Mailport: 11/15/03


More on Biodiesel
Thanks for your July 15 article on biodiesel, a cleaner-burning alternative to conventional diesel fuel.

Fossil fuel emissions are the biggest cause of pollution in the world. Biodiesel is a simple, renewable, domestically produced fuel that anyone can use instead of dirty petroleum diesel in conventional diesel engines. B20 (20% biodiesel blended with 80% petroleum diesel) can be run in any diesel engine, with no modifications, empowering the average consumer to start cleaning up the air we breathe, reduce dependence on foreign oil sources, and even improve engine performance.

Your article helped spread the word about this fastest-growing renewable fuel in the country; however, you missed an important opportunity to educate people about what the average consumer can do to take action and bring biodiesel’s price down.

There are a number of websites with information about how safe, efficient, and even how much better biodiesel performs in conventional diesel engines. Several hundred fleet users across the country report the use of blends ranging from B2 to B100 with no problems and longer engine life. Contacting your local municipalities and campaigning for transit companies and other fleets to switch to or blend biodiesel will help build the market for biodiesel and lower the end user’s cost.

Europe has led the way with biodiesel production and use for the last 20years-with impressive environmental and long-term economic gains. It’stime for U.S. consumers to re-think the options. U.S. fleets using biodiesel can earn EPA credits for alternative fuels use, and take advantage of tax incentives for installation of equipment for the resale and refueling of biodiesel. Grants are available to support building biodiesel local production facilities, which will help lower added interstate transportation costs and bring the price of biodiesel down.

Co-ops are easy to form. This lowers the cost of distributing biodiesel among members. Costs for a simple storage tank and pump run from about $400 for pre-owned components to about $1,800 for turn-key systems.

Here in the Pacific Northwest we’re advocating for biodiesel productionto stem from our own farmers and our own states’ economies, not justfrom the midwest’s soy-based groups. Our biodiesel feedstocks arecanola and mustard oil, recyled restaurant grease, and potentially saltwater algae in the longer term (10 to 20 years)-not soy. Don’t get mewrong-we’re grateful to have soy-based biodiesel “grease the wheels”for alternative fuels at the pump. But biodiesel is not synonymous withsoy, and many other crops can help fuel this movement toward smarterenergy consumption.

-Madhuri Hosford
Northwest Biodiesel Network
Via e-mail

We devoted the PS Advisor space in the September issue to sources for biodiesel, provided by readers, and we’ll continue to follow this important topic. The co-op idea seems like a good one. Marina operators, if they’re not stocking biodiesel, are more likely to be interested in helping a group of customers than an individual, especially if everyone is willing to kick in a few dollars for a storage tank and pump.

For a good all-around source to keep track of this issue, visit, mentioned in the September issue by PS reader Barry Baker.


Fanny on a Pedestal
You have written articles about devices to hold radios, handheld GPS receivers, binoculars, and other gear sailors need to have available in the cockpit [most recently the April 1 issue]. Every time I read one of those articles, I feel guilty that I haven’t written you to tell you about what we have been using for the last several years… a fanny pack, or waist pack, whatever you want to call it. I have yet to see a holder discussed in any of our sailing magazines that would work as well as our waist pack, at least for our purposes. The fanny pack has an adjustable waist band which fits around the pedestal bars. You loosen it to put it around the bars if necessary, and then tighten it so that it’s secure.

The one we have came with its own bottles that fit in the outer loops. We don’t use the bottles any more, but find that the loops are nice and deep and will hold the handheld VHF radio, suntan lotion, and bottled drinks. We have a Beneteau Oceanis 351 which we sail out of Oriental in the coastal waters of North Carolina. The Pamlico Sound and Beaufort Inlet can get pretty rough. If the spray gets bad, we put the GPS inside the big pocket and close the zipper so that only the antenna sticks out. We’ll put the binoculars in there sometimes, too. It’s not totally waterproof, but a lot better than nothing!

The fanny pack sat in our closet for a couple of years before I thought of using it on the boat. It has really worked like a charm. I’m attaching a picture so that you can see how it works.

