Gear

2008 Pittman Innovation Awards

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Boats are complex objects containing numerous systems, parts, components, and gadgets, all of which are designed to make the sailing experience more enjoyable. Many of us sailors enjoy trying out the latest gear, be it a sail, a chartplotter, or a snatch block. And if you’ve sailed long enough, you’ve seen gear steadily improve as innovating manufacturers come up with ever-better mousetraps. If you’re new to the sport, you’ve arrived at a fortuitous time; sailing gear has come a long way since the first U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis, Maryland, in 1970.

Each year, SAIL honors the memory of the late Freeman K. Pittman, who served as SAIL’s technical editor for 14 years. Pittman was widely respected within the industry as an expert on gear, innovation, and technology—the things that make sailing more fun, easier, and safer—and SAIL’s annual awards recognize the best gear-related thinking within the marine market. Editor PETER NIELSEN (Cruising Gear), associate editor DAVID SCHMIDT (Racing and Safety Gear), electronics editor BEN ELLISON (Electronics), and technical consultant JAY PARIS (Systems) spent the fall months seeking out the most innovative new gear at boat shows, on the Web, and on the water. Here's what they found.

 


CRUISING GEAR

EngineCheckUp
An engine needs two things to be happy: clean oil and clean fuel, and never the twain should meet. If there’s water or fuel in your engine oil and you don’t do something about it, sooner or later you’ll be looking at an expensive repair bill. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible for us mere mortals to detect contaminants in engine oil, and while the books say we should send samples off to a lab for testing every so often, let’s be honest—no one ever does this. With EngineCheckUp, there are no more excuses. A drop of oil on the test paper will reveal the presence of fuel, water, antifreeze, and carbon or metal particulates. It works with any internal-combustion engine. $29.95 for a pack of six test papers. EngineCheckUp; 610- 515-9788; www.enginecheckup.com

Wichard Gyb’Easy
There are two obvious dangers on a sailboat: falling overboard and being hit on the head by the boom. Either or both of these can occur during an accidental gybe. Of the several types of boom brake on the market that are designed to slow down a boom’s movement during a gybe, none is as simple and intuitive as Wichard’s Gyb’Easy. The aluminum casting has no moving parts and comes with its own slippery Gyb’Flex line, which is taken through blocks on the toerail and back to the cockpit. By varying the number of turns the line takes through the casting, you can adjust the amount of friction in the system and thus the speed at which the boom will travel while gybing. $299.99. Wichard, Inc.; 410-683-5055; www.wichardusa.com

Waterbuoy
Dropping your keys overboard has got to be one of the most infuriating experiences known to mankind, which is why I was taken with the Waterbuoy. An inflating key ring isn’t a brand-new idea—Davis Instruments introduced one a couple of years ago—but the Waterbuoy can do more than just keep your keys afloat. Its large orange balloon can be seen up to a mile away, and it contains an LED light that starts flashing as soon as the device is activated. Its uses aren’t restricted to your keys; because it can support up to 2.2 pounds, the Waterbuoy can be used with binoculars, handheld GPSs, tools, whatever. $22. Waterbuoy www.water-buoy.com

Tallon Accessory System
We’ve been sent so many press releases touting the latest and greatest cup holders for boats that they’ve become a standing joke at SAIL’s office. I didn’t laugh at this product line from New Zealand, which offers a selection of sturdy stainless-steel and polycarbonate receptacles that can be mounted above- or belowdeck and can be used in many different ways—as fishing-rod holders, barbecue and table mounts, dive-bottle mounts, weight-bearing padeyes, adaptors for cell phones, and that’s just for starters. I was especially impressed with the powered receptacle, into which can be clipped LED anchor or cockpit lights, chart-table lights, reading lamps, and so on. The possibilities are huge. I think just about every boatowner will find a use for this stuff—and yes, there is a cup holder. Kits from $60–$350. Marinco; 707-226-9600; www.marinco.com

 


RACING GEAR

Ronstan Orbit Blocks
Many grand-prix boats have switched to strop connections to shave weight and improve a block’s ability to articulate under load. Ronstan Orbit Blocks are the first such blocks intended for small to midsize boats and feature a built-in (and replaceable) Dyneema SK-75 strop connection in place of a headpost and a shackle. Orbit Blocks utilize advanced polymer-and-fiber construction that makes them stronger than steel for their given weight; they feature a two-stage ball-bearing setup to mitigate friction. They are currently available in two sizes (55mm and 70mm), with the Series 40mm blocks expected soon, and they have numerous possible configurations. The Series 55 is currently the only ratchet block on the market to feature auto-ratchet mode and the option of manual on/off mode; the Series 70mm features full-time auto mode. From $29.99. Ronstan International, Inc.;401-293-0539; www.ronstan.com

