Marine Gearhead Heaven
Dutch trade show offers a smörgasbord of innovative products from the world over.
Practical Sailorreaders, it’s fair to say, appreciate good gear. If you can’t afford the best bilge pump, at least you want one of decent quality, one you can trust.
How satisfying it is to turn the drum of a stainless-steel Andersen winch and listen to the pawl clicking in the teeth of the gear, or spin the sheave on a Harken snatch block and hear the clattering of ball bearings, or to heft a Bruce anchor and marvel at its brute strength.
Imagine then an enormous arena full of every imaginable piece of equipment, component, and boat accessory from around the world. This is what you’ll find every year in Amsterdam, Netherlands, at an event called the Marine Equipment Trade Show. Held in the Amsterdam RAI convention center, the METS covers roughly 500,000 square feet of floor space. (In comparison, a football field measures just 48,000 square feet.)
Manufacturers come from all over the world to show their wares: Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, China, Turkey, Italy, France, Norway, United States, United Kingdom, Sweden … and many, many more. For the 2007 show: 1,137 exhibitors from 39 countries and 19,764 visitors, not counting the 4,000 people manning booths. Products run the gamut from raw materials like fiberglass and resin to doors, port lights, life jackets, engines, windlasses, biminis, shoes, cleats, chronometers, hatches, bow thrusters, furling gear, ad infinitum. The kid in the candy shop ain’t got nothing on the gearhead walking the aisles at METS.
It is, however, a trade show, catering not to the public, but to people in the industry. If you’re a marine professional, admission is free; for all others, it costs 100 euros, which is a whopping $147.
As is now common at such trade shows, awards are given to notable new products. At METS, the DAME (Design Award METS) nominees are selected by a jury for their innovation. Winners are prominently displayed in the center of the hall, positioned on linen-covered tables, cordoned by heavy rope, and watched over by guards whose main job it seems is to prevent anyone from taking photographs. Unfortunately, the signage next to each product gives only its name, omitting its function and the reasons why it has won. You’d think both would be obvious, but how do you divine the purpose of a black box in the electronics division?
Not all of the awardees fit into the category of must-haves—or even might wants—in our opinion. In fact, the top winner of 2007 was a piece of hide-away deck furniture called the Teaky Beach, built by the Italian firm Opacmare. Perhaps it was described best by British yachting journalist and blogger Elaine Bunting: "It’s not a proper piece of marine equipment at all. On that basis alone, it should never have got a look in for a top award. There are 101 inventions that could make sailing easier or safer ... from marine loos to cookers to life jackets."
Though the sailing world is dwarfed by the boating industry at large, this year’s DAME winners included a large and interesting selection of sailing gear, mostly in the categories of Deck Equipment, Sails, and Rigging. Here’s a look at a few that interested us:
As far as we know, the first boom brake was called the Walder, which gained some notoriety in the employ of Philippe Jeantot andCredit Agricole, which won the first BOC Challenge in 1982-83. We wrote about it and two others—the Heinson and Dutchman—in the Jan. 1, 1994 issue. Here’s how they work: a line is secured to a padeye roughly amidship, near the rail, and then led to the boom brake and thence to a padeye or other strong attachment on the opposite deck. The Walder was basically a sheave about which several wraps were taken; during a jibe, the friction slows movement of the boom from one tack to the other.
Wichard’s new Gyb’Easy is equally simple, though you must use the special line that comes with the device. According to the company: "The more the line passes over the openings, the more the friction is increased and hence the brake efficiency." Three adjustments are possible to match the size of the mainsail and wind conditions. It’s suitable for sails up to 430 square feet (40 m2). Boom brakes take the terror out of accidental jibes, and more importantly, virtually eliminate the risk of knocking someone in the head or overboard. Price is $290.
Holt Allen Autoratchet
Ratchet blocks increase holding power and are favored by small boat sailors for mainsheets and other control lines that they don’t want cleated. Holt explains its new block: "Dubbed as the ‘automatic gearbox’ for racing boats, the Holt Autoratchet has re-written the laws governing ratchet block technology. The ingenious load-sensitive mechanism triggers the ratchet only when the sheet load increases. The transition from ball race sheave to the tough holding power of the ratchet is incredibly smooth, providing the ultimate in hands-free operation." Price is $63 and up (depending on size).
Harken Rigtune Pro
Most of us amateur sailors tune rigging by pulling on shrouds about chest high off the deck, estimating deflection until it feels right—snug but not too tight. When it feels the same port and starboard, we’re done. Well, for racing, that isn’t good enough.
Harken Yacht Equipment’s Rigtune Pro is a digital tension meter developed by Lou Varney of Diverse Yachts/Tropical Engineering. Varney explains: "One of the key things I’ve learned is that the mast and rig need to be set up the same from one tack to the other. Being able to get a repeatable setting is critical to boat speed and performance."
Rig tension is measured by leading the shroud through three pins on the back of the instrument and turning a lever; deflection is measured in kilograms on the front-side display. According to Harken, it’s more accurate than spring-type tension meters. The Rigtune Pro works on diameters of wire, rod, and PBO from 2.5mm-5mm (3/32"-7/32"), and would maximize performance on any sailboat. At $350, you might learn to share.
Schaefer Tuff Luff AERO
Headsails with foils allow for cleaner flow of air than sails with hanks. Schaefer offered perhaps the first foil of its kind, the Tuff Luff, and now an improved foil: "Tuff Luff Aero represents a major evolution of slotted headstay systems. Its unique aerodynamic shape provides at least 9 percent more lift. Faster wind reattachment to the sail with less turbulence is also a benefit of the patented teardrop shape."
Tuff Luff Aero is available in the 1706 series only. These are for 5/16 inch (8mm) headstays. Kits include feeder, extrusion, pre-feeder, tape, and knife, two spacer tubes, instructions, and a pre-feeder lanyard. Headstay lengths up to 46 feet cost $769 and 59 feet cost $879.
Other products cited for DAME recognition include the Gill inflatable Compressor Vest (www.gillmarine.com); the Bamar hydraulic RLG-Code SIC flush-deck furler from Advanced Research and Technology that can be configured for asymmetricals, Code 0s, drifters, and other off-wind sails (www.bamar.it); an inflatable tent for inflatable boats called G-Nautics (www.gaastranautics.com); a furling lock said to be favored by the Open 60s (www.karver-systems.com); and last and certainly least, a new fender design that we won’t bore you with.