Mailport: 10/08


Spot-On Reporting

Your recent assessment of the locator service SPOT (Practical Sailor September 2008) was spot on. We recently took it along on a Pacific Coast, offshore delivery of a 50-foot sailboat. We hit bad weather and had several mechanical failures. Our families ashore were able to follow our progress on the SPOT website throughout our trip.

The problem came when a panicked crew, unknown to me, hit the “911” button. I was able to cancel the 911 call a few hours later. Our families were simply alerted that we had a serious problem but did not know anything more for a couple days. The SPOT command central repeatedly called my cell phone, which was with me, 250 miles offshore and obviously out of range. They claimed they could not determine our position despite several days of track records.

Photo courtesy of Tom Wetherbee


Once I returned to cell-phone range and safety, I called to update the folks at SPOT. I reached an answering machine and never heard back from them. When I called the company to talk to a decision-maker, I was forwarded to “customer care,” which responded with a rehash of the units features and benefits and had no interest in my insights. I will be switching to an EPIRB for future trips offshore.

Dan Bessmer
Cal 34
Tacoma, Wash.

Spot Across the Atlantic

I made a Trans-Atlantic crossing in May and June of this year on my Jeanneau 43 DS, from Florida to France, and I had onboard both an ACR GPS EPIRB and a SPOT device (Practical Sailor September 2008). The crew religiously “pushed the button” on the SPOT device every change of the watch, and we were thereby able to keep our friends and family informed of our progress along the way. They greatly appreciated this information-except during one 22-hour period between Bermuda and the Azores, when we were out of range of the SPOT satellites. (One of our friends got a SPOT engineer out of bed to explain that there are some “dead spots” in the SPOT coverage.)

Overall, I thought that it was definitely worth the $250 that I spent on it for the trip. I will wait until next year to see whether I renew the service, but I cannot fault the service I received on this trip.

Ralph Caruso
S/V Petillan, Jeanneau 43 DS

Metal Boats

I am near to purchasing my first cruising sailboat. I have been reading everything I can find to ascertain which boats will be a good match for my goals. I will be a coastal sailor initially, and if I enjoy it as much as I have while chartering, I may go offshore.

I acquired your two-volume guide “Practical Boat Buying” to help me choose. I noticed that not one of the reviews of boats in the upper 30- to 40-foot range are made of metal, why is this?

Dave Rose
Bend, Ore.
Via e-mail

Most metal boats, principally made of steel or aluminum, are custom-built in small numbers, and we generally don't review custom-built boats. Unless you don't mind taking a financial hit on a possible resale, we would not recommend a metal boat for someone who is sticking their toe in the water. Steel boats in particular will depreciate quickly and can be hard to resell in the United States. They have a stronger following abroad.

There is no question that a well-made metal boat can make an excellent choice for a cruising boat. If you are dead set on a custom-built cruiser, it can be one of


the most economical options. Regardless of whether you are commissioning a new metal boat or buying a used one, it is essential to work closely with an expert surveyor. A good source of information on metal boats is the Metal Boat Society,, which also publishes a quarterly newsletter.

Tinned Wiring

I was surprised to read the Practical Sailor response to a letter (“Tinned Wire Myth Busted,” Practical Sailor July 2008) questioning the use of untinned wire in a sailboat. It appeared to me to miss the point.

It might be true that some true “boat cable” uses untinned wire (although most of it uses tinned wire), but most untinned wire is not boat cable. The writer was right to question the use of untinned wire in his boat.

Boat cable has to meet certain standards for moisture resistance, fire retardance, resistance to oil and chemicals, and copper strand construction. The use of wire that is not boat cable, and in my opinion, is not tinned boat cable, is pure folly.

Quent Kinderman
S/V Clairebuoyant, Pearson 424
Annapolis, Md.

Reader Steven Krenz asked whether he should rewire a newly rewired Catalina 25 because the new wire, which was otherwise in excellent shape, was untinned. Our “don't replace” response and the explanation generated quite a buzz. Thank you for giving us the chance to clear things up. As stated in our reply to Mr. Krenz, more expensive tinned wire will resist corrosion better. The response was not meant to imply that cheap, poorly insulated, and undersized wire was fit for marine use. If you are re-wiring your boat or buying a new boat, you will get added protection with high-quality “marine grade” tinned boat cable. However, there is no need to start yanking out perfectly good un-tinned wire that otherwise meets acceptable standards for insulated conductors. The American Boat and Yacht Council cites several standards as acceptable minimums, the most common being UL Standard 1426 for boat cables. UL style BC-5W2 offers the added protection of higher heat rating (105C dry, 75C wet), and the more flexible Type III is preferable to Type II. These ratings should be stamped on the insulator jacket. Another point we wanted to emphasize is that the best wire is no substitute for careful attention at the terminals. Four of the boats we use for testing are doing just fine with untinned wire ranging in age from 13 to 22 years.

