Mailport December 2016 Issue

Mailport: Epoxy, Anchor Shackles, and More!

Sunward 48, Capricious
Subscriber John Lawton’s Sunward 48, Capricious, rests at anchor in Dead Man’s Bay off Peter Island, BVI. Lawton suggests using box tape for easy fiberglass mold release.
Epoxy

In regard to your article on mold release agents in the September 2016 issue: We often have small epoxy repairs that require mold release, and we’ve found that box tape works well to help release the molds. For example, the interior wood surrounding our Perko ports became wet and rotted, so we removed the wood and created clear box-tape molds/release surfaces to replace the removed wood. Box tape, neither the shiny or adhesive surface, does not stick to epoxy. Once cured, the tape is easily removed, leaving a smooth surface. Sometimes, the clear tape alone creates an adequate “mold.” In other situations where the tape deflects, it is easy to back up the box tape with clamped wood to prevent deflection. The box tape has not been tested with radical cure systems, though they are usually less adhesive than epoxy.

John Lawton

Capricious, Sunward 48

British and U.S. Virgin Islands

Anchor Shackles

In regard to your October 2016 report on anchor shackles: I have been sailing a GS41 since 1983 and cruised full-time from 2005 until recently. I had a chandlery when such things as common galvanized shackles began to be made in China and swept the market. I received so many obviously defective copies that I became very wary of them and stopped selling them, instead handling Crosby primarily, but others as well. The galvanized Crosby shackles ran about twice the cost or more, but were available in several different grade levels. For example, you could have a 3/8-inch with a 2-ton or more rating, rather than 1 ton. The commercial fishing customers were immediate adopters, and they focused on the highest quality, forsaking the cheap ones. Many cruising sailors did also, but some were more enamored with cheap prices. I’ve never understood how someone could justify risking their boat and life to save $5. I have heard horror stories of broken ground tackle—mostly failed swivels, but some shackles as well. You are lucky if you only lose your anchor.

My personal recommendation is to buy the best quality available. It is easy to visually tell good quality galvanized from that done at incorrect temperature with casting marks that will abrade line, poorly aligned pins, and distortions in the piece itself. Go at least a size larger, if it will fit (7/16 instead of 3/8); they almost always do. The extra material is stronger and takes longer to wear through. Use seizing wire; Monel is best, but is getting hard to find.

William Nokes

Gulfstar 41

Via www.practical-sailor.com

We just finished testing Peerless Peer-lift shackles and no longer recommend them. Look for shackles that meet the RR-C-271F IVA Grade B Class 2 specifications as described in the October article. There are several brands of lifting shackles that meet this standard, among them are Crosby 209A alloy screw-pin anchor shackles. Crosby also makes a Grade A shackle that we have not tested, so be sure the specs say “Grade B.”

Battery Testing

In regard to your October 2016 article on battery monitors: I don’t recall reading anything anywhere about the necessity to conduct an annual, 20-hour capacity test when I bought and installed a Xantrex LinkPro on my boat. During the numerous conversations with Xantrex during installation, none of the tech reps mentioned it. A limitation/requirement such as this would have been nice to know. While a few boaters may want more from their monitors, there are the rest of us that want simple bottom line information about our battery’s energy supply. So, should I replace my LinkPro with the Balmar Smart Gauge to get an accurate state of charge (SOC) or should I add one to my panel, to be used in conjunction with the LinkPro, to get the full electrical status picture?

Mike Hirko

Destiny, Tayana Vancouver 42

Gig Harbor, Wash.

According to PS contributor and ABYC-certified marine electrical systems specialist Rod Collins of Compass Marine, most manufacturers tell consumers far less than they should in the owner’s manuals. Almost all makers fail to inform owners about the importance of having a correct and confirmed amp-hour (Ah) capacity programmed into the unit. Without accurate Ah-capacity data, Ah counters have no chance of being accurate for tracking state of charge (SOC).

Ah counters can still give you excellent data on charge performance, voltage, and current into or out of the battery bank, but unless an owner keeps up with the rest of the programming—including the actual tested Ah capacity, not just what the sticker says—the devices simply can’t be relied on for accurate SOC data.

Let’s look at the case of a pair of parallel-wired, 100-Ah house batteries that Collins tested back in 2014. The batteries were barely three years old when he conducted a 20-hour test to determine the actual Ah capacity. As a pair, they should be able to deliver 200 Ah, when new and broken in; however, at three years old, they delivered a tested capacity of just 69 Ah and 70 Ah, respectively. They were tested at 77 degrees, using a 5A constant load and were tested individually. The owner of this now 139-Ah bank still had the battery monitor programmed for a 200-Ah bank, as many boaters often would at three years.

