Mailport August 15, 2003 Issue

Mailport: 08/15/03

One More On Rope Lifelines
The recent discussions in your magazine about lifelines got me very interested. The lifelines on Silverspring, my 1966 Pearson Wanderer, had not been replaced in the 16 years I've owned her. They looked as you might imagine; worn, dirty, and with brown corrosion stains at several locations.

The cost and bother of getting new lifelines swaged (I keep my boat in my back yard) had caused me to put off replacement year after year, even as the rest of the boat received restorative care and repair. The idea of making lifelines out of rope seemed the perfect solution.

I purchased Endura Braid from New England Ropes. It has a UHMWPE core covered with a braided Dacron cover. It is billed as being easy to splice, and they provide splicing instructions on their website ( The 1/4" line matched the breaking strength of the original plastic-coated wire, but I decided to buy 5/16" instead since that matched the diameter of the wire, would feel better in the hand, and added a bit of a safety margin. The breaking strength of 5/16" Endura Braid is 7,000 lbs. Using the Cordage Institute safety factor of 15 for lifelines, this gives me a working load of 467 lbs. This will certainly cover anyone that will be on my boat and more than I had before, but it's a lot less impressive than the breaking strength. I'm guessing that the safety factor is very conservative.

Splicing was different (a core-to- core splice is used to maintain the line's strength) but simple. However, like most high-tech ropes, a lot of force was needed to close the splice. Unlike splicing standard double braid, this is not a job you can complete in the kitchen while talking to your spouse. I had to tie the line to a tree (the instructions specify fixing the line to a fixed object) and pull with everything I had to finish the splices.

A word of warning: I discovered that the splice shortens the rope slightly. I measured the line to the second eye to match the old lifelines, but lost about one and a half inches in the splice. Fortunately the turnbuckles were able to make up the distance.

The new lifelines look great and they are certainly much safer than my old ones. I'll send a note sometime in the future to let you know how they hold up.

-Peter Triandafillou
Orono, ME


Tinkering With Pumps
As luck would have it I had just finished evaluating and replacing my freshwater pump when your June 2003 issue arrived.  One trap that I fell into was not discussed in your review, and may be of interest.

My needs were, I believe, fairly typical.  I wanted a quiet pump that would deliver decent water at the shower head and would fit into a relatively small space.  I decided on the Jabsco Sensor Max VSD, which I believe is the same as the Flojet Sensor VSD.  I chose the 4.5 gpm model. I was swayed by the new technology and the prospects of eliminating the accumulator tank. 

Here's the rub.  I like to run a pilot lamp (actually an LED) located at the steering station, that illuminates when the pump motor is running, as I do for bilge pumps and engine room lights. On long passages it's nice to know that a hose hasn't popped and that your bilge isn't filling with fresh water!

On the pressure switch-type pumps it's easy to tap into the wire that runs from the switch to the motor, to energize the pilot lamp simultaneously with the motor. When I began dissecting the new VSD pump it became apparent that switching a pilot lamp was not as straightforward.

When I finally got a Jabsco tech on the phone he said almost gleefully, "You can't do that.  It just can't be done."

When I suggested that not being able to run the light made the pump unusable for me, he just chuckled and said, "Well, that's just the way it is." He went on to chastise me for "tampering" with the pressure-switch pumps, but his heart wasn't in that. I feel strongly about running the pilot light, so I reverted to the old Par-Max 4 and added a two-gallon stainless steel accumulator tank. This system seems to meet my requirements, but is a bit of a space hog.  If anyone has thoughts on running a pilot light off of one of the new "high-tech" pumps, I would be interested.

-Chip Marsh
Santa Barbara, CA


Maxwell Winch Exchange
About two years ago I bought a Maxwell Freedom 800 windlass, based partly on your survey results.  The power unit is an excellent example of fine engineering and manufacture, and it has performed well for us.

