Chandlery- December 2013
Vesper AIS-VHF-AM/FM Splitter
We’ve had good experiences with Walker Bay products, so we expected a lot from the company’s inflatable stand-up paddleboard (iSUP), the 12-foot Airis Hardtop Tour. Rated for 275 pounds, the board features a standard bungee tie-down strap for gear and a carrying bag.
The Hardtop Tour has a stiff, non-removable plastic skeg, so it won’t get lost, but it can get bent during packing. If it gets bent, you can heat it with a hair-dryer to straighten it out.
The Tour’s defining features are its rigid footpads, each about 40 by 11 inches, covered with padded-foam nonskid. These are designed to make the board easier to balance on than other inflatable boards, but we didn’t notice a significant difference compared to the Tower Paddleboards 9-foot, 6-inch Adventurer iSUP we reviewed (PS, June 2013). The footpads also should help protect the top from wear. The hard top limits folded width to 42 by 7 inches—big, but still small enough to fit in a cockpit locker.
Using the included and well-designed manual pump, testers inflated the Tour to the recommended 10 pounds per square inch in less than three minutes. We tested the Tour cruising iSUP in flat bay waters, light chop, and in beach surf.
Touted as a hybrid high-pressure board, the Airis moved surprisingly well through a light chop in about 10 knots of wind. The long waterline and 6-inch thickness make it quite stable for an inflatable board. Wave-seekers will prefer the shorter Walker Bay Stubby (9 feet long, rated for up to 225 pounds). Walker Bay also offer an 11-foot board, the Hardtop SUV, which is rated to 250 pounds.
We found the Airis Hardtop Tour listed online for $999, excluding shipping. Registering the board extends the standard 90-day warranty to one year.
Bottom line: The Airis’s firm footpads offer an advantage for beginners, larger people, and those bringing the dog along, but Tower’s two-year warranty on the easier-to-stow Adventurer gives it an edge in our view.
Vesper AIS-VHF-AM/FM Splitter
The benefits of having Automatic Identification System (AIS) devices on board are obvious (PS, August 2010), but finding a good place for another antenna can be a challenge. Masthead space is often limited and mounting an AIS antenna on the stern rail limits range. Enter Vesper Marine’s VHF/AIS/FM SP160 antenna splitter, a product from the New Zealand-based company that lets your VHF, AIS device, and FM radio share the same antenna.
The submersible SP160 is a well-made, blackbox-type unit that can be used with AIS receivers and transponders, and with 12- or 24-volt DC systems. The splitter features four connectors (VHF, AIS, antenna, and AM/FM radio) and four status-indicating LEDs that show power, VHF transmit, AIS transmit, and antenna quality.
Insertion loss—the loss of signal power resulting from the insertion of a device in a transmission line—is always a concern when installing a splitter. However, the SP160 has a built-in, low-noise amplifier that provides signal gain, improving AIS reception and range, according to the maker.
With the SP160, the VHF radio always has priority and can always transmit, even if power to the unit fails, a feature our testers liked. We also liked the VHF-in-use indicator, which shows when AIS traffic is delayed because the VHF is using the antenna.
Testers installed the SP160 on a Union 36 and found installation to be straightforward. Two 50-ohm patch cables with standard PL-259 plugs are needed, but no special adapters are required for the AIS or VHF connections; the AM/FM connection requires an optional cable.
During initial tests, we noted that AIS reception was improved with SP160 turned on: We picked up one AIS target (at 1.5 nautical miles) with the splitter off; moments later and anchored in the same spot, we picked up 10 targets (up to 11 nautical miles away) with the SP160 turned on. We will be testing the splitter further while cruising this winter.
We generally prefer the simplicity and redundancy of having separate antennas for AIS and VHF. There are always trade-offs when combining the needs of two systems into a single “box,” and splitters are no exception. Using a masthead antenna will provide better AIS reception, but be aware that even modest insertion loss can significantly reduce transmit power output, particularly for longer cable runs with RG-58 coax cable. However, the SP160’s amplifier is designed to compensate for this.
Bottom line: At $249, the SP160 is four times the price of the best VHF antenna in our most recent test (PS, February 2007). But if the thought of running another wire to another antenna gives you a splitting a headache, the SP160 is a viable option.
Stor N Boat Rows 'n Stows
When an entrepreneur in Ohio called and said he was rowing around the local lakes in a car-top carrier, we knew we had to test it. The Stor N Boat is a ruggedly built polyethylene hull with three removable seats and a 450-pound weight limit. It’s 8 feet long with a 3.5-foot beam, and it weighs 115 pounds with the seats (98 pounds without). It can be rowed or powered with a 2-horsepower outboard.
What sets this little boat apart is that it mates snugly with a polyethylene tray that bolts to a car’s existing roof rack, turning the dinghy into a storage unit. The whole package weighs 153 pounds—note that this is more than some carmaker’s specify for their roof racks.
When we tested the Stor N Boat, it took 20 minutes to install the removable tray on a 2003 Jeep Liberty already outfitted with kayak roof racks. We loaded the boat up alone (it’s easier with two people) and drove around for a few days before discovering that we’d increased the Jeep’s already inherent rollover risk by exceeding its specified 100-pound limit for the rooftop carrier. At 65 miles per hour, testers noted no rattles or whistling from the secured setup, but some rain leaked in at the edges of the tray.
The Stor N Boat feature testers most-liked afloat was its rugged construction. The thick gunwale provides excellent protection against bumps and scrapes. Molded-in drink holders, removable seats, and a built-in battery tray rounded out the neat features.
The boat’s shape maximizes volume, so it is not very efficient to row. With one person aboard, it rowed well. With two, speed dropped to 2 knots and it became sluggish. However, when we slapped on a 2-horsepower Honda, the boat handled surprisingly well considering the narrow beam.
Bottom line: This is a tough boat and an interesting concept. We think that it’s better suited for solo hunters, campers, and fishermen than cruising couples or families. It might also serve the needs of a trailer-sailing pack-rat. We’d opt for an electric motor. Cabelas sells it for $1,500, with a one-year warranty.
Solar Kettle Calls for Patience
We know there are PS readers who strive to get live off “The Grid,” and that’s the aim of the SunRocket, a solar-powered kettle from Australia-based Sun Cooking.
The SunRocket is a thermos-style kettle that solar heats water in a glass vacuum tube in a method that’s similar to rooftop solar water heaters. You fill the canister with water (or snow), screw the lid on securely, open the reflective side panels, lay the SunRocket in sunlight, and then wait . . . and wait.
We recorded the time to heat 16 ounces of 75-degree water in partly sunny skies and got these results: one hour, 110 degrees; two hours, 130 degrees; three hours, 154 degrees; five hours, 170 degrees. Average air temperature was 80 degrees, and we conducted the test from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m.
The SunRocket’s thermal glass tube is covered by a weather-resistant, BPA-free plastic casing that opens to reveal aluminum reflective panels. It weighs 2.6 pounds, measures 17.7 by 4.2 by 4.2 inches, and holds 16.9 ounces of water. It retails for $60.
The maker claims the SunRocket can kill giardia and other bacteria in water. However, the Centers for Disease Control recommends boiling water for this, and we could not get the SunRocket to boil water. For back country germ-killing, either the Steripen (PS, September 2008) or CamelBak All Clear (PS, June 2013) are better options. Good coffee needs to steep in about 180-degree water, and we think the SunRocket can hit that temp on a full-sun day.
Bottom line: The SunRocket is not rocket fast. Most will find it too slow for practical use, but the forager on your holiday list should like it.