Mailport: 12/02


Battery Pack Workaround
The exchange of letters in the October 1 Mailport regarding the price of replacement battery packs brings up a good point, not only for handheld VHFs, but also household items like cordless phones.

Many apparently custom battery packs are no more than assembled packages of standard cells. For example, I have an old West Marine Alpha handheld, circa 1990. I opened up the battery pack and found seven 2/3- sized AA nicad cells wired in series. After a few minutes on the Internet, I found, and ordered new Power-Sonic Ni-Cad cells with solder tabs installed.

Upon receipt I soldered them in series, arranging them in the same manner as the old cells, and reinstalled them in the battery pack. The batteries were $1.85 each. Shipping was $6.25. My “new” battery pack cost $19.20 and a bit of solder, and the radio holds a charge like new.

I’ve also ordered specialized replacement batteries for computer power supplies, laptops, camping lanterns, and the like from www.

If you can identify a cell by its physical size, voltage, and amp-hour rating, you can probably find it on the Internet.

-Jim Norman
Lake Forest, CA


Edson Rudder Bearings
I read your review of the J/105 [October 1], and thought I should bring to your attention the fact that Edson makes rudder bearings to fit the J/105. When Harken got out of the rudder bearing business, Edson was just getting into it. We currently supply rudder bearings to J-Boats, Alden, Carroll Marine, and a host of other builders.

Edson rudder bearings incorporate many features, such as easily removed rollers for cleaning and servicing, and adjustable watertight seals. We put 50 microns of anodizing on each bearing, which significantly increases life expectancy.

Of course, the environment will affect individual boats differently. If there are stray currents in the water at your marina, they will affect bearing life. Good zincs should be part of a rudder bearing maintenance program, without a doubt.

Since rudder bearings are typically sold to boatbuilders, many boat owners are unaware that Edson is in the performance rudder bearing business. We would be glad to help owners directly.

-William Keene, President
Edson International
New Bedford, MA


Wildcat Builders’ Response
My husband and I are the manufacturers of the Wildcat 350 sailing catamarans in South Africa.

Your magazine is well-respected and ofobvious importance throughout the world. We would thereforelike to take the opportunity of perhaps not defending ourselves, but to at least be allowed to answer some of the allegations made in Tim Cole’s write-up [“You Pays Your Money,” June] in order that your readers receive a balanced view of whatcould otherwise bea very damaging article.

To begin with, the boat in question is not new, and from the outset appears to have been badly neglected; this fact is borne out bymany of the points mentioned in the article. Never at any stage was the vessel intended for charter or charter work, nor was this specified by the buyer at the time of building.

What does however stand out remarkably, is the ability of this little vessel to withstand all the abuse and neglect directed at her, and her tenacity to overcome these obstacles and still find her charterers a safe haven at the end of the day.

The fact that she sailed without problems down the treacherous South African Coast in mountainous seas from Durban to Cape Town, thereafter crossing the Atlantic ocean on a 7,000- mile delivery voyage, escapes notice.

Of course she’s going to require some pampering after this audacious feat-what lady wouldn’t?

My point is that our vessel is not only hardy and sturdy, with good sailing properties, but it comes at a much more reduced price than any other vessel of its kind in the world. Because of its favourable price tag we sell it as a very basic boat, and yes, anyoneputting it into chartermust make provision for that.In spite of this, many extrasare included, e.g. the Autohelm autopilot, hydraulic steering,sun awning, anchors and chain, plus numerousitems required forcrossing oceans.

Anyone wishing to view the very latest in our Wildcat design and improvement,can visit online at, and note the changes made to our new Wildcat Mk2.

-Kim Schoeman
Charter Cats SA (Pty) Ltd.
Durban, South Africa


Visa Potty Plaudits
One portable head you tested (PS September] was a Visa Potty 268 from Sanitation Equipment of Canada.

Back in the ’80s, I was looking for a portable head without a bellows pump, because the bellows cracked after about three years, rendering the pump inoperable. In 1990 I purchased a Visa Potty 368. (It appears to be identical to the 268 you tested, except that the 368 can be set up to pump to a separate holding tank.)

For 12 years it has operated flawlessly. Guests have no problem. The pump is easy to operate with four fingers and a thumb. It is easy to operate if not forced, and it is not too hard on the hands.

After reading your report, I dug out the brochure for my Visa Potty 368. There was no mention of a warranty. Why bother if it’s going to last 10+ years anyway? I also found a recommendation for periodic maintenance, which has not been done and may never be done.

As to the matter of some leakage from the freshwater tank at a 45-degree heel, let’s get serious. Anyone who tries to sail at a 45-degree heel won’t go anywhere to windward and should take up another hobby.

