Editorial December 2004 Issue

Mailport: 12/04

Handheld GPS Review
[Re: "Handheld GPS Units Revisited" October 15, '04] Just read your handheld GPS review. It is unfortunate that you didn't review the Garmin 60C. I just returned from sailing through most of the eastern Caribbean islands with one and found it to be a joy. I'll have to admit that sailing day and night in good weather and bad—plus some very tight squeezes—I never found a need to look at paper charts. Having the information available at the helm and holding the screen up to what you were seeing beats staring at a chart, and I actually think it's safer.

One landfall was conducted in the classic conditions you want to avoid—unfamiliar harbor, night, rain, and an exhausted crew. The Garmin led us to precisely the spot where we wanted to be without the need for flashlights on a chart. Each day we discovered a new feature, like automatic shifting from day to night screen. At the end of the day we downloaded our track to a laptop and could view in complete detail where we had been to include tacks, any drift, pulling into and out of the fuel dock, and even backing down on the anchor. If you want a log of your trip you have it. Our track over long distances was usually rhumbline perfect with any deviations indicated very clearly.

Additionally, all crew members picked up on how to use the unit without any instruction. I found the screen size OK, considering you could zoom in and out and find the menu features easily. We carried a laptop, but never needed to use it for the larger screen format. I changed batteries about once a week.

We had all Caribbean charts loaded that included commentary on any map features you selected. This feature was real handy without having to look up the meaning of an unfamiliar symbol. Prior to leaving on our trip I downloaded the latest from Garmin and Blue Chart, which actually updated some of the displays and functions. It is nice to have that service available.

Yes, the unit is pricey, but all crew members voted it a bargain for the duties it performed.

Claude Moss
Via e-mail

Our test pertained expressly to non-cartographic models, which is why we didn't include Garmin's 60C. We're glad that handheld worked so well in your Caribbean sojourn, but we still think it's wise to be wary of wholesale reliance upon electronic sources for navigation. What we wrote in that article remains principally true: "Past testing has shown the charts on handheld units to be lacking in accurate marine details."


I would agree with most of the statements made in your "Handheld GPS Units" article. I have used several handheld GPS in coastal passages as supplementary aids, and the Garmin 76S has proven to be superior even though I find the monochrome display very poor in bright sunlight conditions, whether the mariner is using sunglasses or not. The display offers good contrast in shade. During night navigation, the backlight is a power drainer.

I have upgraded my unit to the Garmin 76CS, and this product has an excellent color display and can be seen in any conditions. It has an increased battery life (20 hours) and the software screens are more intuitive. However, the reception of the satellites seems worse than the Garmin 76S. I regularly get many more lost-satellite-error messages.

I have done side-by-side comparisons of the Garmin 76S and Garmin 76CS. Also the initial acquisition of satellites is much slower on the Garmin 76CS, by about one minute. (I've contacted Garmin, but haven't received a good answer yet.)

The bottom line is that the Garming 76CS has a great display and useful functions, but seems to be a weaker unit regarding the satellite acquisition than its predecessor. Maybe that's the price you pay for longer battery life. I would suggest to anyone investing in a handheld to pay the extra money and get the color unit—it is worth every penny, and if this is your first unit, the nice features of the Garmin 76S won't be missed.

Uwe Haller
San Jose, CA


When I purchased a handheld GPS last spring, I read all of the fine print in the owners' manuals for the models I was considering. The Garmin manuals all noted that their waterproof statement did not apply to the battery cases. What good is a waterproof GPS if the battery case fills withsalt water? That ruled out all Garmin products. Your review seems to have tacitly accepted the "waterproof" claim from the statements on the outside of the boxes. PS should read the fine print, and tell us which waterproof standard is being met.

I bought Magellan's SportrakPro. Turning the unit on by pushing two buttons in sequence keeps it from accidently turning on when in a shirt pocket or waterproof bag. Poor features about the SportrakPro include the fact that the backlight comes on automatically whenever a waypoint is selected by using the Go To button—a real battery drainer. Older SportrakPro units have tide data built into the factory-installed database, but if you add the software update from the Magellan website, the update eliminates the tide data, forcing you into buying the nautical software. Magellan doesn't mention this effect when you read their web page regarding software updates.