-Morgan Chapman
Via e-mail


Cleat Turning
Bravo on the right approach to tying a line to a cleat [August 1]. While travelling the Dismal Swamp and stopping at the NC Sailing Center, I had occasion to need a slight variant. Specifically, the boat I was tying alongside requested that I run the line over the top of his cleat and finish off with half hitches on each horn. His request was reasonable as a means to keep my line off his lovely varnished rail.Since I felt the load was not likely to be excessive in this quiet overnight tie-up, I agreed. The first half hitch should be in the direction opposite the expected load.The variant should only be used where expected loads are light and not parallel to the cleat.

-Bill Pearce
Jefferson, ME


Nav Software
Thanks for Practical Sailor-it’s always great. I found your September article, “Electronic Cartography Update,” helpful. The table you compiled made things very clear. The box listing recent articles on electronic cartography is a real help.

Thank you for including notes on Mac applications (or the lack thereof). For a while it looked like my eventual transition to the Dark Side was inevitable, but Steve Jobs’ return precluded this, and the new Unix OS X seals the issue. I thought your aside funny, though I suspect the intolerants of the world threw you a few heated comments.

-Karl Diederich
Matagorda TX

Give us Macintosh users a break. NavimaQ not only does Softchart, but also Maptech and NDI. And MaxSea made a BIG MISTAKE when they dropped support for Mac last year. As a Mac user, I wouldn’t even think of supporting MaxSea’s PC version (running under Virtual PC) on my Mac (just out of spite). I’ve been using NavimaQ ever since they started in business, as they know there’s enough of us Mac users out there who WILL NEVER GO OVER TO “THE DARK SIDE.” We will never fall into the “PC Brainwashing.”

-Jack Janos
Via e-mail


What’s With This Honda?
I read with interest Brad Smith’s mailport letter in the August issue of Practical Sailor. He should consider himself lucky that he finally found a Honda dealer that would replace his defective outboard. I’m also curious what kind of problem he had with his motor.

I too bought a Honda 2-hp four-stroke in 1999, at Christmas. Five months later (sailing season is a long time coming in Alaska), the very first time I used my new Honda, it was difficult to start and flooded easily. I returned it to Alaska Mining and Diving in Anchorage, where I had purchased it. They could find nothing wrong with it. I used the motor for two more seasons. It continued to be finicky to start, flooded easily, and once flooded wouldn’t start for hours unless I changed the plug. The problem became worse and worse, until it wouldn’t start at all.

I only use the motor as a “kicker” for my sailboat’s dinghy, so it only had about 40 hours of total running time since it was new. Something wasn’t right. I brought it back to Alaska Mining and Diving again, and explained that I’d had excellent results with other Honda products, but that this motor had been a lemon since I first bought it. I suggested that they contact Honda, but was told that the manufacturer depends on their dealers to solve customer concerns. They replaced the carburetor, at my expense.

The very first time I put the motor in the water with the new carburetor, it seemed to run OK-until I saw the oily sheen that my eco-friendly four-stroke was leaving on the water.Back to Alaska Mining and Diving I went. This time they replaced engine gaskets, which again, I paid for. As soon as I put it back in the water, the oily sheen was as bad as before. I brought it back and they rerouted the breather hose (free of charge) but the oily sheen didn’t go away, and I brought the motor back a fourth time.

This time they found a “50% leak down in the crankcase” and agreed to rebuild the engine without charging labor, if I would pay for parts, which I foolishly agreed to do.

I’ve spent almost as much to repair my outboard as I did to buy it. It’s still hard to start, floods easily, and still leaves an oily sheen on the water. According to Alaska Mining and Diving there is nothing wrong with the motor.

Im convinced there was something wrong with the motor when it left the factory. There is most definitely still something wrong with it, and I’m definitely not “Honda happy.”

-Wally Soroka
Willow, Alaska


Printing Free Charts
[Re: “Electronic Cartography Update,” September] Free stuff from the government-who would have thought!

It turns out that the SevenCs freeware available at the NOAA site, cited in this article, will in fact directly print charts and the accompanying buoy and other detail. Even if it didn’t, most any Windows application window can be put on the Windows clipboard (with Alt-PrtScn) and from there, pasted into a suitable graphics program, manipulated, and printed.

