Some new, some tried-and-true: our writers reveal the gear that has topped their must-have lists this year.
Some new, some tried-and-true: our writers reveal the gear that has topped their must-have lists this year.
Tahiti 7x50 binoculars
You can easily spend $500 to $1,000 or more on good binoculars. Or you can spend a good deal less and, in my opinion, still be satisfied.
I bought West Marine’s Tahiti 7x50 center-focus binoculars three years ago and have been quite pleased with their quality and performance. They are waterproof and nitrogen-filled to prevent fogging. This model also contains an internal bearing compass (with illumination) and reticule or range-finder scale. Their long eye relief also makes them easy to use with glasses, which is important to me.
I wanted binoculars that would gather as much light as possible in low-light conditions or at night. The Tahitis do a very good job in that area. The optics are clear and bright, and the binoculars are easy to focus and handle. And they have proven to be plenty rugged. Mine appear no worse for having spent a couple hundred hours bouncing around in a waterproof float bag (inside their neoprene case) on the deck of my boat. One small weakness: The ocular lens caps have started falling off in year three.
You should be able to find the Tahiti 7x50s for about $250 at West Marine. www.westmarine.com
Kershaw’s Chive knife
Throughout most of my 30 years making a living as a marine mechanic, I’ve never carried a pocket knife because I’ve found them too big to be practical. When I’m crawling around a boat and down into bilges, the butt end of the knife would inevitably work its way out of my pocket and get hung up on something or jab me in the side.
About three years ago I discovered Kershaw’s Chive knife (model 1600). At just 2-7/8 inches closed, this rugged all stainless steel knife fits snugly inside the watch pocket of my jeans, and I don’t even know it’s there … until I need it. Despite its compact design the knife still has a decent size 1-15/16-inch blade that’s good for cutting and scraping just about anything I need it for. I really put this tool through its paces, and what few problems I’ve had have been covered by Kershaw’s limited lifetime warranty.
The knife has performed flawlessly, and its stainless steel design is great for the marine environment. Mine has been in the water and in wet bilges with no ill effects. It’s the best knife I’ve ever come across and retails for around $49.95.
Kershaw Knives, Tualatin, Ore., (503) 682-1966. www.kershawknives.com
“Dutton’s Nautical Navigation”
“Dutton’s Nautical Navigation” is based on a textbook prepared in 1926 for use by midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. It still reads like a textbook and contains a wealth of in-depth information on subjects from compasses to piloting, including radar for target acquisition and collision avoidance, radar and celestial navigation, and electronic navigation.
This is a book for serious boaters who want to increase their overall knowledge and competence. It’s a terrific reference and one of my “take-along” books.
Through various iterations over the years the title has changed from “Navigation and Nautical Astronomy” to “Dutton’s Navigation and Piloting” to its present title. Some of the topics are beyond what most of us will ever use — for example, few of us will ever have to worry about station keeping within a task force. “Chapman Piloting and Seamanship,” another of my take-along books, covers a broader spectrum but not in the depth covered by Dutton’s.
Dutton’s is widely available and retails for $49.95, though lower prices can be found online.
— Mike Saylor
Sea Striker sunglasses
Even if I could afford to, I wouldn’t spend $200 on a pair of sunglasses. That’s way too steep a price to pay for a style statement. Besides, I’d just wind up sitting on them or watching them sink. Better performance? Let’s just say my eyes aren’t sophisticated enough to fully appreciate the difference between the $20 sunglasses I wear and those with an extra zero on the price tag.
I believe in taking care of my eyes. I like polarized lenses for reducing glare and enabling me to better pick out objects just below the water’s surface. And I want UV protection. I’ve been pleased with the pair of Sea Striker sunglasses (made by Cliff Weil) I purchased this year. Make that two pairs — I lost the first when I knocked them off my hat with the boat running.
The polarized Polaroid lenses are scratch-resistant and provide 100 percent UV protection, according to the manufacturer. What do I like about them? They’re lightweight and fit well; no matter how I move my head, they don’t slide down my nose or feel like they’re about to fall off. They don’t distort my vision. They cut the glare. And they’re inexpensive. Depending on the particular Sea Striker model and retailer, expect to pay somewhere between $20 and $25.
— William Sisson
Nylon compression ties
There are several options for securing hoses and wiring aboard a boat, from stainless steel safety wire to a variety of hose clamps. I’ve found 8-inch nylon compression ties — also called fuel line hose ties — to be a versatile and dependable option.
