Mailport February 1, 2001 Issue

Mailport 02/01/01

Inflatable PFDs
After reading the piece on inflatable PFDs (October 1, 2000) I want to tell you about a recent experience on San Francisco Bay.

For years, I thought that the Coast Guard was behaving like a bureaucrat when it was slow to approve CO2 inflatable vests. However, after our recent experience, we’ve replaced our very expensive inflatables with good old-fashioned Stearns vests.

The skipper of our boat was nudged off the boat while tying up the sails as we came into port. It was windy (35 knots with higher gusts), cold and the usual bumpy seas of an ebb tide with an incoming wind.

He was unable to inflate his manually inflatable West Marine SOSpenders vest. Luckily, he was calm enough to tread water (an action that loses more heat in San Francisco Bay’s very cold water) while we maneuvered the boat to get him out. We needed help from a passing motor boat (I will never call them stinkpots again!) to get him out of the water (another lesson learned about swim ladders).

I mentioned it to West Marine and the attendants said it was probably our fault for not inspecting the vest. Later, at the boatyard, the Richmond Marine Police took apart the vest and said that three things regularly go wrong. 1. The plastic pull mechanism fails. 2. The CO2 cartridge goes bad. 3. The cartridge gradually turns itself out of its screw-in seat and will not be broken by the inflation pin, even though it looks just fine when you inspect it. (#3 was our problem.)

Apparently, the very act of taking off the vest can cause the cartridge to turn. The more you wear the vest, the more likely the cartridge will loosen.

The marine police told us that there is a very good reason why they all wear standard vests on police boats and Coast Guard vessels: They simply don’t trust the inflatables.

A PFD that doesn’t float is not a good thing.

Linda Cahill
San Francisco, California

As one who has been involved with the US Navy’s SAR Command for some time and the files of Rescue and Safety for the past 30 years, I’d like to offer some comment. I have also been a design consultant to several large and respected PFD manufacturers.

UL (Underwriter Laboratories) sets no standards; they only test to standards given to them by others, in this case the US Coast Guard. USCG is the body which sets the standards. In a UL test they will not comment as to the performance of an item, only that it met or did not meet the standard. There is never a mention of by what margin a product exceeded or just met a test standard—pass/fail only.

Last April, the navy’s air command at Paxtuxent NAS, (the center for all of the navy’s aircraft research and development) approved the most outstanding PFD I have ever seen. Called the “AIR-SAFE VEST,” it has half the profile and size of the other auto-inflators and is designed for pilots’ flight vest attachment. It inflated in microseconds and produces 65, yes, 65 lbs. of flotation. It has super head position and a huge freeboard. The cost is about $350 to $450 per unit. Twice the price but three times the performance. It’s the best offshore I’ve seen—ever!

Another factor is jacket fit, which you addressed in the article. What your testers and many others fail to realize is the sensitive nature of the human diaphragm and chest to even slight loads. The chest harness alone can prove very lethal in a recovery operation and requires crotch support to transfer the load off the chest to the pelvis. OSHA has outlawed chest harnesses not used with full harness/crotch support.

At the last US Navy/Marine/Coast Guard SAR conference at North Island NAS I talked to a lot of SAR rescue swimmers and officers who confirmed that PFDs without crotch support are prone to a lot of problems. One is that you can slip out of them after your body temperature has only marginally cooled. (This is a result of diminished blood to the surface as it’s being shunted to the core.) Regardless of how tight you have the straps when you go over the side, you will shrink! Now a smaller you has a wave break over and presto! you and your PFD are separated. This was the case off San Francisco a year or so ago when the USCG recovered empty PFDs.

The bottom line is this: If you don’t have crotch support you are very compromised in safety and survival. You can convert almost any PFD to a full harness with forged buckles and about 15" of 1.75" nylon webbing.

Check the sewing. Many harnesses are sewn with a “box X,” that is an X with a box around it. It is a cheap, fast and very minimal stitch. In the past 15 years this stitch has been found to provide only 50% strength. Also appearing is the “bar tack,” which is a tight row across the webbing. To be effective for human life it needs to be in three to five parallel rows. But if one of these rows is damaged or abraded the strength drops like a screwdriver over the side!

The best and safest stitch is the five-point “W-W” in a locking box. This is two opposing Ws sewn inside a box with a lap of 4" (when using 1.75" webbing). Several harness makers are now producing this stitch as it has proven to be stronger than the material it is sewn to.

For my money and my safety I am picky. I have seen too many incidents where people needed more than they thought they did and they assumed it would never happen to them. Most of us only get one chance to get it right or get a eulogy if we don’t.

Dan Smith
Via email

Magellan vs. SASCO
This is a rebuttal to your assigned grade of D+ for the Magellan/Orbcomm GSC 100. We read the comments of our friends Jerry and Nancy Wertzbaugher on Escapade in the July 15, 2000 issue. Unfortunately, when they were aboard Immamou, our Hylas 46, we were still struggling with Pinoak Digital, and hadn’t yet discovered Maggie (our affectionate name for our GSC 100).

