Mailport November 1, 2005 Issue

Mailport: 11/01/05

Marine Surveyors
["Evaluating Marine Surveyors," PS September '05] I have used surveyors on wood, steel, and fiberglass boats and I've learned that caveat emptor rules my choices. I still use a surveyor when buying a new boat, although I probably know as much as they do after 55 years of boat buying. I consider their services a back-up in case I miss something, but my advice to anyone interested in using a marine surveyor? Buyer beware.

Check around with different people. Do not accept the first name you hear. When buying, do not accept a survey done for the seller. There is no way of knowing how rigorous the survey was. Do not accept a survey done for insurance purposes. Lots of "nice" guy surveyors are pretty casual when the survey is done for insurance purposes. And do not have a retired NFL linebacker survey your new love. He cannot fit into all the nooks and crannies that have to be checked out.

When I purchased the current love of my life, I was hectically busy at work. I relied on the surveyor when I normally would have done it myself. He surveyed the boat and said all was well, and told me a report would follow. I bought the boat and some time later took off at night across Lake Michigan (a mistake for several reasons) and halfway across found a bilge full of water. My retired-linebacker-turned-surveyor had not been able to fit into the lazarette and thus missed a dry, rotten cockpit scupper hose that came adrift in the middle of Lake Michigan. I was able to get at the hose, and duct tape did its job well enough to get me ashore.

I've found that surveyors check all the obvious stuff, so you should always ask them about the things that aren't obvious.

Barrie Smith
Fort Myers, FL

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I've had two very different experiences with surveyors as a used-boat buyer in northern California. In 2000, I purchased a 1981 Islander Bahama 28. The surveyor was thorough and honest, pointing out many minor issues and one larger engine problem. I know all that, even the engine problem, might have been overlooked.

In late 2002, I purchased a 1980 Cal 39-2. The surveyor with whom I had previously worked had left the area, so I found another surveyor. This one did a slapdash job, but gave a very positive survey. It wasn't until much later that I discovered he had overlooked old acid spills under the cockpit sole that had almost rotted away the aft shelving that supports the water heater and aft water tank, not seen a serious fiberglass separation on the cabin top, and overlooked several rigging weaknesses. Several thousand dollars later, I wish I could have gained some recourse with him, but alas, there is really no point in trying.

Boat surveys are a problem. A really thorough and honest surveyor won't get much work because insurers and sellers really don't want to know and buyers might never buy. As always, it's up to buyers to beware and be knowledgeable.

James Williams
Alameda, CA

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TowboatUS Complaints
[Re: "Credit Due," PS Aug. 15, '05] TowboatU.S. certainly provides a wonderful service, and their captains and crews are superb. But if Ann Barr and Lynn Harden have used their "unlimited towing" insurance four times this May, they can expect it to be cancelled any time now—as mine was, after three tows during a cruise from Nova Scotia to Florida this year. And TowboatUS has no provision for reinstatement of the insurance. Three strikes and you’re out—forever.

I wrote the organization a two-page letter thanking them for their service, and taking issue with the idea that I showed any “lack of care and diligence in the operation and maintenance of the boat.” That letter was never answered. When my membership renewal recently came up, I phoned BoatU.S. to ask under what circumstances the unlimited towing insurance could be reinstated. They said, "none," and didn't show the slightest interest in the matter.

Silver Donald Cameron
D'Escousse, Nova Scotia

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I am a member of BoatU.S. and pay their Captain's dues. Recently I needed a tow in Hawaii because my boat became disabled. (I was dismasted in a storm off the coast of Maui.) When I called BoatU.S. for assistance, they confessed that they did not have any towboat contractors available in Hawaii. However, they told me that since I held a Captain's card, I would be eligible for a refund of any towing charges up to $1,000. The BoatU.S. rep suggested I ask my insurance carrier to arrange for a tow.

I then arranged with my insurance company to tow my boat to Honolulu for repairs. The insurance company has a $1,000 deductible and BoatU.S. confirmed in another phone call that they would pick up the deductible charge. I paid the towboat company $1,000 cash and then submitted bills and a copy of the accident report, as the BoatU.S. customer service rep directed me to do.

Now it turns out that BoatU.S. has dug down into their fine print and is refusing to pay me the $1,000 as promised. I think you should publish this information as a warning to your subscribers that BoatU.S. cannot be trusted to keep its word.

