Mailport November 2009 Issue

Mailport: 11/09

Trigger Tether

To keep from being pulled under in a collision between a tanker and my sailboat, I "pulled the ripcord" to release the snap shackle on my Standard West Marine Safety Tether . The tether release lanyard was outfitted with a series of balls. (See bottom photo at right.)

I had rehearsed reaching for and feeling the release toggle many times so it would come naturally in an emergency. The balls have a distinct feel. There was nothing on my PFD or foul-weather jacket that resembled them.

The replacement tether I bought from West Marine (ISAF Specification Safety

Alberg 35
Photos courtesy of Jack Durham

Reader Jack Durham, here aboard his Alberg 35, is retrofitting the pull cord on his new West Marine tether (top) with beads to resemble his older WM tether model (bottom).
Tether, No. 9553504) has a new toggle on the snap-shackle release lanyard that consists of an open triangle of plastic. This is dangerous, in my opinion! In my first few hours of using the new tether, in moderate sea conditions, I managed to snag the triangular loop on something and release the snap shackle. I am now replacing all triangular loop pulls with bead pulls that I have crafted myself.

Jack Durham,
!YO VIVO!, Alberg 35,
Kaneohe, Hawaii

The task of designing an unyielding snap shackle that is easy to unhook in the water poses a vexing challenge for tether designers. Our own in-the-water testing (Practical Sailor August 2008 and September 2009) found the balls to be hard to grip and pull under load, particularly when wearing gloves. We have not yet tested the harnesses with the looped lanyard attached to the snap shackle release. West Marine worked with Kong, an Italian hardware company that makes a range of safety gear items for emergency services and alpine rescue crews, to come up with its two ISAF Safety Harness Tethers. According to Chuck Hawley, vice president of product development at West Marine, the company wanted a reliable means to trigger the snap shackle, even with gloves, under extreme conditions. "We’re not sure if there is a perfect solution, since one sailor’s ‘easy to release’ is another sailor’s ‘too easy to release’," Hawley said. "We appreciate the feedback from the customer, as always, as it helps us make better products over time."

Top Secret Topsides

I just found out about a product you might like to test: Top Secret Coatings, Its website talks like it is the cure all for all topside coatings and bottom painting. Is it too good to be true? I’m curious about it, and I hope you might be to.

Peter Koehler,
1981 Catalina,
Nahant, Mass.

According to Top Secret Coatings, the company has been supplying paints to the government for years, and only recently branched into the marine retail market. Like you, we’re curious to see whether the company’s coatings live up to their claims. We’ve requested products from Top Secret and plan to put its antifoulings and topside paints into the testing rotation. Stay tuned.

LEDs vs. Amps

Your September 2009 article on LED bulbs for bulkhead lights caught my attention. I’ve taken the non-scientific approach to the LED brightness vs. amp-draw quest. I have a 2000 Catalina 400 MkII with 33 bulbs belowdecks, and out of the 33 bulbs, there are four types (festoon, G4, wedge base, and bayonet). Simply put, the brightness was fine, but not the amp draw. So, my objective was to duplicate the warm glow of the lights with the lowest amp-draw possible (LEDs).

The article stated that the Imtra ILGU5.3 MR16 cool 3-watt generates 111 lumens, draws 0.34 amps, and costs $28. I have installed 13 of Superbrightleds’ G4B-WWHP10D LEDs, which generate 111 lumens cool white each or 98 lumens warm white each. The cool white draws 0.205 amps, and the warm white draws 0.195 amps. My preference is the warm white.

My recommendation is to check out, compare prices and

Cetol-Finished Teak

The Cetol-finished teak trim on reader George Braun’s Morris Annie, looking fresh in this picture, is ready for a re-coat. We recommend sanding rather than stripping or a heat gun-scraper routine.
specs. Their LEDs have exceeded my expectations, and I have not experienced any problems.

Olav N. Pedersen,
Midnight Sun (Hull #171),
2000 Catalina 400 Mk II,
Kemah, Texas

Thanks for the tip. The LEDs you mention are similar to bulbs tested for our in-depth report on LED interior lighting in January 2009. These bulbs were fine for general illumination, but were not the best for reading (our criteria for that test). As our test found, published specs can be misleading. If you do want to shop around for bulbs, be sure to compare warranty and return policies. Our long-term test of LED replacement bulbs is ongoing, and an LED nav light test is on the horizon.

