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2010 Pittman Innovation Awards

Sailors today live in an era replete with new equipment and innovation. Looking back on the state-of-the-art in February of 1970—when SAIL’s first issue was unveiled—you’d find aluminum was still considered a pretty high-tech material. Wooden spars were still relatively common. Electronics were primitive: LORAN was top dog, and plenty of cruisers used radio direction finders when navigating out

Sailors today live in an era replete with new equipment and innovation. Looking back on the state-of-the-art in February of 1970—when SAIL’s first issue was unveiled—you’d find aluminum was still considered a pretty high-tech material. Wooden spars were still relatively common. Electronics were primitive: LORAN was top dog, and plenty of cruisers used radio direction finders when navigating out of sight of land. Sextants remained mandatory when heading offshore. Crosscut Dacron sails were still used on America’s Cup boats, and although carbon fiber existed, it was the stuff of spaceships, not sailboats.

Forward thinking has dramatically advanced the state of sailing from the days when the fastest racing boats might see 20 knots when a puff coincided with a big wave. In 2009, the “flying” hydrofoil trimaran l’Hydroptre achieved a tooth-rattling top speed of 51.56 knots, and the 131-foot trimaran Banque Populaire 5 crossed the Atlantic in 3 days, 15 hours, 25 minutes and 48 seconds. In the process, it hit a top speed of 47.15 knots and logged a 24-hour run of 908.2 nautical miles. Amazing!

Equally impressive is the fact that it is now common for even the most modest cruising boats to have everything from powered winches and fantastic electronics and communications gear to air conditioning and heating, roller-reefing sails, a carbon-fiber rig, a reliable autopilot and a watermaker.

This sort of evolution requires technology, innovation and creative thinking. Few people understood this better than Freeman K. Pittman, who served as SAIL’s technical editor for 14 years before his untimely death from ALS. Pittman was widely respected throughout the marine industry for his insights on innovative equipment, and SAIL honors his memory with these annual Innovation Awards. Each fall, editor-in-chief Peter Nielsen (Cruising Gear), senior editor David Schmidt (Racing and Safety Gear), electronics editor Tim Bartlett (Electronics) and technical consultant Jay Paris (Systems) sift through boat shows in the United States and Europe to find gear that’s ahead of it’s time.


On seeing the Ding-EZ for the first time, I had to choke back the chortles. A granny bar for inflatable dinghies—puh-leeze! And yet, the more I thought about it, the more sense it made, especially after I took my elderly in-laws sailing and helped them on and off the boat. I bet more people drown getting in and out of dinghies than fall overboard from sailboats, so why not cut the odds? The more handholds around a boat, the better, and there’s no reason why a dinghy should be an exception. The Ding-EZ’s frame fits around the floor of an inflatable, and its 38-inch-tall safety bar can support a load of 350 pounds (heavier-duty versions are also available). It can be removed by just pulling a couple of pins. If you often sail with people who are physically weak, elderly or just plain unaccustomed to boats, take a close look at the Ding-EZ. From $150 to $389, model depending. Ding-EZ Corporation; 877-602-2922,

Compact is good, no question about that, which is why I like this new take on the venerable spinnaker douser from New Zealand-based CT SnuffAir. It’s an inflatable spinnaker sock hoop that takes up a fraction of the space required by the usual fiberglass bucket. Pump it up with a 12-volt inflator or a dinghy foot-pump and away you go. Spinnaker cloth slides easily over the slippery surface, and even if things get out of hand during a set or douse, your crew will only laugh if they get clonked on the head by this hoop. Light, tough and easy to stow— what more could you want? At present the CT SnuffAir is being made in several sizes for boats over 50 feet. The biggest boat it’s been used on so far is on a 172-foot Perini Navi. It can be retrofitted to an existing sock or supplied as a complete unit. CT SnuffAir; +64-9-810-8406,

Harken’s new line of Radial winches is the first truly different approach to winch design I’ve seen in the last two decades. The smaller winches have composite roller bearings and bushings, and weight is reduced by 20 to 50 percent over equivalent conventional winches. A diagonal “radial” pattern on the drum is designed to push line wraps down as the winch turns, rather than letting them ride up. Anyone who’s had to deal with an override on a highly loaded winch will instantly recognize this as a Good Idea. Another Good Idea is that the winch top on the self-tailing units is completely stationary, eliminating the possibility for fingers or loose clothing to get ingested. I also like the fact that the winches can be installed and removed without the need to take the drum off, and that the bearings remain secure when you lift the drum off for maintenance—no more clunk, clink, splash. Radial winches are available in aluminum or chrome, with or without a self-tailing top. Prices vary depending on winch size, style and material. Harken, Inc.; 262-691-3320