Harken Rigtune Pro
Harken’s new Rigtune Pro provides exact rig-tension measurements and makes it easier to precision-tune your rig for specific wind conditions, even while out sailing. The unit has a small round wire-guide and a larger elongated wire-guide on its back, with a load cell incorporated into the round guide. Opposite the guides is a cam with a long lever arm. To use the Rigtune Pro, simply align the shroud between the cam and the guides, then use the cam arm to deflect the shroud flat against the elongated wire guide; the load cell then measures the force of the shroud’s deflection. The Rigtune Pro then uses this figure to calculate the amount of tension in the rig to the nearest kilogram. The unit can measure rod, wire, and PBO rigging between 2.5 and 5 millimeters in diameter, provided there is no more than 1,100 pounds of tension in the rig. The unit is splash-proof and has a digital screen. $325. Harken, Inc.; 262-691-3320; www.harken.com

Harken Pro-Trim Traveler
Moving a traveler to windward on a loaded-up race boat isn’t easy, but attaining and maintaining precise trim can be really hard when the wind is piping. Harken’s Pro-Trim traveler is a belowdeck system that keeps the deck free of bulky hardware and high-purchase tackle. An on-deck control line turns a continuous-line driver sheave that powers a centerline shaft; the shaft connects with (and turns) the drive gear, which powers the system. If you’re sitting on the starboard side and pull the traveler-control line, the sheave will spin one way (thus moving the traveler car in one direction); if you’re sitting to port, pulling the traveler- control line will move the traveler in the opposite direction. The gearbox can be sized to handle a particular boat’s power demands. From $3,500. Harken, Inc.; 262-691-3320; www.harken.com

 


SAFETY GEAR

Spinlock DeckVest
If you find PFDs cumbersome to wear, meet the new Spinlock DeckVest, a PFD that’s packed with safety features but is light on bulk. The vest has a rip-away zipper closure system, a built-in high-intensity signal light, and an innovative harness (made by Petzl, maker of top-notch rock-climbing harnesses) with an easy adjustment system. The unit’s safety-orange inflatable bladder has multiple reflective strips; the bladder is asymmetrically cut so it won’t ride up. My favorite features are the fluorescent yellow spray hood with a see-through plastic face panel and the soft-strop Spectra attachment point, which eliminates bulky metal D-rings. $365. Spinlock Ltd.; 802-362-5258; www.spinlock.co.uk

 


ELECTRONICS

Garmin MFDs
Garmin had the vision to chuck its popular marine interface and start fresh, largely incorporating ideas developed for car navigation. The results, seen on all five of its new multifunction-display series, are still evolving and so far work best on the bigger networked MFDs, but some aspects clearly cut new chart-plotting waters. Route making, for instance, begins not with way-points but with a “Where to?” prompt, a logical routine for studying and choosing possible destinations; it can even include the automated creation of a suggested path. Garmin has also come up with a “Mariner’s Eye 3D” screen that I’ve seen old-time navigators instantly take a liking to. Prices range from $536 to $4,000. Garmin Ltd.; 800-800-1020; www.garmin.com

Simrad A150 Class B AIS
When the FCC finally permits Class B AIS transponders in the U.S., Simrad's AI50 will be the innovation-packed standout. It not only has its own plotter screen—which is useful, as it’s preferable to monitor AIS at greater-than-normal navigation range—but it can also send AIS data to your boat’s plotters and PCs in both NMEA 0183 and 2000 formats. The AI50 can also initiate one-but-ton DSC VHF calls to an AIS target (if it’s attached to a N2K-conversant radio); it can keep a list of buddy boats and notify you when they come into range; and it can record all vessel and target info to an SD card, which might be handy for debriefing a race or an accident. $1,500. Simrad USA; 425-778-8821; www.simradusa.com

Furuno FI-50 Instruments
The Furuno FI-50 series boasts units that not only use power-efficient OLED screens, but also automatically adjust backlighting to ambient light conditions. They also use conventional NMEA 2000 connectors, which facilitates mixed-manufacturer systems. In fact, the two wind instruments have an extra connector for Furuno’s own wind wand, whose data is then sent out on the N2K network, or they’re happy to accept input from, say, Maretron’s or Airmar’s N2K ultrasonic wind sensors. Plus, just behind the FI-50 is Furuno’s amazing NavNet 3D system. Furuno USA; 360-834-9300; www.furuno.com

