Mailport: 09/02


Handheld Weather Instruments
The article on handheld weather stations [July 15] prompts me to tell you about our recent installation. From Celestaire we purchased a La Crosse wireless weather station ($115) and remote sender ($39) that combines many of the features you found desirable, but in a fixed unit. The 4″ x 6″ base unit is at the nav station and tells us the historical atmospheric pressure for 72 hours in bar graph format, plus inside temperature and humidity (as well as time corrected by the atomic clock). A remote is attached to our lower mast and sends outside temperature and humidity information to the base unit.All for about the same money as the handhelds, but with more information and a stable location that we look at regularly.

-Bob McArthur
Auburn, Maine

We got a note from John Somerhausen asking why the barometer readings in that article seemed to indicate a test in the eye of a particularly ferocious hurricane, with a humidity reading “somewhat drier than what I encountered in the Punjab desert in the middle of summer there.”

The reason is that the instruments were tested in Bozeman, Montana, at an altitude of 6,000′, this past winter. The readings were given straight, not corrected to sea level. (We could have mentioned that in the chart.) The humidity readings were in the normal range for that place and time. In fact Ed Lawrence reports that they were a bit high-it’s usually so dry there in the winter, he says, that you need to buy hand cream by the vat, lest you mummify by the spring.


Recoil Update
Last spring (2001) I purchased Recoil from Marge Miles ( per a letter in the May 15, 2001 Practical Sailor. I used it to clean the aluminum water tank on my boat. The tank (10 years old) had been producing large quantities of what I assume was aluminum oxide, which was constantly fouling the water system filters. Treating the water tank was simply a matter of dumping 2-1/2 gallons of the Recoil into the tank, filling it with water, letting it slosh around for 24 hours, pumping it out and rinsing the tank clean. I had no further problem all last summer.

This spring I found only a small amount of residue in the tank, most likely what had been left in corners or behind the baffle (which was inaccessible). In total the amount was no more then several teaspoons full. I have now used about three tankfuls of water this year. When I last checked the filters there was only a small trace of oxide on the screens, certainly not enough to restrict the water flow. What an improvement! The Recoil certainly did the job. In the past I needed to clean the filter several times for each tank of water used.

-Jim Kerney
Chittenden, VT


Coastal Comms Via Cell Phone
Regarding your article on communications options in the May 15, 2002 issue: For coastal cruising, Verizon Mobile Office really works. Verizon offers Mobile Office service at no additional charge to those with digital phones.Buy their software package, load it on your laptop, hook up the phone, and dial up their ISP for webaccess. It’s 14.4 kbps, but I expect both digital coverage and speed to improve as time goes on. We now have a use for those 4,000 night and weekend minutes-web surfing. (Or is it web sauntering at 14.4?) offers e-mail at their website, so there is an alternative toPocketMail, but we will keep it for ease of use and its almost universalcoverage here.

We spend our summers cruising in the San Juan Islands of Washington and up into Canada. Communications has always been a challenge. We have been using PocketMail for the last three seasons and are pleased with its performance. Most everwhere you can find a pay phone in the U.S. or Canada, you can do PocketMail.

It has not been the same with our cell phones. We had Sprint for several seasons, as they would allow a month-to-month contract. However, their coverage is mostly limited to the major metroplexes-just the places we avoid.

This year we took the plunge and got Verizon’s America’s Choice 300 plan and a Motorola Startac digital cell phone. We went with them as they seemed the most advanced in digital coverage of the majors. We have been pleased with the results. For the first time in countless summers, we can get on the Web at the slip.

Now, to finish preparing the boat and go out to see if we can surf the webwhileswinging on a hook in my favorite anchorage.

-J. Wells
Via Pocketmail


Headsail Heresy
Normally I agree with Nick Nicholson, and I have great respect for his knowledge and sailing experience, but my eyebrows were slightly raised by his dogmatic opinion that a roller reefing/furling inner foresail is far superior in every way to a hanked-on foresail. I sailed for many years on an Ohlson 38 with a removable inner staysail and found it a very satisfactory arrangement. An advocate of the hanked-on staysail was Rod Stephens, who wrote, “…the important thing is that the storm headsail should go on hooks.” Most experienced sailors consider that Rod was close to the ultimate expert on rigging. One might not agree completely with everything Rod had to say, but I would never say that any of his ideas were “nonsense.”

I have heard of a number of cases of roller furlers jamming, breaking, losing their sails, becoming unfurled in storms, etc. Granted, roller furling gear is being improved all the time, and Nick’s suggestions about how to rig the gear properly was excellent. Such a setup is fine for his boat and the kind of long-distance offshore sailing he does, but there are trade-offs with every kind of rig, and what is good for him may not be right for everyone, even those who spend a lot of time sailing offshore.

