One of the fun things about our Pittman Innovation Awards—besides getting to check out what’s new and improved in the sailing world—is the way each year’s winning class seems to have it’s own distinct personality. Some years are hardware driven, others see simple commonsense solutions to vexing problems afloat, some are a mishmash of all of the above. For 2015, the theme definitely seems to be the latter: how else to describe an assemblage of gear that includes everything from a portable hot-spot for making satellite calls on your cell phone to the latest take on that most ancient piece of marine hardware, the humble cleat?
Named after Freeman K. Pittman, SAIL’s long-time technical editor who died of Lou Gehrig’s disease in 1996, the Pittman Innovation Awards recognize the outstanding new products created by a sailing industry that remains forever fresh in its thinking. As in years past, our team of judges—executive editor Adam Cort, cruising editor Charles J. Doane, technical editor Jay Paris, electronics editor Ben Ellison and racing editor David Schmidt—roamed many boat shows, both here and abroad, to uncover the best of the best that’s new sailing gear.
This year's overall winner, the Allen Brothers Keyball Trapeze, got the nod from our overall-winner panel—comprised of systems expert Nigel Calder, West Marine "advisor" series author Tom Burden, and Gerry Douglas, chief designer and vice-president of Catalina Yachts—in recognition of what the panel described as the product's “originality.” The panel also liked the fact that product helps solve a serious issue facing the sailing community—the safety of its dinghy sailors, a group that includes many of sailing’s arguably most vulnerable practitioners, the young and newcomers to the sport. “This looks like a smart product that does a good job of helping solve a serious safety issue,” said West Marine’s Tom Burden. High praise for any sailing product! Kudos to Allen Brothers for not being content with the status quo.
Racingby David Schmidt
Allen Brothers Keyball Trapeze
Log enough wire time on a high-performance dinghy, and odds are good you’ll eventually join the “around-the-world” club by capsizing so violently that you’re thrown around the headstay. Or worse, an aggressive roll tack or gybe goes wrong, and you end up to leeward, trapped under the sails. Either way, being able to quickly get free of the trapeze is critical. The new Allen Keyball Trapeze, the result of a collaboration between Allen Brothers and noted dinghy designer Julian Bethwaite, makes it far easier to escape a trapeze than the standard hook-on system, which has caused at least one fatality in recent years. The innovative new Keyball system has a solid aluminum ball attached to the end of an aluminum guide (situated on the trapeze-wire assembly) that fits easily into a 3D-molded keyhole on the system’s buckle (worn on the sailor’s harness). Sailors can easily adjust their height/hiking angle via a simple purchase system (situated on the trapeze-wire assembly, just above the becket on the top of the aluminum guide) and should calamity strike, getting loose is a snap. From $130. Allen Brothers, allenbrothers.co.uk
Glide Free Foils
Grand prix sailing leapt into the 21st century when open-class Moth dinghies—as well as America’s Cup cats—started flying across the water on foils. However, for all its appeal, foil-borne sailing has remained expensive and hard to master with its often specialized equipment. Australia-based Glide Free Designs has cracked this problem with its Glide Free Foils, now available outside of the Antipodes for the first time, which allow you to convert a standard Laser into a foiling rocketship. The kit doesn’t require any permanent modifications (read: holes, bolts or other fixed hardware). Instead, simply remove your old foils and slot the new foiling centerboard into the centerboard trunk (a toggle pin on the centerboard trunk locks it in place), drop the foiling rudder on the boat’s gudgeons and you’re off. Best yet, you can use any old Laser, thus dramatically lowering the financial barrier to foiling. You can also easily convert your now-foiling Laser back into a standard class-legal dinghy by swapping-out your fast foils for the originals. $3,800. Glide Free Design, glidefree.com.au
