Mailport February 1, 2005 Issue

Mailport: 02/01/05

ATN TopClimber
I purchased an ATN TopClimber after reading your review [PS Jan. 15, ‘01]. I'm highly impressed with it and have been up and down my 50-foot mast many times now. (I'm an unfit 52 years old with dodgy knees.) I really like the way I'm not dependent upon anyone to help.

I was, however, not impressed to be almost at the top one day only to find one of the shackle pins on an ascender was almost completely unscrewed. I tightened it up with a shackle key and kept an eye on it and the same thing happened again some time later. I tried mousing it with monel wire, but the climbing action effectively scissored the wire in no time.

I e-mailed ATN and got a prompt reply from Etienne, the proprietor, suggesting I invert the shackle. This I did (to both) and so far it’s been fine. It may be worth mentioning to your readers.

Patrick Randall
Port Charlotte, FL


Standardized Plumbing
I would like to see someone address the lack of standardization in marine plumbing. Barb fittings currently are available in white plastic, grey plastic, black plastic, and bronze. Each has a different diameter it seems, and none of them will fit the hose one is trying to use. Then hose comes as clear plastic, white plastic, various black rubbers, wire-reinforced, and so on. This results in many trips to the various supply stores. The industry needs to be given some incentive to standardize on diameters so we can finish a plumbing job the same year we start.

Jerry Haller
Punta Gorda, FL

PS is working on a story about snap-on marine plumbing fixtures, and we intend to discuss the issue of standardization within that article. Of course, this won't resolve your problems, but it should provide incentive for marine manufacturers to move toward standardization.


Knocking Networked Systems
[Re: "Networked Systems, Furuno vs. Garmin," PS Dec. '04] I am a professional yacht captain and an electronics installer with some comments about networked systems. My field experience with integrated systems is mixed, and I think it would serve your readers well if you consider the pros and cons of the network trend.

As a geek, I love to play with these systems and get caught up in what they can do. As a seaman and navigator, I dislike them. Furuno, in particular, is awesome and complicated. For those of us that are in the business and exposed to these products daily, they are reasonable to use. Conversely, most of my customers have a terrible time remembering the ins and outs of how to use them. I make enough waterproof cheat sheets and answer enough long-distance calls from the islands to know it is just a bit much.

In real life navigation situations, I find experienced boaters jabbing at a display trying to find the piece of information they need and slowly losing track of what is going on around them. The Coast Guard uses the term "RADAR assisted collisions" for this. I think we can add "Plotter assisted groundings as well: 'I don't know what happened, I was looking at the plotter when we hit and it said we were in the channel.'"

For this reason, I prefer dedicated independent displays. One glance at the console gives the full impression. It is easy to focus in on any one piece of information without letting go of the wheel or taking your attention away from what is happening around you. It's interesting to note that most race car drivers still use analog gauges even though the engines are computerized.

The other critical issue is failure. When one part of the system goes, it all goes. Would you rather come into Bimini, or Cuttyhunk without a sounder or without everything? When a networked system glitches, hangs, loses power, suffers water damage, or a power surge, you suddenly lose every electronic aid at once. And let's not kid ourselves, these systems are normally installed as a package without stand-alone backups.

A cardinal rule of navigation is, whenever possible, do not rely on a single source for your information, but when depth, position, track, heading, relative position (radar), and speed are all coming from one source, or funneled through one source, the navigator is at risk.

I think the networked trend is dangerous and has hidden costs, both financial and safety. It is sad to see a million-dollar boat tied to the dock because they skipper is waiting for the factory rep to arrive and troubleshoot a software issue. It happens daily. Dedicated equipment is easier to use and is more dependable. Yes, you can now watch a DVD on your 10" Furuno daylight display, but why would you want to? Really.

Capt. Carl Damm
Stuart, FL


Tape Correction
[Re: "Tale of the Tape," PS December '04] Thank you for mentioning Henkel Consumer Adhesives in your article. We were disappointed so see our brand name "Duck" misspelled as "Duct."

I also want to clarify that in your reference to electrical tape you mentioned Manco. Henkel bought Manco in 1998, and our new legal name is Henkel Consumer Adhesives. You can find more of our products online at

Jose M. Martinez
Henkel Consumer Adhesives


Music On Board
We love to have music on-board (we cruise the West Indies yearly), but have been thwarted by three problems. First, the so-called "marinized" CD players have proven to have short lives. We have gone through three decks in eight years; all have had partial failures in their first seasons. I don't think the CD playback mechanism takes well to the cruising life.