If we add 69 Ah and 70 Ah, we can see that his actual total bank capacity was just 139 Ah, not the 200 Ah he had assumed and had left programmed into the battery monitor. Herein lies problem. The owner was discharging this bank using the -Ah consumed screen and doing so as if it was still a 200-Ah bank. Discharging 50-percent of the assumed capacity from a 200-Ah bank, in theory, leaves you with 100 Ah remaining or approximately 50-percent SOC. Unfortunately, this owner really only had a 139-Ah bank when tested against its as-new 20-hour discharge rate. If you remove 100 Ah from this 139 Ah bank, it’s very easy to see that the owner was really taking the battery bank to approximately 28-percent SOC with each assumed deep-cycle to 50-percent SOC.

With this image of actual tested capacity, it’s easy to see how these expensive batteries fell off the proverbial cliff in just three years. Was the battery monitor the sole cause of the demise of these batteries? Absolutely not. Unfortunately, as capacity faded due to PSOC abuses, the owner continued drawing them as if they were a new 200-Ah bank. The monitor’s incorrect programming and misuse began to contribute in a larger way to the demise. The battery monitor’s incorrect use was actually hurting not helping. Battery-monitor manufacturers do themselves no favors leaving out such critical information.

So, what can you do to minimize this issue? If the owner of the battery bank in question had done one simple thing—set and watched minimum discharge voltage—and set that at 12.20 volts, he would have quickly seen how out of sync his Ah counter was with the bank. In other words, by using a visual low-voltage limit of about 12.20V (even under your normal average house loads) in addition to the consumed energy, you can catch these issues before they become a bigger problem.

If you want any sort of SOC-based accuracy from an Ah counter, you really need to start with your bank’s actual measured and tested Ah capacity, not an assumed capacity based on a sticker. You should then conduct an annual Ah capacity test each year moving forward and reduce capacity accordingly.

If you would like a better understanding of the issue, visit www.pbase.com/mainecruising/programming_a_battery_monitor. The Balmar Smart Gauge is a remarkably simple tool for tracking SOC, and it makes a great supplemental device when added to an Ah counter. We’re evaluating the Smart Gauge now. Look for Smart Gauge review in our upcoming update to the battery monitor test.

three-year-old batteries
The 20-hour capacity on this set of three-year-old batteries revealed that the actual total bank capacity was 139 amp hours, not the assumed 200 amp hours.
Battery monitoring

Monitoring batteries is complicated, as your excellent October 2016 article suggests. Here is how I simplify it with two 8D + 1 4D, old-fashion wet cells with about 625-Ah capacity. I use a 20-year-old Cruising Equipment E-Meter along with a Xantrex four-stage 40-amp charger and 70-amp alternator. The E-Meter has the basic functions of your tested battery monitors. When cruising, I only watch one number, the cumulative amp hours used, and I compare that against the 625-Ah capacity. I keep that below 35 percent most of the time before engine charging, which is two to four days; this includes the use of a small Norcold fridge, a laptop, and 100-percent LED lights.

The other number I watch is the cumulative amp hours of charging after the batteries are fully charged on shore power. This monitors how the batteries are aging, which in turn tells me how to adjust the percent depletion before charging from up to 50 percent when batteries are new to as low as 20 percent when they are old. When all three batteries are new, the maintenance charging is only 2 to 3 Ah per day, but when they are old, it’s 5 to 7 Ah per day as internal resistance builds up. The higher number also triggers a manual fourth-stage desulfurization charge. When the daily charge rate jumps up higher than 5 to 7 Ah, there is a cell going bad, and I use a hydrometer to find which one and replace that battery. With TLC, my ordinary, low-cost, no-name, midrange deep cycle / start batteries last seven to 10 years.

Paul Gross

Corsair, 1963 Sumnercraft 31

Manhattan Beach, Calif.

Nav Light Visibility

Testing data is needed on navigation light visibility. I am the nominal safety guru for the 7,000 members of the Antiques and Classic Boat Society and its 15,000 vintage boats. While there are many vintage sailboats, the fleet is dominated by mahogany runabouts: Collision avoidance is obviously in everyone’s interest.

PS’s testing program is highly valued by our members—from batteries to boat hooks to bilge pumps. But I have yet to find any testing of navigation lights. I raise this issue in the aftermath of a horrific tragedy on Lake George in upstate New York in which a youngster was killed when her grandfather’s antique Gar Wood runabout, in which she was riding, was run over by a go-fast boat shortly after dark in late July.

The investigation will eventually disclose the details of this gruesome accident, but in the meantime, it seems worth asking whether the 35-year-old navigation light requirements (one mile for sidelights; two miles for a stern light on boats 12 meters or less in length) are still appropriate, given both the higher speed of many boats these days and the growing clutter of background lights, at least when operating near shore. And more narrowly, to what extent is the visibility of navigation lights on new boats actually tested? How about on 70-year-old boats? I’ve queried the USCG navigation office on this without reply.

