September 2011

Velux Race Boats Showcase Alternative Energy Options

Brad Van Liew said the surplus of power aboard Le Pingouin (foreground) gave him a significant advantage over his competitors.

In the recent Velux 5 Oceans Race, four solo sailors piloted their 60-foot boats some 30,000 miles around the globe, putting a number of innovative products to the test. The race required each boat to be equipped with at least three means of power generation, and two had to be alternative forms of energy. Racers Brad Van Liew and Zbigniew Gutkowski each supplemented power from their auxiliary engines, solar panels, wind generators, with two new Watt & Sea hydrogenerators. Because of the reported efficiency of these transom-hung devices, the singlehand sailors enjoyed the rare phenomenon of surplus power. Two other racers, Chris Stanmore-Major and Derek Hatfield, relied on more traditional alternative energy sources: wind gens and solar panels. All four were enthusiastic about the example they might be setting for other sailors, but are emerging technologies like hydro-power generation practical for the typical cruising boat?

Can New Hydrogens Serve Cruisers?

It will be hard to replicate Le Pingouin’s twin water-generator setup on a cruising boat, but the technology looks promising.

If the recent Velux 5 Oceans Race yielded one breakthrough, it would have to be the hydrogenerators from Watt & Sea. Racers Brad Van Liew and Zbigniew Gutkowski both used these devices. The sailors not only found themselves reliant upon the units, but were impressed by their capability and reliability as well.

Practical Sailor's 2011 Gear of the Year Picks

The Torqeedo Travel 1003, tested here on a Wing Systems dinghy on Chesapeake Bay, earned the Practical Sailor Editor’s Choice award as the electric propulsion pick.

Subscribers Only Each year, as the fall boat shows—and the deals that come with them—appear on the horizon, we pore over the numerous products we’ve reviewed in the previous 12 months to select the cream of the crop for our Editor’s Choice awards. We hope the list will help readers better navigate any boat-show or end-of-season shopping. This year, we picked from the Best Choice products evaluated in the September 2010 through August 2011 issues. The 2011 GOTY roster includes an electric outboard, some stout bullet blocks, electric marine toilets, bilge pumps, chafe gear, and marine maintenance products like bottom paint.

Marine Systems Standouts

Planus Artic Standard

Subscribers Only Practical Sailor spent much of the last 12 months testing marine-systems products—flushing toilets loaded with faux poo and cycling bilge pumps till they would pump no more. So it was no surprise to us that the bulk of our top gear picks for the year were systems related. PS tapped three marine heads—Raritan’s Marine Elegance, Planus’ Artic Standard, and Dometic/Sealand’s SailVac—and two Shurflo electric bilge pumps for the 2011 Gear of the Year (GOTY) list.

Maintenance All-Stars

After 18 months, Epaint’s EP2000 (white) emerged from the water with virtually no slime, earning it a spot on our 2011 Gear of the Year roster.

Subscribers Only With the gazillion marine maintenance products out there, it’s an annual challenge to narrow the field down to just a few superior products for our Gear of the Year (GOTY) list. This year, our top maintenance picks came out of our endless antifouling-paint testing and our performance evaluation of multi-purpose cleaners—products we suspect most of you buy and use regularly.

Exterior Wood Finish Test Two-year Update

After two years of testing, its apparent that two-part varnishes are the most durable type of exterior wood finish.

Testers applied dozens of exterior wood finishes (22 one-part varnishes, six two-part varnishes, 18 synthetics and satins/varnish alternatives, and eight teak oils and sealers) to small panels of bare solid teak and set them out to face the rigors of South Florida's weather. Two years later, our search continues for the ideal wood finish—relatively easy to apply, easy to maintain, lasts multiple seasons, and is affordable. Given that most wood coatings are rarely expected to last longer than two years in the marine environment—particularly in super-sunny locales—it’s no surprise that we’ve seen more significant changes in the coatings in the last six months than we had in previous checkups. With the exception of a few two-part products, the test coatings had lost their sparkle at the two-year mark, ratings slipped across the board, and we’ve come to accept that perhaps there’s no Holy Grail of exterior wood finishes.

Whey Overdue for a Recoat

1. Crew backs rubbing against the Cape Dory coaming made short work of the PolyWhey finish. 2. The Cetol Natural Teak with Cetol Marine gloss overcoat still looks good on our Union 36 test boat three years after application. 3. Even with the gloss overcoat, Cetol does not protect from dings as well as a urethane varnish.

Practical Sailor often supplements panel testing with product challenges aboard our test boats to see whether top products still earn their keep in the real world and to try out new products. Two such evaluations are our exterior wood finish tests. In the January 2011 issue, we introduced a head-to-head matchup of varnish alternatives—market-newcomer PolyWhey from Vermont Natural Coatings versus perennial favorite Interlux’s Sikkens Cetol Natural Teak—that had been applied to our Cape Dory 25 test boat. For that test, we’ve just let nature run its course: no band-aid touchups, no maintenance coats, no freshwater rinses, no TLC at all.

