Mailport July 1, 2004 Issue

Mailport: 07/01/04

Knife Redux
Being a fan of a good, sharp edge for many years, I read with great interest your recent review of sailing knives [March 2004]. We have a Beneteau 285 that we sail on Lake Ontario and the need for a sharp cutting tool led me in a slightly different direction.

In my bosun's bag I keep several pairs of "crash scissors." These homely but highly effective scissors were originally designed for use by ambulance attendants to remove clothing and belts, etc. from crash victims, hence their name.

They meet most of the criteria that you set out looking for in your test. They're stainless steel, sharp, tough as nails, safe (they have bent over tips so as not to injure the victims), and they can cut rope effortlessly. Perhaps most important, though, they are dirt cheap! A quick web search shows several mail order sources at under $5: ($3.50); ($2.75 to $4.75).

For me, one of the pleasures of sailing is doing all my own rope work, splicing, etc. I use a pair of these scissors for everything from trimming whipping twine to cutting half-inch nylon dock lines.

My son bought me a pair from a dive shop that came with a terrific Cordura and Velcro holster that divers use. That now hangs in the companionway within easy reach if needed in an emergency.

Safety is and always should be the most important consideration on a boat, and a couple of pairs of good crash scissors can only enhance it.

-Andy Pick
Cambridge, ONT


Marsolve Resolved
I was looking on your website for articles and I noticed a few that mentioned a descaler called Marsolve. You should be aware that Marsolve no longer exists.

Apex Engineering Products Corp., the company that I work for, was the maker of Marsolve as a private label. We no longer supply the descaler solution to the company called Marsolve due to the lack of customer service. That product is still available via distributors, and Apex has created a new product that we're marketing as Rydlyme Marine (it's essentially the same as Marsolve). Customers interested in obtaining Rydlyme Marine can use the following number: 800/451-6291.

-Debbie Petrille
Apex Engineering Products Corp.

Though we can't confirm it, Marsolve appears to be out of business. One subscriber wrote us that the company charged his credit card for a purchase, but didn't send any product. Additionally, numerous calls and e-mails to the company have gone unanswered. Your best bet for obtaining the descaler is to call the number listed above.


Alternative Upkeep
My yellow Drascombe hull has had Thompson's Waterseal on it for almost a year now. I'm about ready to declare it a miracle. It really hides the minor scratches, and shines up the dull areas of the fiberglass. The hull feels almost waxy, and water "beads" off it. To apply, I just dab some on a folded paper towel and rub it on very thinly. I think the only maintenance will be to just rub it on thinly when you think it needs it, maybe once or twice a year. I like it better than the "poly" fiberglass gloss restorer I used before.

-George Haycraft
Louisville, KY

We're always open to alternative maintenance ideas, but occasionally these things can go too far. For instance, diesel fuel oil will maintain the shine of gelcoat, but it's not the best thing for it. When it comes to topsides, like the owners of private airplanes, we prefer a hard paste wax, and among those, Collinite's Fleetwax has proven to be the best.


Bristol Finish Quandary
I was reading a different sailing magazine and saw an ad for Bristol Finish, which sounds like absolutely great stuff. The ad says it was rated "Excellent" by Practical Sailor. I went looking for it on the Internet and found some websites where people offer their personal experiences and found some disappointing results. I don't recall seeing it reviewed in PS, but maybe you could tell me which issue the review was in? Also, do you or anyone at PS have any current feelings on this product?

-Bill Kearne
Via e-mail

The Bristol Finish formulation that earned an Excellent rating from us a few years ago (March 2000) is not the same formulation being used now. We, too, have read some negative reports of the newer product on the Internet, and have received both complaints and praise of the product from a number of readers. In particular, we received a detailed report of clouding and sub-surface compromise in an apparently careful application by experienced people.

We presently have a test of the current formulation of Bristol Finish (as well as other teak treaments) underway. At the six-month mark, Bristol Finish looked good on the surface, but it looked as if water was intruding under the edges. This may be "normal," because the wood between the coated panels was untreated, and a certain amount of water migration might be expected. However, some of the other treatments show no such migration.

Those six-month results were reported in our November 15, 2003 issue, and followed up in Mailport in the February 15, 2004 issue.

We just don't know yet whether the new formulation of Bristol Finish is as good as the old, but it is definitely not the same, and that Excellent rating should not apply for now.


