PS Seeks Input on Harness and Tether Design

March 13, 2012 - We’ve received some good suggestions from readers in response to my editorial in the March issue of Practical Sailor that described our tether and harness design project. Similar to what we did with toddler life jackets back in 2007, the plan is to solicit input from experts in the field, other sailors, and PS readers to try to come up with an improved design for inflatable PFD/harnesses. Because the tether is such an integral part of the PFD/harness when sailing offshore, we plan to work on improved tether designs as well.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 02:29PM Comments (9)

When Two Cultures Collide

March 6, 2012 - I usually don’t get too excited about the tricked-out space ships circling the globe in the Volvo Ocean Race, but when I heard the race fleet was split in half, with three of the Volvo 70s planning to weave through the Solomon Islands, my interest was piqued. While the images of these thoroughbred machines racing down the long swells of the bottom of the planet are impressive, the idea of threading through an area of poorly charted reefs, jungle islands, and notoriously squally weather in the darkness presented a tantalizing new twist.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 11:17AM Comments (3)

An Eye-opening Boat Show

February 21, 2012 - They say a photo is worth 1,000 words, and this one certainly says a lot. On our way to a very serious study of hose clamps at the Miami International Boat Show, the nice sales ladies at the booth of some nameless speedboat showed their appreciation for Capt. Frank Lanier, a retired Coast Guard officer and one of our contributors. It is a standard boat show ploy: Beautiful girls attract men (even those as high-minded as Capt. Lanier) and men buy boats. For many complex reasons (including the fact that Frank's incredibly supportive wife might one day stumble on this blog post), I hesitated to publish this photo. But it serves to illustrate a point that struck me at this year’s Miami show . . .
Posted by By Darrell Nicholson at 11:59AM Comments (10)

New Man Overboard Tracking Technology

February 14, 2012 - More affordable electronic man-overboard tracking technology is on the way. The US-based Radio Technical Commission for Maritime Services has just completed a new standard for man-overboard beacons using Digital Selective Calling (DSC) and/or Automatic Identification System (AIS). According to a news release from the RTCM, the standard requires MOB beacons using DSC and sending "open loop" messages (i.e. standard all-ships distress calls) to be fitted with a GPS and a DSC channel transceiver. The GPS automatically inserts a position in the DSC (and AIS) call, making it easier for boats to locate and recover a crew member who has fallen overboard.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 11:40AM Comments (2)

No Rest for the Weary

February 7, 2012 - We’ve got so many tests in the air, I’m afraid to open my inbox these days, for fear that one of our testers has again spiraled off into the deep end of data collection. This, you see, is the greatest challenge we face. So consumed by their mission, our testers like to pick up every detour and follow it to its end, wherever it may lead. Three-week tests drag on for years, with the final results forever lying tantalizingly out of reach. So where are the detours leading these days? Here’s a sampling of what’s ahead.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 10:01AM Comments (3)

Eco-friendly Bottom Paints 2012

February 1, 2012 - There are very few times when the door to my office is closed. Bottom paint rating tabulation time is one of them. For the past week, I’ve been poring over bottom paint data collected earlier this month: three Excel tables representing more than 300 data points. Although mammoth data tables are not what drew me into this business, the bottom paint program is still one of my favorite projects. I’ve spent enough time scrubbing, scraping, and painting to appreciate the importance of what we do.
Posted by at 11:19AM Comments (12)

Taming Engine Room Noise

January 25, 2012 - Practical Sailor reader Duncan Hood wrote us last week, asking about engine room noise insulation and prompting me to dive into our files to find our last test. It’s been over a decade, so we’re due for another round of testing, but much of the information in our last report is still helpful. Many of the players are the same, and one of the most prominent players in our last test, Soundown, is still regarded as a leader in the field. For those like Hood who are contemplating ways to silence the engine, the following excerpt from that article offers some general guidance.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 11:07AM Comments (3)

Holding Tank Test Correction

January 18, 2012 - In the February 2012 issue, we tested two holding tanks—one from Trionic and one from SeaLand. Both tanks slightly leaked water while under pressure. The leaks were very small and occurred at top-mounted fittings that were supplied separately with the tanks and were installed by our tester according to the manufacturers’ instructions. After the story’s publication, SeaLand informed us that tank that we tested and recommended was not the most current model.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 10:45AM Comments (2)

