December 2011

Functional Fabrics

To test marine exterior fabrics, we sewed up a dodger and assorted deck covers for an Ericson 41 docked near Chesapeake Bay. We monitored how well the materials performed over a two-year period and also bench tested them.

Subscribers Only In some ways, the good old days just weren’t that good. Just ask any old salt who has watched an expensive canvas dodger mildew, rot, and fall to pieces. When Sunbrella entered the market four decades ago, the strides forward were significant. When it comes to fabricating a long-term, waterproof fabric cover, it’s hard to beat the combination of vinyl and acrylic or vinyl and polyester. Practical Sailor compared Sunbrella, Sunbrella Plus, and WeatherMax in a long-term field test and some creative bench tests. Testers compared weight, sewability, breaking strength, water shedding, permeability, and price.

Pushing Marine Fabrics Beyond Their Limits

Testers devised a tension-test jig using a hydraulic ram to determine the fabrics’ elongation characteristics and breaking strengths.

Subscribers Only Two years ago, we sewed up our own dodger and assorted deck covers made from Sunbrella and WeatherMax fabrics and monitored how well the materials stood up to 24/7 weather exposure and the extreme climate flip-flops of the mid-Atlantic region. On a parallel track, we did some controlled—and creative—material testing restricted by tight budget constraints. For example, we lacked an Instron tension test machine to carry out a formal ASTN D5034 elongation and breaking strength test, so we did the next best thing: We made our own.

Caring for Marine Fabrics

To remove mildew, makers suggest using a weak bleach-water or bleach-detergent-water solution.

To keep your Biminis, dodgers, and sail covers clean and in service for the long haul, regular maintenance is a must. Here are some best practices and care tips we’ve picked up over the years.

PS Tests the Fish-finding Factor of Compact Plotter-sounders

PS tester Bill Bishop adjusts the angle on the Garmin 740s during field trials.

Subscribers Only In the November 2011 issue, we compared the chart-plotting features of four small-screen plotter-sounders from Garmin, Humminbird, Lowrance, and Raymarine. In this article, we look at the fundamental sounder functions of five plotter-sounders, priced from $700 to $1,500. The high-end products in this test, the Raymarine A70D and the Garmin 740S, have larger, high-resolution screens, can handle 3D charts, and are designed to network with wind instruments and autopilots. The smaller units were the Lowrance Elite-5, the Humminbird 788ci, and the Humminbird 798ci SI, which has side-imaging capability; these are marketed mostly to anglers. Units were tested for screen visibility, sounding capabilities, and user-interface.

Seascoopa Revisited

Practical Sailor field tested the Seascoopa prototype in calm conditions.

Subscribers Only In May 2010, Practical Sailor reviewed a prototype man-overboard (MOB) recovery device called the Seascoopa. The parbuckle-type device functions much like a human trawler net, enabling the recovery of injured or unconscious MOBs while the boat is slowly making way. While the device performed as advertised, it needed some design fine-tuning. After an extensive re-design, the production version of the new Seascoopa addresses most of the concerns testers had with the prototype and cranked the construction quality and design up a notch. Testers felt there are certain benefits to the improved Seascoopa that other recovery aids do not offer, but it's not our preferred device for use as a primary MOB aid.

After-market Cordage Treatments

Practical Sailor testers set out to determine whether waterproofing treatments and fabric softener have any impact on the performance of nylon and polyester lines.

Subscribers Only Practical Sailor treated used running rigging with Downey fabric softener, Granger’s 2-in-1 Cleaner and Waterproofer, and Nikwax Rope Proof to determine whether softeners or waterproofing treatments improve the performance of nylon and polyester double-braid lines on a boat. Can aftermarket treatments improve line handleability, reduce water-weight gain and strength loss, and prevent lines from freezing in colder climates—without damaging the lines? We also wondered whether any treatment would keep aging lines from squeaking as they run over blocks under high strain. Our tests found the definitive answer.

Field Testing Treatments

Testers used the treated lines aboard a test boat for eight months to determine the products’ durability.

Subscribers Only Practical Sailor followed manufacturer instructions for treating used lines, with one exception. Both the Granger’s and Rope Proof advise users to dry the treated ropes in a warm dryer after soaking them in the diluted solution and laundering them. As we’ve learned in past tests (PS, July 2011), most rope manufacturers caution against placing rope in a heated dryer, and cleaning them in a washing machine can be damaging (to the rope and the machine). So for this test, we opted to clean the test ropes by gently agitating them in a bucket by hand, rinsing them in a pillowcase on a shortened gentle cycle, and air drying them. (We did test one set of lines by air-drying and heat-setting, but there was no measurable difference.)

Is Titanium an Everyman Metal?

Forte Spars used titanium ferrules to join the six-piece (for shipping), carbon-fiber battens in the 203-foot schooner Athos.

