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2013 Pittman Innovation Awards

The Pittman Innovation Awards are named after Freeman K. Pittman, SAIL’s widely respected technical editor of 14 years, who succumbed to Lou Gehrig’s disease in 1996. Although it’s not easy living up to Freeman’s high standards, we think he’d be impressed by this year’s selection.
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Every year we go to the fall boat shows wondering if this year’s crop of new gear will meet the standards of the year before, and every year the marine industry comes through. Whether it’s a new take on gee-whiz digital navigation or just a better way of mounting a bug screen, sailors never seem to run out of fresh ideas. 

The Pittman Innovation Awards are named after Freeman K. Pittman, SAIL’s widely respected technical editor of 14 years, who succumbed to Lou Gehrig’s disease in 1996. Although it’s not easy living up to Freeman’s high standards, we think he’d be impressed by this year’s selection.

As in years past, our team of judges—executive editor Adam Cort, cruising editor Charles J. Doane, technical editor Jay Paris, electronics editor Ralph Naranjo and editor-at-large David Schmidt—went through the many boat shows of the last few months with a fine-tooth comb. Here’s what they found.

Click on the product images to see our video reviews. All videos produced by Brian Felsenthal.

CRUISING by Charles J. Doane

Waterline Design Bug Screens

Equipping a boat with truly effective, easy-to-install bug screens can be one of the more daunting challenges facing any cruising sailor. Integral hatch screens are expensive, custom-made solid screens can be fiddly and difficult to fit, and netting “sacks” that are draped over open hatches can only be deployed from on deck. Waterline Design, a Swedish firm, offers an ingenious yet simple solution to this problem with these easy to mount (and easy to store) flexible hatch screens that are held in place with tethers led to suction cups that can be stuck onto the inside of a portlight or the underside of any open hatch. The screens can be quickly deployed and secured from belowdecks, can’t get blown away, and fit on a wide range of openings. The adjustable tether makes it easy to fine-tune the installation. When not needed, the screens fold down to a third their full size and can be tucked away in a dedicated storage bag. From $28. Waterline Design

Caframo Taku Hatch Fan

The body of Caframo’s hinged Taku Hatch Fan is easily mounted with suction cups on the underside of any deck hatch, and the fan blades articulate through 360 degrees to move air either into or out of your boat. The fan is not only supremely efficient, drawing less than 1 amp in “comfort” mode, but includes a special “AirBlast” setting, which moves around 500 cubic feet of hot, stale air in a minute to quickly cool things off belowdecks. It even includes a small, built-in LED cabin lamp. $189. Caframo Ltd.

ProFurl Spinex Spinnaker Furler

Top-down spinnaker furlers are all the rage these days, particularly among cruisers looking for ways to handle downwind sails without doing too much work. Like the spinnaker socks that came before them, early iterations of top-down furlers have suffered a few bugs—including overwraps, binding sails and reverse furls—that can turn an otherwise user-friendly piece of gear into a pain in the backside. Enter ProFurl with its new Spinex furler. By interposing a long series of splined roller-ball bearings between the furler’s torque rope and the sail that wants to wrap around it, the Spinex makes spinnaker furling even easier and more trouble-free. A series of fixed bearing locks separate the roller-balls into discrete sections, so they won’t bind, while an easy-to-assemble torque-rope terminal makes it possible for owners to fit the kit themselves. A friction-free solid block fixed to the tack swivel also makes it possible to adjust the tack line while sailing. All in all, our judges agreed the furler represents an impressive step forward in a rapidly developing field. From $2,299. Profurl

SAFETY by Adam Cort

Sailfuse Rig Protector

The Sailfuse serves as a sacrificial link in your mainsheet system that breaks before your boom, gooseneck or traveler have a chance to do so in the event of an accidental crash gybe. At the heart of the system is an internal metal filament sized to break at about 75 percent of the load that would damage your rig. This metal filament is, in turn, surrounded by a rubber-like weather-proofing compound and a coiled 10in Dyneema safely line that carries the load after the filament is broken. Granted, a correctly rigged preventer would make the Sailfuse redundant. But who can honestly say they’ve never been caught out sailing by the lee without a preventer? $143. Sailfuse Ltd.

