Mailport March 2003 Issue

Mailport: 03/03

Flare Flame and Fizzle
My 28' S2 has been out of the water for a year and is about to go back in. In preparation I cleaned her out , including 12 years' worth of flares. On a rainy 2003 New Years night in my backyard, I tried out the expired ones.  The 12- gauge Olin flares all worked—even those 10 years out of date. Three out of three of the Orion "Skytracer" flares failed to fire and the expiration year wasn't evident (they were Lot#35).  Three out of three of the pen-style "Skyblazer" flares fired—they were 5 years out of date. The Skyblazers went higher than the Olin 12-gauge ones.  I tried 15 handheld Olin flares; all were a little wet and all failed.  I then tried the Pains-Wessex handhelds, and they all worked very impressively.  I was able to use the Pains-Wessex flares to light the Olins, and the Olins were wimpy by comparison.  Last, I tried a 7-year-out-of-date Pains-Wessex rocket-parachute flare.  I had trouble figuring out how to pull the trigger, but it went very high— although the parachute failed, so its total time in air was not much longer than the Olin 12-gauge flares.

My conclusion is that the Olin handhelds are a dangerous waste of money. I will only buy the Pains-Wessex handhelds.  I will buy more of the "Skyblazer" flares, although they might be difficult to launch under bad conditions.  I will buy about 15 of the Olin 12-gauge flares, since I have heard that many flares may be necessary to get a passing boat's attention. The Pains-Wessex rocket parachute flare was impressive, but I am not sure it is easy enough to fire under bad conditions, and they cost $36 each, while the Olin 12-gauge are $12 for three.

-David O'Hara
Tallahassee, FL


Fuel Filtration Follow-Up
I must take minor exception to Gordon Torresen's recent response regarding fuel filters. I retired from a major oil company after 30 years, half of which were in retail engineering, and I am very familiar with fuel systems and the operators who run them. I would have to guess that Gordon contracts with a major oil company, because he is just the kind of operator that they want—one who is diligent in monitoring his fuel supply and cares about his reputation. And he is quite right in stating that the final filter in the "pump" will remove any water particulates from the fuel.

However, an unscrupulous or lazy operator, or an unsupervised employee, could ruin that equation. Noting reduced or stopped flow, they might conclude that the "stupid" filter is stopped up again. They then remove it and replace it with a plug. Voila! Problem solved, and they don't have to worry about the cost of filters again.

I've seen it happen many times, and they just trust in luck that they don't get water in their tanks.

The fuel is delivered from the tanks using an underground pump mounted on the tank itself, and the suction line is normally designed to be 6" above the bottom. Federal law requires that the tanks be checked for ullage and water daily. However, in the case of diesel oil, water tends to remain in suspension rather than settle to the bottom of the tank, hence the absolute need for the filter on the dispenser at the fueling point.

The type of activity I mentioned is most prevalent at transient fueling facilities, where they never plan to see the customer again. On the other hand, the vast majority of operators are like Mr. Torresen, and care about their reputations. But it never hurts to take precautions when you are refueling at an unfamiliar location.

-Bob Gates
Kingwood, TX


Good article and interesting letters. Contrary to Gordon Torresen's letter, there is a real chance of getting dirty fuel and water from a fuel dock. Since I started using a Baha filter many years ago, my primary and secondary filters no longer appear even slightly dirty after several years of use, and the Racor separator bowl has no water. It's easy to see the junk from the occasional contaminated diesel pump on the three Baja filters.

There is an issue you did not deal with in the article. Because the Baja is slow to pass fuel, I bought a West Filter after reading your article. The West is indeed faster, but it has a flaw my Baja used to have—the residue of fuel left in the bottom of the filter after filtering.

What do you do with a half-cup of fuel? When you tilt the filter, the residue drips all over the place. Many paper towels and the trash? For the Baja, I cured the problem by pouring West System epoxy in the bottom of the metal filter holder right up to the neck of the weld; now, it no longer holds more than a few drops of clean residue fuel. The West filter, alas, holds much more leftover fuel, and it is pre-filtered stuff. Nothing is perfect.

I'll stick with the slower, modified Baja.

-Bill Beery
Darien, CT


We have sailed 12 months and several thousand miles per year for several years, migrating with the sun. We have been plagued with the biology of small amounts of water in diesel fuel for most of those years. Then we discovered Hammerdown fuel conditioners. Visit their web site at

The US Navy testimonials and ships' reports are quite amazing.  Since the introduction of Hammerdown to our fuel, we have a very happy diesel engine and beautiful, red diesel with not a trace of muck in the tanks (pulled the inspection plates) after three years of running and sitting in all climates.

We are not prone to claiming that small amounts of chemicals solve big problems, but I have no data to the contrary on this one!  It looks like the navy has the same opinion. I love this stuff!

