Mailport: 03/05


FenderStep Follow-up
[Re: PS Jan. 1, ’05 “Chandlery”] Let me contribute both praise and a word of caution about the FenderStep. We used a FenderStep throughout the past summer and it really made the process of getting folks aboard and off our boat a lot easier. We added a couple of clips to lines woven to both ends, so now it easily mounts and deploys. The freeboard on our Mercer 44 isn’t excessive, so this product provides the one step necessary.

The warning is that our shiny hull suffered some abrasion when sand was transferred from feet to the FenderStep and then slid downward and became trapped between the hull and the FenderStep. As folks step on it, the FenderStep deforms a little and rubs the sand against the hull. As a result of our experience, I have written to the company to suggest that vertical ribs be added to the FenderStep to eliminate this problem. Skippers using the FenderStep ought to be aware of the potential for abrasion. The device is both helpful and safe, and I have both recommended and given the FenderStep as a gift.

David Kent
South Freeport, ME


About six months ago, I too was intrigued by the FenderStep concept, so I bought one from the American distributor. Unfortunately, Ive not had a chance to try it.

As you obliquely noted, it takes an unusual (at least for me) fitting to inflate and I haven’t been able to find one. I’ve contacted the distributor several times and, while they’ve been very nice and friendly, they haven't been able to sell me one or offer any advice as to where I might buy one.

I assume that the fitting is standard in Europe, but I haven’t been able to find it in West Marine or Fawcetts or other marine stores around Baltimore. Perhaps you could loan me yours so I could inflate mine and see if its really as good as you claim.

Reuben Mezrich
Baltimore, MD

Chris Fletcher of Neatboat told us that he became aware of the nozzle issue late last year and has since started including a sheet explaining that a standard 5/16″ air gun nozzle will fit the FenderStep and inflate it. You can buy these at most hardware stores or any pump shop. Fletcher also said that he’ll soon be stocking nozzles. He can be reached at 603/232-6897.


Washdown Pumps
[Re: “Raw Water Pumps,” Jan. 1, ’05] In your review of washdown pumps, you mention that the Paragon Senior doesn’t include a pressure switch. If you buy the water pressure system version, it does include a very good pressure switch.

I have been using a Groco Paragon Junior water pump on my boat for about 15 years. It is my fresh water system and fresh water washdown pump. It uses a similar pump head to the Senior, but it is smaller and belt-driven. The only repair I’ve ever done was to replace the pressure switch once and the belt once. And I believe that the current version of the Junior has an improved pressure switch.

The pump head on these models is a very old design going back to at least the 1950s when Crowell Marine used it on their pumps. It is an extremely reliable design that will last many, many years without need for service as long as you don’t run abrasive material through it. If you do ever need to repair it, it is a pretty simple job. I’m not surprised that it is expensive; it is a big chunk of bronze with some complicated machine work.

And did I mention that it also has a gizmo that protects it from running dry?

Parks Masterson
Miami, FL


Cabin Heater Feedback
[Re: “Portable Cabin Heaters,” PS Jan. 15, ’04] As a liveaboard, I was happy to see your article on portable heaters. I have spent a significant amount of time trying to find a 110V heater that is well built, safe, efficient, small, reasonably quiet, and capable of maintaining a reasonable cabin temperature in my poorly insulated 31-foot Beneteau.

After researching several dozen models, including five of the ones you tested, I ended up with a Pelonis Disc Furnace III. Interestingly, you mention Pelonis by name, but failed to include a Pelonis model in the test. Thats unfortunate given the unique nature of their Disc Furnace ceramic heaters, a technology they invented, and how well these products seem to fit marine applications.

The model I chose has a unique electronic thermostat that doesn’t simply cut the heater on and off, but ramps the heating element and fan speed up and down as necessary. While not silent, in my opinion it is certainly preferable to the full on/full off nature of most thermostatically controlled heaters. The quality of the Pelonis Disc Furnace heaters is further evidenced by the fan motors which utilize ball bearings for long life as well as the 5-year warranty.

While I have not had it very long, what I am able to report is that the air from this mighty mite is much hotter that any other heater I have tried, and it has been much more successful at keeping the cabin reasonably warm when the temps drop. In fact, it was able to maintain at least 63 F during a recent two-day Chesapeake cold snap that reached as low as 15 F and got no warmer than 30 F. At $79.00 it isn’t cheap, but given its performance so far I consider it a very good value, and I am confident that had you selected one for your test, it would have topped the list.

John Gray, III
Richmond, VA


You’ve made a basic measurement error regarding the data on ‘heat output’ and ‘fan output’ of cabin heaters. In scientific terms, you’ve confused ‘intensive variables’ with ‘extensive variables.’ The former is a measurement of intensity that can be made at a point and does not depend on the size of the system. The latter requires you know the size or ‘extent’ of the system.