Second, we find it to be a hassle to carry a large library of CDs back and forth from Trinidad to Alaska each fall and spring. Finally, we are starting to find some of our CDs physically deteriorating, presumably from the salt air.Next time you evaluate musical components, could you please address two issues: (1) what are the outer limits of satellite radio reception in the Bahamas/Caribbean (either XM or Sirus) and (2) what is the availability of MP3 players for marine use?

Alternatively, could you publish this in your letters section to elicit feedback from other cruisers?

Jerry & Nancy Wertzbaugher
Via e-mail

PS tested marine stereos several years ago and we reported on that in our April 1, 2001 issue. Of the seven units tested, only five included CD players. Among those, two obtained a strong rating for seaworthiness (Standard Horizon's MST660 and Jensen's MCD9424RC). Still, none was waterproof. The good news is that consumer products in the music industry have evolved tremendously in the last several years. MP3 players like the Apple iPod show great promise, as does satellite radio. In our June 1, 2003 report on satellite radio, we noted coverage areas, which we expect will continue to expand.


Scully Sail
[Re: Scully Rig and Propulsion Rudder," PS December '04] Thanks for the getting the word out about our sail rigs. Out of the box, it does take 25 to 30 minutes to rig, but from then on, as the sail furls around the spars, it takes only minutes to be sailing. Many of our customers leave the bow clamp on the boat all the time as it is not in the way and provides a handhold and a point for securing gear. This makes stepping the mast and notching in the dagger a snap.

I don't blame you folks at PS for not fully exploring the potential of maneuvering with the Propulsion Rudder. A sculling propulsion rudder takes a little getting used to, but it's still much easier than rowing. I've seen a 5-year-old step into a boat and start sculling without instruction. With the stock of the propulsion rudder set at the lowest setting, it is even possible to pivot the fin around under the boat and scull in reverse, ideal for crowded dinghy docks. Or you can keep turning the fin around and the boat will turn around 360 degrees in it’s own length.

I'll make better reference to these and other functions in the new generation of instructions provided with the products, which are now available through West Marine.

Jeff A. Jelten


More Outboard Locks
[Re: "Outboard Motor Locks," PS Aug. 1, '04] In July of this year we purchased the “Master Lock Outboard Motor Lock”. In late August we noticed the vinyl peeling on the bar with rust under it. So, we went to unlock, remove, clean and spray the bar and lock with an anti corrosion spray. We found it difficult to insert the key in the lock, so after getting it off I also applied graphite to the lock. It then worked well, so I put it back on the engine.

On November 16th, in preparation for an offshore trip, I attempted to remove the lock so I could put the outboard on the deck of the boat. I found that I could not insert the key in the lock. I dutifully applied PC Buster, but to no avail. Finally, I sawed through the shackle down to the top of the bar with a standard hacksaw. Then gave the remainder of the shackle two whacks with a hammer and screwdriver and broke the shackle. I found that one end of the shackle lifted up and out. Two whacks with a hammer and Phillips screwdriver on the remaining side and the lock dropped out the bottom.

Based on my experience, I suspect I could repeat the process in about 5 minutes, but instead will purchase the Smartlock and hope that I can open it when I need to take the outboard off the dinghy.

Alan Brown
Via e-mail


After reading your article, I bought a Master Lock Outboard Motor Lock. After fewer than six uses, while anchored in Banderas Bay, Mexico, the lock mechanism broke so that the key would not go in. It took about five minutes with an old hacksaw to make two cuts in the shackle and tear it off with Vicegrips. The padlock came right out of the bar and we motored to shore that evening for dinner. West Marine gave me a full refund.

Roy Verdery
Sausalito, CA


Cabin Heater Complaint
[Re: "Portable Cabin Heaters," PS Jan. 15, '05] I strongly disagree with your selection of the Caframo Model 9200 High Performance Heater as the "winner" of your electric heater test. The unit is cheaply built, makes annoying vibrating noises when in operation, and has an unreliable and poorly designed thermostat. If not for luck, that same heater could easily have cost me my boat (and perhaps an entire marina full of boats) when its components failed and the heater caught fire.

I have maintained the temperature in my C&C 35 at 10°C over the past 20 winters in our mild, but damp, BC coastal climate. I have gone through a series of heaters in doing so, the first being a Braun, which featured a design very similar to the Caframo and the comparable West Marine model. No heater has ever been able to touch the quality of the Braun, but with constant use, even the best wear out.