On the emptying spout, I was lucky. Either the manufacturer forgot to include it (I doubt that) or BoatU.S. decided that another customer would like an emptying spout more than me. I found that the holding tank could easily be emptied with no spills or splashes without the use of a spout. I can watch the dump, easily keep it under control, and don’t have to clean, dry, and stow a spout.

I have nothing but the highest regard for the Visa Potty portable head. It is a Best Buy, in my opinion.

-James C. Hollenberg
Honolulu, HI


Refrigeration Follow-up
In your informative article on 12-volt refrigeration units [October 1] you omitted discussion of the important advantages and lifestyle enhancements associated with a serious freezer onboard. While the modest capacity 12-volt units may be fine for dockside living, or even spending significant time coastal cruising, it is the fully stocked freezer along with an ample water supply that permits the full cruising lifestyle, without worrying about the next grocery store.

It’s not unusual for frozen food to keep for months in well-designed freezers. Small 12-volt units may be fine for freezing ice cubes, but they don’t have the power to serve as freezers for long- term food storage.

Unfortunately, freezers require lots of power, and here the realistic choices are 110-volt gensets and engine-driven compressors, both with sizeable holding plates. Depending on configuration, our experience has been that 1 to 2 hours of engine or genset use are required daily. While engine-driven compressors may appear initially less expensive, over the long haul the economics favor 110-volt genset driven refrigeration units. AC compressor installations often have the edge, together with the not inconsequential advantage of allowing dockside use. In many respects an ideal system calls for separate holding plates and circuits for freezer and refrigerator, with a 3/4- to 1-hp 110 AC compressor. It’s a closed system with standard components. By the way, either engine-driven or large 110-volt AC units are especially useful for boats on moorings. Within an hour or so of coming aboard after a long absence, the refrigeration/freezer units are ready to receive fresh supplies of frozen or refrigerated goods.

Once a serious freezer is aboard its contents can represent a serious investment. So it’s often useful to have a 12-volt backup system with a small holding plate. That can buy time to secure needed repairs. In our experience, water-cooled units for the small 12-volt systems aren’t worth the effort, and represent another maintainence issue. Also, most will find installations using holding plates easier than conventional evaporators.

Finally, while gensets may seem a step in the wrong direction, they do solve the battery-charging issue quite nicely, provide for hot water, and, if the purse is willing, provide for complete climate control.

-Peter I. Berman
Via e-mail


I read your recent article, “Refrigeration Survey 2002,” with interest.I was disappointed that it did not address a popular myth: that holding plate systems are superior to simple evaporator systems. I have used both and have observed in both practice and theory that there is no benefitto a holding plate system (when driven by a 12-volt Danfoss compressor).

Holding plate systems were developed initially to work with direct engine-driven compressors. They are an effective means of storing heat energy in that application. But once efficient 12-volt compressors from Danfoss became available, the holding plates lost their reason for being. They still exist,because manufacturers such as Technautics who grew up on holding platesystems,are able to fool the cruising public that their systems arebetter. But shouldn’t PS debunk that claim?

The claims of holding plate superiority are many: efficiency, reliability,etc. But experience and theory deny this. I used an evaporator system fromNova Cool for last summer’s cruising season and a holding plate system onmy current boat (installed by the previous owner) this season. Theevaporator system used about one-half of the daily amp hours of the holding plate system, not because one was inherently more efficient than the other, but because one was in a much better insulated box than the other. And for theory, basic thermodynamics tells you that amp-hour efficiency is based on a number of factors: box insulation (the biggest factor), thecompressor and its drive’s efficiency, refrigerant characteristics, and thetemperature of the condenser (lower is better). Since, as your articlepointed out, most boat systems use the Danfoss compressor with R134Arefrigerant, it makes no difference in efficiency whether the cooling isdone by a refrigerant evaporating in an evaporator (whew!) or a refrigerantevaporating in a holding plate. Either system will run for the same total oftime each day and use the same amp hours, given all else being equal. Yes, the evaporator system will start and stop hundreds of time each day and the holding plate system will do so only a few times. But so what? Thecompressor is built to do this.

So, I think that it is sad that cruisers spend thousands of dollars more fora holding plate system, for no advantages. I wish PS would help correctthis situation.

By the way, your article was quite factual with one slight exception: the statement “Consider going with a holding plate system which runs for shorter times than an evaporator system.” Not so. The holding plate system, when driven by a 12-volt Danfoss compressor, will run for about the same hours each day, but in longer segments each time.