The measured temperature in your test tells us nothing about how well the device will heat the cabin. We need to know the heat production. For example: If a heater produces air at 400 F, but only produces a tenth of a cubic foot of this hot air per hour, it will do poorly at heating my cabin on a cold night. If another heater produces air at only 90, and produces 1,000 cubic feet of it per hour, it might work pretty well.

Likewise, measuring the velocity of the air delivered by the fan does not tell us how much air it moves; we need the cross sectional area of the flowing air.

Bob Banzett
Boston, MA


Belt Style PFDs
[Re: “Belt-Style PFD Test,” PS Jan. 15, ’04] I enjoyed your review of belt-style inflatable PFDs, but would have to disagree with your assertion that the Sospenders 38MBP is comfortable to wear on land. Last spring I was looking for something a bit more comfortable on hot days than my Crewsaver Crewfit inflatable, and thought I would try the Sospenders 38 (World Class Belt Pack Vest) model instead. Big mistake.

The two-inch-wide belt is certainly comfortable and easy to adjust. But the pack was so bulky that it always got in the way. If I wore it in front it would get caught on the wheel while standing, and it was so thick that I couldn’t sit down without moving it to the side. If I wore it in back (not recommended!) I couldn’t lean back in the cockpit without moving it to the side. If I wore it on the side, it was always getting caught on the shrouds when I went forward. I eventually gave up, sold it on eBay, and went back to wearing my Crewfit all the time, which actually turned out to be more comfortable and less noticeable.

I still think these packs are a great idea, but if you buy one be sure it will be comfortable for sitting and moving around on the boat, not just standing there in the aisle of the store.

Steve Christensen
Midland, MI


Sea Anchors
[“Sea Anchor Test,” PS Feb. 1, ’05] I wanted to share my experience with a Para-Tech sea drogue. I realize this isn’t a sea anchor, but the information might be useful to your readership.

I recently sailed solo in my Cape Dory 25 from San Diego to Hilo, HI. I left Nov. 11, and took 24 days to arrive. The year before I had purchased a Para-Tech sea drogue for my trip to Mexico, but never used it.

During the last week of my trip to Hawaii, the trades were blowing well over 30 knots and were often 35 or more day and night. I had large seas while going dead downwind, and on most days they were breaking and the boat was constantly out of control. The self-steering wind vane wasn’t able to recover after large waves threw the boat off course.

I decided to use my drogue with the bridle I had made for it. It made an amazing difference as the boat immediately sailed straight and was controlled by the wind vane, allowing me to sleep when I needed to. Going downwind with nothing but a storm jib poled out and the drogue controlling the boat, I made over 120 miles a day and in much greater comfort.

After a few days, however, the drogue was torn up by a shark, but it still gave the boat more control, just not as much because it wouldn’t stay full. I didn't get as much sleep during that period, but far more than if I had been out there without a drogue.

When I arrived in Hilo, I called Para-Tech and reported my experience. I sent the torn drogue and am now awaiting a new one, free of charge. After this experience I will never make a passage without one, as it would have been a terrible roller coaster ride without it. And as well as the device worked, the customer service at Para-Tech was equally impressive.

Mike Hunter
Via e-mail


Skywatch Windmate
[Re: “Chandlery,” PS Jan. 1, ’05] The Skywatch Windmate is certainly an interesting gadget and can give a lot of information. However, each time I see an expensive electronic anemometer I think of my little Davis anemometer, which I think is still available in the West Marine catalog. It is still under $20.

I have had mine since the late ’60s or early ’70s when it was more like $10 and it still works fine. No, it doesn’t give temperature or wind chill or do averages like the more fancy models, but the batteries never quit (there are none), maintainance is performed with a pipe cleaner, and it has dual scales (0 -10 and up to 60). It’s also quite accurate.

I think it is worth pointing out the alternatives to expensive electronics when they are available.

Lenny Lipton
Via e-mail


In your January editorial, “True Trickledown,” you imply that asymmetrical spinnakers are a recent advent. Well, in 1950 I acquired a Thames-Estuary One-Design (TEOD), No. 43. It was built in 1936 and stored (due to the war) from ’39 to ’50. It came with its original cotton sails, including an asymmetrical spinnaker. The light cotton cloth was brittle, so the spinnaker was unusable. On the advice of other TEOD sailors, we replaced it with a balloon spinnaker. However, one boat in the fleet did use an asymmetrical. Indeed, we learned that when the class started in 1900, all TEODs had such spinnakers.

In addition, my grandfather used one on his Leigh Bawley (fishing), but called it a “Fishermans Spinnaker.” For this side of the Atlantic see Early One-Design Sailboats, by Diana Eames Esterly. On page 64 is a photograph of a Cape Cod Knockabout with just such a spinnaker. The author calls it a “single luff” spinnaker. The term asymmetrical may be recent usage, at least in regard to spinnakers, but the sail itself has been around since the 19th century, if not longer, under different names.