Satellite Phone Issues
I do not know when you will be reviewing satellite phone services again, but your readers might like to know that pre-paid service for Iridium has dropped from $3 per minute to $1.10. It is now cheaper than most roaming cell service in the Caribbean islands. Of course you must buy 500 minutes, which you have to use within one year.

I have been cruising the Caribbean for the last two seasons and have found it very economical and reliable to use an Iridium phone with an external antenna for e-mail. The satellite signal is almost always strong anywhere in the Caribbean (unlike Globalstar, which has spotty coverage), and I never have to wait to send and receive mail like SSB e-mail. Although the data rate is slow (2400 baud), by using OCENS WeatherNet I can download several weather forecasts and charts very quickly (typically less than a minute). Typical e-mail transfers take two to three minutes, but I am going to try OCENS Mail next month, which I expect will reduce the e-mail time to less than a minute.

While it is impractical to use the Iridium system for browsing the web, I occasionally use the Internet access capability with MS Internet Explorer to get selected web pages such as CaribWX, which displays in less than a minute. While I do not use the voice capability very often, it is great to know that it is available wherever I am.

-Chuck Poel
Via e-mail


As a new user of Globalstar satellite phones, I found the May 15 article interesting, particularly compared with my experience over the last eight months.

We bought our phone through Chris Parker who runs the Caribbean Weather Center forecasting service and is a Globalstar rep. He set the phone up for us when it arrived and I quickly began to see the benefits and strengths of their service and technology as well as the shortcomings. The good points were all covered in your article, but some of the shortcomings were not.

I found that the system frequently disconnects by losing the satellite link , both with voice and data connections. Though this seems to have improved recently, I believe it is still a severe problem, particularly with data. My failure rate (calls not being connected or disconnecting quickly after getting on the Internet) is very high,well above 80%. I have been told that adding the fixed antenna system will help this problem, but the $800 price tag gives me sticker shock, particularly to solve a problem that I should not be having.

The connection only lasts as long as the satellite you are connected to is in view of your phone. This fundamental technology characteristic limits connect time to about 10 minutes if you are lucky and catch the satellite at the beginning of its sweep across the sky. Many of us data users want unlimited (or very long) connect time for Internet access. Interrupted downloads require starting over, meaning they do not pick up where the transmission was terminated. For the service to ever be really acceptable, they must correct this problem and figure out how to carry over your call between satellites.

The Qualcomm GPS-1000 phone is an ergonomic nightmare. Most of us move around and tip our heads when we talk on a phone. If you tip the Qualcomm phone over toward horizontal, you will likely break the link to the satellite and terminate the call. And most of us dial numbers that require keypad entry, but if you remove the phone from your ear and lower it to see the keypad, you run the risk of losing your connection.

You obviously need to be "outside" to use the phone with a clear view of the satellite. This means being in the cockpit or on deck somewhere. Thatís OK in good weather, but the unit is not waterproof so spray and rain limit its use above decks.

You can solve the problem of the short connection cable to the computer with an extension, but with the phone on deck and you at the computer in the nav station, you cannot see the unit to know if you have a signal or not. Yes, this problem can be solved with the fixed antenna, but again, $800 is a lot of money.

At this juncture, I am not a happy camper with the Globalstar system or service, but I donít know of any other option that is as "affordable" and runs at similar speeds. My Verizon cell phone works OK all up and down the East Coast at 14 kps (vs. 38 kps for Globalstar) and in the Bahamas where there are BATELCO towers. That is my first choice for service when possible. Globalstar is my last resort until they get some of these problems under control. I want them to succeed and continue to improve their service, but this has been a very frustrating experience.

-Dick Turner
Via e-mail


Magellan GPS Outlook
After I read your review of the Magellan GPS in the April 15 issue, it became clear that you should give a warning to your readers that the databases used by Thales Navigation and Magellan have serious inaccuracies that severely limit their usefulness. Like your contributor, I have progressed from the 2000, the 415, the plain brown Meridian, the Meridian Marine, etc. Obviously, I was very partial to the Magellan product line.

The most accurate was the old 415, although it wasn't available with graphic images of charts. The trouble lies in the databases for the Meridian line, and if one orders the MapSend Topo or MapSend Streets and Destinations for Canada you will find many, many inaccuracies. One very troubling to me is that one community on the Oregon coast is shown east of Interstate 5, over 53 miles off. Also, waterways are misnamed or incorrectly located. For some reason, the provincial capital (interestingly, all of the provincial capitals are listed as state capitals) of Newfoundland isn't shown. Again, waterways are misnamed as well.