North Sails has revolutionized sailmaking by fundamentally changing the way laminated sailcloth is constructed. Rather than layers of film and strings laminated together with an adhesive (as in a 3DL sail), North’s new 3Di sails are built using an advanced robotic plotter that applies state-of-the art synthetic fibers as individual ribbons of string, each just one filament thick. The robot applies many layers of these ribbons in interlocking patterns, following projected load paths supplied by the sail’s designer. The filaments are then shaped on North’s articulating drum, vacuum bagged and laminated. This process consolidates the fibers and achieves the exact shape the designers intended. By interlocking these ribbons during a sail’s construction, North has been able to forgo using films and only use enough adhesive to consolidate the fibers. Call your North Sails loft for a quote. North Sails Group, LLC,

Ever wondered how much load is on your headsail sheets? Thanks to Spinlock’s new ZS Ropesense load-cell unit, you can easily find out. This clever unit consists of a small rectangular metal bar with an aperture on either end and load cell inside. To use the Ropesense, simply attach strops (soft loops) to both of the unit’s apertures. These strops are then attached to a sail’s clew and jib sheet. The unit can relay load data via a LCD display on its face (the ZS-LC) or wirelessly (the ZS-LCS) to an onboard laptop, where the data can viewed onscreen and imported into an Excel file. Spinlock offers Ropesense units rated for either 11,000 or 22,000 pounds. Both versions monitor continuous and peak loads. The units come equipped with a strop and a protective neoprene sleeve to protect your rig, the deck and the unit itself. Prices range from $1,090 to $2,590. Spinlock LTD.; 877-465-6251,

In 2008 Hall Spars changed the synthetic-rigging game with its revolutionary new Seamless Carbon Rigging (SCR). The forward-thinking spar-and-rigging manufacturer has now unveiled its 2.0 version of SCR, which is formed to create an ultra-low-drag airfoil shape. The new rigging, dubbed SCR/S, is composed of unidirectional prepreg carbon fibers that are thermo set—just like SCR—and streamlined to present the smallest possible frontal profile. Since drag on a sailboat’s rigging is directly proportional to the amount of surface area presented to the air, SCR/S will make your boat sail faster. The SCR/S system is non-continuous, so you can easily swap out a damaged section. Titanium is used everywhere metal contacts carbon fiber, eliminating worries about corrosion between dissimilar metals. Best of all, Hall estimates the lifespan of its SCR/S (or SCR) rigging is equal to that of the mast itself. Contact Hall for a quote. Hall Spars and Rigging, 401-253-4858,


An MOB emergency is every skipper’s worst nightmare, especially if it happens at night or in poor visibility. Fortunately, there’s now FLIR’s new First Mate handheld thermal night-vision camera, which makes finding heads bobbing in the water a snap. Unlike night-vision devices that simply amplify existing light, the First Mate detects and displays thermal differentials, so that it delivers the same crisp nocturnal images regardless of cloud cover, shore light or lunar phases. Since every object and material has a heat signature, the First Mate can also be used to thread your way into a rocky harbor, spot buoys, sight ships or keep watch for floating debris. The First Mate can be mounted on deck via a “hot-shoe” feature and plugged into your boat’s electrical system. Images can also outputted to an onboard monitor. The small handheld unit is fully submersible, impact resistant and transportable, offering its users a huge amount of versatility. $2,999. FLIR Systems, Inc.; 877-773-3547,


There are several FleetBroadband services available, but FB150 is probably the one best suited for most sailboats. It offers voice, text and data connections at up to 150kbps (slow compared with domestic broadband, but OK for emailing and occasional web surfing) and employs a dome measuring less than one foot in diameter and hardware that can cost less than $5,000. This affordability and ease of use is made possible by Inmarsat’s new I-4 series of satellites, which are the size of a small bus and carry solar panels as wide as a football field to generate 13kW of power. Each satellite is also equipped with a dish over thirty feet across that focuses transmissions into hundreds of high-power spot beams, which can be reconfigured and redirected to react to changing demand. Inmar; 202-248-5164,

Upgrading to new instruments is an easy way to freshen up a tired old chart table or cockpit. Unfortunately, replacing the old-but-serviceable sensors that supply the information for these instruments to display is a different matter. To solve this problem, Garmin has come up with a range of analog adapters—a series of adapters that convert analog data from old-fashioned sensors to digital NMEA 2000 data that can be read by the latest generation of instruments and multifunction displays. Each of Garmin’s five analog adapters consists of a length of cable with bare cores at one end and a plug at the other. Between the two is a little black box that does the converting. Adapters are already available to convert rudder angle, tank level, and water speed and temperature data. All are priced at $199. Garmin; 913-397-8200,