Winning the Battle Against Holding Tank Odors

January 10, 2012 - Take a look at this photo and imagine it is your backyard. Or your patio, or sun-deck. Yep, those are sealed 5-gallon buckets full of iguana poop and “other” waste, ripening in the Chesapeake Bay area's autumn sun. Do you ever wonder whether those bright blue bottles of chemicals that claim to eliminate your head odors actually work? So did we. Did you ever wonder how the neighbors would react if you set up a head odor testing facility in your backyard? So did PS contributor Drew Frye. So far, it seems, “Operation Potty Odor,” has not alarmed the local zoning tipsters . . . and it is yielding some interesting results.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 12:51PM Comments (11)

Pondering Solar Panels

January 4, 2012 - My post last week on storing batteries for winter prompted a couple comments and letters on solar panels, so I thought I'd point out some of our past articles on the topic that can be found online at It is a timely project for me, since our upcoming project testing one of the new sonic-pulse antifouling devices will require a solar panel. According to the device's maker, Smart Antifouling, the unit draws about .08 amps, which means will want to put a small 5-watt solar panel on our Cape Dory 25 test boat, Skimmer, which typically lies on a mooring.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 02:31PM Comments (10)

Jamming GPS Signals, the Lightsquared Way

December 20, 2011 - This month’s report on satellite communication devices focuses on existing technology, so it does not dig into one of the more controversial satcomm topics of the moment: a proposal by the upstart wireless company Lightsquared to provide a combined satellite and land-based broadband service that will reach remote areas of the United States where broadband is not yet available. While the idea of giving everyone the ability to stream reruns of "The Simpsons" at lightning speed seems noble, Lightsquared’s $14 billion plan does so at the expense of GPS-based navigation systems—the kind that land you safely at O’Hare.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 05:49PM Comments (5)

The Bight Before Christmas

December 14, 2011 - Will Swagel, the engaging publisher of Sitka, Alaska’s classified ad circular, The Sitka Soup (motto: Hearty Ingredients-Tasty Leftovers-A Dash of Silliness), has given the Christmas poem “The Night Before Christmas,” an Alaskan twist. Illustrated by former fisherman and local Sitka artist and musician Colin Herforth, "The Bight Before Christmas" replaces reindeer with coho, hootchies, and humpies — and a glossary that explains what all of these are. It also introduces the bellyfish, which according to Swagel is “a made-up word because we needed a rhyme for jellyfish.”
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 10:39AM Comments (1)

Perfect Gifts for the DIY Sailor

December 7, 2011 - At the top of Tewes’ preferred list is a Fein Multimaster 250Q, a plug-in variable speed right-angle oscillating tool that accepts a carbide-tipped saw blade, wide array of triangular-shaped sanding pads and host of other cutting, scraping, and filing gizmos. The lock-and-load quick attachment process and the “long throw” of the oscillation cycle makes it a very efficient cutter, sander, or scraper.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 09:57AM Comments (5)

Looking Back on the Sailing Life

November 30, 2011 - As Moore’s Law insinuates itself into the sea, and the idea of a remote-controlled world cruise seems less sensational than steering by the stars, it is hard for some of us to avoid feeling nostalgic. As the last of the sextant-only sailors move into their retirement years, a new type of cruising tale is emerging—the maritime memoire. It's debatable whether the movement is a rebellion against the new wave of digitographic sailors or simply the result of too many old salts with too much time on their hands. Whatever their origins may be, these mildly self-indulgent sea stories offer a fun look back at a simpler time when young around-the-world voyagers didn’t want or need a sponsor, and GPS navigation was years in the future.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 10:46AM Comments (0)

Rethinking the Rally Concept

November 16, 2011 - Some among our small group of less-hurried cruisers seethed quietly—mostly to themselves—that this rally business was a bad idea. Herding people in wagon-trains made sense long ago on land—but at sea?
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 10:26AM Comments (5)