-Vic DeMattia
Vero Beach, FL


Interface Connections
Anyone who connects a Garmin GPS to a laptop running The Cap'n (eitherfor real-time navigation or to down- load routes from an electronic chartto the GPS) may need the following information at some point:

Garmin uses a 9-pin serial port connector for the data cable between GPS and computer. Nine-pin serial ports are becoming obsolete, however, and are unavailable on most new laptops. The latest laptops generallyhave USB ports only. Garmin makes a USB/9pin serial adaptor cable asdoes Belkin and several other manufacturers. Unfortunately, none of themworks reliably in this application.

We first bought an I/O Gear USB/9-pin adaptor cable; then a Belkin.They both caused the computer to shut down after about 10 minutes of use with the GPS. After many hours on the phone to tech support desks at several companies, we were advised by The Cap'n (Nautical Technologies) to try a "Serial I/O PC Card." It is a devise that fits in the PCMCIA slot of the computer and has a 9-pin serial connector.

We bought the "ruggedized version" through Capt'n Jack's, an online vendor of electronic navigation gear ( The device they sent is made by Socket ( It works!

It seems that GPS receivers send data to the computer using the NMEA0183 protocol. That is apparently very slow (by modern computer standards). Nine-pin serial ports are also slow, which is why the computer industry is abandoning them in favor of the much faster USB ports.

The 9-pin/USB adaptor cables we tried can't be used with a GPS because the NMEA data is too slow and the adaptor vendors did not create software specific to a NMEA interface. A helpful chap at Garmin told us that the marine industry will be slow to abandon NMEA 0183, so the problem will persist as navigators upgrade to newer laptops without 9-pin ports.

Fortunately the serial-port to PC card adaptor seems to offer a solution, at least for a Garmin/Cap'n interface. Other solutions reported to us, which we did not try, are 1) laptop docking station and 2) multi-port USB remote station. It is possible that solutions are specific to the navigation program used, so feedback should be passed on to navigation program vendors.

-Jerry Wertzbaugher
S/V Escapade, lying St. Martin


Buy Our Stuff! Don't Use It!
I appreciate the work that Practical Sailor does and always find the magazine interesting to read.

Recently I noticed a rather interesting item on a Maptech Chart that I purchased for New York Harbor ("Number 8, Edition 3") that is rather puzzling. In their "waterproof chart" they have the following disclaimer:

"Maptech, Inc. makes no express or implied warranty or guarantee as to the merchantability of this chart nor for its fitness for any use or purpose. Specifically, Maptech, Inc. hereby gives notice that the chart is not to be used for navigation and makes no warranty for the use of the chart for navigation."

The above statement makes me wonder what uses Maptech had in mind when they were selling their charts.  Maybe their lawyers forgot the main business of their company.

Interestingly, my chart from Waterproof Charts does not include such a disclaimer. I suspect that the official government charts do not include such a disclaimer either.

-Mark Weber
New York, NY

Maptech charts are the same, dot-for-dot, as the official governments charts. So... that's it. That's all she wrote. Might as well pack up and go home.


Liferaft Lite?
I have read both your prior and current reviews of liferafts with greatinterest. As a crew person on a USCG Auxiliary Search-and-Rescue boat, I understand the vital need to keepsurvivors out of the water. Unfortunately, the liferaft manufacturers are ignoring the largest number of boaters. Many boaters simply cannot afford to spend more on the liferaft than they spent to buy the boat. Yet they are as much at risk as anyone else.

It is a shame that such a truly vital piece of equipment is out of thefinancial reach of most boaters.Is there no, less expensive, alternative?

-D. H. Vavra
Chicago, IL


In your article on high-tech rope shackles, January 15, you wondered for what the initials DSM stood for. It is "De Staats Mijnen," which means "The State's Mines" of the Netherlands.  Originally this was a company that mined the coal in the southern part of The Netherlands in a province called Limburg.  The mines were closed for economic reasons, but the company lived on and got into chemicals.

-Jack van Dijk
Milford, DE


DSM stands for Dutch States Mines. The government-owned coal mines (anthracite mostly ) in Holland had the second-highest output per miner after the Polish coal mines, and were very mechanized. The Belgian coal mines in Holland and Belgium were not as highly mechanized. The coal seams in Poland were some 6 feet thick (!) versus a maximum of about 2 feet in Holland.

In the late '30s and '40s a chemical industry (nitrogen fertilizer) based on the coal as raw material was started. The chemical side expanded rapidly after the early '50s, and in the '70s or so the mines were closed and DSM became a full chemical research, production, and sales organisation.

(P.S. Mining operations in Holland were responsible for any and all damages caused by sinkholes or otherwise resulting from their operations.)

