and plant and animal life. His navigation notes are excellent. The four-color aerial photos are the best of any of the guidebooks. Bill did three books: Gulf Islands, Desolation Sound, and Sunshine Coast. A fourth book in the series, West Coast of Vancouver Island, was written by Don Watmough. All were first published by Pacific Yachting magazine, in Vancouver, B.C. (Pacific Yachting is a superb publication. The magazine is all the more remarkable when you realize it is aimed at and supported by a very small, local market.)

The Pacific Northwest is blessed with a large number of cruising guidebooks, many more than the PS article lists. Don't be surprised if readers tell you about the two "Gunkholing" books, San Juan Islands and South Puget Sound. They are quite popular, and many cruisers think they are great. You'll probably hear about the Burgee Book, too. It's not really a cruising guide, because it doesn't talk about navigation or anchoring. It concentrates on marinas that take overnight boats, and yacht club reciprocal moorages. Each facility is illustrated with an excellent map and a complete list of what is offered. Dock-to-dock cruisers wouldn't be without their copy of the Burgee Book.

Up in British Columbia, a really nice guy named Peter Vassilopoulos has published two books: Docks and Destinations, and Anchorages and Marine Parks. Peter and his wife Carla spend weeks each summer cruising the coast and updating their next editions. You can feel comfortable giving these books good marks.

You can also give good marks to the "Dreamspeaker" series of cruising guides, also published in British Columbia. The Dreamspeaker books have a whimsical quality about them, but the information is bang-on.

I wasn't sure if your article liked or disliked the advertising in the guides it reviewed. As long as the book doesn't sell out to the advertisers, I think ads are a good idea. I see Waggoner advertising as adding information to the text and value for the reader, and as an invitation for cruisers to stop in, or to buy the product or service. I'm not amused, though, when advertisers are highlighted in the text, or when a facility or service is ignored because it doesn’t advertise.

I'm happy to have other books prosper—heck, we wholesale most of them —and I don't look on them as my competitors. No one book can meet everybody's needs.

-Bob Hale, Editor/Publisher
Waggoner Cruising Guide


In your "Coastal Cruising Guides" article in the September issue, you asked what cruising guides we liked. When I went down to the boat yesterday I made a list, but I left it there, so I'll try to remember what I noted:

First, for the Chesapeake, I like Cruising the Chesapeake: A Gunkholer's Guide, by William H. Shellenberger, along with Guide to Cruising the Chesapeake Bay, put out by Chesapeake Bay magazine.

For the ICW, I use both Skipper Bob's Anchorages Along the Intra- coastal Waterway, and Skipper Bob's Marinas Along the Intracoastal Waterway, along with the appropriate Waterway Guide (Mid-Atlantic or Southern) for the phone numbers and individual city charts showing where the marinas are and what facilities they have.

However, especially for Georgia and South Carolina, I also use Claiborne Young's book, A Cruising Guide to Coastal South Carolina & Georgia, because he provides information on the swing room available for various lengths of boat at anchor, which none of the other books address adequately. He also has more accurate historical information than the Waterway Guides.

In Florida, I think the most valuable cruising guide is the Florida Cruising Directory, edited by Bob Armstrong. It is much more up-to-date than the Waterway Guide, and has much the same information.

-Rosalie Beasley, in Maryland
Via e-mail

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12-Volt Batteries Revisited
I read the recent article on deep-cycle batteries [September] with interest. My reason for writing is to share my experience with Delco Voyager batteries and tourge that you evaluate them. 

These batteries are maintenance-free, inexpensive, and, in my experience, long-lived. I bought my first set of three in 1992. I replaced them in 1995, not because of any problem, but because I was planning an extended voyage. They were three-year-old inexpensive batteries. I thought because of their age, one was likely to fail soon, and I did not want to have the inconvenience of a failure wherereplacement was difficult. 

I kept the set I bought in 1995 until a few months ago, when one failed.  I replaced them, naturally, with Delco Voyagers.  Two group 24s and a group 27 cost slightly less than $190, plus sales tax. 

I am a weekend sailor who usually anchors out for one or two nights.  I have a permanently installed three-bank automatic charger that is always on when the boat is not in use.

-Frank Wilson
Via e-mail


The article "Wet-Cell 12-Volt Battery Test" contains testing results that are not consistent with the use of standard testing equipment used to test marine deep-cycle batteries. The article mentions the use of the "sophisticated Micro VAT battery tester." This battery tester is aimed at the SLI (automotive) battery market as a diagnostic tool to test for potentially bad SLI batteries. This type of tester relies on impedance to make "approximate" calculations of battery performance, and is not used by any reputable manufacturer such as ourselves to conduct this type of testing, because the impedance calculations used in this tester are based on less dense automotive paste (the paste is the active material in a battery that delivers electricity). When the testerencounters densely pasted plates, the internal calculation could "potentially" fall outside its operating ranges, resulting in erroneous test results.

It is Trojan Battery Company's position that impedance testing iscompletely unreliable to determine or compare battery specifications. Trojan Battery Company performed poorly on your testing because we manufacture true deep-cycle batteries with high paste densities (i.e. resulting in high impedance). Furthermore, the article mentions that impedance (internal resistance: a lower number is better). This is factually not correct, while a high impedance "might" indicate a bad battery (the correct use of this diagnostic tester), research has never proved that this is always the case; in fact, some of Trojan Battery Company's best tested batteries had "very high" impedance values.

-Shawn K. Burke
Marine Market Manager
Trojan Battery Co.


Mr. Burke raises intriguing points about the potential accuracy of impedance-derived voltage comparisons in deep-cycle batteries. As noted, we used a Snap-On MicroVAT tester in our evaluations. Many MicroVAT tech reps we spoke to across the country assured us that the MicroVAT device will yield accurate voltage measurements of deep-cycle batteries, and our digital voltmeter back-up to our MicroVAT readings suggest this as well.

Still, we're always eager to elevate our understanding of all things DC, by taking a look at how conditioned marine deep-cycle batteries (characterized by thick, pasted plates) might fare if we measure reserve capacity, cold-cranking amps, and discharge using a heavy-duty commercial-grade deep discharger, as opposed to the MicroVAT handheld device.

Further, as we surmised in the article, the evaluation sample sent to us by Trojan's representatives may have sat in storage for some time, affecting its performance. The same representatives suggested that we test the 27TMH deep-cycle battery, when in fact either the SCS200 or SCS225 would have given readers a better feel for Trojan's marine offerings.

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