Jotron’s AIS SART is a search-and-rescue beacon that transmits a dedicated identity code and GPS position to produce a distinctive red cross icon marking the position of a liferaft or a vessel in distress on the bridge display of any AIS-equipped ship within range. Jotron was instrumental in persuading the International Maritime Organization (IMO) that a dedicated AIS transmitter could be an acceptable alternative to the radar-based Search And Rescue Transponders (SARTs) that are compulsory equipment on all commercial ships. After tests showed that an AIS SART mounted just three feet above water in a lifeboat or liferaft could be detected at a range of ten miles by a ship and up to 130 miles by a search-and-rescue aircraft, the IMO approved the technology and AIS SARTS will be accepted on commercial vessels starting in January 2010. They will be available to pleasure craft early in 2010, priced at about $1,200. Jotron; 713-268-1061,

Modern raceboats are increasingly dependent on “good numbers”—i.e., high-quality electronic data—to make the best use of their sophisticated tactical software and precision instruments. Unfortunately, the most important data, wind speed and wind angles, are also among the most difficult to obtain. On the one hand, the wind is constantly fluctuating. On the other, readings from masthead sensors are continually subjected to host of dynamic errors, including mast twist, wind sheer and changes in the apparent wind caused by movement of the mast as the boat pitches and rolls over waves. To combat this problem, NKE’s new Regatta processor crunches the numbers on its wind data 25 time per second—as opposed to one or maybe a few times a second, as is the case with most instruments—which means smoother readouts on displays, easier and more accurate calibration, and more accurate data-logging for creating polars. Of course, a cutting-edge instrument system like this doesn’t come cheap. But at about $15,000 for a system that includes speed, depth and wind sensors, plus a high-resolution compass and three mast displays (as well as the processor) the Regatta system is still a relatively economical option for serious racers. Euro Marine Trading, Inc.; 401-849-0060,


Lithium-ion technology—widely used for portable electronics and tools—has arrived in the marine market. Mastervolt’s new lithium-ion marine batteries are one-third as large, weigh one-third as much and have three times the cycle capacity of a conventional lead-acid battery, albeit at about three times the price. Mastervolt’s MLI 24/160 model (24volts/160amps), which was on display at this fall’s trade shows, measures 24.5 by 7.8 by 3.6 inches, weighs 106 pounds, is good for over 2,000 cycles at 80 percent depth of discharge, and should be available this spring at a price of $7,250. While the initial price is high, its purportedability to outlast three or more lead-acid batteries suggests the long-term costs might be similar. In November, Mastervolt started showing a 12-volt version that might be available for half the price. The battery is smart, with an onboard battery-management system that has bidirectional active-cell balancing and MasterBus communication connections for optimal charger operation. Safety is important afloat and the lithium-ion phosphate chemistry selected by Mastervolt is said to be the safest one available. Since LiOn batteries can deliver extraordinary high currents, carefully designed circuit protection is mandatory. Mastervolt; 442-459-5370,

Developed as an alternative to the traditional tapered softwood plugs that prudent sailors carry in case a through-hull fails, Forespar’s new high-visibility, red conically shaped soft foam TruPlug can deal with more than just round holes. Constructed of polyurethane and measuring 4.5 inches in diameter at its widest end, it can also be cut down or compressed by hand and forced into place with a screwdriver or wrench to plug smaller more irregularly shaped leaks. The TruPlug has been through over a year’s worth of testing, during which time several rescue vessels used it to stop leaks in a number of actual emergencies. Larger plug sizes are in the works. Forespar Products Corporation; 949-858-8820,

These circular high-temperature silicone mats fit into a Kenyon induction cook top and are both removable and dishwasher safe for easy cleaning. When installed, they protect the glass cook top from scratches and breakage. Their raised outer rim also provides spill protection. The Silken’s surface and concentric grooves can reportedly keep a pan in place at static heeling angles of up to 30 degrees. The new units are available in a number of different color and design options. The photo shows a Model B80101 240-volt cook top priced at $995. Similar 120-volt units will be available in the future. The great thing about induction cooking is that pots and pans are cool to the touch when removed from the cook top surface. With today’s increased interest in hybrid propulsion and power systems, you can expect to see more electric cooking afloat. Kenyon International; 860-664-4906,

Raritan’s Marine Elegance toilet with SeaFresh flushing system is the only electric marine toilet that lets the user select either seawater or freshwater flushing. The selector switch activates either a remote seawater pump or a solenoid valve plumbed into a boat’s pressurized freshwater system. Although it would not be difficult to install a functional manual system, Raritan provides a complete, easily operated package with built-in protection of the potable-water system. Since the principal source of odors in the head is usually the decomposition of organic matter in seawater, freshwater flushing is desirable. Even if there is not sufficient freshwater for continuous use, freshwater flushing whenever the head is not being used for any length of time helps to purge the system of seawater, which significantly reduces odor and mineral buildup in the lines and corrosion of system components. $1,360. Raritan Engineering; 856-825-4900,




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