Garmin GPSMAP sailing software
Sailboat racing can be mentally stressful, especially if you don’t have a world-class tactician whispering sweet nothings in your ear. Even then, trying to visualize all the available information in a dynamic real-time situation can be a mind-melter. Fortunately, the latest sailing-specific features introduced along with Garmin’s GPSMAP 7400/7600 and 8000 series MFDs include a number of racecourse-specific applications of the kind that were once available only with true grand prix systems and can help make winners out of even the most wet-behind-the ears club-level racers. Graphic displays include everything from laylines to heading and course-over-ground lines, true wind information, an enhanced compass rose, and a “tide/current/time slider,” to help skippers and tacticians make the right call when, say, trying to get around a tricky windward mark. Additionally, the MFDs come loaded with Garmin’s new Pre-Race Guidance software, which helps you hit the line at pace as the gun fires by factoring in real-time, real-world conditions such as wind, target speeds, distances and time to go. Garmin is to be commended for democratizing racing’s cutting edge. Anything and everything that can help level the playing field so that weekend racers have a fighting chance against the pros sounds good to us! From $1,499. Garmin Ltd., garmin.com
Cruisingby Charles J. Doane
Retractable cleats are all the rage on modern cruising boats, but we like this idea better. This is a versatile new cleat design that streamlines the hardware’s profile to keep it from catching feet, toes and loose working lines. It also transforms an open-horned cleat into a closed fairlead, which can come in handy when warping boats around high docks and walls or managing them in canal locks. The rotating horns can be easily shifted up into their open position or down into a locked closed position, even when there’s a line already secured to the cleat. Like all Antal kit, the Roller Cleat is aesthetically pleasing and nicely finished. The cleats are available with either hard black anodizing or attractive matte-silver anodizing and come in four different sizes suitable for boats ranging from about 36 to 70 feet. From $348. Antal sri, antal.it
Trailer-sailing cruisers who spend too much time fiddling with clevis and cotter pins when rigging and de-rigging their boats will appreciate the Quickstay—an innovative new quick-release standing-rigging terminal from U.S. hardware manufacturer Tylaska. The lower end of the terminal has an eye to receive a conventional clevis pin and can be left pinned to a double-jaw toggle attached to a boat’s chainplate. The upper end has a threaded rod that spins into the lower end of a standard-size turnbuckle. To make the connection, you just push an open slot in the bottom of the upper part over the cross-pin on top of the lower part, twist clockwise, release, and the two parts are locked together. Spin the turnbuckle as you normally would to tension the stay, and you’re ready to go sailing. The Quickstay has a breaking strength of 2,220lb and can be used with wire stays and shrouds up to 1/8in or 3mm in diameter. Larger sizes to accommodate wire up to 3/8in or 10mm are in development. From $60, Tylaska Marine Hardware, tylaska.com
This satellite-based Wi-Fi hotspot from Iridium promises to set a new standard for global communications among bluewater cruisers. The pocket-sized device can be carried anywhere or permanently mounted aboard with a remote antenna, and allows up to five laptops, tablets and phones within a 100ft range to connect for both voice and data transmission from anywhere in the world. The GO! is compatible with both Apple and Android operating systems and has its own powerful platform that allows for the development of independent applications. Apps already developed by Iridium allow for optimized e-mail and data compression, photo-transfer capabilities, social media support, position tracking, easy access to weather forecasts and SOS signaling. The device itself costs considerably less than a conventional satellite phone, and service plans look to be both flexible and affordable. Whether you’re in port or sailing the high seas, this gadget should meet most communications needs.
