Mailport May 2008 Issue

Mailport: 05/08

‘Paper or Plastic’

I am writing to add some additional comments on the article "Navigation, a Lost Art?" in the January 2008 issue. The aim of your article was on target, and I agree with the points given concerning the limits of technology. The various devices mentioned in the article fall into two broad categories: those such as GPS chartplotters that help the sailor to maintain the spatial awareness that lies at the heart of navigation and those that help the sailor to maintain a better lookout. Radar actually lies in both categories. A third category includes devices used to communicate, but these are outside the scope of the article.

A fundamental issue is whether the use of GPS chartplotters is of greater help in maintaining spatial awareness than paper charts.
I think not. On our boat, which has a GPS chartplotter, we find that the small screen gives us a restricted view of our situation. In order to get a broader view, we must change the scale, but that causes information such as ledges, buoys and water depths to be omitted, in order to avoid excessive screen clutter. The result is that we keep the plotter on a large scale in order to keep buoys, etc. on the screen. It is akin to peering at the world through a mousehole.

Our chartplotter also has the option of a radar overlay, but the optimal choice of radar range to detect other boats does not always coincide with the optimal scale of the plotter needed for navigation.

The "paper or plastic" question in modern navigation is not going to be easily resolved, although many people believe that the gadgets will win out and paper charts will simply vanish. I am not so sure about that, but at the present time, we regard the paper charts as primary and the GPS chartplotter as secondary.

Fortunately, our boat enjoys a large dining table in the main cabin near the nav station. On this table, we are able to spread an entire, unfolded marine chart, giving us the big picture. We plot courses and fixes on the chart, the old-fashioned way. The denser the fog or the farther we have to go, the more rigorous we are about these things.

Finally, I looked enviously at the photo in the navigation article showing a left-handed sextant. Being left-handed myself, I have wished for one, but have never found one. Or maybe the photo was printed backward.

Mark Van Baalen
Ariane, Hinckley Bermuda 40
Rockport, Maine

Given the growing number of what might be called "digitally induced" navigational errors, we are surprised that there are those in the world of recreational sailing who boldy tout a digital-chart-only approach to global cruising. Inaccurate data, data drop-out (in which vector data is eliminated to allow for a less-cluttered view), and the rampant misuse of the over-zoom capabilities (in which the navigator bases decisions on a chart image that is zoomed in well beyond the accuracy of the survey data), are among the most frequently reported problems. And no, we have not yet located a left-handed sextant. One of the other missed clues to the photo’s inversion was the cockpit winch, wound tightly in a counterclockwise direction.

KVH Datascope Durability

I saw your hand-bearing compasses review in the February 2008 issue and wanted to say that I too wish the KVH DataScope’s warranty was longer. The first year I

Cockpit Winch
The right-handed sextant—and a clockwise wrap on the cockpit winch—is rightly portrayed above.
used it, it was fine. I sold my boat to move out West and left the KVH unused with no batteries in it for another two years. When I tried to use it, much of the LCD readout was gone. It looked like hieroglyphics.

I got in touch with KVH, and they told me it would cost almost the same as a new one to have the old one repaired. I was astounded!

It also used batteries up at a faster rate than when new. I put in a few new sets, some of the information returned, but over 50 percent was still missing.

I still have it and wished it was a longer-term investment for the price. I use a hand bearing compass now.

Robert Gibeau
Port Townsend, Wash.

According to KVH, your problem is not typical. Generally, KVH customer service gets good reviews from Practical Sailor readers, so we contacted them on this topic. KVH marketing manager Chris Watson reported that just more than 1 percent of DataScopes have problems within the first year, and that the units that require replacement in the second total only 0.1 percent of those manufactured. He added: "To ensure that it is completely waterproof, the KVH DataScope is a completely sealed unit. As a result, it is not designed for any sort of field maintenance beyond replacing the batteries. Because cracking the seal on the housing would, in effect, destroy the unit, the cost to repair it would exceed the cost of a new unit. If your DataScope fails within the first year following purchase, KVH will replace the faulty DataScope with a new unit at no cost. For product failures after the warranty expires, but within three years, a replacement DataScope will be available at a prorated cost, about 40 percent of the retail cost of the DataScope. We build our products to last, and Mr. Gibeau’s experience, while no doubt frustrating, is thankfully not typical."

Practical Sailor received two other letter from dissatisfied owners of the KVH DataScope in the wake of our most recent hand-bearing compass test. One of the readers experienced the same problem with the LCD readout as you describe. We’ve put the DataScope into long-term testing, and we encourage readers who have had similar problems to report them to us and to KVH.

