Mailport: June 2014
Autopilots and Cruising
It’s not surprising that boat-shoe makers don’t have any suggestions for restoring grip to worn-out boat shoes. I just rubbed the bottoms of three pairs of mine with a rag soaked in acetone (in a well-vented area, of course). It seems to have softened the soles and improved the grip; time will tell how long it remains.
S.S. Minnow II, 1987 Sanibel 18
1978 Newport Surprise
Isles of Capri, Naples, Fla
Five years has passed since your last large-scale test of hands-free communication devices (see PS May 2009 online), and that market has much improved. We use the waterproof, floating Motorola MS350R two-way radios along with the Motorola 53725 voice-activated headset (with boom mic). The headset stays in place, the clarity is incredible for its low price point, and they’re not bulky like some of the other brands.
Tom and Shauna Varley Jr.
Card Scanner Test
In regard to the Mailport letter seeking a test of business-card scanners (see PS March 2014 online): I agree that Consumer Reports is a better source for that review. We’ve taken to adding pertinent information to our business cards in the form of a QR code printed on the card back. Most smart phones can run a QR code scanner, so the information is easily retrievable. The QR code can be changed at any time and printed on a new set of cards. Software for creating the code is available at no charge online, and it can be imported into a printing program as a JPG file.
I think a useful PS project would be a survey of subscribers’ experiences with their engines. You could combine this with a survey of boatyard managers and mechanics to get the benefit of their observations. I repowered my 38-foot Ericson recently, switching to Yanmar after never-ending problems with a Volvo turbo. It would have been very helpful to me to have had some statistical information on good makes and models. Information such as this would also be useful to anyone buying a used boat. Other information, such as availability of parts, cost of repairs, noise and vibration could also be a part of the survey.
Richard T. Hardaway
In February 2002, we ran an article called “Diesel Mechanics Forum” that addresses some of your points. Interviewing a roundtable of diesel engine mechanics, the article covers their opinions and experiences with a range of engine brands. We also welcome input from readers who would like to chime in on their inboards; please send email to email@example.com.
Garmin Wind Vane
In regard to the PS April 2014 Mailport letter on a reader’s poor experience with the Garmin anemometer: I have purchased two of these units. One was for my Ericson 29 back in 2007. It was easy to install and to set up; however, I made the mistake of placing the anemometer on the top of the mast two weeks before the yard set the mast. A week later, it had been knocked off. I could not get it to stay on and determined the clip was broken. I ordered another clip and let the riggers put it on. It stayed on for four years.
When I bought my current boat in 2011, I installed another GWS10. The riggers installed it, and it fell off a week later. I ordered two more, and each in turn has fallen off.
I am at a loss as to what I am going to do. This needs to be investigated.
Morning Dew IV, 1988 Catalina 30
Pine Point, Maine
More Vane Woes
About five years ago, I dropped my mast for the first time, and while it was down, I installed a Garmin GWS10 (see PS May 2014 and April 2014 online). Within a week, I saw an osprey land on the new vane (they weigh 2.25 to 4.25 pounds), and when it took off, the vane plunged into the creek, never to be seen again.
In retrospect, I should have known better. The Chesapeake supports a large osprey population. A rigger told me of a customer who lost several Davis wind indicators because ospreys were harvesting them for their nesting material. And I had previously convinced Davis to provide a bird spike for its wind indicator because osprey continually decimated mine, but since my previous Data Marine anemometer was never bothered, I did not anticipate a problem with the Garmin.
I think the reason the Data Marine never had a problem is because it was not roost friendly. It was built like the tail of an airplane with the leading edge sharply sloping downward and the horizontal portion too short for an osprey to perch on, similar to the NKE HR, or perhaps the B&G 508 in your March 2014 issue.
In my opinion, Garmin instruments are great. By using an Actisense, which converts NEMA 2000 to NEMA 0183, I have been able to fully integrate NMEA 2000 wind and GPS speed and direction data with my Raymarine (SeaTalk) SX-5 wheelpilot
So to protect my new anemometer, I installed a bird deterrent (see photos). Made of aluminum U channel and rod, it is attached to the holes in my spinnaker crane. I have once seen an osprey sit between it and the Davis bird spike, and I have seen smaller birds temporarily sit on my bird protector, but the anemometer has not been harmed.
Wind Rush, 1983 CS36T
Autopilots and Cruising
Some comments to your article on autopilots in the April 2014 issue: Hands down, for offshore cruising, the electric autopilot is the most repair prone and most expensive gear to replace, in my opinion. (See the equipment surveys of the Seven Seas Cruising Association, www.ssca.org.) Over many tens of thousands of offshore miles, we’ve found the pilots to be the most expensive gear to replace; offshore sailors routinely carry a complete backup. Figure on 500 hours between failures. Typically, it’s the computer module that fails on conventional units since the power to run the hydraulic ram is typically routed through that module. For coastal sailing, autopilots can last decades, provided all the components are kept scrupulously dry. On a calm day, the smallest pilot can navigate a 100-footer, but when offshore, even the largest pilot available to recreational users will be unable to exert sufficient control in heavy quartering seas. All the more reason to never leave the pilot unattended during running or reaching in a good sea, lest the boat quickly broach.
It’s a good idea to buy the largest electric hydraulic ram drive available. Raymarine drives are built in the UK, and its largest drive, a Type 3—even though rated to about 70,000-pounds displacement—has difficulties once past 50,000 pounds. Most manufacturers use the same reversible motor, so they’re often switchable among brands. The motors are fairly small, so they’re sensitive to heat buildup, and usually not water-resistant. Replacing the motors is usually not difficult, provided you have an ample supply of hydraulic fluid to bleed the system. The solenoid switches built into each ram occasionally fail and are not so easy to replace, unless you’ve seen it done before.
Offshore sailors usually learn the hard way that effective use of autopilots requires ongoing attention to sail trim. The objective is always to minimize the rudder load on the pilot.
When installing a new or replacement autopilot, it’s a good time to also replace both the steering cables and the chain. When a steering cable or chain fails offshore, even the most capable mechanic is bound to say “uncle.” Some coastal sailors never change their steering cables/chain, but actively used boats are usually advised to do so every three to five years.
Peter I. Berman
“Outfitting the Offshore