$895. Iridium Communications Inc., iridium.com
Electronicsby Ben Ellison
Furuno DRS4W and Nobeltec TimeZero iPad radar
Furuno’s 1st Watch WiFi Radar, with its included standalone iPad radar app, is certainly a noteworthy new product, but the concept got really interesting when sister company Nobeltec announced its impending integration with their TimeZero app. The 19in radome’s 4kW multicolor radar target presentation will overlay on TimeZero’s elegant mix of charts and PhotoFusion satellite maps. The total setup can consist of simply the radome and an iPad, because TZ will be able to synchronize radar and charts using COG data from a built-in or Bluetooth GPS. But even better performance will be seen when a third-party Wi-Fi multiplexer joins the radar’s network and passes along GPS and heading data. AIS target data can also be passed through the 1st Watch radar to the TimeZero app, and Nobeltec hopes to add depth, wind and more eventually. Integrating radar with a charting program is a significant new sweet spot for iPad navigation. Adding the boat data is a thick layer of frosting. $1,695. Furuno, furunousa.com; $100. Nobeltec, nobeltec.com
Looking ahead with sonar is quite difficult, and B&G has not significantly exceeded the limitations of previous forward-looking sonar (FLS) systems. (I’ve rarely seen useful information further ahead than seven times the present water depth, and in shallow waters the ratio is often about 4X. In other words, you need to be going attentively slow for FLS to make a difference.) Nonetheless, B&G has so improved every other aspect of this technology that it’s nearly a no-brainer for any boat with Zeus2 displays. ForwardScan is much faster than previous FLS systems, so you get instant feedback as you maneuver through obstacles with its 15-degrees-wide-by-90-degrees-high forward beam. In addition, to augment the typical but hard-to-interpret dotty raw data, ForwardScan’s algorithms are constantly working to fill in a vivid, easy-to-read bottom line. FS can also display on a chart window as an “ice cream cone” heading line that’s color-coded and optionally alarmed to the depths seen in the beam. Finally, installing a B&G ForwardScan is quite simple, only requiring a plug-and-play sonar hub and FS transducer. $1,498. B&G, bandg.com
BoatLOGGER lets you easily design a website for your boat that includes pretty much anything and everything you could ever want. Photo albums, blogs, maintenance lists, storage for PDF manuals: it’s all there. Each section can also be either private, public or shared with friends. The company is generous about what requires a subscription and what’s free, including the core-logging feature. Annotated logs can be created from existing GPS track files or nearly automatically with free BoatLOGGER smartphone apps. The developers are also forging multiple partnerships with other technology providers to make the site better still. For example, a bluewater log can be auto-created with DeLorme InReach tracking, and I’ve already seen a Chetco SeaSmart module auto stream engine and weather data through my phone. Individual BL sites can be grouped into a cruise site, and race management is coming soon. We’re going to see more app developers and even electronics manufacturers getting into this game. But for now, BoatLOGGER is blazing the trail nicely. Free to $40/year. IT Tack, boatlogger.com
Spectra Z-Ion Watermaker Membrane Protection
Watermakers have significantly improved life aboard for many bluewater cruisers and racers. However, they are fickle contraptions and complex pre-filtering is sometimes called for when running them in anything other than pristine water. Even then, if a unit is shut down for any length of time—a week or less—it needs a freshwater flush and some pickling solution to keep its delicate membranes from getting plugged up. Enter Spectra’s Z-Ion membrane protection system, which avoids this tedious procedure by producing silver ions during a freshwater flush that disinfect the watermaker and eliminate microbial growth and odors for up to a month. The beneficial properties of silver have been known since ancient times, and today more than half the world’s airlines use silver water filters to protect against waterborne disease. The unit is automatic, with the ionizer drawing just 15 watts during a flush cycle, and can operate on either 12 or 24 volts. The typical lifespan of the electrode assembly is two to three years. $295/core. Spectra Watermakers Inc., spectrawatermakers.com
Dynad Hydromax 150