PS's Safety Tether Test Results Reignite Concerns

During testing, each tether was placed under loads ranging from 150 to 350 pounds, and the amount of pull required to release the snap shackle was recorded using a spring scale. Two of the three snap shackles tested failed to properly open.

Subscribers Only The safety tether is the sailor’s leash—a short stretch of webbing or rope that keeps a sailor from going overboard. Its purpose is complicated by the fact that it must be capable of two opposing functions: It must offer a secure means of attachment to the boat, and, when the need arises, provide a quick means of release. The recent Chicago-Mackinac Race tragedy and similar accidents, recent product recalls, and findings in Practical Sailor’s latest round of tether testing also bolster the argument that sailors—and manufacturers—need to pay more attention to the safety tethers on the market today. For this test, we evaluated three different West Marine tethers and found that despite improved engineering, they still fall short of perfection.

Sailing Fatality Studies Shine Light on Tethers

Subscribers Only The capsize of WingNuts is not the first fatal accident that has put the spotlight on the harness-to-tether connection. Since 1986, several widely publicized fatal sailing accidents have prompted inquiries into the harnesses and safety tethers used by sailors.

The Sailor’s Leash: Single or Double? With Elastic or Without?

Left to Right -- West Marine double elastic tether, Wichard single elastic, Plastimo single tether

Subscribers Only Once you’ve settled on the types of clips you want on your tether, the next choice is the webbing construction. Currently, there are two main types of tethers: single tethers with one hook at each end; or double tethers, with two legs and three hooks. Double tethers have an extra clip, usually attached to a short leg at the mid-point of the tether, that shortens the length to about 3 feet.

Bugs Be Gone

The ThermaCell lights up your cockpit and creates a 15-foot no-fly zone for skeeters.

Subscribers Only Keeping bugs at bay has always been a conundrum for boaters, particularly when that calm, idyllic anchorage becomes a refuge for black flies, mosquitoes, and other flying bloodsuckers when the sun goes down. No one wants to slather on smelly chemical creams or sprays to enjoy happy hour in the cockpit, but bug repellent options have been rather limited until recently.

Mailport: September 2011

In field tests, the original Crocs (above) provided excellent grip for certain tasks, but they turned us into klutzes when we were rushing around deck during a race.

Letters to Practical Sailor, September 2011. This month's letters cover subjects such as: Shoes for Crews, Washing Dock Lines, and More!

Orion Reports on Defective Flare Investigation

This exploded view of an Orion handheld flare shows the fiber disc that Orion says was missing in the flare that malfunctioned.

Subscribers Only In the July 2011 Mailport, Practical Sailor reported that a new Orion handheld flare had malfunctioned during an emergency training course at the Annapolis School of Seamanship. The defective flare had melted through its end cap, allowing hot, melted slag to drip out.

West Marine Issues Rocna Spec Notice

The Rocna, first marketed by Peter Smith (pictured above), is a variation of the convex plow shape popularized by the late Alain Poiraud, designer of the Spade anchor.

Subscribers Only In the wake of questions about the tensile strength of steel used in the shafts of Rocna anchors, West Marine has issued “product specification notices” to customers who have purchased Rocna anchors since 2010 and recently posted the notice on its website ( West Marine is one of world’s largest distributors of the Rocna, a plow-style anchor sold in 34 different countries. The Rocna ( earned a Recommended rating in our 2008 tests of heavyweight anchors, finishing behind the Manson Ray and the Manson Supreme (November 2008).

Where Credit is Due: September 2011

Letters to Practical Sailor, September 2011. This month's letters cover subjects such as: Johnson Pumps, Raymarine, Edson and More!

A Second Look at Safety Tethers

Sailing harnesses and safety tethers were put to the ultimate test in July when a storm packing winds of more than 50 knots swept through the fleet of sailboats racing in the annual Chicago-to-Mackinac Race. One of the boats, the Kiwi 35 WingNuts, capsized in a powerful gust. It stayed inverted, forcing the crew of eight into the water. At the time of capsize, the crew were wearing safety harnesses and tethers, and most were clipped in to jacklines on the boat. All but two of the sailors, skipper Mark Morley and his girlfriend, Suzanne Bickel, were able to unclip themselves and survived.

Anchor Chain Advice

Of the various types of anchor chain on the market, high test offers the most strength for the buck. Pictured is a cross-section of the different types (left to right): zinc-plated proof coil, stainless, Chinese proof coil, Campbell proof coil, Acco high test, Acco BBB, and Acco proof coil. For anchor chain, we recommend the Acco high test.

I sail an Areodyne 38 in New England, primarily on weekends and a two-week annual cruise. I use 25 feet of 5/8-inch chain with 200 feet of oversized braided rode and a 35-pound Bruce anchor. In 12 years of cruising this boat, the setup has dragged only once, yet I’m still unable to relax at anchor. I’m considering going to all-chain. Also, because my boat is pretty light with a fin keel and bulb, the rode wraps around the bulb when the current is stronger than the wind, requiring diving to free the mess. This is manageable in July, not so fun in October. Can you recommend a type, size, and length of chain given my criteria? My boat weighs in at 10,000 pounds, and I am the windlass.

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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