Perhaps the greatest drawback of Nick’s plan is the difficulty of short-tacking. For me it would be unacceptable to follow Nick’s advice of partially furling the big jib every time you take a short tack. This would take too much time and effort. Furthermore, I have never seen a deeply reefed roller jib that set perfectly, despite luff padding and other devices that sailmakers use to improve the sail’s reefed shape. As for Nick’s concern about setting a hanked-on staysail on a removable stay while headed upwind with the foredeck “wet and wild,” why not head downwind? That’s what I always did when setting headsails while cruising in heavy weather, and I seldom had any problems.

-Richard “Jud” Henderson
Gibson Island, MD

Practical Sailor’s editors and contributors, including Nick, are all lifelong, card-carrying disciples of Rod Stephens. We could see a squall forming on the horizon as soon as Nick’s copy came in. But all he said, when queried from the editorial desk, was, “You can, eventually, teach an old dog new tricks. Even this dog.”


Paint and Caulk
[Re: PS Advisor, July 1] One disadvantage of a dark blue hull in hot climates (Baltimore being one) is that epoxy repairs on the interior of the hull can be softened by the heat. In my case, I had replaced the “knees” that the aft lower shroud chainplates were bolted to. The repair lasted until the summer after I painted the hull with”Sapphire Blue” Brightside. When I did the knees over, I had extra long chainplates fabricated, and used two knees for each chain plate. So far, so good.

[Re: “Keeping Willow From Weeping,” July 15] I don’t know Scott Rosenthal, but I have had goodwork (usually rigging)done at Oak Harbor marina by Ken Broman. As it happens, when I redid the ports on my 1971 Irwin 32 I didn’t think to ask Ken for a recommendation; I used Life Seal, which is a silicone-polyurethane combination-again, so far, so good.

My wife and I just completed a coastal trip to Block Island and back, with no leaking ports-leaking hull/deck joint, yes, leaking forward hatch, yes, but ports OK.

-Steve Hendry, S/V Star Sight
Pasadena, MD


Speaking of Spartite
We installed a Spartite mast plug in 1995 as a last-resort solution to a mismatched mast and mast collar on our Starflight (Taylor) 38. Because the collar was intended for a mast of much larger section than the one we had, the gap was as much as 1.5″at the aft end. We had had no success in fashioning a mast boot that started off watertight, let alone stayed that way for any length of time.

Friends gave us the unused half of their large-size Spartite kit and assured us it would solve the problem. It was the best money we never spent!Building the dam in such a large gap was a challenge, but we managed. After seven years, the plug looks like new, partly because it has always been protected from UV rays by a Sunbrella mast boot.

We found that small amounts of water were getting through the interface between the mast and the Spartite in the area of the sail track, so caulking was necessary. The only one of Scott’s comments I would disagree with is which caulking should be used. We discovered the hard way that the only caulking that would adhere to both the Spartite and the paint on our mast was BoatLife’s Life-Seal, a silicon-polyurethane mix. I called Spartite after making this discovery and the person I talked with said that they had just come to the same conclusion.

Although we store the boat with the mast up, it has been taken down once for inspection and servicing. During unstepping, the plug popped cleanly out of the collar, although it did slide several inches down the mast. This wasn’t a problem, as it was possible to gently slide the plug back into the proper position. During restepping, the plug slid back into the collar with no problem. To be honest, we never considered during installation whether there was a draft or any irregularities in the mast collar. I guess we were just lucky!

Spartite is one of those products that’s almost too good to be true, yet manages to exceed its maker’s claims.

-Bob Davie and Jean Richardson
S/V Starry Messenger
Peterborough, ON


Grills and Gas Pressure
Regarding gas grills [July 1], before we moved aboard our sailboat, we went on the search for the ultimate gas grill. We ended up with the Dickenson SeaBBQ. It is a great grill for the marina (where we were not supposed to use it) or when there was little wind, but was a disappointment in the trade winds over about 12 knots. We are a reverse-transom boat and had to mount it on the side rail. The windward end of the grill was blazing hot, but the leeward end couldn’t cook a hot dog in under 40 minutes. It’s well designed and constructed, but unless you mount it absolutely horizontally, it drips grease all over the deck. Last week we gave it to some folks who spend most of their time in the marina, and it should do well in its new home.

We found the ultimate grill at an ultimate price. It’s the Trailblazer, built by a company in the Tortola Yacht Management group called Nautool in Road Town, Tortola, BVI. It’s hand made of 1/8″ polished stainless steel, weighs 26 pounds, and has lava rocks and two independently controllable cooking areas which total 11″ x 16″. Its a thing of beauty and works in almost any amount of wind. The downside is the $700 price tag.

On a related topic: While most marine grills advertise the ability to connect to the ship’s propane system, at least some (like the Dickenson) offer only high-pressure connections. This means that if you need to plumb the gas line inside the hull to get from the propane tank to the grill, you are bringing propane at 150+ psi inside the hull, something the ABYC, Coast Guard, and anyone with common sense would say is a very bad idea. The kits offered to do this are essentially a “tee” off the tank with (or without) a valve to turn the grill off , and a length of hose to get to the grill. It bypasses the solenoid valve which we rely on to keep the gas confined to the propane locker.