Spot Satellite Messenger
SPOT’s new Satellite Messenger can provide a careful user with an analogous level of offshore distress messaging, plus it can be used for just checking in and keeping track of adventure-bound friends. The waterproof device contains both a GPS and a Globalstar short-message transmitter and can purportedly stand by for a year on just a pair of lithium AA batteries. The basic annual subscription fee ($99.99) lets you send unlimited “I’m OK” or “Help” e-mail and cell text messages, which include your lat/long Beta and a Google Map link, to friends and family you list at SPOT’s Web site. The 911 button will notify the appropriate search-and-rescue authority via SPOT’s call center, and an additional service fee ($50 per year) gets you tracked every 10 minutes as desired. Note that this messaging service has not had the same problems as Globalstar’s voice/data system, but it does have the same not-quite-worldwide footprint. $169.99. Spot, Inc.; 408-933-4518; www.findmespot.com

 


SYSTEMS

Offshore Systems Fuel Deck Filler Gauge and Digital Tank-Monitoring System
The Fuel Deck Filler Gauge from Offshore Systems provides the obvious way of avoiding overboard spills when fueling—by placing a blue LED tank-level display on an extension to a typical deck-fill cap with a winch handle–type socket. Labeled caps (Fuel, Diesel, Gas, and Water) are available for appropriate tanks. The NMEA 2000-compatible unit would optimally be linked via the network to Offshore Systems’s NMEA Fuel Level Sender, which uses probes that can accommodate tank depths from 10 to 79 inches. The fuel gauge/sender is part of a total system that in- cludes senders for fresh water, gray and black water, an adaptor for older float-type resistive senders, a module that averages the output of the two senders (think heel), and a “Multi-Tank” display. All components are NMEA 2000-compliant. From $319. Ocean Equipment; 949-588-1470; www.oceanequipment.com

Ragasco Composite LPG Cylinders
Ragasco is partnering with Trident Marine to supply composite propane cylinders that are constructed with three different layers, each with its own function. The innermost is a seamless blow-molded gas barrier with a thickened connection boss. This is contained within a one-piece, filament-wound fiberglass load-bearing shell whose resin and curing produces a semi-transparent wall that lets the user see the cylinder’s volume level. The injection-molded protective casing has see-through openings and an ergonomic perimeter handle for easy lifting. Since two cylinders do not come in standard U.S. sizes, Trident Marine, which has an extensive range of gas-system products, is also developing a gas-tight enclosure for these cylinders. U.S. DOT and Transport Canada approved. $155. Trident Marine Systems; 729-745-9311; www.tridentmarine.com

Hella Marine's LED Mega Beam
LEDs have made dramatic inroads into marine lighting over the last decade, as they consume far less power than their incandescent counterparts. Starting with simple courtesy lights, they are now readily available for cabin lighting, navigation lights, and as replacement bulbs. Hella Marine has taken the next step with its first-generation LED deck floodlight. A “multivolt” unit, it is happy feeding off anything between 9 and 30 volts DC and has overvoltage, reverse-polarity, and spike protection. The slightly oval housing—approximately 4.5 inches in diameter and 3.3 inches deep—incorporates a heat sink to optimize the performance of its four LEDs, resulting in a power requirement of just 7 watts (.6 amp at 12v), in contrast to a comparable 55- watt halogen floodlight. $199.99. Hella Marine; 770-631-7500; www.hella marine.com

Bruntons Propellers Ionguard
Ionguard’s retractable electrolysis anode offers a minimal-drag solution for the racer and the performance cruiser, plus a host of other advantages. This is definitely one of those why-hasn’t-it-been-done-before concepts. A cylindrical anode inside a tall through-hull is extended and retracted by a simple plunger. The plunger shaft moves through a seal in a cap that’s screwed onto the threaded inboard end of the through-hull. Unscrewing the cap enables the anode to be inspected, replaced, or exchanged, even while afloat. The anodes simply screw onto the plunger assembly. Through-hulls are available in bronze or stainless steel for compatibility with various hull materials. $365 for the bronze-housing model. Gemeco Marine Accessories; 843-210-7000; www.bruntons-propellers.com

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