Practical Sailor Names 13 Products Best Gear of the Year
Facnor Code Zero furler, Scad holding tank monitor, and Gill foul-weather gear are among the years top marine gear.
Practical Sailor’s annual wrap-up of the year’s best sailing equipment looks at our favorite top-rated products from November 2007 to November 2008, including the Facnor furler for light-air sails, Scad Solo external holding-tank sensor, Pelican Recoil LED flashlight, and Adventure Medical’s first-aid kit for coastal cruisers. In the boat maintenance category, Interlux’s Micron 66 bottom paint and Spray Nine’s waterline stain remover garnered Editors’ Choice picks. Foulie sets (jacket and bibs) by Gill and Helly Hansen were tapped as Practical Sailor Editor’s Choice in apparel, and a host of marine electronics made the list, including the Icom CommandMic III remote mic and Garmin GPSMap 545s 5-inch chartplotter sounder. Jeppesen was recognized for its top-notch electronic chart updating services. Other top gear picks were the Acco proof coil mooring chain and the Achilles HB315-LX fixed-transom inflatable dinghy.
Every fall, Practical Sailor editors spend several weeks poring over a year’s worth of test results and reviewed products to select the pick of the litter for our annual Gear of the Year roundup. This year’s Editors’ Choice picks, culled from product reviews in the November 2007 to November 2008 issues, is no less varied than that of years’ past—from fashion-forward foul-weather gear and holding tank sensors to safety equipment for the coastal cruiser and electronics for the space-deprived. As always, it represents the best of the must-haves and the top picks of the would-like-to-haves. Here are the Practical Sailor Gear of the Year picks for the year.
Code Zero Furlers
Sailing in 5 to 10 knots of breeze with a 135-percent genoa can prove to be anything but exhilarating. Not only are too many sailors missing the pure fun of light-air sailing, but with fuel prices skyrocketing, enhancing your boat’s light-air ability under sail makes more sense than ever.
The Facnor FX2500 topped our seven-product field of Code Zero furling systems, reviewed in the March 2008 issue. It was one of the five units tested that are head-swivel and tack-drum designs with the sail luff acting as the torsion-inducing member. There were no lemons among the furlers we tested. However, the Facnor Fx 2500 did stand out enough to get our nod for Practical Sailor Best Choice.
The FX 2500 is small, weighing just 2.6 pounds with a 5.4-inch drum diameter, but it proved that it has what it takes to handle a code sail, drifter, or gennaker. The 750-square-foot radial clew drifter that we used fit right into the jaws of the drum and swivel, and the unit’s simple but functional capture ring kept the endless loop from jumping out of the groove. Facnor uses uniquely engineered spring tensioners to hold clevis pins in place. Testers found these easy to use, and they make the unit easy to handle. The stainless-steel cage surrounding the furling sheave allows easy installation of a furling line.
This well-executed furler nosed slightly ahead of the other high-quality units tested, and at $1,508 (www.mauriprosailing.com), it comes in the middle to high end of the price range.
Holding Tank Monitors
In 2008, we tested both internal and external holding tank gauges. Packaged kits with externally mounted tank level sensors and remote reading displays offer the benefit of having no contact with holding-tank contents. These sensors use basic capacitance sensors or the electronic Mirus detector cells that read liquid levels on the other side of plastic, polyethylene, and fiberglass tanks. Probes located inside the tank are more likely to be fouled, corrode, and need cleaning.
Of the five external sensor kits we tested, our favorite in the single-tank-reading category was the Scad Solo Profile Series (TM01), made by Scad Technologies Inc. It was the most accurate, has more programming and calibrating flexibility than the others we looked at, and will handle irregular-shaped tanks.
The kit includes a small 2-inch-by-3.5-inch display panel, five feet of aluminum sensor foil, and one capacitance external tank sensor module. The display panel has a membrane-covered mechanical switch labeled "Read," five prominent LED lights (that illuminate brightly) above each of which are labeled tank status levels (from empty to full) and a "Tank Full" red LED. It also has two tiny buttons (marked "F" and "E") for calibrating functions. The sensor reads the tank level every half-hour.
Editors tapped the Scad Solo as Gear of the Year for the company’s excellent customer service—technical support is available via phone seven days a week, 365 days a year—and the product’s unique and interesting features. The Scad can be calibrated for more accurate readings when using oddly shaped, custom-fitted tanks, and it allows users to program and set exactly where they want both the "empty" and "full" levels to be on the tank.
Its price, $141 (www.sailorssolutions.com), is comparable to other single-tank readers on the market, and it carries a one-year warranty.