But who wants to print charts? The only useful printed chart would have to be printed on a very large format (read expensive) printer, on very high quality paper (read more expense). Much more fun to do it with electrons. But, as you say, have the paper backup. If you never have to use them in the cockpit on a dark and stormy night, they will last (if updated) forever.

Good article, great publication.

-Dick Rauch
Via e-mail


You have a fine article on 7×50 binoculars with compasses in your August 1, 2003 issue. As you point out, they are the best all-around binoculars to have if they are to be used at night. Thus, I would think models without a light in the compass would be disqualified.

With reference to the section on “Center vs. Individual Focus,” I don’t believe center-focus (CF) models should be considered for night binoculars unless the owner is to be the sole user. The reason is that on a cloud- covered night at sea or even on a hazy night away from the dock, one has nothing on which to focus when receiving a pair from another user. On the other hand, once you know your settings, you can pick up any good individual-focus (IF) pair and after setting them, be able to read the numbers on a buoy.

-Robert W. McCullough
Via e-mail


…Where Credit Is Due
To Standard Horizon, Cypress, CA: “Having been professionally involved in the marine industry for more than 25 years, I have developed some biases against many “marine grade” products and the claims made for them by their manufacturers. My negative biases grow stronger when I have to deal with the after-market service promised.

“When a customer lost the cap nut to his Standard Horizon depth/temperature sensor, I contacted the parts department for a replacement. Explaining that our customer could not put his vessel back into the water without this small but vital part, I was told that it was back- ordered and would not be available for four to six weeks. After some sleuthing, I contacted Scott Dolliver in the product support department of Standard Horizon. Mr. Dolliver understood the problem and said ‘I think someone may have one lying around here.’ After putting me on hold for a minute, he said, ‘Yes, here’s one. I’ll send it to you.’ “The part arrived by overnight air with no charges. The customer was as amazed, as was I. I have installed Standard Horizon products along with those of their major competitors for many years. Standard Horizon has now become my electronics supplier of choice.”

-Bob Lucas, Aquitaine Marine Services, Bradenton, FL

To Fischer Panda, Oakland Park, FL: “Recently my 8-KW Fischer Panda generator suddenly stopped working. Everything appeared normal when I first turned the unit on, but when I pushed the starter button, the generator did not turn over. I checked voltages at the starter solenoid, and at other service points on the unit to no avail; everything appeared normal. I tried shorting across the starter solenoid, also to no avail. I was ready to order a new starter motor when I decided first to contact Fischer Panda’s customer service department. I reached Bob Grubert. Bob told me that their starter motors rarely fail, and to look for a voltage drop in the starter circuit while trying to crank over the engine. I was skeptical of his suggestion, because I had already inspected the wiring in the starter circuit, and could find nothing but bright copper and terminals. I told Bob this, and he patiently reiterated that I should look for a voltage drop while trying to crank over the generator. I followed his suggestion, and found a significant drop across the ground side of my battery switch, a part that was manufactured by Osculati, not Fischer Panda, and installed by the boatbuilder when they installed the generator. I shorted across this battery switch, and hit the start button. My generator started normally without hesitation. Thanks, Bob, for being so patient. You saved me a lot of time, and money.”

-Bill Cassellius, S/V Vixen, Via e-mail

Practical Sailor has been independently testing and reporting on marine products for serious sailors for more than 45 years. Supported entirely by subscribers, Practical Sailor accepts no advertising or any form of compensation from manufacturers whose products we test. Testing is carried out by a team of experts from a wide range of fields including marine electronics, marine safety, marine surveying, sailboat rigging, sailmaking, engineering, ocean sailing, sailboat racing, and sailboat construction and design. This diversity of expertise allows us to carry out in-depth, objective evaluation of virtually every product available to serious sailors. Practical Sailor is edited by Darrell Nicholson, a long-time liveaboard sailor and trans-Pacific cruiser with more than three decades of experience as a marine writer, photographer, boat captain, and product tester. 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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