Tough Boots and Cetol

The October 2009 article on sea boots reminded me that a few years ago, some fishing boots—I think from Alaska—that were mentioned in Practical Sailor as being quite acceptable for sailing and quite inexpensive compared to the $200 pairs now recommended. Do you remember what these were?

Also, the Cetol on my boat needs re-coating. Is it ok to sand-off the old, multiple, peeling coats, or do I need to use a heat gun and scraper?

George Braun,
Jeanne Marie, Morris Annie No. 9,
Greenport, N.Y.

We believe the boots you’re referring to were recommended by a reader in the July 2000 Mailport: XtraTuf fishing boots ( While we have not yet tested these, Practical Sailor contributors Beth Leonard and Evans Starzinger used them on their high-latitude cruise. The couple said the boots have great nonskid and rated them well for normal spring/summer/fall sailing. However, the boots were not warm enough for extreme cold. Our September 2002 test also included some inexpensive basic boots.

As for your Cetol: We assume you used the Cetol clear gloss overcoat. If the finish is peeling, removal should not be too difficult. One of the beautiful things about the synthetic teak treatments vs. a urethane varnish is that they are not as hard, so they require less work to remove.

Sanding with 80 grit to start (and then sanding with finer grit up to 220 before re-coating) should be enough to get it off without taking the teak too far down. Regular re-coats (before it starts to peel) should require only light sanding.

There are also chemical strippers available that may take some of the elbow grease out of the take-down, but we’ve never used any on teak. Strippers should be used with serious caution around any painted surfaces or non-coated fiberglass, and be sure the stripper is thoroughly rinsed from the wood; residue will cause adhesion problems.

If you’re looking for a new product to re-coat with, check out the results of our long-term exterior wood finishes test at the one-year mark in the next issue.


Your September 2009 article on Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) referred to an issue, which according to my research, is an Internet myth—that AIS-B targets can be "de-cluttered" from a target display. From what I have found, Class-A AIS (commercial) systems are prohibited by regulation from filtering targets based upon being Class A vs. Class B; and the ACR Nauticast Class-B transceiver I installed last

ACR Nauticast
Photo courtesy of Paul Herer

ACR Nauticast
winter also has no such capability.

Speaking of my ACR Nauticast, your article mentioned VHF splitters. I connected a Comar AST-100 active VHF splitter designed for Class-B AIS transceivers to my masthead antenna 56 feet above the water. I am seeing AIS targets 48 nautical miles away regularly, and last weekend I was tracking a freighter that was 69 nm away. It does not interfere with my voice VHF at all and my voltage standing wave ratio (VSWR) meter is happy on both radios. There also was absolutely no change in satellite signals for the AIS or my GPS.

Finally, it cannot be overemphasized that in restricted visibility conditions, AIS is no substitute for radar. I was very disappointed to discover that the Maine State ferries frequently plying Penobscot Bay, which are our most dangerous target in the fog, are not AIS equipped. When I queried the skipper I discovered they only rate 260 tons and thus are not required to have AIS. Since being hit by one would ruin anyone’s day, it made me realize that 300 tons is really big, and there are plenty of things out there that are big enough, quiet enough, and fast enough to be scary without triggering the mandatory AIS requirement.

Charlie Freeman,
Kamaloha, 1988 Tayana 37 No. 542

Your last point is the main reason for our cautions regarding AIS systems, an excellent, but not infallible aid to collision avoidance. According to an alert issued by the U.S. Coast Guard in October 2008: "Although all Class A [commercial] devices will receive Class B [recreational] information; unfortunately, some older Class A models [pre-2005] are unable to render this information on their Minimum Keyboard and Display (MKD) or may only have available the Class B vessel’s dynamic data (i.e. position, course and speed) but not its static data (i.e. vessel name, call-sign). Therefore, the Coast Guard cautions new AIS Class B users to not assume that they are being ‘seen’ by all other AIS users or that all their information is available to all Class A users."