Gill’s Key West OS5J men’s jacket and OS5T bib trousers are evidence that the company has mastered the art of crafting high-performance foul-weather gear. The kit beat six other quality jacket-bibs sets (February 2008) for Best Choice and Gear of the Year among men’s foulies priced under $500 and designed for coastal cruising and light offshore sailing.
The Gill gear was roomy enough for a fleece or another midlayer. The bibs are rugged with thick shoulder straps fitted with heavy-duty velcro that can be adjusted quickly. They have a reinforced seat and knees for abrasion protection and have fleece-lined pockets and a water-tight cargo pocket.
Testers found that the jacket’s hood and its beefy zippers functioned easily, even with cold, gloved hands. The jacket has plenty of pockets—including zippered internal pockets and fleece-lined handwarmer pockets—and reflective patches at the shoulder/arm seam and at the center of the chest. Its taped seams and adjustable cuffs with inner seals successfully kept water out during our field tests.
The Key West kit exceeded testers’ standards for construction and design quality at an affordable price, securing the Key West gear’s place on the Gear of the Year roster. We found the full kit for $429 at www.westmarine.com.
For the women sailors, we tested seven sets of foul-weather gear (July 2008), four of which were designed specifically for women. Most of the gear in this test field was high-quality, with the Helly Hansen Fjord jacket and bibs at the head of the class. This high-fashion and high-function kit was stylish and performed very well in the wind and water tests.
The Fjord jacket has a double storm flap and three layers of protection around the neck and face, keeping testers’ necks dry during the tests. Multiple, varied pockets ensure secure, dry storage for knives, flashlights, and other handheld gear, and velcro cargo pockets on the jacket front with fleece-lined slash pockets underneath keep hands warm and dry. Testers found the interior velcro wrist closures to be the most comfortable and versatile.
It was the only jacket tested with hidden fluorescent-yellow forearms. (See photo, page 9.) While useful for signalling on deck, the sleeves will be of little use to a victim treading water. The Fjord’s other safety features were above average. There is an abundance of reflective material, and the hood is a vivid yellow. It was also the only jacket tested with a whistle attached.
The taffeta-lined bib trousers have a reinforced seat and knees, an elasticized waist, and adjustable cuffs. Testers liked the quick-release, easy-to-adjust plastic tabs on the suspenders. We tested the blue Helly set, but we’d opt to buy the red suit for higher visibility on the water.
The Helly Hansen Fjord was at the top of the field, and its $344 price (www.defender.com) was in the middle of the pack, elevating it to our Gear of the Year list.
Technology has made flashlights smaller, lighter, and brighter. With the rapid growth of light emitting diodes (LEDs), the range of alternatives has become even greater. So we narrowed the test field in our flashlight evaluation (December 2007) to primarily smaller LED flashlights, although some Xenon and conventional incandescent bulbs were included for comparison. We tested 25 lights from eight manufacturers.
Testers’ favorite light overall was the Pelican Recoil Stealthlite 2410. It is a lightweight (8.6 ounces), ergonomic four AA-cell LED. The submersible, corrosion proof 2410 comes with a unique focusing technology that collimates the beam well. It also has a light span of over 24 hours, and a glow-in-the-dark lens lip that makes it easy to find in the dark.
At $47 with the photoluminescent shroud (www.brightguy.com), the plastic flashlight falls into the mid-price category, but it comes with Pelican’s lifetime guarantee, a bonus.
Waterline Stain Remover
The November 2007 waterline stain removers test focused on products that were marketed as capable of eliminating waterline stains. We tested 22 products, dividing the playing field into gels, liquids, sprays, and powders. There were no clear winners, but testers found that the thicker gels worked the best and were the safest to use. They are easier to apply thanks to their easy-to-see color and their consistency.
Each cleaner was used on a section of a hauled-out Precision 21 that had an obvious "ICW mustache" from sailing and mooring in the Intracoastal Waterway in Sarasota, Fla.
Although the differences in performance among the cleaners was minor, Spray Nine Boat Bottom Cleaner got testers’ top pick as it was as effective as the other top gels, was fast, and also was the cheapest ($12 or 37¢ per ounce, www.jamestowndistributors.com). It contains multiple acids—including oxalic, phosphoric, and nonoxynol—but it wasn’t as harsh as some other acid-based cleaners tested.
For the second year in a row, Interlux’s Micron 66 antifouling paint made our Gear of the Year lineup, based on one- and two-year test results.
Micron 66 is a self-polishing bottom paint that provides a controlled release of copper antifouling over a long period of time. Our tests—both static panel tests and field tests—show this paint works as well as or better than anything on the market today.
Its consistent top-ranking performance has earned it the Editors’ Choice pick, but there are better paints for certain situations. (Micron 66 is not suitable for freshwater boats or aluminum craft.) While it’s an excellent antifoulant, Micron 66’s quite pricey: $220 a gallon (www.jamestowndistributors.com).