During installation, however, we encountered problems.  The biggest problem was with the reversing solenoid.  The studs provided for attaching the battery cables were only long enough for the washer and nut.  The end terminal for the 2/0 cable was as thick as the washer and nut, so there was no way to get all three onto the stud.  When I called Maxwell, technical support was unaware of the problem, but the unit they had in invertory was the same as mine.  When I asked what they planned to do, I was told they would bring it up in the next staff meeting.  I never heard back.  In the meantime I manufactured my own stud extenders to complete the installation.

The second problem is that each unit, motor, solenoid, circuit breaker, and operating switch, have different- sized studs. They are 1/4", 5/16", and 3/8". It doesn't look like the individual units are designed to be integrated, and further caused me several trips to the supply store, 70 miles away.

Maxwell provides a winch handle for manual operation.  Unfortunately, the receptacles in the top of the windlass are too shallow to allow the handle to seat properly and the handle keeps popping out of the socket. The winching socket is shallow, to provide the "low profile," and the clutch socket is shallow because of a large screw head at the bottom of the socket.  I don't know how to resolve this.  The windlass would be very easy to operate in manual mode if the handle would only stay in the hole.

But, except for the winch handle, the unit has worked well once the installation problems were solved.

-Jerry Haller
Punta Gorda, FL


Mr. Haller sent a copy of his letter to Maxwell Winches, and received a quick response from Mike Dillon, president of Maxwell's North American operations, who sent a copy of the following to us:


Dear Mr. Haller,

Thanks for the detailed feedback. I have forwarded your e-mail to key staff in engineering and marketing at Maxwell in New Zealand.  We appreciate both the praise and the detailed explanations of shortcomings with our design. Some longer terminals have been incorporated into the solenoid design since your unit was produced.  If it is still an issue you need help with, let me know and we will provide a replacement.

The handle fit in the center star of the windlass is intentionally short toavoid injury if someone forgets to remove it and powers the windlass. (The windlass would throw the handle very hard.)  The outer star is somewhat deeper (as deep as we felt was needed without compromise to the strength of the chainwheel).  It is the outer star that is used for manual retrieval with the clutch loose, and seems to operate reasonably well when I have used it.  The center star, as you know, is only for tightening or loosening the clutches (to permit gravity drop when loosened or to permit power up and down operation with it tight).  If you put one hand over the part of the handle inserted into the star and rotate the grip with the other hand, it permits enough tightening or loosening from our tests.  I have asked the factory to clarify this better in the manual and look at this whole issue.

We appreciate your comments and feedback.

-Mike Dillon
Maxwell Winches


Oversized Alternators
While dealing with a pair of alternator failures recently, I learnedsomething that I wished I had learned many cruising years ago, somethingthat would have helped me avoid a lot of alternator failures and repairs whilecruising far from home: Upsizing to an alternator with greater capacity islikely to reduce, not increase overall reliability!

Wayne Mamock, of Mamock's Motor Electric, in Annapolis, MD, pointed out that installing an alternator of greater capacity will, all other things being equal, increase the field current when batteries are down, which will increase the torque required, even at low RPM. This, in turn, will increase the load on the alternator belt, even when engine RPM is low. Even when there is no "squealing" of the belt, it may be slipping and generating heat in the alternator that can then lead to premature failure of bearings and diodes. Increasing the belt tension to offset the slippage just puts more load on not only the alternator bearings, but also on the freshwater pump bearings if the belt is shared.

Wayne (and West Marine, I now notice)  recommends that with a single-belt drive, an alternator of a capacity of no more than 100A should be fitted. Wayne said that the belt load can be ameliorated somewhat by using an alternator of more efficient design, and of course the use of a larger alternator pulley can reduce belt tension for a given torque load — but at the expense of greater RPMs being required to produce a given amperage output.

The use of a three-stage alternator aggravates the problem, for it is morelikely to produce high field current at modest battery discharge levelsthan a tapered-charge regulator.

Installing dual belts would have avoided many problems over the years, but for my boats (at the time) it seemed like a very expensive solution.