Looking ahead, it would seem to be a worthwhile safety initiative to encourage the installation of brighter—perhaps LED—navigation lamps on many new and older boats, up to the point where they start producing the “undue glare” cautioned against by the ColRegs. Can PS provide any insights on this issue?

Gene Porter

True North, Vintage Lyman

What a tragic incident indeed. Although I don’t know the details, it appears that seamanship and excessive speed were probably contributing factors—as is often the case. PS has tested navigation lights in the past, and there exists a large body of research on this topic.

In the February 2010 issue, we published a report on LED tri-color lights titled “Practical Sailor Tracks Down the Best LED Tri-color Light;” you can find it on our website. The article includes a list of manufacturers that you could contact for support.

You pose an important question: Why are the distance visibility requirements for smaller vessels less stringent than those for larger vessel (one mile versus three miles), especially given the advances in batteries and light technology?

It seems that technology has made obsolete some of the rationale for having less luminous lights on smaller boats. For example: How much more would it cost to equip smaller boats with lights of the same luminosity as vessels 50 meters or more? I recommend looking at European regulations to see whether they have upgraded their rules for smaller boats. Since most light manufacturers already make higher-luminous lights, and they would seem to benefit from a wholesale refit of vessels, you may find some surprising support from major equipment manufacturers.

One problem might be the small-boat builders, A new requirement could eat into their already slim profit margins, so without clear demonstration of a greater good, you will face opposition from them. 

I’m sure some of the LED nav light manufacturers would be interested in helping with the research. The Coast Guard, understandably, carefully considers the cost to individuals of changing regulations, and as you can imagine in this era of budget cuts, equipment manufacturers often play a role in the decision-making process—with representatives on committees, etc. Unless you get a vocal, powerful proponent on your side, it will be an uphill battle getting this rule changed. I know from experience that the wheels grind slowly in this sphere (kapok is still accepted as a filler in life jackets!)—although, it is getting better. Will bottom lines or scientific research guide the regulations, and if it is the former, then what is the price of a human life? 

Currently, you will surely need some support from a local legislator and a major nav-light maker to really gain some traction. I’m not sure whether your state is home to any light makers, but that’s where we would start.

If you have a more detailed letter of what you propose, please send it to practicalsailor@belvoir.com. We would be happy to provide a forum for your research on this. It’s a cause we would happily support.

We think a simple comparison of a higher luminosity LED with five-mile visibility versus an incandescent light with two-mile visibility, would indicate that the technology is here for this higher standard. The question then becomes a matter of cost. Is a wholesale upgrade worth the risk reduction? If it can prevent accidents like the one you describe, the answer is plain.

fiberglass
The useful life of fiberglass in a boat can vary depending on many factors. This 1974 Albin Vega recently completed a circumnavigation of the Americas; it is still sound.

Fiberglass Boats

I’ve been reading PS for over 25 years and have enjoyed every second. Over that time, I’ve begun to wonder about the longevity of fiberglass. Gone are the days of several manufacturers producing 25- to 30- footers. Boat-shoppers are left with 30-year-old hulls filling marinas. Has Practical Sailor ever done a longevity test on fiberglass? Will these hulls make it to 60 years old? Does fiberglass degrade?

Peter Pommer

Portland, Ore.

The life expectancy of fiberglass depends on many factors: surface protection from UV exposure (gelcoat and paint); where the boat is stored (sunny equatorial locations versus rainy areas, for instance); flexure; reinforcing structure; and quality of construction (voids, unwetted fibers, etc.). Any material can suffer from fatigue cracking if it’s built too lightly. However, if serious cracks have not appeared within 20 years, they generally will not.

Gelcoat can wear through—the result of wear and UV damage—exposing the underlying laminate to the sun, but actual laminate damage is trivial (although the area should be painted of gelcoated for UV protection). Keel bolts on old boats also can be an issue, but as for the resin and glass themselves, evidence seems to suggest that time—even 60 years—is not automatically a problem.

According to PS contrubutor Drew Frye, Owens Corning tested heavily used, 20-year-old Coast Guard cruisers in the ’70s, showing no change in the fiberglass in 20 years. There are many boats still sailing from the ’60s and ’70s with no hull issues. In fact, a 1974 Albin Vega recently completed a circumnavigation of the Americas; it is still a sound boat.

Conventional wisdom holds that with age, a boat will have problems with equipment, but if it was originally well-built and never damaged by grounding, the soundness of the hull should not be an issue. Our collective experiences have born this out as well.

If there are any surveyors out there who would like to weigh in with their experiences, please send comments to practicalsailor@belvoir.com. When it comes to fiberglass, how old is too old?

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