One of the neat things about sailing is the incredible variety of equipment that sailors use while doing it, whether crossing oceans or just out for a daysail—one of the many reasons why even after all these years SAIL magazine’s annual Pittman Innovation Awards remain as fresh and as fascinating as ever. Consider some of this year’s winners. On the one hand, you have products as complicated as the overall winner, Vesper Marine with its new AIS/VHF system, or Maretron’s N2KView Anchoring Module, which among other things can warn you if you are going to hit bottom in a particular spot at low tide. On the other, you have something as simple as a better way of securing the yarns racers like to use when packing away their spinnakers, that and a better way of stowing away a water bottle aboard a racing dinghy. Amazing! As always, we think SAIL’s late products editor Freeman K. Pittman, for whom these annual innovation awards are named, would have been impressed.
Vesper Marine Cortex AIS/VHF/monitoring
When you’re looking at or thinking about a piece of sailing equipment, it pays to try to imagine how, when and why it will actually be used offshore. For better or worse, sailors, engineers and designers looking for “problems” to solve often come up with “solutions” that are of only marginal utility, at best, and hardly worth implementing. This is most definitely not the case, however, with Vesper Marine’s “Cortex” combination VHF/AIS system. Imagine standing watch at the helm in the middle of the night amid multiple AIS contacts, all heading in your general direction. Now imagine not only being shown which of those contacts is the most dangerous, but being able to hail them via digital selective calling (DSC) with just the tap of a button—all while using a single piece of equipment. “The ability to just touch the screen and call up directly another boat is a pretty neat feature,” says overall-winner judge Nigel Calder, in his typically understated manner. Clearly, in a world of sometimes frivolous bells and whistles, the new Vesper system is a piece of equipment that can, and undoubtedly will make all the difference in the world.
OVERALL WINNER JUDGES: Matt Wise (senior manager of services at West Marine), Nigel Calder (systems expert and author), Gerry Douglas (chief designer and vice-president of Catalina Yachts)
CRUISING By Charles J. Doane
Selden E40i Electric Winch and Synchronized Main Furling
The notion of “push-button” sailing has become increasingly de rigueur, and with these two creative innovations, Seldén is leading us yet another step down the path. Building on its recently introduced Power Supply System (which converts 12V or 24V power to 42V power, thus greatly reducing both motor and cable sizes) Seldén’s three-speed E40i electric winch incorporates a motor inside its drum to create a more compact bit of kit that is especially well suited to coachroof installations, where the need to maximize headroom below is paramount. Also taking advantage of the Power Supply System is Seldén’s new Synchronized Main Furling (SMF), which links the E40i to a retrofittable furling motor in the mast, synchronizing the two so that the E40i automatically tensions the sail as the furling motor lets it out—all at the touch of a button. (A load sensor automatically matches the winch speed to the outhaul tension, ensuring everything runs smoothly.) To furl, the outhaul is simply released and the mast motor hauls the sail back in. As the old joke goes, your finger will surely get tired from having to do so much work.
From $7,000. SeldénMast AB, seldenmast.com
Dacoblue Portable Fuel/Water Bladders
Sailors who venture to remote cruising grounds far from fuel docks often confront the problem of having to carry fuel and water long distances to their boats. Conventional jerry cans are awkward to handle and stow. They also take up way too much space when empty. Growing tired of his own jerry cans during a five-year circumnavigation, cruiser Conny Dahlin finally resolved to come up with something better, and the result is his new Dacoblue line of flexible bladders, which are constructed of heavy-duty UV-resistant fiber-reinforced food-grade thermoplastic polyurethane and make it much easier to schlep liquid back to the mothership. Each 5-gal bladder is rimmed with stainless steel grommets that allow handles, straps and even a backpack harness to be affixed in any way that seems convenient. When full, the bladders are freestanding and can be lashed to stanchions, lifelines and pulpits, just like regular jerry cans. When empty, they can be folded flat and stowed away below. The bladders come with a set of interchangeable caps that make it easy to decant their contents into tanks and other containers. They can also serve as flexible feed tanks for dinghy outboards.