It appears now that had I installed an alternator of lower capacity, witha relatively large pulley, I would have avoided countless alternator rebuilds and probably avoided a FedEx-facilitated freshwater pump replacement in Bermuda several years ago.

Since Wayne's information was initially counterintuitive to this graduate engineer, I thought I should pass it along. My copy of The 12V Bible for Boats doesn't mention the problem at all, and the West Marine Advisor doesn't explain that two belts are advisable for alternators over 100A, even if, say, a 130A alternator is operated at a load of 70A.

I had thought that the dual belts were needed to support the high alternator output, whereas in fact they are needed even at reduced RPM andlow output.

I suspect there is more that can be said, but I thought my fellow readers might wish to be alerted to this potential problem area. As the Germans say, "Ve gett too soon oldt, and too late schmardt!"

-Roger Bohl, S/V Ariadne
Via e-mail


Wind Generators
I'm a longtime PS subscriber, and wanted to install a wind generator.  We live on the boat full-time, and energy management is an issue for us.  Common lore among full-time cruisers is that it's a choice between the Fourwinds II and the KISS for best effectiveness, but I don't know anyone who has done a comprehensive analysis of them. Surely there would be interest in such an article.

-Joe Jelinski
Green Cove Springs FL


PS did a pretty comprehensive analysis in a two-part series back in October and November of 1995, based on two years of testing various models. We found the Fourwinds II to be the quietest large-diameter generator. We also found that the tested output of the generators pretty closely matched the manufacturers' claims. In 1998 Nick Nicholson, in his Offshore Log, covered (and praised) the then-new KISS generator.

This past winter we went down to the boat show in Miami to cover the wind generator "spin-off" organized by John Gambill, the current US distributor of KISS generators. All of the generators there (and most manufacturers were represented) were fitted with amp-hour meters, and we brought along our own ammeter, decibel meter, and anemometer. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough wind to let the generators work at all, much less get them up to competition speed.

Whether a generator produces slightly more or less power than stated by its maker isn't, to us, the most important question. More interesting are questions about ease of installation, quality and completeness of parts and instructions, loudness, longevity, and the level of service and technical support. These are all things that can be explored by a reader survey.

We'll use the survey results in conjunction with a market scan of the systems out there today, as well as notes from some experts on wind generator issues. Many thanks.


...Where Credit Is Due
To Furuno USA, Camas, WA and Denton, MD: "I am exceedingly pleased to praise the personal service and customer satisfaction provided by a Furuno USA Manager, Mike Friel, of the Denton, MD facility. In my haste to extensively re-wire my electronics control panel, I mistakenly reversed polarity on my Furuno 1621-II radar.   (By the way PS had given this unit a great review for a small boat radar, and I've been real happy with it.)   Although not the most expensive radar on the market it is nonetheless the most expensive piece of gear which I own, and I shuddered about replacing it.  In addition to the almost $2,000 expense (wiping out any other projects this season...) I really didn't want to upgrade and have to replace the radome, and more difficult, the cable between, and have to un-step the mast. 

"While at the NY Boat Show I explained my predicament to Mike Friel, asking the cost to repair, replace, or upgrade. Since it was my fault, I expected to pay something—I simply wanted to know which option was better. He just said to call him and that he would do what he could.  I called.  He said send it to him. Simple, polite, hopeful, but no commitment.

"Surprise, two weeks later—a package with my repaired unit. Furuno US had replaced the main circuit board.  There was an invoice with no charge for the board, or installation, and the cherry on the desert was that Mike specified 'return shipping included.'

"My current (and happily operating) radar is a Furuno, and my next radar is a Furuno!

"I am a 10+ year subscriber. This is the first time I've written to PS, and what a great reason to do so.  It's also another reason for boaters toattend the shows and for the vendors to support them.  New products are frequently sold based upon the experience with previous products; vendors need the feedback from the public, and of course the public needs vendor support for satisfaction and loyalty."

-Michael A. Blozen, Via e-mail

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