September 2013

Genoa Sheet-Lead Control Systems

Subscribers Only For decades, adjusting the genoa sheet leads from the cockpit was a luxury ascribed to racing sailboats. But today’s cruising sailboat equipped with a roller-furling headsail also benefits from an efficient, safe means of adjusting the genoa sheet’s lead angle. We tested 11 genoa sheet-lead cars and tracks from the top manufacturers of sailboat deck hardware: Antal, Garhauer, Harken, Nautos, Ronstan, Schaefer, and Selden. Testers looked at the genoa-sheet controls’ operational efficiency, design and attributes, construction quality, and ease of installation; price and warranty were also considered.

Finding the Bright Spot: Marine LED Spotlights

Subscribers Only A marine spotlight, as opposed to a floodlight or flashlight, must sufficiently illuminate an object at a considerable distance. Clearly seeing navigation aids, floating debris, breaking surf, or a man overboard requires a dependable device with a bright beam of light, one that can be kept at the ready. The best marine spotlights combine improved LED technology with sufficient power, a quality reflector lens, single-hand ergonomics, quick recharging times, and a rugged durability that includes withstanding submersion. We evaluated seven LED spotlights, including the new Streamlight Waypoint Rechargeable and three new West Marine lights.

Comparing Class B AIS Transceivers

Subscribers Only The popularity of Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) has grown exponentially in recent years. Lower costs have played a big hand in this; however, the primary driver remains boat owners looking to increase safety. Our latest evaluation compared Class B transceivers from two key players in the AIS market. From Icom, we tested the MA-500TR. New Zealand-based Vesper Marine submitted its WatchMate 850 for testing. We rated the products on AIS functions, control capabilities, user-interface, filtering capability, display quality, and screen visibility.

Superlight Anchors: Not Just for Racers

Subscribers Only The anchors a sailor chooses to carry onboard are often a compromise between weight and necessity. Since different anchor types are designed to work best in different conditions, it is a good idea to carry several anchors of different designs. So where does a lightweight alloy anchor fit in the hierarchy of cruising anchors? Practical Sailor looked at the weight, performance, design, and price of lightweight, alloy anchors from Spade, Fortress, Manson, and Anchor Right.

Updating Onboard Electronics with N2K

A sailboat is no place for unnecessary complexity, which was the direction PS contributor Dan Corcoran was headed on his Beneteau 393, when it came to how data was passed between various marine electronics. The worst offender was a spaghetti network of point-to-point wiring that utilized the familiar National Marine Electronics Association (NMEA) 0183 standard. A few years ago, he embarked on a gradual replacement of NMEA 0183 wiring and components with the new standard, NMEA 2000. Here he offers his account of the upgrade and answers the oft-asked refit question: Was it worth it?

The ODEO Laser Flare

Like winning lottery tickets and accurate head shots during the zombie apocalypse, visual distress signals are one of those things you just can’t have too many of. To meet safety and legal carry requirements, most sailors have handheld, pyrotechnic flares onboard, but these have some drawbacks. Pyrotechnic flares generate molten slag that can injure a user if not handled properly; they have a short burn time (less than 3 minutes for U.S. Coast Guard-approved flares); and can be used only once. Also, they have a 42-month service life, so replacing them can add up, and they are made of hard-to-dispose-of hazardous materials.

Financing Good Ole Boats

Here is a question that has puzzled me for a long time. Many financial institutions offer financing on “mature” vessels but have a boat age limit of 15 to 20 years. But, if a 1978 classic-plastic boat underwent a major refit in, say 1999, does that make the boat a 1999 in the eyes of the financiers? I’d like to hear tales on how others may have gotten around this “rule.”

Where Credit Is Due: September 2013

Subscribers Only Alpenglow I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to (and recommendation of) the folks at Alpenglow Lights ( We have many of their fixtures and have contacted the company on numerous occasions for new sales, upgrades, and technical questions. Without fail, they have exceeded our expectations, from offering to perform upgrades at minimal cost, to telling us “secret workarounds” that enabled us to use locally sourced parts and supplies to re-invigorate their excellent lighting units.

Mailport: September 2013

In response to “What’s in the Practical Sailor Toolbag?” (PS, January 2012): How about a list of tools that a live-aboard cruiser should carry? Given storage, power, and workspace limitations, many of the suggested tools are not feasible and may require alternatives. For instance, I carry a major Dremel toolkit, and it cuts the very occasional holes I need for switch installation, etc., plus helps me with sanding and minor refinishing work. I use my Dewalt 18-volt right-angle drill probably twice a month for repairs and upgrades. I also use my cordless screwdriver several times per year, especially when removing and reinstalling my headliner while chasing wires. Most others are tools that don’t require electricity, but there are many.

All is Lost and Found

A photographer friend stumbled upon this photo of my wife, Theresa, from our cruising days. It was taken in Fiji around 1995. She doesn’t usually look this serious; it probably had something to do with having two guests on board a cramped 32-foot Atkin ketch for a couple of weeks. I thought the image illustrated well something that I’ve been thinking about lately: the value of resourcefulness while cruising. This notion of the self-sufficient sailor came to mind most recently while watching the movie trailer for “All is Lost,” in which a single-handed sailor (played by Robert Redford) tries to keep his beloved Cal 29 afloat.

Inside Practical Sailor Blog

Decontaminating a Tainted Water Tank

by Darrell Nicholson with Drew Frye on May 26, 2015

Those of you who missed Practical Sailor's report on how a weak winterizing solution can create a Sandals Beach Resort for waterborne bacteria may be noticing a pungent odor coming from your galley tap. Regardless of the cause of your onboard water woes, our favorite chemist-sailor Drew Frye offers a series of simple steps to decontaminate that tainted water tank.

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