$178. Dacoblue, dacoblue.com
Maretron N2KView Anchoring Module
Although anchoring is a critical skill for cruisers, it is often practiced on a largely subjective basis. We eyeball a prospective parking spot, note the water depth and state of the tide, and then guesstimate where we’ll end up and what our swing radius will be. Enter the new anchoring feature in Maretron’s N2KView vessel monitoring and control system, which takes much of the guesswork out of the game. By quantifying the same data we normally process intuitively while anchoring, N2KView turns art into science. To operate, the user enters a set of fixed vessel parameters—length, height of hawsepipe, horizontal hawsepipe offsets, minimum anchoring depth—along with such variables as tidal range and minimum scope desired immediately prior to each set. N2KView then monitors the water depth as you anchor, alerting you if you’ll ground out at low tide; recording the time, GPS location and water depth at the moment you anchor; and calculating both a set and drag radius, which it presents in a comprehensive graphic display that includes real-time wind speed and direction data. While at anchor, the N2KView then monitors your position relative to your anchor and sounds an alarm if you start dragging. Finally, when it’s time to leave, it provides range and bearing data back to the pick, in place of crew on the bow waving their arms and shouting. A neat trick indeed!
$995. Maretron Vessel Control and Monitoring, maretron.com
ELECTRONICS By Ben Ellison
Vesper Marine Cortex AIS/VHF/Monitoring
Vesper Marine has a long history of adding valuable safety and navigation features to the otherwise standardized functions of a Class B AIS transceiver, and now the company has added VHF and remote boat monitoring to its list of add-ons in a way that is nothing less than revolutionary. The system’s hub includes a heading sensor and cellular communications along with the latest SOTDMA type Class B technology, so that it alone can deliver high-performance AIS as well as Vesper’s famed anchor watch, ashore as well as onboard. (While basic bilge and battery monitoring will be free, advanced features like the remote anchor watch entail a modest subscription.) An existing VHF can share the hub’s antenna via a built-in splitter, or you can add one or more Cortex wired or wireless handsets for a very modern, safety-oriented VHF experience. Potentially dangerous AIS targets, for example, are not only readily identified, but easily called via direct DSC using the Cortex handset’s touch screen or button controls. As with existing Vesper AIS, Cortex can also deliver target information to any AIS display and mix it with essential nav info for apps. Finally, the underlying eight-channel radio design means that Vesper will be able to add features like multi-VHF-channel scanning and recording with extra quality—which the company’s track record of innovation, along with its own app’s easy updating ability, strongly suggests it will.
Pricing still to come. Vesper Marine, vespermarine.com
Victron Energy Cerbo GX Power Monitoring
As marine navigation, communications and offshore mod cons continue to mature, a remaining mystery onboard many boats is the mess of AC and DC components that power all these goodies and how they all work together. Over the years, Victron Energy has attacked this issue with a series of GX networking products that monitor and control the company’s many battery sensors, chargers, inverters and solar panel controllers. More recently, however, the company’s Cerbo GX has extended the concept considerably, with the new GX Touch 50 waterproof 5in touchscreen (shown above at right) serving as just one of several optional interfaces. Similarly detailed power info, for example, can go to most current multifunction display screens via HTML5 and Ethernet, while standard power values, like state-of-charge, can be sent to a boat’s instrument displays via NMEA 2000. The Victron Bluetooth app can also be connected directly to the Cerbo for easy installation and troubleshooting, and the Cerbo can use an onboard internet connection to log the full network’s data to a subscription-free Victron Remote Monitoring cloud service. In addition to allowing you to keep close track of amps made, saved and used, the Cerbo can also monitor tank levels, temperatures and on/off switch states—four inputs each. It even has a pair of programmable relays for tasks like automatic generator starts. Mystery solved!
$381 for the Cerbo; $287 for the GX Touch 50. Victron Energy, victronenergy.com
Garmin GPSMAP 86sci
There’s never been a marine handheld as multi-talented as the Garmin 86sci. Standalone, you can use it for either precise GPS plotting on full-detail Garmin G3 world cartography (U.S included) or inReach global two-way satellite messaging and interactive SOS. You can also wirelessly connect it via Bluetooth to Garmin Connect and the Explore mobile apps for a bigger touchscreen interface when doing charting and messaging, logging more detailed data to the included personal Garmin cloud site, doing online trip planning or downloading additional mapping. The floating design with a three-axis compass and 3in sunlight viewable screen can purportedly run 35 hours with 10-minute satellite tracking and also comes with a USB power mount. Other features include the fact it can be wirelessly connected via Ant+ to other onboard Garmin gear for inReach messaging on a multifunction display, plus navigation/racing data and autopilot control. The 86i can even remotely control a Fusion marine audio system and interact with many Garmin watches. The one thing it can’t do yet is make toast, but with Garmin you never know.