Noodling Around

I read with interest, the article "Dinghy Makeover," because I did a similar project, which I consider a little oddball. I added three rows of 4-inch pool noodles to my

Portaboat 8.5
Wreathed in three-rows of 4-inch-diameter pool noodles, reader Brian Smith’s Portaboat 8.5 is admittedly a “little oddball.”
Portaboat 8.5-foot dink. I figure it adds over 300 pounds flotation, and it is much more stable when boarding. It certainly was cheap. The downside is that it no longer can be folded for transport. (See photo above.)

Brian B Smith
No Problem, Mac 26X
Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.

In Praise of Dinghy Dogs

Responding to the article in the April 2008 edition, about the Walker Bay inflatable add-on kit and the comparison to Dinghy Dogs. Being a frugal sailor and old enough not to be overly concerned about aesthetics, in 1995, I fitted a Dinghy Dog kit to my Boatex 7.6-foot rigid dinghy.

It was an immediate improvement in stability, aesthetics aside, and they have served well over the last 14 seasons. I’ve had to replace one vinyl bladder due to leak on the seam. Including shipping, the replacement was well under $100.

The two-part construction, now with polyurethane bladders, and the tough outer sheath has undoubtedly contributed to their durability. Contact and dealing with the company has been easy and pleasant.

Paul Peachey
Via email

Prop Barnacles?

I’ve read about a new product called Prop-Shield (, which prevents barnacle growth on propellers and prop shafts. Have you done or would you consider doing a test of the product to see if it really works?

Kurt Wiese
Sabre 426
Chesapeake Bay, Va.

We have not tested this product, but we can certainly add it to the list of prop

Antifouling System
PropSpeed is a multi-part antifouling system for props and shafts. Here, a clear coat is applied over the etching primer.
antifouling paints such as PropSpeed (left) (, which we are currently testing, We have yet to find a user-applicable product that consistently repels barnacles, but that hasn’t stopped us from trying. Reports from the field indicate that success with many of these products depends on strictly following the application instructions. Adhesion seems to be one of the most difficult challenges.

Wet Hunter

My wife and I bought a 1994 Hunter 33.5 and used it last season for the first time. The boat had been stored outside through the winter on a cradle. We sustained some moisture damage in the aft berth by the starboard edge, where the mattress rests on some plywood. I replaced the wood. Now I see that the same thing is happening again! The boat was covered in plastic, and has been dry all winter—except for condensation.

We visited mid-winter, and found all plastic surfaces inside were wet with condensation. If the moisture problem is due to condensation fine, but why, then, is it on the aft starboard side only? We surmised that during both winters the starboard side was exposed to the south, which would undergo greater temperature changes. Also, the cradle could be somewhat tilted to starboard. The amount of water that collects on the area beneath the berth (isolated cells) is almost 1 gallon. Can condensation create that much volume? Our old O’day 28 never had that problem. Please help us solve this mystery/problem.

David Carambula
Hunter 33.5
Douglas, Mich.

Heating and cooling of moist air inside a closed-up boat can be like a dew-point experiment, and the insulation effect of a mattress can cause sharp variations in temperature that increase water vapor condensing into a liquid. However, the volume mentioned is very high, and we have not experienced anything like this with our own test boats in New England. A close inspection of the hull-deck or other possible deck leaks may be in order.

White Flares Redux

As you reported in your March issue, US Sailing has decided to ban white flares from its racing boats ("White Flares Ban," March 2008). The ban was established for safety reasons in the wake of an accident.

I usually consider myself quite a safe sailor, and try to remember the adage: "The price of safety at sea is constant vigilance." However, I am in favor of carrying and using, if necessary, white handheld flares,

In 1985, while sailing off the Azores, we found ourselves surrounded by a fleet of fishing trawlers one night. We attempted to maneuver out of harm’s way, but since the fleet was using high-intensity lights to illuminate the water while they drew in their nets, they did not see or hear us, even though we shined an extremely bright torch light on our sails and used all the noise making signaling devices onboard. The one thing that did prevent a collision was, in fact, the use of a white handheld flare as a last resort.

All flares have the potential for serious injury. The potential for collision is sufficient reason to justify the carrying and use of white handheld flares as a last resort.

Joel Block
Chinook, Sabre 34 MK II
Chaumont, N.Y.

Looking Forward

I’ve been a happy subscriber for a couple of decades, and I can’t believe that it has taken until now for you to do a report on forward-looking sonar. I also can’t believe that so few boaters have ever heard of this technology that, for certain kinds of boating—mainly coastal cruising and gunkholing—seems so essential.