Louis Chompff
Alameda, CA


BoatU.S. Responds:

We appreciate the opportunity to respond to the two letters pertaining to TowboatU.S. and Vessel Assist Pacific.

Regarding Mr. Cameron, he joined BoatU.S. in September '04, and used the association's towing service three times within the first 45 days of membership. The BoatU.S. Towing Service Agreement clearly states that we may withdraw this service for excessive towing, and we elected to do so in this case.

We do apologize, however, for failing to respond when he sent us a thank you note and requested information about whether we would renew his towing. This is not typical of BoatU.S. service and corrective action has since been taken.

As to Mr. Chompff, his sailboat was dismasted during a voyage from California to Hawaii. He successfully made it into port on the island of Maui, but his insurance company needed to have the boat towed 120 miles to Honolulu for the damage to be repaired.

While his insurance company was paying for his repairs, including the tow, Mr. Chompff wanted BoatU.S. to pay for his $1,000 deductible. We declined to do so as the BoatU.S. towing service is not an insurance policy and does not pay for any part of salvage or tows that are the result of an insurance claim. Our records show that Mr. Chompff was informed of this prior to receiving the tow.

At BoatU.S., we strive to deliver the highest standard of service while managing 45,000 towing cases a year and keep pricing fair for all members. To put this matter in perspective, we decline to offer towing to only 0.00066 percent of the members participating in this program.

Jerry Cardarelli
BoatU.S. Towing Services

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Mooring Bridle Plate
["Mooring Bridle Plate," PS July 15, '05] Slightly enlarged, that device would be an ideal solution to chafe of the rode in really severe (hurricane) weather, at anchor. Presently, we protect the rode from chafe by the boat and attachments (chocks, etc.), but wouldn't it make more sense to protect the boat from the rode? Using the larger plate, lead a few feet of chain from the cleat/bitt around both sides of the bow to the shackles on the plate, then the anchor rode from the plate to the anchor. Then protect the boat with chafing gear from the chain. If the chafing gear fails, you have a dinged-up hull; if the normal chafing gear fails, you have no boat at all.

For line rode, a cleat could be welded/bolted to the center of the plate. It would involve some reaching around the bow to veer more rode, but that should be easier than an undesired trip with an unsecured boat after the rode chafed through. Living and sailing on the Great Lakes, my suggestion is for others less well placed, thank heavens.

Jim Martin
Via e-mail

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GPS Breakthrough?
[Re: "Handheld GPS Breakthrough," PS September, '05] Your little promo of Garmin's new 376 gave me pause. I wonder, do real sailors actually enjoy hauling these things around with them like cell phones? One more piece of technology to encumber the body, making us more like combat troops than freedom-seeking voyagers?

I think it is time to step back and consider what the purpose of a handheld unit should be. Personally, I view a handheld GPS as an emergency backup device, and hope I never have much occasion to use one. If the main GPS in the boat fails, having XM radio isn't going to be a big confidence booster.

The other primary use of a handheld GPS is in a ditch bag. In that scenario, the ability to get weather data and storm track information is laughable. You're going to steer your emergency raft in gale force or better winds around a thunderstorm? Or make some useful decisions based on weather data?

As a gadget, it's probably great. As a useful feature on a sailboat, it seems rather questionable. A far more useful addition would be a VHF for communication with a rescue team. Uniden and Garmin already make FRS/GMRS/GPS combinations, why not VHF? Yes, it would be bigger than the XM radio version, not so sleek and stylish, and not so easily slid into a pocket. But a hell of a lot more useful. Do you really want to carry that thing around all the time, chained to technology?

Gary Aitken
Via e-mail

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LED Nav Lights
[Re: "LED Running Lights," PS September '05] I read the article on LED nav lights with great interest since we sell and install the OGM TriAnchor lights. I'd like to take issue with your test conditions and offer two comments.

1. I think the test voltage of 13.5 volts favors a filament lamp over the LED units. TriAnchors are typically run with the engine off so 12.8 Volts or less should have been used.

2. Since the OGM TriAnchor light reaches and holds its full brightness starting from less than 10V, this should have been mentioned. This is a big advantage for the OGM and other LED units that run at full brightness when the engine is off and the batteries are low. A filament lamp with a low battery is hardly viewable!

Nick Cancro
Sailor's Solutions Inc.


