Mailport April 2013 Issue

Mailport: April 2013

Life Rafts

I would like your comment on what I believe may be a safety issue with one of the Marinco EEL 30-amp shore-power cords (PS, August 2012) now on the market.

I recently purchased the cord, and as packaged on the plastic spool, the shore end of the new 25-foot EEL cord has a very tight bend at the plug, in order to force it into the package. The bend is much tighter than I’d normally allow on a power cord, and upon inspection, I noticed what appears to be a separation of the seal between the cord and the plug. I checked other packages on the shelf at my local West Marine (one of many retailers of the cord), and found all of the 25-foot cords have the same tight bend at the shore end, and most have the same apparent seal issue. The packaging for the longer cords (50 feet) is not as tight and doesn’t appear to have the same problem. Shorter cords (12 feet) are simply coiled, not on a plastic spool, and also don’t show signs of the problem.

Here’s my concern: Is the apparent seal failure at the cord/connector joint a sign of stress on the conductor and/or plug, and over time, will it allow moisture to intrude, leading to a short and/or failure?

I contacted Marinco and West Marine about this problem in November 2012. West Marine passed me on to Marinco. Marinco showed initial concern, but not much since then. Maybe I’m being too fussy, but when it comes to electrical issues, I try to be conservative.    Chuck Rushing Anabel, Catalina 36 No. 2151 Solomons, Md.

We contacted Marinco (and parent company Actuant Corp.) about your concern with the possible cord stresses caused by the packaging. According to the company, Marinco pulled the cord for inspection after your initial complaint. Its engineers noted that the “sharp bend” required to fit the cord on the packaging spool was indeed putting undue strain on the cord, but that it did not compromise the cord’s safety or performance. Marinco explained that “actions were put into place to improve the packaging process to relieve the sharp bend.”

Marinco said that what you noted to be a crack in the cord is actually PVC flash from the molding process, along with a urethane adhesive used to bond the cable and connector together. The company determined that this does not jeopardize the conduit’s seal, cable jacket, or connector in any way. “It is our determination that there is not a safety issue due to the construction and manufacturing process of this cord set,” Marinco said in a statement to Practical Sailor.

Marinco sent PS a number of cut-away photos detailing the EEL’s manufacturing process, demonstrating how the PVC flash separation would not breech the cord jacket’s seal.

Editor’s Note: After PS contacted Marinco, the company emailed the reader, explained the findings of their investigation, and sent him a new 25-foot EEL cord that had never been coiled onto a spool.

Life Rafts

The problem you wrote about in “Life Rafts, Pride, and Prejudice” (PS, February 2013) is not unique. We had our Switlik SAR-6 serviced in Australia in 2009.

Photo courtesy of Steve Sharp

A life raft inspection found that this safety pin and tag—designed to prevent accidental inflation when the raft’s not in use—had never been removed from reader Steve Sharp’s life raft. The raft had been in service for more than two years with the tag still attached.

Two years later, back in the USA after crossing the Indian Ocean and the South Atlantic—and experiencing weather so severe that, at one point, we had to go to the aid of a fellow sailor whose boat had been crippled by the heavy seas in a storm—we had the raft inspected at River Services in Thunderbolt, Ga., a firm that encourages raft owners to be present when the raft is inspected. When our raft’s case was opened, all work stopped while the manager called for witnesses and took pictures. A safety pin in the gas bottle, designed to prevent accidental inflation of the raft when not aboard ship, had been left in place. The raft would not have inflated had we deployed it!  Since the raft was in a hard case, held shut by metal bands, there was no way we could have discovered this problem without unpacking the raft.

We have decided that we must always be present when our life raft is inspected and packed, and we will hunt around until we find a company that will allow us to be there as the job is done. We may not be able to spot every potential problem, but by being there, we can make sure that the agent goes through the checklist thoroughly and that the raft is packed carefully.

As a footnote to this incident, the Australian company responded forthrightly with profuse apologies.  They informed us that they have recently implemented a procedure where two certified inspectors must be present when a raft is packed and sealed, and a copy of the signed checklist goes to the customer.

Steve Sharp
Key of D, Custom Crowther cat
Reno, Nev.

Teak Guard

I was reading a past article about the exterior wood finish exposure tests you did in Florida (PS, May 2009 and September 2011). One of the products you tested was Teak Guard, and you pulled it after six months due to excessive wear and degeneration. Was that the Australian-made Teak Guard or the Ohio-made Teak Guard?  

Mark Nance
Via email

The Teak Guard we tested was manufactured by an Australia-based company named Nanovations. It was re-formulated after that test began, so we didn’t test the product that they now market. However, the maker said our coating should have lasted six to 12 months, and said that re-applying the finish sooner would have prevented the degradation and resulting mildew that we found in our tests.