Blue Sky Solar Charger

Based on your recommendation, I purchased and installed Blue Sky charge controllers (Practical Sailor August 2006) for my Sunware solar panels. Apparently, the controllers put out a fair bit of electrical noise, so much that the Mastervolt Mass Inverter Charger Control (MICC) would no longer read the shunt on the battery

Solar Boost 3024i


accurately. The MICC current readings were useless.

Blue Sky acknowledged the possibility of a problem and sent a set of noise suppressors. We installed these, but they did not address the problem. We finally removed the Blue Sky controllers and substituted Mastervolt solar charge controllers, and now the MICC is accurately reading the battery shunt.

Russ Irwin
S/V New Morning, custom 54-foot Paine designed, Morse built
Sausalito, Calif. / St. Vincent

Practical Sailor field tested the Blue Sky Solar Boost 3024i and Solar Boost 2000 in 2006. The units did have some radio frequency interference (RFI) issues but only on Marine SSB frequencies, and we have been unable to duplicate your symptoms with either unit. (We have fielded another complaint about RFI in a different Blue Sky product that we have not tested or reviewed.) As more and more wireless products and electrical equipment developed for the RV and off-the-grid home market creep into the marine sphere, RFI is becoming more of an issue. We will address this topic in a future article and will offer suggestions on how to trace and correct problems.

In your case, if disconnecting your VHF antenna does not markedly reduce the noise generated on channels 9 and 16, then the interference is probably in the power supply wiring. You should be able to improve reception with clamp-on ferrite cores where needed. If disconnecting the antenna does reduce the noise, then it is radiating from the original source, and any attempt to reduce it with ferrite cores on the wires won't help.

If you also have an energy monitor, you may want to look at that. Others we have worked with have generated a fair amount of RFI. If disconnecting the monitor and the leads to the shunt quiets things down, then again, the heavy use of ferrite cores in these lines may help. Otherwise, we would consider the Link 10 monitor, which we know to be fairly quiet.

Garmin GPS48 Revisited

Thanks for Rick McLarens write-up on replacing the Garmin GPS48 internal battery (Mailport, Practical Sailor June 2008). I replaced mine but used a battery holder to avoid soldering directly to the lithium cell, and also to facilitate future replacement.

The parts required are available from
BS-3-ND Battery Holder-68
P189-ND CR2032 Battery-28

The total cost was under a dollar, not including shipping, two small pieces of wire, and a glob of silicone rubber.

Tom Wetherbee
Engineer, Wetherbee Boats
Halifax N.S., Canada

Preserving Varnish

Adding to your discussion of preserving unused wood finish in last months Mailport (September 2008), Ive used a product called Bloxygen to get rid of excess oxygen in my partial cans of Interlux Schooner varnish and prevent them from skimming over. Spraying it into the varnish can is touchy; if you get the straw too close to the varnish it will splash the varnish out of the can. Its important to spray it at the

Photo courtesy of Tom Wetherbee


metal insides of the can. It only takes about 70 squirts per can, and I still have about 60 squirts left in the one can I purchased two years ago.

At about $10 per can, it is a cheap way to save expensive varnish. Bloxygen is available from many of the woodworker supply houses including Rockler and Woodcraft. Ive also experimented using propane with a can of Pettit Captains Varnish. Not a good idea.

Charles Boutell
Papillon, Boston Whaler Harpoon
Ephraim, Wisc.

Removing Bottom Paint

We used Franmar Soy Strip last spring to strip three coats of paint from our 33-foot boat. The Soy Strip worked well in the somewhat cool weather. It worked better when less cool. We found that letting it dwell longer than 30 minutes didn't seem to help any. It was very important to keep it moist. We lathered it on heavy and worked in 3-foot-square sections at a time. We applied one section, and while it dwelled, scraped off and wiped down the previously done section. The product was easy to apply and easy (if messy) to remove. The resulting glop was easy to dispose of safely.

Soy Strip did a great job in our case. The process was time-consuming and took some elbow grease, but was not especially difficult, certainly not noxious.