For a list of the USCG-approved AIS-A devices that require a software update to properly display AIS-B info, visit Another resource on this topic is the 130-page International Association of Marine Aids to Navigation and Lighthouse Authorities guidelines,

USCG AIS Regulatory Project Officer Jorge Arroyo shed a little more light on the need for some AIS-A to be updated in order for the new regulations to be met: "New international navigation presentation standards applicable to radar, ARPA, Electronic Chart Display and Information Systems (ECDIS), Electronic Chart Systems (ECS), Chartplotters, etc. allow ‘filtering’— by target range, CPA/TCPA [Closest Point of Approach] or AIS target class (either A or B) of sleeping AIS targets. [A sleeping AIS target icon indicates the presence of a vessel equipped with AIS, however, no additional information is presented until the AIS target is activated.]

"However, the filter process used to limit the number of displayed targets should ensure that priority is given to showing those that have an impact on the safety of own ship. Additionally, sleeping AIS targets must be automatically activated (become active AIS targets) when they meet user-defined parameters—target range, CPA/TCPA, or AIS class, etc. This said, AIS-A requirements for MKDs do not allow for such filtering. So although, the display of AIS B targets may be filtered under certain circumstances, you are not invisible because MKD’s are required to display the bearing and range of all AIS targets.

"This is a relatively new standard, thus many ships have yet to outfit or update their equipment accordingly. Likewise, and unfortunately, many ships have yet to update their existing equipment to recognize AIS Class B units at all.

"Traditionally, manufacturers have done this filtering unbeknownst to the consumer; very few systems can process over 200 targets at a time. The way the new standard was developed was to allow the user/consumer a say on how and what is to be filtered and when."

BEP Tank Tender

It was nice to find the BEP TS1 on your list of Gear of the Year (September 2009), but I believe you may have done a disservice by not pointing out that the sender is

Paul Herer’s J-100

Paul Herer’s J-100, Whaat’s Up, catches a fresh breeze in the fresh water off Illinois.
fully programmable. It can be programmed to emulate virtually any sender type, and can thus be used with any in-place gauge system. I discovered this on my own, and have now ordered one to replace my now-twice-fouled WEMA sender. It can also be programmed to allow for excellent accuracy in odd-shaped tanks. Well worth the under-$200 cost of the sensor alone.

Cary Stotland,
Via e-mail

Freshwater Antifouling

I must take issue with the article on bottom paints in the October 2009 issue. You rate the VC 17m and VC 17m Extra "Fair" and "Poor." It seems you tested these freshwater products in salt water. I have used both of these paints for many years in Lake Michigan and have found them to be quite effective.

I feel the test for any product needs to be done in the application and environment for which it has been intended.

Paul Herer,
Whaat’s Up, J-100, Hull No. 6,
Waukegan, Ill.

We’ve tested paints in fresh water several times and found that our comparative rankings in fresh water broadly correlate with those in salt water. However, since freshwater species are generally less aggressive, less-potent freshwater paints that fall short in salt water do much better in fresh water. Biocide potency is an important consideration for freshwater boaters, particularly those on small lakes, since this environment is a more "closed" reservoir for biocides like copper that leach out of antifouling paints.

Practical Sailor encourages freshwater boaters to use hard paints that have no more biocide than required to combat slime and hard growth. Interlux’s VC-17m Extra and Pettit’s SR-21 freshwater paints are fine for this application, particularly if you race. Both repelled growth after a season in Lake Erie in our last freshwater test in 2007. Both, however, use the anti-slime agent Irgarol, a pesticide that is tightly regulated or banned as an antifouling agent in some places outside the U.S.

Sailing Video Games

I would like to purchase new simulator software for this winter. How about doing a fresh review of what is available? (Last review was June 2003.)

Here are a few to check out: VirtualSkipper5, 21st Century Sailing Simulator, HMS Surprise, Sailing 2000, Sail Simulator 5, Posey Yacht Design, Stentec Software,, and Virtual Passages.

Dave Esme,
O’Day 23,
Peoria, Ill.

We’re game. If you have a favorite sailing video game or sailing game website, let us know about it at

Stuffing Box Clarification

In the Mailport section of the December 2008 issue, a letter recommends stuffing-box packing from "U-Tek Corp." I’ve searched everywhere but cannot find this company. Thoughts?

Dr. Gary Deangelis,
Via e-mail

We apologize for the mixup. The company is Utex, not U-Tek, and the website is You can find information on packing material at

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