I’ve used Interphase’s "Probe" (an earlier model with only vertical scan and a B&W display), with a transom-mount transducer, for four years on a 20-foot, cuddy-cabin powerboat. We particularly like to explore little shoreline coves and other close-to-shore locations, just the places where there a numerous unmarked submerged hazards. It very definitely has saved our hull and lower unit from bruises by unseen obstacles.

One of our favorite places to trailer our boat, The Thousand Islands, is a particularly hazardous place. Locals brag about typically going through several props each season as it’s inevitable because of the virtually unmarked hazards along the zigzagging channels around the islands. Yet with our Probe, we can enjoy exploring with lessened risk. The same is true in the several inland lakes that we frequent—shoaling from occasional storms seem to change these lakes’ bottoms from one month to the next, and again the Probe gives us a substantial margin of safety.

We’ve only had one problem with our unit, which was purchased from Interphase as a factory reconditioned unit—it initially generated audible clicks on our VHF, but Interphase knew exactly what was needed to correct the problem (at no cost), and since then, it has worked flawlessly. I also never found the unit to be difficult to learn, as you noted in the article. Perhaps the simplicity of our early model helps in that regard, but interpreting the displayed reflections just seems to be intuitive. And I don’t miss the lack of horizontal scanning—a slight touch on the wheel to swing the boat to port or starboard gives me a good mental picture of the water ahead, especially given the wide beam of the Probe.

Kenneth Crossner

Somerset, N.J.

Shipping Costs in PS

I often use Practical Sailor as a guide for marine products. While reading the bottom paint review in the March 2008 issue, it hit me: The prices you quoted don’t include shipping, and with heavy gallons of paint, and or teak cleaners, most are hazardous materials and cost more for shipping. Seems like someone was lazy getting quotes.

Jay Rosenfeld
Chicago, Ill.

As a rule, product prices listed in Practical Sailor do not include shipping expenses, which can vary greatly depending on the product, destination, and type of shipping preferred. Editors scan several sources for pricing and list the least-expensive of the bunch. When purchasing heavy, hazardous materials like bottom paint, shop locally to avoid excessive shipping costs.


We have had a satellite telephone account with GM-PCS for about four years. Every time I have tried to suspend service at the end of our trips, I have faxed them a letter requesting suspension of service, and in spite of this, they continue to charge us. Repeated calls for return of the charges result in responses such as: We never received your fax; our system is down, call back; I have to talk to my supervisor; you signed a contract and have to pay even if there is no service.

However the most frustration comes from trying to use the satellite telephone to obtain weather information to ensure a safe crossing of the Gulf Stream and not being connected to the satellite through this service provider. This is after "jumping through hoops" to get a service contract and, when we complained, being told that we were being served even though the satellite telephone handset indicated we had no service.

Globalstar has its problems, and in spite of intermittent satellite signal, it is still the most cost-effective way for us to download weather and access email. But when we can’t get to the satellites because of a poor service reseller, it’s intolerable.

I have contacted Globalstar Inc., the satellite owner and operator, to tell them of this continued failure to provide service, and will be writing to the various boating publications and organizations to which we belong so that others can be warned.

Drew Dolak
Ribbit, Motorcat 30t
Fort Myers Beach, Fla.

A Career in Boating

I read the "Do-it-yourself Dilemma" (Practical Sailor Editorial, March 2008), and I was hoping you could turn me on to a few good schools in the marine industry. And how does a person find a school that can help them get a grant in this area? Sure would appreciate your help with this. I just love messing around on boats!

Tim Masterson
Salida, Colo.

To address the shortage of skilled labor in the marine industry, the 22-member Marine Industry Technical Council was formed in 2005. The council has launched a helpful website,, with links to various educational and training programs around the country. In addition, several states have very active marine trade associations that can get you started on your search. The Massachusetts Marine Trade Association,, is an example of one group that has taken pro-active measures to bring more technicians into the industry.


The letters and responses regarding the Dutchman mainsail-handling system that were printed in the April 2008 Mailport section did not make it clear that the Dutchman system can be reefed. It can be reefed like any other sail, but according to the makers, it does not require intermediate reef points to contain loose sail when it is reefed. The Dutchman carries a satisfaction guarantee, and owner Martin Van Breems urges owners with any problems using or installing the Dutchman to contact him via

Comments (0)

Be the first to comment on this post using the section below.

New to Practical Sailor?
Register for Free!

Already Registered?
Log In