Ivan Hills
Rockland, ME

You’re correct in stating that asymmetrical spinnakers predate the modern Americas Cup and recent Volvo Ocean Race competitions mentioned in that editorial message. We didn’t mean to imply that the practitioners in these ranks invented the asymmetrical spinnaker, only that they they refined and popularized this breed of downwind sail.


[Re: “Salt Fighters,” PS Jan. 1, 05] We are pleased at the testing done by your esteemed publication, however, we are very disappointed that, at the end of your article, the phone listing for Salt-Away Products is wrong. The published number is the number of one of a competitors, Salt-X. The correct number is: 888/725-8292.

Lenora Meister
Salt-Away Products, Inc.


Rain Solutions
[Re: “Seeing in the Rain,” PS Jan. 15] Here are two old-time remedies for rain on eyeglasses: 1. Rubbing tobacco on them (remove paper on cigarette first). 2. Cut a potato in half, and rub the cut side against the lenses. Both work for me. These tricks are also good for windshields when wipers aren’t doing the job.

Michael Yovino-Young
Berkeley, CA

After publishing our solutions to the quandary of rain on eyeglasses, we received numerous responses, but none was quite as creative as using tobacco (or potatoes). We’d caution readers to be careful; tobacco will sting the eyes, and it’s known to be habit-forming.


…Where Credit Is Due
To Andersen Winches and Scandvik: “We have a two-year-old Andersen ST 46 electric winch on board. The motor was making lots of noises. So we contacted Bill Rogers at Scandvik in Vero Beach, FL. He immediately offered to replace the motor and sent us a brand new one free, with no questions asked. He was also very helpful with advice on removing the old motor and installing the new one, which works perfectly. I’ve now replaced old winches with Andersens on two different boats and I find them to be the best for quality and service.”

Paul Langley
Emeryville, CA

To APC: “Because of my boat slip’s unreliable electric supply (accompanied with wide variations in line voltage), I recently purchased an APC BK350 Back-UPS (Uninterrupted Power Supply) device. After installation, the unit appeared defective, so I called the company’s tech support line. The staff walked me through several possible fixes that required testing the unit over time and then calling back on the normal tech support line to verify that the device did not meet their standards of performance.

Surprise! Unlike the tech support departments at many other companies, a knowledgeable, polite, and helpful engineer came to the phone within 15 seconds each time I called. After several attempts to fix the unit by modifying the software configuration, they concluded that device was defective. Under the company’s warranty policy, a purchaser, at his expense, has to ship the defective unit back to the company. They will then recertify that the unit is defective and ship a replacement unit. As an alternative, the company will charge the purchaser’s credit card for a new unit and then give credit when the defective unit is shipped back to the purchaser.

“APC didn’t follow the warranty agreement. Instead, they immediately sent me a new unit based solely on my assurance that I would return the defective unit, at their expense, to the factory.

“The new unit works fine, and I’m pleased to recommend this company and its products.”

John Cotton
Via e-mail

To Digital Antenna: “When my Digital Antenna cellular phone system stopped functioning, I sent the components to Digital Antenna to be bench tested, for a $75 fee. I called their office a week later, and was told that a package had been sent to me with an explanatory letter. To my surprise, I received a new PowerMax DA 4000 3 Watt Dual Band Cellular Amplifier, a new replacement connector cable for my Nokia phone, and a new 10-foot extension cable, all at no charge.

“When I connected the new components, the system worked perfectly again. With the Digital Antenna at the top of my boat’s mast, I can once again pick up weak cellular signals that I never would have been able to pick up at deck level. This is important during my annual offshore transits from Fire Island, NY to Miami and back, because I use my cell phone not only to access the weather on the Internet, but also to receive e-mails and conduct business.

“I also forgot to mention that they threw in two Digital Antenna T-shirts (”

William Sykes
Mount Pocono, PA

Darrell Nicholson, editor of Practical Sailor, grew up boating on Miami’s Biscayne Bay on everything from prams to Morgan ketches. Two years out of Emory University, after a brief stint as a sportswriter, he set out from Miami aboard a 60-year-old wooden William Atkin ketch named Tosca. For 10 years, he and writer-photographer Theresa Gibbons explored the Caribbean, crossed the Pacific, and cruised Southeast Asia aboard Tosca, working along the way as journalists and documenting their adventures for various travel and sailing publications, including Cruising World, Sail, Sailing, Cruising Helmsman, and Sailing World. Upon his return to land life, Darrell became the associate editor, then senior editor at Cruising World magazine, where he worked for five years. Before taking on the editor’s position at Practical Sailor, Darrell was the editor of Offshore magazine, a boating-lifestyle magazine serving the New England area. Darrell has won multiple awards from Boating Writer’s International, including the Monk Farnham award for editorial excellence. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license and has worked as a harbor pilot and skippered a variety of commercial charter boats.


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