Risks of Exploring New Places
I’d wanted to plunge into a discussion of French philosopher Michel Foucault’s concept of “other places” this month, but was concerned you’d think I’d been sniffing the bottom paint panels again. Instead, I’ll try to make sense of the different places we occupy here at Practical Sailor, and offer an apology.
The place PS call home is an office building and workshop in Sarasota, Fla., where we’ve been based since 2005. However, most of our tests take place where our testers live—from Marblehead, Mass., to Sydney, Australia. For this month’s water heater test, Technical Editor Ralph Naranjo’s basement in Annapolis, Md., resembled the boiler-strewn lot in Steinbeck’s “Cannery Row.” For our sanitation tests, tester Drew Frye’s Virginia backyard became the battlefield in a war against boat odors.
Our homeport has moved a few times during our 39-year history, but the nature of our work remains the same. One of the first emails I read when I became editor in 2005 was a thank-you note from a sailor who used the knife we had recommended to cut himself free of a genoa sheet that was dragging him overboard. Since then, I’ve received dozens of similar thank-you letters.
Our main mission is to serve sailors, but our research helps manufacturers, too. Products are routinely improved to fix problems that our testers found. While the makers can measure our impact in dollars, the value to sailors, who sometimes trust their lives to the products we test, is inestimable. Our tests are often groundbreaking—but we’re not immune to errors. We had a bit of both last month.
Earlier this year, Frye found that the automobile-inspired fuel-vent filters meant to bring boats into compliance with new federal emission rules didn’t work in the high humidity common near water. The study that formed the basis for the new rules had overlooked this essential detail.
Not long after we published Frye’s report, the international manufacturer Vetus developed a new filter based on his research. In November, it was nominated as a finalist for the prestigious Dame Award, given annually to the world’s best new marine products. Boat manufacturers, boat owners, and the environment will all come out ahead as a result of Frye’s efforts. This is the type of impact that few boating magazines can claim.
One of the other places we occupy is right here in these pages—an often contradictory space shaped by us, but defined by you. It’s a place where new ideas are poked and prodded, advertising hype is inverted, and the impossible suddenly seems possible.
Finally, there is the sea itself, a place of extremes, that boundary space where most of our long-term testing takes place.
As we progress through each of these places, the chance of error goes up. It’s the inevitable risk we take for not standing still—one we’re willing to take. But that is no excuse.
In the November 2013 article on mildew fighters, we misidentified our Best Choice product. The correct name of the top product is Goldshield 5. At the time of our test, the diluted blend we tested was one of those between-places products that had yet to be launched to boaters; even its name was still in limbo. (I explained more in my Nov. 4, 2013 “Inside Practical Sailor” blog post at www.practical-sailor.com.)
If you’re fighting a mildew war, reducing humidity is the first step. If that’s not possible, try the Goldshield 5 (or the dilution, Goldshield 75), or one of the homemade concoctions described in the November article.
I apologize again here for the error. The next time we take a wrong turn, don’t hesitate to put us in our place. You can reach me, as always, at