$650. Garmin, garmin.com
SAFETY & GREEN AWARDS By Adam Cort & Ben Ellison
Galileo Return Link Service
EPIRB and PLB emergency beacons reliably connect sailors in distress to search and rescue (SAR) services thanks to a vast and redundant system of satellite constellations and ground stations organized by a coalition of 42 nations called Cospas-Sarsat. Historically, though, a beacon user has never known for sure that their distress message was being received until help arrived: a nerve-wracking drawback that has now been remedied with the arrival of Return Link Service, or RLS, a feature of the new Galileo GNNS (Global Navigation Satellite System). In operation, an RLS-enabled beacon will blink a blue LED reassuring the user that their specific alert and position have been received ashore. Beacons using both GPS and Galileo also acquire a more accurate position faster thanks to added satellite coverage. Orolia and ACR have already developed PLBs with RLS—the Orolia FastFind ReturnLink and ACR ResQLink View RLS—that they expect to market as soon at Galileo officially activates its Return Link Service sometime later this year. Many similarly capable PLB and EPIRB models will surely follow.
Galileo SAR Services, gsc-europa.eu/galileo/services
Marlow Blue Ocean Recycled Dock Lines
When you first pick up a length of Marlow Ropes’s new Blue Ocean Dockline you might find yourself wondering, “What’s the big deal? It’s no different than any other rope out there.” But, of course, that’s the point. It’s just rope, no compromises, either in terms of strength or “hand,” despite the fact it’s made entirely of rPET (recycled polyester yarn), with more than seven plastic bottles being recycled for every yard or so of 16mm line. Not bad! Better still, moving forward Marlow is very much committed to expanding its use of recycled materials as much as possible. On the one hand, this means growing the number of applications in which it’s used: the current Clipper Race fleet, for example, has swapped out all its main sheet covers with Blue Ocean yarns. On the other, it means Marlow is discontinuing the manufacture of any dock lines using standard virgin polyester. The company is also looking to find a way to recycle the tons of old superyacht docklines that currently find their way into the waste stream each year. Good on ya, guys! Let’s hope the rest of the industry follows suit.
From $37/19ft. Marlow Ropes, marlowropes.com
Racing By Adam Cort
Rooster Sailing Joey Bottle Holder
It’s the little things that sometimes make all the difference, especially aboard racing dinghies and other smaller performance boats. It was with this in mind that the UK’s Rooster Sailing developed its Joey Bottle Holder, the latest in a long line of “now why didn’t we ever think of that before” winners in SAIL’s Pittman Innovation awards. With this clever little product, there’s no longer any need to just tape your bottle to the nearest convenient cross beam or spar. Instead, strap on the neoprene Joey and stuff in your water bottle via that handy little pouch. (Dare we say, like a momma kangaroo putting junior to bed after a long day in the Outback?) Better still, you can then grab the bottle, take a sip and re-stow in seconds. The Joey’s trim design means there’s also less chance of it catching an errant line the way a taped-on water bottle can.
$24.95. Rooster Sailing, roostersailing.com
Spinlock XTX Soft Grip Clutch
A number of years ago, France’s Cousin Trestec came up with the idea of using a high-modulus “sock,” or braided tube, to do the gripping in a new kind of rope clutch employing the same basic principle as a set of Chinese finger cuffs. The resulting stopper not only provided a tenacious grip it was also much easier on rope, since no metal or otherwise abrasive parts were involved. Now, the UK’s Spinlock has gone one better with what it calls its “Soft Grip” XTX. Though employing the same basic principle, Spinlock takes things to a whole other level, shortening its clutch appreciably and enclosing the “guts” in a sturdy, lightweight, low-profile housing. Better still, instead of employing a length of shock cord to tension the sock or tube, Spinlock uses a sturdy internal spring to tension what it calls its textile “grip,” connecting the tube and spring to an anchor on one end and a small fitting at the other. The result is increased reliability, ensuring the clutch grabs hold (and releases) the rope immediately, securely and predictably every time.
