July 2013 Issue
An Elusive Perfect Fit
I’ve found that the deeper one plunges into sailing, the closer you move toward nature, and the fringe culture of like-minded nut cases who embrace its wildness and unpredictability. This is a good thing. Everyone needs a break from the multimedia barrage that can blind our senses to the natural world. We all need a few nut cases in our life.
The downside of drifting away from high-def screens and toward the edge of the sea is that fewer companies seem inclined to make the things that truly fit our needs. Sailors represent a relatively small and notoriously tight-fisted market, and our requirements are so specific that only a handful of manufacturers risk developing new products for us. It’s so much easier to simply re-purpose something that already exists.
As a result, self-sufficiency is not a choice for the cruising sailor; it is a fact of life. The second we loosen the docklines, we embrace self-reliance. Duct tape and bailing wire become our best friends. It’s no coincidence that some of the most popular articles on Practical Sailor’s website describe do-it-yourself projects. Our most challenging problems are unique to sailors, and only sailors can solve them.
Change is afoot, however. Computer-aided design and manufacturing greatly trim production expenses, so small companies today can be successful making narrow-niche products—even for skinflint sailors. And it’s happening. Today, there’s more and more gear that seems as if it were made just for us.
I was reminded of this while we put together this month’s issue. The wide variety of products featured this month—handheld VHF radios with smart power-saving features, plotters that calculate tacking angles, and flotation aids that fit like a T-shirt—offer proof that companies are actually paying attention to the often eccentric wants and needs of cruising sailors.
It’s important to keep in mind that this gear isn’t churned out for the masses, so it often isn’t fool-proofed to a fair-the-well; the most important field testers are us, the sailors who use the equipment. With safety gear in particular, sailors need to have an intimate understanding of how gear works and the preventative maintenance required to keep it working. Auto-inflating personal flotation devices (PFDs) are a perfect example.
Although the automatic inflation systems on inflatable harness-PFDs have become much more reliable over the years, they still require regular inspection. And until you’ve actually worn your inflatable PFD inflated in the water, it is hard to judge the proper adjustments for fit.
If you haven’t recently inflated your PFD, checked it for leaks, or inspected the inflation mechanism, now’s a good time to do it. Every system is slightly different, so if you are not sure about checking and re-arming (if needed) your inflation system, contact the maker. In the online version of this column, I have included some links to videos that show how to inspect and re-arm the more popular brands. In the meantime, bring on summer. May you find it to be a perfect fit.