What makes these tie-wraps different, and better, is the curve on the inside of the head. Unlike standard tie wraps with a square head, the curved form fits the hose so you don’t get a squared edge pressed against a round hose. This causes a bowing of the wrap where the head meets the hose and will weaken the wrap over time.
Compression ties snugly wrap hoses together. They’re designed for low-pressure fuel lines, but I use them on vacuum hoses and cables, too. A package of 100 retails for around $20; check with your marina for availability.
Titanium SOG PowerLock
In 40 years of boating I’ve acquired countless gadgets, including several incarnations of the Leatherman multitool and Victorinox Swiss Army SwissTool. But the multitool I’ve found to be most useful is the titanium SOG PowerLock. Why titanium?
Because it’s the most corrosion-resistant multitool I’ve found. Why SOG PowerLock? Because the gearing in the handles gives me a more powerful grip with its needle-nose pliers. And the grip is smooth when using the pliers, because the individual tools — smooth and serrated knife blades, Phillips head and straight screwdrivers, files, scissors, etc. — have a pivoted cover over them.
This is a bit of a mixed blessing because after opening the handles you have to open the appropriate cover to get to the tool, deploy the tool, close the cover, then close the handle. This dance can get old. On the plus side, however, the tools seem more rugged than those of other products I’ve used, and I can replace individual blades on my own. The titanium SOG PowerLock retails for around $115 at West Marine. Other retail outlets can be found on the company Web site.
SOG Specialty Knives and Tools, Lynnwood, Wash., (425) 771-6230. www.sogknives.com
The Kyocera KR1 can turn your boat into a Wi-Fi hot spot. Many people already have a Verizon or Sprint wireless EVDO card, such as the KPC 650 (made by Kyocera for Verizon). This card normally fits into the PC slot of a laptop and gets you online, even at broadband speeds if you’re within range of a tower that’s so equipped. Instead of inserting the card into your laptop, you can insert it into the KR1. (The Verizon service is called National Access/Broadband Access.)
The little box becomes a router on your boat, either with Ethernet cables running from one or more of the four LAN ports or by the device’s wireless broadcast. (Encrypt your device.) The speed you get depends, of course, on such factors as the local tower’s capability and signal strength. But you can get greater range with such equipment as the antennas and amplifiers made by Digital Antenna of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (www.digitalantenna.com ).
Equipment such as the KR1 (www.kyocera-wireless.com ) is cutting edge, and good customer support is critical. We got our KR1 through Booster-Antenna of Cary, Ill. (www.booster-antenna.com). It was around $20 cheaper than buying direct from Kyocera, and we’ve found their technical help and expertise to be excellent and relevant to boating applications. It retails for just under $300.
“Instant Weather Forecasting”
and “Instant Wind Forecasting”
Good things come in small packages. The saying must have Alan Watts’ books “Instant Weather Forecasting” and “Instant Wind Forecasting” in mind.
“Instant Weather Forecasting” has a concise initial text, well worth reading and understanding, followed by color photographs showing skyscapes with succinct explanations of what that sky suggests. Watts lists weather elements such as wind, visibility, precipitation, clouds, temperature and pressure. Against these elements he tabulates normal changes in conditions, expected time to occurrence, risks involved with each element, and the possibilities of what could happen next.
Is there more you can get from a 68-page hard-cover booklet? It’s a great reference and a take-along book for powerboaters and sailors alike. The first edition was published in the late 1960s and the second in 2001. Amazon.com has it for $8.95.
“Instant Wind Forecasting” follows the same format but covers wind — not in the abstract but where local wind shifts will occur — based on the nature of the shoreline, sailing zones, and to windward and leeward of the main coastline, as well as inland sailing. A small book with big content. Amazon.com has it for $10.46.
Developed several years ago by a trio of sailors, Crocs represent a sea change of sorts in nautical footwear. I’ve still got two pairs of traditional moccasin boat shoes, but they’re not seeing anywhere near the mileage they used to. Most mornings — and certainly whenever I’m headed for the boat — I slip on my black Crocs.
Why? Comfort, pure and simple. If my feet are happy, I’m happy. And in my opinion these lightweight shoes are winners in that department. I bought a pair of the original beach-style Crocs with holes in the tops and sides more than a year ago and only take them off when the snow flies or fashion dictates a more traditional shoe.