$239.99. Spinlock Ltd., spinlock.co.uk
PROtect Tapes Spinnaker Yarn Fittings
Anybody who’s ever spent much time racing aboard larger boats knows all too well what it’s like trying to tie the necessary yarns around an A-sail so that it won’t fill (ideally!) until fully hoisted. Not fun. Nor is it great for the environment, since as soon as they break those same yarns end up in the ocean. (Something that is now also against the rules.) Enter PROtect Tapes’s new SPK (safe packing kite), which not only allows you to pack up your spinnakers more tightly and securely but keeps all that yarn where it belongs—on the sail. The key to the product is a series of small plastic discs attached to either side of the sail’s leading edge. Secured with thread, adhesives or tiny screws, each disk is fabricated with a narrow groove that serves to hold the yard in place—think those little cardboard discs used to secure the string holding shut the flap on a manila envelope. To use, simply wrap the end of the yard around one of the discs, jamming it in the groove, then pull the yarn around the sail and jam it into the same groove again, snapping off the excess. What could be simpler? And Mother Nature is happy too.
$59/set. PROtect, protect-tapes.com
SYSTEMS & MATERIALS by Jay Paris
Forj Thermoplastic Repair Tape
Forj, a Yale Cordage company, has created a new high-strength, lightweight thermoplastic repair tape/ribbon that when hot fuses to itself at the molecular level, making it perfect for quick repairs. Consisting of an ultra-high-strength thermoplastic fiber combined with a low-temperature thermoplastic polymer matrix, the tape forms a structure as strong as steel in a matter of seconds. To use, simply heat the ribbon to 140 degrees F or above with hot water, a hairdryer, heat gun or, with care, an open flame. When clear the Forj ribbon is hot enough to be bent, shaped and adhered to itself. As it cools and hardens, it also returns to its original white color. After setting it can be reheated and reformed several times. According to Forj, the tensile strength of a single ribbon is over 1,000lb.
$19.99/20ft length. Forj/ResinFiber LLC, forj.com
KBI KSM (KAPower Starting Module)
Kold-Ban International’s (KBI) KAPower Starting Module (KSM) serves to eliminate the possibility of a failed engine start aboard as the result of dead batteries. Key to the KAPower KSM’s functionality is KBI’s use of supercapacitors to create enough cranking power to turn over your diesel in the absence of your other batteries. Better still, because the KSM is much lighter than a starting battery bank of the same power, the additional security it affords doesn’t come with a dramatic weight penalty. According to Kold-Ban the modules have a 15-20 year service life and can provide upward of one million charge and discharge cycles. The systems are available in both 12V or 24V configurations, with a single module capable of providing sufficient power to start several engines. The KSM can recharge in about 30 seconds off your house batteries, directly off your engine or another DC power source. It can be installed in any orientation—including vertically or even upside down—and is effective at temperatures from -40 to 185 degrees F.
From $1,800. Kold-Ban International ltd., koldban.com
JEFCO Carbon Fiber Hinges
Jefco, a long-time supplier of hinges for marine applications, has now branched out in an all-new high-tech direction with a recently introduced carbon-fiber alternative to its standard stainless steel piano, or continuous-length, hinges. Available in lengths of up to 40in, each hinge’s pair of carbon fiber “leaves” is linked by a tractable urethane-impregnated Kevlar flex unit protected by a 3M UV-resistant coating. Being carbon fiber, the hinges are, not surprisingly, very strong, with a 2in hinge capable of withstanding loads up to 330lb. Despite the fact that Kevlar sails have, in the past, been susceptible to failure from flogging, the bending back and forth of the Kevlar in the flex units does not lead to degradation in these hinges. In fact, the hinges have been tested to more than one million cycles without failure. Because of the hinges’ continuous structure, they are both weatherproof and waterproof, and thus especially well-suited to above-deck applications. They can be installed with mechanical fasteners or adhesives, or bonded directly into a boat’s structure. Three thicknesses are available: 1/16in, 1/8in and 1/4in.
Pricing NA. JMC Jefco Manufacturing, jefcomfg.com