One day last winter we were moored in one of our favorite places, Leinster Bay, St. John, when Escapade sailed by and we wanted to hail Jerry and Nancy for a cool one. It didn’t look like they were aboard. We cranked up our GSC 100, typed in a message to them at their CompuServe address and punched “send.” About an hour later we checked Maggie and lo and behold there was a response from Alaska! It turned out friends of theirs were using Escapade.

Now, could one have done all that from the cockpit of a boat using PocketMail? (Cell phones don’t seem to work in Leinster Bay.) This is why we give the GSC 100 an A+. It doesn’t use much energy—just turn it on and within a short time it will send and receive messages from passing satellites. Their customer service is A+, too.

Try them. Try also sending e-mail offshore on the way down island using PocketMail.

Should anyone wish to contact us we are at in the summer or in the winter.

We don’t mean to dump on PocketMail for it may be great for some, but we are just not thrilled by the prospect of having to find a working telephone. We would rather communicate feet up in the cockpit of Immamou!

We tried Pinoak Digital for two seasons and found it to be expensive, difficult and time-consuming to make connections. I know there are a few who think it is great.

Ted and Ayn Riehle
Via email

After reading your December 1999 article I arranged for the rental of the SASCO OceanMail system.

In January 2000 I participated in the “Cape-to-Rio” race aboard a Farr 40 from Cape Town, South Africa.

We had a few hassles setting up the system because it had not been used much by sailors outside US coastal waters, but once we figured out how to get it working it was great. Short messages kept the crew and families informed. We even arranged for all the spares we required to be in Rio before we arrived.

We had fantastic assistance from Chuck Ashbaugh in Florida.

Part of the beauty of the system is that it gives a GPS update of our position so the folks at home could follow the race.

We used a laptop for all our navigation and weather faxes so an additional piece of software was not a problem. The messages could be sent and the PC shut down. The Panasonic data communicator equipment then transmitted the message when a satellite was in range.

Graeme Nichol
Jersey City, New Jersey

Pressure Cooker Metal
PS contributor Marilyn Mower, whose report on pressure cookers appeared in the May 15, 2000 issue, responds to the several letters in the October 1, 2000 issue, averring the safety of aluminum cookware:

To those who scoffed at the concern I raised about aluminum pressure cookers, I am reminded of how long it took people to understand the dangers of smoking.

I consulted numerous sources prior to making my decision to exclude aluminum pressure cookers from the test. For example, I direct you to the book Natural Health, Natural Medicine, by Andrew Weil, MD (1998 Houghton Mifflin Co.), who wrote:

“Aluminum has no place in human nutrition and may be harmful to us.” (He also recommends against antacids that contain aluminum salts, pickles cured with alum and baking powder that contains aluminum.) Elsewhere in the same book he says:

“I recommend against using aluminum pots because aluminum reacts with acid foods and is absorbed into your body.” I should have also noted that he cautions people who react to nickel-containing metal jewelry that they should not use stainless steel for long cooking of acidic foods, like tomato sauce. Alas, there is no such thing as a glass pressure cooker.

Further in the book, Prescription for Nutritional Healing, by James F. Balch, MD and Phyllis A. Balch, CNC, (second edition 1997, Avery Publishing Group), the authors caution against aluminum toxicity and note that some studies suggest a link between excess aluminum in the body and Alzheimer’s Disease. Because there is aluminum in our environment they recommend avoiding it wherever possible, noting: “Use only stainless steel, glass, or iron cookware. Stainless steel is best.”

The same book discusses the aluminum/Alzheimer’s connection by quoting a study by the University of Cincinnati Medical Center wherein the Center found that using aluminum pots to cook tomatoes doubled the amount of aluminum content of those tomatoes. Aluminum also binds with calcium and is excreted out of the body. Aluminum toxicity leads to poor calcium metabolism.

So, I still do not cook in aluminum pots. I would rather be safe than sorry.

Marilyn M. Mower
Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

Levick Rebuffed Rosenfeld
Regretfully, I must correct a statement in your July 2000 review of An America’s Cup Treasury: The Lost Levick Photographs, 1893-1937.

I’m certain you have been an inadvertent and unknowing victim of a self-serving press release. It states: “…Edwin Levick, under whom Morris Rosenfeld apprenticed…”

The truth is that Morris Rosenfeld did work with Levick for a time, and requested a partnership after realizing that he (Rosenfeld) was making most of the best photographs. This was denied and Morris Rosenfeld left to form his own company, which ran until his death and after. But, Rosenfeld never “apprenticed” to anyone; he was a consummate photographer, with a natural genius and talent.

It may very well be that some of the Levick negatives in the Mariner’s Museum may have been made by my father, Morris Rosenfeld.

William Rosenfeld
Port Chester, New York

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