Testing all the lights at two different voltages on the water was impractical, so we picked the higher voltage to reflect the outlook of boats underway under power. Yes, a higher voltage does favor incandescent lights, but it's more of a real-world scenario for most readers, and it doesn't distort the relative merits among the LED lights.

Regarding the OGM TriAnchor maintaining its brightness down to 10 volts, most good LED running lights are engineered to operate consistently in a wide voltage range—some even wider than the OGM range. This was explicitly indicated in the text: "Since LEDs are more sensitive than incandescent lights to variations in voltage, some manufacturers build sophisticated circuit board electronics into the fixture itself, for example to maintain a constant brightness of an LED through a range of voltages..." —Eds.

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I have both the Hella LED 2-n.m. running lights and the Orca Green LED Tri-Color mast light. I have had the Hella LED navigation lights installed for three years and have done a significant amount of night sailing with them.

My experience with the Hella LED lights on a 50-hour trip to Nova Scotia was that the Hella LED lights cut through the haze and mist and were visible from as far as 4 n.m. I was traveling in company with a Cape Dory 32 equipped with traditional incandescent navigation lights. I never would have known that the Cape Dory was there except for radar, but they were always able to see me. The normal incandescent navigation light uses a colored lens, which causes approximately 25% attenuation in the light output. Hella uses colored LEDs inside a "clear" housing, and this likely accounts for my real-life observation of the superior Hella performance.

I installed the Orca Green Masthead Tri-Color LED navigation light because I wanted to be more visible when sailing at night, to reduce my energy consumption, and to eliminate having to climb the mast to replace a burnt-out anchor light. I have not had a chance to test this light in real-life conditions, but have observed it at night at my local marina. I believe both the Orca Green and Hella nav lights are equally bright.

An additional feature of the Orca Green Tri-Color that you did not make clear is that this light is also an anchor light. Given the combined cost of a separate Aqua-Signal anchor light and tri-color—$175—the price of $219 for the Orca Green (from www.sailorssolutions.com) does not seem so bad. The Aqua-Signal tri-color uses 25.68 watts of power and the Orca Green uses 6.12 Watts. Then there is the bulb replacement problem. Replacement bulbs cost $20 a year, if you are lucky, and will probably cost $300 over the life of the fixture. Then there is the problem of getting up the mast…

Samuel D. Hanft
Newport, NH

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...Where Credit Is Due
To Garmin: "I wanted to add my two cents worth for Garmin. I have a Map 276C, which worked great this past year until it suddenly lost all its maps. Only the base map remained on the unit, and that provided absolutely no detail for my cruising grounds, which are around Galveston Bay, TX. I tried to re-transfer the maps using my PC, but that didn’t work. So, I called technical support at Garmin, and they were unable to help either. However, the technician thought the problem might stem from my memory card, and he offered to send me a new one. The card arrived in three days, and when I plugged it and fired up the PC, I was able to easily restore my maps. That’s great service. Fast, simple, and no hassles." (www.garmin.com)

Rick Evans
San Antonio, TX


To Magma Grills: "My old propane grill finally died of terminal corrosion after more than 12 years of use. I replaced it, but kept the rail-mounting bracket. The bracket was missing a pin used to hold the clamp to the support rod, and prevent rotation of the grill. So, I contacted Magma via e-mail, to order the pin. In response, the company offered to repair the mounting bracket free of charge. My only expense would be the cost of shipping the bracket to Magma. Then, I thought, if I had the pin, I could make the repair myself. The company quickly mailed me two pins, and then followed up to see if the repair was successful. It was, and I think Magma deserves credit for excellent customer service in this case." (www.magmabbq.com)

Merritt Rhoad
Glenside, PA


To Sail Care: "I highly recommend the services of Sail Care (in Ford City, PA) for the quality workmanship and pricing to refurbish your sails. After having my sails 'cleaned and starched' to an unbelievable like-new condition, I contacted the company again about modifications for a one-line reefing system. Their staff was most accommodating with this customized project. I wanted to reef my mainsail from the cockpit, which required making accessory changes on the mainsail. After sending them my mainsail and drawings, they contacted me by phone to discuss the issues and options. They made a winning recommendation, added tabs and rings for my snap shackles, then sent it all back free of charge. I questioned them about the free service and they told me they considered the unique design worthy of 'an educational experience,' and hoped that it all performed well." (www.sailcare.com)

Milton Dowty
Wichita, KS

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