Odeo Flare

Few things make less sense than igniting a small, very hot fire in an emergency situation, especially if you happen to be aboard an inflatable liferaft. However, that’s precisely what mariners have traditionally been required to do every time they lit off a handheld pyrotechnic flare. The Odeo Flare gets around this problem by using five small lasers mounted in a rotating head that spins at variable speeds to mimic the flicker of a hot flame. Powered by three AA lithium batteries, the Odeo Flare has a rated range of 3 miles, but has proved to be visible from 4 miles away in practice. As an added benefit, the Odeo Flare remains “lit” for at least 5 hours, and is both buoyant and waterproof, so that it can be safely tossed overboard to an MOB victim. $249. Odeo Flare Ltd.

RACING by David Schmidt

Spinlock T-25 

Organizing lines is essential on a fast-flying raceboat, as tangled spaghetti can easily cost you pickle dishes. However, mounting organizing hardware can be a challenge, particularly on smaller boats. Spinlock’s solution to this problem is the fully modular T-25 line organizer, a clever micro-sized system that is built out of fiber-reinforced plastic and stainless steel, and is configured so that its constituent parts can be clipped together lengthwise, providing up to six independent, plain-bearing sheaves. The lightweight T-25 also bends longitudinally to accommodate cambered surfaces. Additional bolt-on fairleads allow you to impose yet more order on your running rigging, while extra sheaves can be added later on, should your line-handling needs ever change. From $24.95. Spinlock

McLube Antifoul Alternative

Racers have long faced a quandary at multi-day regattas: how to fend off marine growth while keeping hulls slippery and ultra-fast. Sailors who race larger one-designs—such as Stars, Vipers and sport boats like the Melges 24—can all attest to the hassle of having to go swimming before racing: same thing with big-boat sailors who dry-sail their sleds. Thankfully, McLube has now solved the problem with its Antifoul Alternative, a slippery speed polish that impedes marine growth and keeps your hull fair and fast for days or even weeks of in-water use. Better yet, McLube employs an eco-friendly, citrus-based, biodegradable active ingredient to thwart marine growth, rather than relying on metals. To date, McLube’s Antifoul Alternative has been field-tested in the 2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race and at the 2012 London Olympics, all with positive results. Read: dry bathing suits and fast sailors! $36. McLube

Ronstan “Shock” Blocks

Micro doesn’t get much smaller than Ronstan’s new “Shock” solid block, a piece of gear so tiny and lightweight it might be easily lost in a pocket full of keys, coins or ear buds. But don’t let the Shock’s diminutive size fool you. Although it may only weigh 0.07 ounce, it still boasts a safe working load of 770 pounds. The unit measures just 7/8in LOA, carries a 1/2in beam, and is constructed of forged aluminum anodized in four colors. Ronstan originally developed the Shock—shorthand for “sheaveless block”­—for taming kiteboarding sails, but its impressive strength-to-weight ratio lends itself to myriad onboard applications, from batten-pocket or pucker-cord gear on bigger boats to a zillion niches in just about every class of dinghy or sportboat imaginable. The Shock works especially well with Spectra and other high-tech cordage that glides easily over a faired aluminum surface. $8.95. Ronstan

Zhik Grip 2

Zhik’s Grip 2 system features specially-crafted hiking straps and boots, both equipped with lengths of rubberized “Zhik Grip.” When you hook your feet under the hiking strap, hundreds of specially designed “pegs” in the Zhik Grip mesh together to keep the boots firmly connected to the strap. Unlike Velcro, the pegs also immediately disengage when it comes time to gybe or tack. Because of the way the pegs are designed, a solid connection can be achieved from a variety of angles, allowing you to slide fore or aft while still hiking hard. The neoprene Zhik Grip boot is also designed to bend when walking, but remain semi-rigid when subjected to hiking loads to help support toe muscles. The Grip 2 system has already been approved by a variety of one-design classes and successfully field-tested by a number of Olympic athletes. $198. Zhik USA

SYSTEMS by Jay Paris

Watt & Sea Cruising Hydrogenerator

Watt & Sea’s hydrogenerators have long since proved their worth on the shorthanded ocean-racing scene. Every boat in the current Vendée Globe, for example, is carrying one. But only in the past year has the company made its technology widely accessible in the form of a more affordable “cruising” version. Available in both 12- and 24-volt configurations with either a long or short aluminum leg (instead of the carbon leg used in the racing version) the units can be adjusted to accommodate a wide range of boat speeds by switching out prop sizes (replacing the computer-controlled variable-pitch prop on the racing version). Like its racing forebears, the cruiser features a hydrodynamically clean design and can be easily lifted clear of the water when not in use. Bottom line: Watt & Sea’s cruising units provide the same basic performance as its racing models at about a third of the price. $5,995. Watt & Sea

Oceanvolt SD Electric Saildrive

Electric motors have been married to saildrive legs before, but Finland’s Oceanvolt incorporates a number of features in its well-designed SD 8.6 and SD 15 units that clearly bring them to the head of the pack. With closed-circulation liquid cooling and a compact waterproof permanent-magnet motor, the drives take up very little space inside a hull. The combination shift/throttle lever is also compact and has a series of LEDs indicating motor status. Best of all, a button on the display unit engages a most interesting SD function—regeneration with a folding prop, whereby the propeller is brought up to speed until its blades are deployed, and the power is then extracted as the blades are carefully controlled so that they don’t fold back down again. From $11,700. Oceanvolt Ltd.