Subscribers Only Titanium is of particular interest to sailors due to its resistance to galvanic corrosion. It has the highest strength-to-weight ratio of any metal and is non-magnetic. It is up to 20 times more scratch resistant than stainless steels. Practical Sailor contributor Patrick Childress takes an in-depth look at the metal and its use in the marine industry as his boat, a Valiant 40, is refitted with titanium chainplates and other rigging.

Titanium in the Marine Chandlery

Myerchin uses the lightweight metal in the body of its new line of folding rigging knives.

Subscribers Only Titanium’s high price is only one thing that is keeping in the realm of mega-yachts and Cup boats. Some of the essential roles that lightweight metals once played in deck hardware are now being taken by high tech fibers like Spectra or Vectran. Carbon fiber laminates are also taking the place of metal fittings, at a slightly lower cost. Nevertheless many manufacturers see a bright future for titanium. Here is some feedback we got from manufacturers on this topic.

Maintaining Stainless Steel

Some poor sailors still fall victim to the common “stainless-steel” hose clamp with a mild steel screw.

Subscribers Only Stainless steel is exactly what the name says; the steel “stains less.” As PS’s February 2007 special report “Marine Metals Warning,” pointed out, stainless steel is not the maintenance free miracle material many boat owners imagine it to be. Some stainless steel is more stainless than others. With over 500 different grades of stainless steel, only a few meet the mark for use in the corrosive marine environment. Most marine stainless steel is grade 304 or 316. Stainless steels are made up of metals with a blend of iron, chromium, and nickel. Chromium resists corrosion, and nickel resists acids.

Engine Maintenance: Keeping Your Fuel Clean

The pint-size Parker FMP-050 (3.8 in. long by 2.47 in. tall by 2.14 in. deep) is small enough to fit in most engine compartments.

Subscribers Only No good ever comes of fouled diesel fuel. One of the best ways to keep fuel free of contamination issues like condensation buildup—and the bacteria growth it promotes—is fuel polishing. Fuel polishing in its most basic form is the act of circulating the diesel in your tank through a filter. The Parker FPM-050 diesel fuel polisher is designed to be plumbed into the fuel supply line between the existing primary fuel filter and the engine. Testers plumbed the FPM-050 to recycle fuel into a container for several days. Testers looked at flow rates, contamination, sludge, ease of installation, and price.

Last-minute Gift Ideas

The gift-giving holidays are upon us. If you still have some last-minute shopping to do, here are a few inexpensive stocking-stuffer ideas for the sailors on your list.

Mailport: December 2011

Reader Pete Tollini’s Sabre 30 Mk II, Solace, lazes along Chesapeake Bay. Tollini suggests using Boatleather products for chafe gear. We have not yet tested these.

Letters to Practical Sailor, December 2011. This month's letters cover subjects such as: boatleather, pump plumbing, dinghy wheels, and more!

Where Credit is Due: December 2011

Letters to Practical Sailor, December 2011. This month's letters cover subjects such as: ScanMarine, Midland Management, and more!

Letters to Practical Sailor, December 2011. This month's letters cover subjects such as: ScanMarine, Midland Management, and more!

Disposing of Expired Flares

Expired aerial flares can be stored for use as backups to your current ones. It’s good practice to regularly inspect your onboard flares, including checking their expiration dates, which are stamped on the flare shaft.

It’s a good idea to keep expired flares on hand to use as backups (on board or in a vehicle), but be sure to store them in a clearly labeled container separate from your current flares. If you find yourself with an overstock of old—or unwanted—hand flares, however, you must dispose of them properly. Unfortunately there’s no set agency that deals with expired flare disposal or recycling. Because state and federal laws pertaining to flare disposal and transportation vary, there’s no single disposal policy.

Lessons from the Mackinac

WingNuts’ radical, ultra-light design was cited as a key factor in the accident that claimed the lives of two sailors.

On Oct. 31, U.S. Sailing released independent reports on three highly publicized sailing accidents that happened this year. Practical Sailor has been closely following the WingNuts capsize, in which the captain, Mark Morley, and Suzanne Bickel died of “head injuries and drowning,” while still tethered to the boat, and six crew were saved by fellow racers. Practical Sailor Technical Editor Ralph Naranjo served on the U.S. Sailing panel; his focus was on the weather and the boat design features that led to the accident.

Inside Practical Sailor Blog

Calling Mayday on an SSB

by Darrell Nicholson on October 21, 2014

Based on US Coast Guard statistics, surprisingly few boaters enable the Digital Selective Calling (DSC) function on their VHF radio, or have it operating correctly. From what we are hearing from some marine manufacturers like ICOM, the numbers for marine single-sideband (SSB) marine radios—the topic of our ongoing series of tests—are just as discouraging. It doesn't have to be that way. With a few simple tools and maybe a trip to a Radio Shack, getting your radio (VHF or SSB) DSC-ready can be carried in a single weekend.

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