Bullet Keels

In regard to your November 2012 article on keel design: Bullet keels, at first glance, appear as if they are an afterthought and were forgotten in the initial design process. If it was the intent of the designer to provide minimum damage to the hull to maintain watertight integrity when initially going hard aground by providing the point of impact to absorb the bulk of forces and sheer from the remainder of the hull, the concept is ideal. Beyond one-design class racing or daysailing, it is an accident waiting to happen offshore. Past history speaks for itself.  

The test panel coated with Nanovations Teak Guard in our long-term wood finish test showed mildew stains and complete coating breakdown at the six-month mark. Makers re-formulated the finish after our test began.

Roland Schultz
Restless, Mason 43

Watermaker Field Notes

Having sailed my family around the world over a five-year period using an older Spectra watermaker, I can add a few thoughts to your February 2013 review of DC watermakers.

Photos courtesy of John Spier

Cruiser and PS contributor John Spier, who lives aboard this Outremer 45, touts the advantages of having a watermaker that is run on solar power for long-distance cruising.

A watermaker is wonderful for long-distance cruising. Because we could run ours strictly on solar power, we essentially had as much “free” water as we could use when we were anchored in the tropics; our 500 watts of solar panels would top up the batteries by noon on most days, so we could make 30 to 40 gallons of water in the afternoons. We never needed that much, but we gave it away to other sailors and often to locals.

We also traded it for beer, chocolate, flour and other staples, fresh fruit, and seafood, and were able to make other peoples’ lives easier. And, we never worried about the quality of water we were giving our children.

That said, a watermaker is not a simple, trouble-free device; it requires a lot of “user participation.” The Clark pump is not something you can work on yourself; we had ours overhauled once in Thailand for a cracked casting and traded it in on a rebuilt one in Puerto Rico a few years later.   Membranes will last three to four years, if cared for. You don’t need to buy them from Spectra; the same units are available worldwide through hardware stores and agricultural supply houses for less than half the cost. Ditto for filter cartridges; they are very standard. Pickling and cleaning chemicals are also available inexpensively and in bulk from restaurant equipment suppliers; a quick Internet search will get you the generic names and appropriate concentrations.

Our Spectra has dual feed pumps, and I replaced the heads almost annually and the motors several times. Again, basic Shurflo pumps are available everywhere.

One of the first things I did was to cut away almost all of the alloy cover on the main module, making the fittings and connections much more accessible.

Another early discovery and modification was that if your boat routinely sails at over 7 knots or so, you’ll need a sea chest or scoop on the intake; on our first ocean crossing, we had to reef down to make water, which was very frustrating!

Lastly, you need to include flushing water in your efficiency calculations. It takes three to four gallons of fresh water to adequately flush the unit after each use. Our Spectra drew about 16 amps and produced about 13 gallons per hour, but we typically made 30 to 40 gallons at a time and then used 10 percent of it to flush. In conclusion, I would never want a watermaker on a coastal cruising boat, but I wouldn’t choose to go long-distance sailing without one.

John Spier
Aldora, Outremer 45

BacTank Update

I wanted to inform your readers that we have changed the packaging for BacTank T3, a holding tank treatment PS reviewed in the December 2012 issue, to a more economical size, making it easier to dispense the powder into holding tanks.

We are going with a 2-ounce soluble pack that can be added directly into the toilet and flushed to the holding tank. This will prevent the powder from flying around, floating on the water in the tank, and leaving a slight ring. The film that contains the powder will dissolve when it is introduced into water.

Barbara J. Nolan
President, BacTank T3

DeLorme Field Notes

I recently completed two cruises where the skipper had a DeLorme InReach (PS, March 2013) on board. They worked flawlessly, and I thought I might replace my original SPOT with one.

In researching it, I realized that the standard model comes with no clip or mount and that the lithium battery life was only three days, although, at least now, they claim five days. On our trip, the batteries lasted only three days with sending track points every two hours; the unit was purchased in the late summer of 2012.

I called DeLorme, and the company does have a bracket for the unit, as well as an adapter so users can eliminate batteries and plug the unit into a 12-volt socket instead. This makes the unit an excellent choice, so long as you don’t expect to need to grab it and jump into a life raft. Unfortunately, you can’t

use the bracket and the 12-volt adapter simultaneously, and I suspect that the 12-volt adapter eliminates the unit’s waterproofness.

I also suggest that users consider whether it is really necessary to send a track point every 10 minutes. At 6 knots, that’s a point every 1 nautical mile, and it becomes a horrible-looking mass of dots on DeLorme’s online map. I suggest sending a point every two hours or doing what I do with my SPOT: I turn it on when I want to send a message to friends as to where I am. These show up on the map as single points, not a track, but using this method you can send more than 1,000 on a set of batteries.

As for my original SPOT, it has worked flawlessly though their website is slow when you want to change your profile’s data.

Marcus Libkind
Tradewinds Sailing Club
Richmond, Calif

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