It would have been nice if you also tested battery drain. This varies significantly across the models you reviewed, whether you compare manufacturer estimated battery life, or real battery life. When will someone make an external waterproof battery pack that attaches to the GPS unit to give it increased longevity?

Greg Welker
Via e-mail


Cabin Light Continuum
{Re: "Cabin Light Comparison," September '04] That was a nice, thorough article on cabin lights. Unfortunately, there are some errors regarding our light in the Value Guide chart. You listed a West Marine # for our light. We don't sell to West Marine. The number shown is for an Imtra light. Also, the Alpenglow light you tested was a 9-watt, not 7-watt as listed. We actually sell very few 7-watt units as the 9-watt one is brighter and more efficient, and the cost is the same.

Bob Stoeckley


Inflatable PFDs
[Re: "Inflatable PFD Test," Oct. 1, '04] My wife and I feel that given the availability of inflatable vests, there is no debate about wearing a PFD. I have been sailing for 50 years and she for the last 30, most of it around the northern Channel Islands off the coast of Southern California. Although our lifejackets were always near at hand in the cockpit, we never wore them on a regular basis prior to the introduction of inflatable PFDs.

We tried on inflatables when they came on the market, and at my wife’s insistence, we bought one for each of us. We both began wearing them regularly while sailing (at her further insistence, I might add). Now we don't head away from the dock without them on. It has become no different than buckling up our seatbelts in the car (I'd like to insert that I put seatbelts in my 1952 Simca, the first car I owned, and several cars after that until they became standard issue. Don’t know why I should have been so resistive to wearing the boating equivalent.)

These products are comfortable and don't interfere with our movement on deck. Would anyone go back to the days when we didn't wear seatbelts or it was an option? If it takes Big Brother to get people to protect themselves from themselves, we say it is one of those times when Big Brother knows best.

John Snyder
Newbury Park, CA

We, too, are fans of wearing personal floatation devices while on board. Having a PFD that's inflatable can enhance comfort, but we're not convinced that all the issues involved in these devices have been resolved. For that reason, we're not ready to have Big Brother mandate their use just yet.

In September, an experienced sailor drowned in Long Island Sound after the trimaran he was sailing aboard capsized and he became trapped beneath it. Newspaper accounts of this tragedy have indicated that this sailor was wearing a PFD. We haven't been able to confirm that he was wearing an automatically inflated PFD, but if he were, and that prevented him from diving down to extricate himself from the boat, sails, or rigging, that's a serious concern. It's certainly something to keep in mind when considering the purchase of these products.

One last note: In our caption for the Crewsaver 150N on page 21 of the article on automatic inflatable PFDs, we mistakenly wrote that the Crewsaver "proved less comfortable" than the SOSpenders model. We actually meant to write that it was more comfortable.


LCD Radars
[Re: "LCD Radar Test," Sept. '04] Your radar review is much appreciated, but could be improved in one area—short-range detection. Minimum range is usually a manufacturer specification and is mostly determined by the pulse width at the shortest range setting. You may want to include that in the comparison table that accompanies your next article on radar.

The pulse width minimum range is usually greater than the minimum set by the vertical beam width and the height of the scanner. For example, my older Raytheon SL 70 scanner is 21' off the water and its 25-degree vertical beam hits the water about 45' away. The specified minimum range, however, is 21 meters or 68' away based mostly on the pulse width.

Some newer models now have even shorter pulse widths at the shortest range giving them closer minimum range. Most radars lengthen the pulse width as you select longer range. This puts more power on target for better long-range detection, but also increases the minimum range—by a lot. If you want to see close-in targets, you must be on a short range setting.

Paul Gross
Via e-mail


The Bare Essentials
[Re: "The Bare Essentials" PS Oct. 1, '04] That article brought to mind a piece of safety gear that I have never seen mentioned in the literature, but one that truly saved the day recently when we ran into a 50 knot squall. We were powering into the wind and waves in a torrential downpour and the helmsman couldn't see a thing—not even the compass, let alone the area in front of the boat. Not only that, but his eyes hurt from the impact of the wind driven rain in his face. I fished out a diving mask, which he donned and felt very comfortable with for the remainder of the squall.I will always carry a dive mask or perhaps ski goggles from now on.