-David Marchand
Via e-mail


Try 4-Stroke Lite
In the September 2002 issue, David Caporale asked several questions about outboard motors. With respect to his questions about “are there any ultra-light 4-stroke engines, ” you might advise him of the following:

He has a 9.9 two-stroke outboard for a C&C 25 sailboat. That amount of horsepower probably is too much for his size boat. I have used a Yamaha 4-hp 4-stroke on Shockwave (my Wavelength 24) for the past two years. I motor at 6+ knots with less than 1/4 throttle, in light to medium chop. When I have been required to motor into 4-5 foot seas on the Chesapeake Bay, I use no more than 1/2 throttle. The Yamaha 4-hp 4-stroke weighs just under 50 pounds, but it became bothersome because I lift the motor off the (reverse-transom) stern before every race and store it below. Consequently, I purchased a Honda 2-hp 4-stroke that weighs only 27 pounds. With this 2-hp, I can motor at 5 knots unless the wind picks up above 10 knots on the nose, when boatspeed drops to about 4 knots. Several other boats in our fleet have purchased the Honda 2-hp 4-stroke, and we are pleased with the motor for getting us out to the race course.

I still use the Yamaha 4-hp 4-stroke for motoring longer distances, when the added power gives me a feeling of security. In my opinion, Mr. Caporale could easily use the Yamaha 4-hp4-stroke motor, regardless of where he sails his C&C 25. If he mostly sails in protected waters without much wave height, he should consider the Honda 2-hp 4-stroke.

-Don Deese
Via e-mail


Marking Stainless Steel Chain
After PS solicited ideas from readers on how to mark stainless steel chain in the October 1 issue, we received dozens of letters in response. The vast majority favor the use of plastic wire ties, which reportedly pass through gypsies with little damage. Several color-marking systems were described. Visit Mailport Online for a look at all the letters and systems. Here, though, we’ll print a couple of variants. (We received two letters about the Rainbow Markers.)

For the past year we have been cruising with rode markers called “Rainbow Markers.”These are multi-coloured pieces of semi-hard formed plastic which are inserted in the centre of a link. They are made in Italy but sold in the Caribbean through Island Water World. They can be found in the IWW catalogue at

Although the catalogue only mentions two sizes, they are available for all common chain through 12mm (1/2-inch). I am not aware of any American suppliers.

I have had the hook up and down for some 180 days (and nights) thus far without losing any.

-Dave Richardson
Via e-mail


My wife Linda and I sail our Hunter 40.5, Legacy, out of Anacortes and had the same problem Sam Cooper did with keeping markings on our all- chain anchor rode. In 1996 I came across an article by Lin Pardey in which she suggested sewing on short lengths of 1/2″ nylon webbing every 30′. I did so, using sailmaker’s double Dacron waxed twine to secure the webbing and leaving a 3/4″ “flag” end on which I marked the rode distance with a felt-tip permanent marker, using one black stripe for 30′, etc., adding red into the markings at 120′.

I generally count the markings as the anchor rode pays out, but if I’m not sure, or if it’s dark, I can wait for one to be at deck level and check my code to see just how much rode is out.

This system has worked well for us for six years of weekend and extended vacation cruising in the San Juans, Gulf Islands, and Desolation Sound, almost always anchoring out. I have to re-apply the felt-tip marker every year or two, but the nylon webbing itself has lasted without any care, and it runs through the windlass without any problem.

-John Hunt
Anacortes, WA


To Vertex Standard, Cypress, CA:

“When a not-too-agile member of the crew broke the control knob on my cockpit-mounted, out-of-warranty Vertex Standard radio, Vertex repaired the control, and just to do the job right they also replaced a printed circuit card and adjusted the radio to specification. All the work was accomplished at no charge.Superb customer support.”

-Martin Koshar,
Carpe Diem,
St Petersburg, FL

To Neilsen-Kellerman, Chester, PA:

“I trailed my Montgomery 15 to San Francisco Bay in August.On our second outing the fog rolled over the mountain, the winds increased, and we returned to the dock with our tails between our legs. I pulled out a Kestrel 1000 Pocket Wind Meter that I had not used for a couple of years, to get a measure of the boisterous wind that had humiliated us. The meter read ‘0.0’ despite the impeller spinning fast enough to make a whining noise.

“I looked up the Nielsen-Kellerman web page that evening.It had a handy troubleshooting guide which pointed to an impeller having worn magnets.Parts were available at a fair price.(My one-year warranty was years overdue.) An e-mail to Angie Crowe at Nielsen-Kellerman resulted in their offer to send a replacement impeller at no cost. Shortly after I got back home in Montana, an impeller arrived in the mail. I installed it, and my Kestrel 1000 seems as good as new. I admire the design and appearance of this instrument. Now, when I use the Kestrel 1000 I will be reminded of exceptional product support.”

-Charless Fowlkes,
Bozeman, MT

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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