Before you head to your local chandlery for bottom paint, be sure to check out our 2008 bottom paint reports (March and October 2008) to determine which of the top-ranked products fit your needs and budget.
For nearly a year, Practical Sailor testers have been dissecting pre-packaged medical kits marketed for onboard first-aid needs. The ongoing series has covered everything from small kits for daysailers to virtual hospitals for offshore voyagers. (See "Medical Kits for Ocean Voyaging," page 19.)
First-aid kit manufacturer Adventure Medical has consistently been rated the Best Choice in these tests, with standout products in each category. It’s clear to us that the company has a good understanding of sailors’ onboard medical needs.
Taking quality, quantity, and assortment of contents, written instructions, container, and price into consideration, Practical Sailor chose the Adventure Medical Marine 1000 kit for a Gear of the Year product. The Marine 1000 was reviewed in the June 2008 issue, along with three other medical kits under $300 that are suitable for boats with one to four crew, where help may not be available for up to 12 hours. Such a "coastal cruiser" kit would be a good choice for a family of four getting away for a long weekend, or perhaps longer, but still remaining relatively close to the coast and populated areas.
We set specific criteria, including a list of minimum supplies for such a kit. Practical Sailor testers thoroughly examined the contents as well as their containers, and evaluated their instruction manuals.
The Marine 1000 is a comprehensive medical kit that offers most items necessary for a 10-person crew to attend to injured members for up to 24 hours. Compared to Practical Sailor’s standards for its category, the 1000 lacks only sterile gloves and a space blanket.
Its high-quality contents are arranged into six separate modules that keep the kit neat and the items easy to locate. The kit includes Easy Care cards with instructions in each module as well as a guide to marine and travel medicine.
The Marine 1000, which retails for $250 (www.defender.com), meets more needs than the AM Marine 200 (Best Choice for small boats, April 2008) and costs less than the AM Marine 2000 (Best Choice for offshore cruisers, September 2008).
After 2½ years, Practical Sailor testers wrapped up our long-term mooring chain test this past summer. Testers tapped the standard Acco grade-30 proof coil as the best all-around chain for the price.
To recap, seven 5-foot lengths of 5/16-inch mooring chain went into Long Island Sound in November 2005. The initial setup, reported in the March 2006 issue, included the Acco galvanized proof coil, BBB, and high test; Campbell galvanized and zinc-plated proof coil; Chinese proof coil; and stainless links from Suncor.
These were first inspected for the September 2006 issue and then given a look after one year for the July 2007 issue. During their time in the water, they were suspended in several different configurations, buoyed up, weighted down with bricks or cinder blocks, hung straight, or in half loops with catenary.
We pulled the chains for a final look in late April 2008. Final, because two to three years is about the longest any upper chain can be trusted, especially in the chain-hungry waters of Long Island Sound. (The upper, or top chain, is the smaller chain that is suspended in the water between the mooring ball and the heavier chain, which lies better protected on the bottom—in dense mud in this case.) The final report was published in the July 2008 issue.
In this evaluation, probably all of the loss of material resulted from a combination of simple, gradual fretting and oxidation (rust).
The Acco and Campbell proof coil chains were standouts, but the Acco was the best overall.
Since the test began, Acco was bought by the Peerless Chain Co., but seems to still be operating as before.
The Achilles HB315-LX dinghy made this year’s Gear of the Year roster after beating out a fleet of fixed-transom rigid inflatable boats (RIBs) in the 10-foot range from such makers as Zodiac, Avon, Caribe, and Mercury (July 2008).
Testers found that the Achilles rides smoothly and handles well at all speeds.
We tested the HB315-LX with a 9.9-horsepower, four-stroke outboard, but it’s rated for up to 15 horsepower and can carry up to five people. This 128-pound RIB was plenty fast, with a top speed of 20 mph. It hopped up on plane in 7 seconds and delivered a smooth, bone-dry ride—plus it was more maneuverable in reverse than any other boat tested.
The Achilles HB315-LX has padded Hypalon carrying straps at the bow and stern quarters and six more straps on the tube tops for handholds underway. The deck is flat with nonskid along the centerline. It offers no storage but does have two lifting rings on the inboard side of transom and one on deck at the bow.
The boat comes with two eyes for a towing bridle and a third eye at the bow to attach an anchor rode. The one-channel rub strake is adequate.
The HB315-LX has all the features testers desire in a tender and is priced very competitively for a Hypalon RIB: $2,605 (www.defender.com). However, we’d like to see a 10-year warranty rather than the five years Achilles offers.