-G.G. Sauer
Via e-mail

We received similar pearls from Ed Sondag, Thierry Danz, and John Somerhausen. Sure, this has little to do with sailing, but it's fun to get sidetracked once in a while by the range of smarts and experience among PS readers. See the following:


What About the Pink Noise?
In reading your article about waterproof stereo speakers in the January 1, 2003 Practical Sailor, I found it interesting that you only made subjective tests rather than engineering tests of said loudspeakers. Most boats have rather large areas between the cockpit and the boat hull where the loudspeakers are placed. This could be as much as six cubic feet. Mounting a loudspeaker in this area is like putting a loudspeaker in an infinite baffle. To properly test these loudspeakers, the loudspeakers should be individually placed on one of the larger surfaces of a six cubic foot box, (about two foot by three foot by one foot) and the loudspeaker should be analyzed with proper test gear. This could be a Goldline TEF instrument or a real-time analyzer (RTA). Measurements should be taken on axis and 45 degrees off axis at a distance of one meter and one watt. This will give us on-axis frequency response and off-axis frequency response. If the off-axis response is considerably poorer than on-axis response, the loudspeakers will probably not cover the cockpit area adequately.

By feeding the loudspeakers with pink noise, and increasing the power to loudspeakers, we can determine when the loudspeakers begin to break up and distort heavily. Using pink noise will also allow us to determine the loudspeaker sensitivity.

Under these conditions accurate analysis of each loudspeaker can be made including frequency response, power handling capability, sensitivity and distortion.

Of course the loudspeakers should also be listened to, because the final analysis of how it sounds is how it sounds to the human ear, not to a test instrument.

-Glen Ballou
Editor, Handbook for Sound Engineers
Guilford, CT


Flecto Varathane Over Cetol
Ten years ago I bought a 1981 Bristol 35.5C. This great boat has a judicious amount of  outside teak. When I bought it, the teak had been recently varnished. After three months the teak needed revarnishing. I knew of and had used Flecto Varathane "outside and marine" polyurethane coating—so I used it and it lasted six months. Not satisfied, I next tried Cetol, thinking that it would last longer. It lasted six months, and got spotty black.

I took the Cetol off, thinking of going back to varnish...but I left one small section of Cetol on and put the Flecto over it. Surprise!  After six months, when the Flecto had cracked and chipped, the area where I had applied the Flecto over the Cetol was as good as new. Sooo... I removed all the other coatings and put two coats of Cetol, and Flecto over it. The result—a once-a-year coat. Now, every year I just wipe the brightwork down with a solution of STP, then either give it a light sanding or just wipe it down with a liquid sandpaper product and apply as many coats of Flecto as I want. During the year, the Flecto does not crack or chip, nor does the wood darken.

Flecto is a commercial grade of coating, at $11.00 a quart. You don't need to sand between coats—just apply over the previous coat when it's tack free. I can do three to four coats on a warm summer day.  The result of this is year-round beautiful brightwork with minimum work.

-Al Rivas
San Diego, CA


To Lighthouse Manufacturing Co., Riverside, CA:

"I am a lifetime subscriber to PS, and both enjoy and rely heavily on the information in your publication. During the winter months, my wife and I live aboard HeartBeat, a Valiant 42, in the Caribbean. Our vessel is equipped with a Lighthouse 1501 windlass. It is a handsome piece of equipment and could lift the Titanic. However, the case of the original motor (it resides directly below the windlass in the chain locker) rusted badly in a period of four years. I complained to Jordan Walker, president of Lighthouse. He requested that I return the motor to the factory. He completely refurbished the motor, encapsulating it in the now-standard Kevlar sleeve, and returned it to me within four days—shipping paid—with no charges whatsoever. Kudos to Mr. Walker. This is the manner in which all marine suppliers should stand behind their products."

-Clark E. Swayze,
St. Croix, USVI

To Sailor's Wharf, St. Petersburg, FL:

"On the west coast of Florida it has become difficult to find a boatyard that is happy to see a sailboat in the ways. Some yards will literally not talk to you. It is difficult everywhere to find high-quality service at a fair price in a friendly, ready-to-listen atmosphere. Therefore, I want to share my recent experience at a yard called Sailors Wharf in St. Petersburg. I had my boat completely repainted, and had major work done on the keel and electrical systems. Their work was exceptional, they were happy to assist while letting me direct and perform the projects where I was capable, and catered to an outside contractor in one area where they were very capable, just to increase my comfort level. The management and most of the yard workers are experienced sailors with racing and cruising experience. This clearly added to the competence, efficiency and outcome of all the work I observed. This is a rare place, in my experience, and should be a Mecca for sailors who need service in the area."

-Bill Whitmore,
S/V Route 66

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