Martin Abrams
Glastonbury CT


...Where Credit Is Due
To Navman: "This is a small thing, but in today's world (and in light of recent Practical Sailor comments), it is worthwhile to recognize excellent customer service.

"About a year ago, I replaced my aging and non-working instruments with a standard set of Navman instruments (wind, speed, and depth). At that time I neglected to tie the plug for the removable speed sensor into the bilge and inevitably it has "walked" off and can't be located. I knew better, but...

"So I recently contacted my dealer, Custom Marine Electronics in San Diego, to see about a replacement. After determining that they did not have one in their "extras box" that would fit, Steve called Navman and requested that they send the part. Soon thereafter I received a call from Steve that the part was in and I could come pick it up—at no charge, not even shipping.

"Not a big deal, it is just a plastic part, but it does show that Navman (www.navman.com) is interested in customer service for both the boat owner and their dealers. And yes, I have firmly attached the new plug in the bilge right next to the speed sensor."

Paul Nierman
San Diego, CA


To SailCare: "After launching and re-stepping the mast on my Seafarer 26 sailboat, I had trouble freely rotating the drum of my year-old Plastimo reefing system. The drum wasn't turning freely and, assuming the bearings needed lubrication, I loosened several drum fasteners (contrary to the manufacturer's instructions). Much to my sorrow, all the Delrin bearings fell out and bounced into the sea.

"I called Jerry Fultz at SailCare in Ford City, PA, from whom I had purchased the furler. I asked him to ship me replacement bearings, but he elected to ship a brand new furler drum at no charge instead. The drum arrived via Priority Mail and the installation was effortless. Now I'm back in business and, thanks to the kindness of Jerry and SailCare (www.sailcare.com), my Chesapeake cruises are again a pleasure. I would recommend them for furling equipment as well as re-treatment of sails, for which they are justly famous. Thanks Jerry."

Robert M. Johnson
Burlington, KY


Running Fixes
This month we feature reader-recommended resources in Southern California. (Submit items to Running Fixes via e-mail at the following address: practicalsailor@belvoirpubs.com)

Chuck Stanton, Melissa Cady, and the rest of the crew at Anchors Way Boat Yard (805/642-6755) in Ventura, CA, get my vote for best boatyard ever. Not only are they the friendliest group, but they're also extremely knowledgeable and willing to go the extra mile to make sure the job gets done right.

They brought our bottom job in under quote, candidly discussed paint options and compatibility, and encouraged me to do some of the work myself (even if it meant borrowing some of their tools) to save money. What a difference from other boatyards we've used in the past! They also have a marina, marine hardware store, and they stock Yanmar parts.

Curtis Sojka
Santa Barbara, CA


I regularly use Barnacle Bill's (949/673-3483) of Costa Mesa, CA, as a service for bottom cleaning, and I readily recommend them to all boat owners in this region. My 40-foot sloop can get a lot of growth in a short period of time, and not every dive service will tackle it because of where I keep the boat moored. But I've been using Barnacle Bill's for several years now and I've never had a problem. They're always timely and they let me know if there's something down there that I need to be aware of.

Tony Eichenlaub, the co-owner, has a lot of experience in boat maintenance, and he only hires competent divers. His company also offers some of the most reasonable rates in our area.

Arnold Milligan
Dana Point, CA


As chandleries go, Downwind Marine (619/224-2733) in San Diego is one of the best. They've been in business for decades and have built a strong customer base in this area. Almost all the staff members are boat owners, and many of them are liveaboards with strong blue water resumes. That means that they've got ample first-hand experience with the products and services they sell—and that's an invaluable asset for consumers.

I try to make all my sailboat related purchases there, not just because I believe in supporting independent businesses, but because their's is the most knowledgeable staff around.

Larry Sampson
Chula Vista, CA


I've been doing boatbuilding work for the past 30 years or so in San Diego and have used a number of chandleries for procuring boat stuff. The one that sticks out and that I use almost exclusively is San Diego Marine Exchange (619/ 223-7159).

I do a lot of special ordering because I cannot always find things on the shelf. The staff there are always friendly, return phone calls, and go the extra mile to handle problems with the suppliers. And their prices are almost always cheaper than their closest competitor, hence the place is almost always busy.

Stephen Kelley
San Diego, CA

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