Fuel cells were used in early spacecraft because of their relatively light weight and the fact that they produce water as a “waste” product. They have since come down to earth and more recently moved out on the water, where they’ve been used in specialized applications, such as aboard Mini Transat racers. For years they have been impractical for ordinary sailors because they require compressed hydrogen or methanol for fuel, both of which are heavy to store and highly inflammable. However, this new Hydromax 150 fuel cell from the Dutch company Dynad uses fuel that can be safely transported in powder form—specifically, a mixture of malic acid (found in apples) and a saline solution—which produces the hydrogen needed to power the unit. Available in 12- or 24-volt models, the Hydromax 150 measures just 7.5 x 16 x 10.5in, weighs 20lb and is rated for 180 watts output. Though expensive, it is still only half the price of its principal competition and boasts 50 percent higher output. $5,000. Dynad International BV, dynad-hydromax.com/en
Jefa ApS Steering Traveler
Crafty these Danes, who have come up with a new and straightforward way to link twin wheels and twin rudders, a configuration that is increasingly popular in boats as short as 30ft overall. A significant improvement over other twin steering systems, the Jefa unit has a car with four wheels shaped to fit a strong tubular “traveler” with tracks to prevent the car from rotating around the tube. The car also has two 11/16in diameter pins for connecting the port and starboard draglinks to the tiller arms fitted to the rudderstocks. Cables running from one of the helms, across the boat to the other helm and then back to the car, move the car and, by extension, the rudders. The result is minimal cable lengths, connections that don’t have any backlash and draglinks that can be easily optimized for use with canted rudders. Space is saved by taking quadrants out of the equation. The effective gearing ratio can be changed by varying the length of the tiller arms. Price on request. Jefa Systems, jefa.com
Safetyby Adam Cort
A Better Plug
For years, sailors have carried “bungs,” cone-shaped pieces of wood that can be hammered into place to plug a hole or failed through-hull, thereby keeping an otherwise doomed boat afloat. Inherent in the bung concept, however, is the fact that the bung is on the inside of the hull pushing out against the pressure of the water trying to get in. The new Seabung turns this problem on its head by creating a patch on the outside of the hull—a bit like old-time “fothering”—so that the greater the water pressure, the better the seal. To use the Seabung, simply push the flexible “dome” through the hole with a kind of wand and then pull back until it seals the hole. The wand even includes an eyelet, which allows the Seabung to be tethered in place in the event you have to continue sailing for a while before effecting a repair. The Seabung can also be used to change out an old or faulty quarter-turn valve without having to haul your boat. From $75/pair. Seabung, seabung.com
The boat slams into a big off-pattern wave, a pot of boiling water goes flying, and a medical emergency unfolds. It’s 0200 and the vessel is halfway to Bermuda, but fortunately, the owner carries a DigiMed medical diagnostic kit from DigiGone, as well as a subscription to George Washington University’s Maritime Medical Access program (MMA). A crewmember opens the kit’s pre-programmed tablet, and the DigiMed system automatically connects with the MMA over an encrypted video conferencing line via the yacht’s sat-com system (any brand, except Iridium), where an operator (a trained EMT) triages the call before transferring it to one of the program’s doctors/specialists, who are available around-the-clock. Soon a doctor is looking at real-time imagery of the victim’s burns via the DigiMed’s wireless IP-enabled high-definition video camera, and together the doctor and crew stabilize the victim and provide some comfort, while also establishing follow-up calls. DigiMed kits rely on DigiGone’s SecureChat, an IP-based sat-com system that offers ultra-compressed (read: inexpensive) and encrypted voice, video, SMS and file transfers. Granted, these kits aren’t cheap. But in the event a crewmember is even seriously injured, they will be worth every penny. From $1,995. DigiGone, diginonymous.com
Ocean Signal rescueME MOB 1
MOB beacons that transmit AIS signals so nearby vessels can track the person in trouble are already appreciated by many sailors. Ocean Signal’s rescueME MOB1 is the smallest yet—purportedly by 30 percent—and also has a valuable DSC radio feature. When activated, it sends a distress message to your boat’s VHF, triggers an alarm and transmits the MOB’s position, which it then repeats every 5 minutes. Most AIS plotting devices will track AIS MOB signals these days (use the test mode to check) but only a few sound alarms. The rescueME MOB1 clips to most inflatable life vests and can be pre-armed so that it auto-activates when the vest does. It also has a strobe and a battery good for seven years. A rescueMe MOB1s purchased outside the United States can send a manual all-ships DSC distress message, but these cannot be sold domestically until approved by the FCC. $NA. Ocean Signal, oceansignal.com