I would only recommend the product and the software if Thales would offer free upgrades to their abominable software. And because of the errors, I don't think that one should trust their BlueNav software, as I am sure it is equally inaccurate.

There are many problems in using the two programs together as well, as they donít knit together; the U.S. stops at the 49th parallel, and Canada stops/starts there. You have to change your settings each time you cross over.

I do feel that coupled with regular charting software such as that from MapTech or NobelTec, you could count on any of their hardware units to provide you good service.

-Peyton Perkins
via e-mail

In the interest of resolving, or at least better understanding this issue, PS shared Mr. Perkins' letter with the folks at Magellan and Thales Navigation. Here's what they had to say:

We are always pleased to hear from customers, regardless of the issues, since we know this is the best way to continue to improve our products and, therefore, the customer experience. In this case, all GPS map products share some common traits. It is our challenge to work within the constraints of today's technology and data to provide the best possible experience to our users.

It is important to understand that Thales Navigation, the maker of the Magellan consumer line of GPS solutions, is not a cartography company, but rather a provider of high-quality navigation devices. We license topographical maps, road maps, marine charts, and point-of-interest data from providers such as the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), DMTI, NAVTEQ, and other private and public sources. While we do not have direct control over the data available to all GPS companies, we do have relationships with these aggregators and are always eager to pass on our customer feedback to them in an effort to help them continually enhance their map data.

Regarding our U.S. and Canadian maps working together, we offer a growing variety of map products for the U.S. and Canada. MapSend DirectRoute includes detailed, routable NavTeq street maps for the U.S. and for most major Canadian metro areas. It's easy now to make a routable map region that includes Seattle, Vancouver, and Victoria, BC, for example. A map such as this would easily fit in the memory of most of our SporTrak GPS units. Our mapping Meridian line uses SD cards, which afford navigators the ability to use much larger mapped areas, and switch between different maps, easily. By the way, all our map products are in WGS 84, lat/lon projection. If a customer prefers to change basic settings such as miles vs. kilometers, they can just press the Menu Key, choose Setup, and Nav Units. It is not necessary to do this, but it is a simple process if the customer prefers to make this change.

We would love to talk directly to Mr. Perkins and understand the specifics of the inaccurate data so that it can be evaluated and corrected where necessary. Additionally, we are always looking for beta testers to fill out our extensive testing program, particularly those with specific activity and regional experience. We maintain that our mapping data is among the best in the marketplace and we would welcome the opportunity to work with customers to enhance these solutions.

-Christian Bubenheim
Thales Navigation


EPIRB Update
[Re: "Riprap," June 20004] In response to independent tests, McMurdo has launched a program to enhance the GPS performance of its EPIRB products. The company announced that it will provide a free software and firmware upgrade to its Precision 406MHz GPS EPIRB and its Fastfind Plus 406 MHz Personal Location Beacon. These two products failed to acquire GPS fixes during testing done by the Equipped to Survive Foundation, which is run by PS Contributing Editor Doug Ritter. Details of the collection and return program were not available at press time. McMurdo also plans to conduct its own testing of the improved units.


...Where Credit Is Due
To American Sail, Charleston, SC: "My beloved American 18 (well out of warranty) suffered some delamination of the tabs that hold the forward storage compartment up to the deck's underside. When I called for advice as to the method of repair, Dave Stanton (the designer) took it upon himself to provide a repair kit with annotated photos in the instructions and followed up by personally consulting with the repair facility, all without charge. Later, when the local boat repairman became nervous about the job, Dave offered to do it at the factory. The whole process of first arranging local repair and then getting Cygnus to American Sail's factory in South Carolina took many months with none of the delay attributable to Dave, and not a sour word from him. The repair was made without charge. And several newer features now in the American 18 baseline design were incorporated for a most modest charge. Howís that for after-sales service? Excellence exemplified!"

-Jim King
Swego, NY


Running Fixes
Running Fixes will be a new department in Practical Sailor in which readers can share information about competent people and worthwhile places they encounter in their travels. We're hoping to hear about diesel mechanics and carpenters, riggers and painters, boatyards with reasonable policies and prices, well-stocked local chandleries, hard-to-find services, and so on.

To date, we've received a number of good tips, all of them useful information. Please keep them flowing in, and we'll share them with you in an upcoming issue. We anticipate publishng these region by region.

Please send information by e-mail only. Write to us at, and put the words "Running Fix" in the sujbect line. And please, no commercials.

-The Editors

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