I write this not as a propane expert (which I am not) but as someone who was on the verge of buying one of these kits until our surveyor (a venerable gentleman of great experience) took his rubber mallet out of his tool kit, thoroughly pounded on the port side of my head, and asked, “Are you out of your (expletive deleted) mind?”

I think your readers need to be aware of the difference between high- and low-pressure connection kits and the danger inherent in the high-pressure version.

-Bill Brady, S/V Tempest
St. Thomas, USVI


Strong Track Record
Like so many other sailors, I have come to expect less every year from the vendors with whom I do business, both personally and professionally. Less staff, more cost-effective materials and manufacturing processes, (read cheaper and less durable) have generally translated into more frequent frustration and disappointment. I recently had an experience that is the absolute antithesis of this trend.

My Hunter 410 has a battened main and a Selden rig that works beautifully until the wind blows. Don’t misunderstand me, I love the boat, and have logged more than 2,000 miles on her during the first 10 months of ownership. Unfortunately, the main was difficult to raise, reef, and shape, (even with a powered winch).

In April of this year, I decided that the situation was beyond McLube, and began seeking a mechanical solution. I contacted Selden and priced out their roller track system. At $3K plus, the Selden system was more than I was ready to spend. Along with several others, Selden suggested that I consider a Strong Track. The system was widely available through area riggers, but for comparison’s sake, I looked up Strong Track on the Web and went directly to the manufacturer. The rest is history.

Jeff Strong is one of the best people I have ever worked with. In spite of a heavy schedule that puts him on the road (and regularly in the air) he was extremely helpful. He carefully answered all of my dumb questions, followed up immediately with product literature, and walked me through the installation process.

The complete system (track, slides, and installation hardware) was included in a price that was less than a third of the Selden system, and infinitely less complicated. Once ordered, the system was manufactured and delivered on time, with all of the correct components, for the agreed upon price. Better yet, it performed beyond my expectation-so well that I cannot understand why it was not offered by Hunter as an accessory, in lieu of the power assist on the winch. With the Strong Track system, the main is easily raised, reefed, shaped, and stowed, with or without the benefit of the power winch. The battens refuse to bind, even with wind in the sail.

I would recommend the use of this system for anyone using a traditional main with full or partial battens. I would also recommend that anyone interested in using the system, or getting further information regarding the system, work directly with the manufacturers. They are quite simply a delight. The website for Strong Track is:

-Terry Fields, Raconteur
Via e-mail


CO vs. Blood
I enjoyed your very thorough review of the physiology of oxygen transport in the article on CO detectors. While I have only seven years of experience as a sailor, I have over twenty as a practicing hematologist. One minor correction: each molecule of hemoglobin can (and usually does) carry four molecules of oxygen. The saturated form of hemoglobin is Hb(O2)4.

Keep up the great reviews.

-Thomas Peacock, MD
Durham, PA


Where Credit Is Due
To KISS Energy Systems, Chaguaramas, Trinidad: “My two-year-old KISS wind generator, manufactured in Trinidad, failed while underway from the Bahamas to Puerto Rico. A magnet came loose and jammed the rotor against the stator. While freight was expensive, I sent the unit, but not the prop assembly, back to Doug Billings and his crew in Trinidad, where it was immediately repaired and sent back to me without question or additional freight costs.

“When I reinstalled the unit, I discovered a second problem. The propeller hub had eroded on the rotor shaft until the hub was in contact with the unit housing. Seized again. I was underway to Trinidad so waited until I got there to take the unit in to Doug. He happily replaced the hub and even tossed in new blades, and did it all in a day even while busily filling orders for new units. Other owners have told me, ‘Doug wants you to be happy.’ How right they are.

“Credit is due as well to the US dealers, John and Libby of Hotwire Enterprises ( in the Tampa Bay area, who have always been responsive via e-mail or phone, and who work closely with Doug in Trinidad to make sure customers are satisfied.”

-Bill Martin, s/v At Ease
Trinidad, West Indies

Practical Sailor has been independently testing and reporting on sailboats and sailing gear for more than 45 years. Supported entirely by subscribers, Practical Sailor accepts no advertising. Its independent tests are carried out by experienced sailors and marine industry professionals dedicated to providing objective evaluation and reporting about boats, gear, and the skills techniques required to cross oceans. Practical Sailor is edited by Darrell Nicholson, a long-time liveaboard sailor and trans-Pacific cruiser who has been director of Belvoir Media Group's marine division since 2005. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license, has logged tens of thousands of miles in three oceans, and has skippered everything from pilot boats to day charter cats. His weekly blog Inside Practical Sailor offers an inside look at current research and gear tests at Practical Sailor, while his award-winning column,"Rhumb Lines," tracks boating trends and reflects upon the sailing life. He sails a Sparkman & Stephens-designed Yankee 30 out of St. Petersburg, Florida.


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