Next I went to a similar styled unit from West Marine. It was supplied by a company that I believe was called SouPac. While its quality could not match the Braun, it performed yeoman service for a number of years before finally packing it in recently.

I waffled between the newest West Marine model and the Caframo, with neither giving me much confidence in terms of their apparent quality. It's disheartening that so many products deteriorate with each new generation as manufacturers cut back until they're making items that aren't much better than garbage.

In this instance, I happened to be on the boat and turned the thermostat up from its low setting. Suddenly the entire heating element glowed cherry red and smoke began pouring out. I don't know how much damage would have resulted had I not been present, but I consider myself lucky. Now, I must find a new heater with little confidence in any brand that I see on the market.

Gord Persson
Via e-mail


Dangerous Practice
I was surprised to see in the photograph on the front page of the November 15th edition of Practical Sailor, in which the crew member using the hoist had the line wrapped around his hand. I have always understood this to be an unsafe practice in that, if the load becomes suddenly too great—such as a halyard or a sheet releasing from a winch or cleat—it may not be possible to release the line quickly. This could result in severe injury to the hand, or at least a rope burn. Knowing your dedication to safe sailing, you may wish to draw this to the attention of your readers.

Thank you for the most useful of all sailing magazines.

John Dewey
Victoria, BC, Canada

The crew member shown in that photo is a seasoned waterman and well experienced with a wide range of marine hardware and boating equipment. He knew his load, and the extra turn around his hand was for the sake of the pendant editor. Nevertheless, we don't dispute that the safest practice is indeed to keep a line that's under tension in one's palm with one's fingers wrapped around it and not vice versa.


...Where Credit Is Due
To Globalstar USA: "My wife Olga and I had the misfortune of choosing Grenada as our safe haven for the hurricane season last year. That would have been a good decision every year since 1955, but not in 2004. Hurricane Ivan passed directly over the south coast of Grenada with winds reported to exceed 145 mph. The cruising fleet was badly damaged and the island devastated. All utilities were interrupted, including telephone service.

"We carry aboard a Globalstar Satellite telephone, which, by the way, can indeed be extremely frustrating due to dropped connections, but is far and away better than whatever occupies second place. Prior to the hurricane, we had used the Globalstar phone to get six-hour updates directly from NOAA, so we were well-informed and consequently well-prepared for the storm. After the storm, we used the satellite telephone to get information to families and friends desperate to know the status of both boat crews and Grenada residents.

"In the first four days after the storm, our Globalstar telephone transmitted or received over 300 e-mails. There were also a few voice calls. We placed no restriction on the use of this link to the outside. The hurricane occurred near the end of our billing cycle, so these calls were in excess of our plan minutes. When the emergency had passed, I called Globalstar USA and informed them of the circumstances. The company immediately issued a credit for all call charges. Corporate good citizenship merits public recognition. Thanks Globalstar."

Don Casey
Via e-mail

To Epifanes: "I first read about Epifanes Clear Varnish in your review ("Varnish Exposure Finale," PS Oct. 15, '02). I bought their product and started using it on my J/92. I ran into a problem and I called the company. They were more than helpful. They were fantastic. The owner, Doug, immediately got on the phone and solved my problem. They not only have a great product, they have a great owner and customer support."

Dr. Randall Winchell
Mission Viejo, CA

To Simrad: "As a facilites director, I know the importance of good customer service. Sometimes, it's difficult to find.

"I purchased a Simrad HT-50 handheld VHF a few years ago and have used it since as a backup to the fixed-mount VHF on my boat, but only rarely. Recently, I had to meet a friend in Newport, RI, who was bringing his boat in, so I took my handheld with me. At the end of the day, I noticed my volume button was missing, so I called Simrad to order a new rubber button.

"Their representative told me it would cost $170. Needless to say, I wasn't happy. I asked to speak with someone in charge, and I was transferred to the president of Simrad USA, Brian Staton. I told him my problem and he said he would look into it and get back to me.

"He called me back a few days later and told me that the rubber button was part of a bigger piece, which is why it costs so much. They had never heard of this happening before, but he said they had found a demo unit and had taken the part from that and were sending it to me. It arrived a few days later, along with a note saying 'with our compliments.' You can't get better service than that. Simrad not only stood behind their product, but went out of their way to provide superior customer service. I will continue to spend a little more to get this kind of service and a quality product!"

Steve LaFever
Springfield, MA

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