Lehr Propane Outboard

Lehr’s small propane-fueled outboards are at the forefront of what could be a significant trend—a trend fueled in large part by problems with ethanol-blended gasoline. Gasoline containing 10 percent ethanol has a nominal shelf life of a month or less and is especially problematic when used in small engines, which can become difficult to start and run, and may suffer carburetor damage. Propane not only avoids these problems but makes engines more environmentally friendly and easier to maintain. Lehr’s 2.5hp and 5hp outboards look much like conventional outboards, except for a socket that receives a small recyclable steel cylinder, like those commonly seen on stern barbeques. For sailors in need of greater range, the engines can be hooked up to a remote LPG tank, like those used to run many marine ovens and stoves. As an added benefit, there’s one less fuel tank to have to carry and no more worrying about spilling gas when using cans with so-called safety spouts.

From $1,259. Lehr Inc.

ELECTRONICS by Ralph Naranjo & David Schmidt


Overall Winner Judges:Nigel Calder (systems expert and author), Gerry Douglas (Vice President, Catalina Yachts), Chuck Hawley (Vice President of Product Development, West Marine), Peter Nielsen (Editor, SAIL)

As digital cartography has transformed coastal sailing and offshore passagemaking, so crowdsourcing—where users become the source of the information—is transforming digital cartography. At the forefront of this new wave is Navionics, whose SonarCharts allow users to update and wimprove seabed detail by uploading sonar logs to its website. Working across iPhone, iPad and GPS plotters, SonarCharts is another step forward in recreational cartography.

Navionics has embraced user-generated chart data in a big way with its new SonarCharts product, which is available as part of its Platinum+ and HotMaps Platinum cartography packages. To create SonarCharts, Navionics uses official hydrographic charts as a starting point and then adds sounding data from a variety of sources, including recreational boaters who record their sonar logs and upload them onto the Navionics website. (New data is integrated into the company’s library and made available to the public within about 24 hours.) The result is a global chart that is not only rich in data and detail, but constantly evolving. Currently, only Platinum+ MFD users can retrieve SonarCharts updates from Navionics’ online chart-updating service, but the service will soon be available via smartphones, tablets and PCs as well. From $199. Navionics

Simrad GoFree Wireless

Imagine being able to not just wirelessly monitor but also control your multifunction display (MFD) on a smartphone or tablet. Using a Simrad, Lowrance or B&G MFD together with GoFree wireless technology, you now can. A complete GoFree installation consists of a GoFree WiFi-1 wireless router module, an MFD and Simrad’s proprietary GoFree app, which can be used with both Apple and Android operating systems. The resulting Local Area Network (LAN) can be accessed and read via a smartphone or fully manipulated via a tablet, provided your MFD features real-time MPEG4 video encoding. The many tasks that can be performed include everything from modifying routes to changing views to setting up radar guard zones. $229. Simrad

GREENTECH by Adam Cort

Eco-Clad Antifouling

For years now, paint manufacturers have been trying to make antifouling paint “eco-friendly” by modifying the toxic metals it contains or engineering mechanisms that control the amount of biocide released into the environment. Eco-Clad, however, takes an entirely different approach by mimicking the same antifouling processes used by marine organisms in nature. Specifically, when a hull painted with Eco-Clad is launched, a thin film of naturally occurring organisms forms on the paint’s surface, which does the work of keeping weed and barnacles away. Although it remains to be seen just how effective it is in different marine environments, early results—including aboard SAIL’s test boat Ostara—have been good in both fresh and saltwater. Laboratory tests have also shown that the paint does little if any harm to non-fouling marine life. It is for this reason that our judges decided to give Eco-Clad a nod. It’s good to see a company finding new “eco-responsible” solutions to old problems. As an added benefit, because it is not an ablative paint, Eco-Clad is both durable and capable of providing a long service life, minimizing the impact on your bank account as well. Price NA. Eco-Clad



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