We were glad to find out about Soy Strip from Practical Sailor. It worked, but it was not a fun job.

Bruce Nelson
Via e-mail

With the rush of new eco-friendly paints to test (see pages 12-19), Practical Sailor undertook a number of paint-stripping projects this summer. One of the most ambitious involved a search for a chemical that would remove an epoxy barrier coat without harming the gelcoat. We will be reporting on this in a future issue.

More on Medical Kits

After using the Adventure Medical Marine kit aboard a vessel to Bermuda, I can confirm your conclusion that it is a good fit for most sailors. That kit has one overarching advantage: task packaging, which makes it more likely to be used quickly without a lot of confusion.

The article itself was a welcome read, but failed to point out that the typical physician would recommend prescription medications that would easily approach the cost of the base price of the Adventure kit. Therefore, readers should not be misled by your cost analysis: After-market add-on drugs are costly, and their shelf-life is fleeting. For instance, a pair of high-quality, wide-spectrum antibiotic regimens could cost upwards of $200 at the pharmacy. The epinephrine kit is another $100 or so. As well, more discussion is wanting about the liability of the skipper who uses prescription drugs to treat a crew person-drugs that the skipper can obtain ostensibly only for his personal use.

William Solberg, DDS
S/V Wind Dancer, T3800
Marina del Rey, Calif.

Digital Chart Boycott

The letter by Andrew F. Gillis in the August 2008 issue (Mailport), about updating

Photo by Ralph Naranjo


electronic charts, was interesting. His suggested boycott cuts both ways, though, and the digital charts are just so nice to use. But an interesting point comes out from his discussion. We recently bought a chartplotter that uses a C-Map chart from Jeppesen Marine. We bought it last February, with what should have been the latest versions of all of the charts.

This summer, we took the thing on a cruise off the coast of Nova Scotia. The chart happily showed us the characteristics of a light that had been extinguished three years before. Later, it had us sailing well inside the forest beside a narrow waterway, missing buoys on another part. Most of it, though, was incredibly good.

Digital charts are really very good, but not perfect. This page is not up to date, that page has the wrong datum, and so it goes. Lets remember not to rely totally on any one aid to navigation. Keep your paper charts, and keep them up to date.

Emanuel Laufer
Ceol Mor, C&C 34

Weve said it before, but it bears repeating. Practical Sailor receives many letters complaining about potentially dangerous errors in digital charts. Paper charts also perpetuate inaccurate data. As the technology evolves and the error-reporting system becomes more streamlined, we expect the situation to improve. By reporting these errors to the chart makers, mariners can help. Digital charts are a terrific tool, but weve yet to meet one that replaces the utility, simplicity, and perspective of a paper chart.

Battery Monitor

Regarding the article on the Xantrex XBM battery monitor (Chandlery, Practical Sailor January 2008): Absolutely a dynamite little unit. I installed one in June 2007 before my summer cruise. It was just terrific having a little “gas gauge” for the batteries.

On the negative side, during the install, I had to deal with a diabolical terminal board on the back of the unit. It is designed to take very small wires, and you darn near have to be a qualified micro-surgeon to attach the wire harness to it. I finally got er done but not before I reviewed every expletive in my vocabulary-twice.

By the way, I bought the XBM and about $1,500 in other electrical upgrade equipment from Jackrabbit Marine. They were absolutely a delight to work with and highly recommended.

Mike Cunningham
Jacqueline, Freedom 30
Stockton Sailing Club, Calif.

Darrell Nicholson, editor of Practical Sailor, grew up boating on Miami’s Biscayne Bay on everything from prams to Morgan ketches. Two years out of Emory University, after a brief stint as a sportswriter, he set out from Miami aboard a 60-year-old wooden William Atkin ketch named Tosca. For 10 years, he and writer-photographer Theresa Gibbons explored the Caribbean, crossed the Pacific, and cruised Southeast Asia aboard Tosca, working along the way as journalists and documenting their adventures for various travel and sailing publications, including Cruising World, Sail, Sailing, Cruising Helmsman, and Sailing World. Upon his return to land life, Darrell became the associate editor, then senior editor at Cruising World magazine, where he worked for five years. Before taking on the editor’s position at Practical Sailor, Darrell was the editor of Offshore magazine, a boating-lifestyle magazine serving the New England area. Darrell has won multiple awards from Boating Writer’s International, including the Monk Farnham award for editorial excellence. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license and has worked as a harbor pilot and skippered a variety of commercial charter boats.


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