In the looks department Crocs are — to be kind — a bit of an acquired taste. They resemble those plastic clogs that until recently were more at home in a hospital than on the docks, but my feet aren’t complaining. They’re made from an antimicrobial resin, and the soles are non-marking and resist slipping. Here’s where I have to add a caveat: Once the bottom treads are worn flat, the shoe’s “stickiness” on wet surfaces is significantly reduced. Think bald tires on a slick road, so watch your treads.
Crocs offers nearly two dozen styles, from sandals to waterproof boots, in a wide range of colors. The Beach model — the original Croc — retails for $29.99 at www.crocs.com.
Mr. Clean Magic Eraser
Suze and Bill Haldeman, who sail a Mystic 30 and run a carpentry business in New Jersey, got a smudge on a customer’s new vinyl-clad door and were rummaging for a non-abrasive cleaner when the lady of the house handed Suze a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser.
The door wiped clean instantly, and the Haldemans had found a new product for those tough-to-clean boat surfaces. “There’s no denying it; it’s a pretty amazing thing,” says Suze. The eraser is a treated rectangle of soft, dense, white foam. The instructions are simple: wet, squeeze out excess water and erase. You are cautioned to test the eraser on an inconspicuous surface first, and not to use it on certain substances. A box of two Magic Erasers costs $2.69 at an Annapolis, Md., supermarket.
— Douglas A. Campbell
I was motorsailing west on Block Island Sound in late July, headed for EastHarbor on New York’s Fishers Island, when the big honcho, Soundings editor Bill Sisson, phoned.
He was thinking of bringing his Boston Whaler over that night for a visit. “Good,” I said, “I already have a bluefish in the freezer.” Bill said he might bring one or two other guys. So when I got off the phone, I set my Acme Tackle Co. Kastmaster lure back in the water, let out about 200 feet of line and before I could place the rod on the stern pulpit I had nailed a 24-inch blue. Dinner for four. The chromed, solid-brass lure — oval and wedge-shaped with a white bucktail — comes in a number of sizes, from 1/12 of an ounce to 3 ounces ($3 to $7 online).
Acme Tackle Co., Providence, R.I., (401) 331-6437. www.acmetackle.com
—Douglas A. Campbell
In some areas of the country this may be remembered as the season of ethanol — and the various problems that this alcohol-based oxygenate caused with marine gasoline engines and fuel tanks.
I do my boating in two states (Connecticut and Rhode Island) where ethanol is mixed with gasoline in concentrations up to 10 percent. For the last two seasons I’ve used the additive Startron every time I put fuel in my tank. I’m pleased to report my fuel problems have been minimal.
Ethanol and water separate from gasoline in a process called phase separation, creating a number of problems, including a sludge that can impede engine performance. Startron contains natural enzymes that are supposed to break down that sludge, as well as combat phase separation.
Startron is manufactured by Star brite, which claims the additive also cleans fuel systems and combustion chambers, stabilizes fuel, disperses water and more. I’m not a chemist, but so far, so good. A 16-ounce container costs about $12.50 and treats 256 gallons.
Star brite, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., (954) 587-6280. www.starbrite.com
Golight Profiler II
Golight says its Profiler II hand-held spotlight can illuminate a target up to a mile away, and when it hits the target there’s no black hole in the middle, thanks to an “H-7 axial filament Blue Vision bulb” and a “precision pressure cast aircraft aluminum parabolic reflector.”
The lithium-ion rechargeable battery supplies up to an hour’s run time in spotlight mode, according to the company, with a two-hour recharge time. (You also can power the light with the boat’s 12-volt power with an included cable.) A secondary 1-watt LED beam with stated run time of more than 50 hours lets you use the Profiler II like a flashlight. The light and its accessories — including a rapid battery charger mount and shoulder strap — are, in a word, rugged. They’re made for police, rescue and military use, as well as marine.
The light is rated at 440 M lux, measuring the amount of illumination on surfaces at given distances. I’ve compared it to two permanently mounted lights on powerboats and found it to outperform them. I’ve also compared it to some of the “multimillion candlepower” cheap lights and, to me, the difference was amazing. I did this in clear conditions at night and in the swirling, misty, rainy conditions of Tropical Storm Ernesto. The cost is high, around $440, but not as costly as a collision or grounding.
Golight, Culbertson, Neb., (308) 278-3131. www.golight.com
— Tom Neale
Colligo Nautique Bridle Plate
A major cause of anchors breaking loose is reversing current and wind. And some anchors have components that can snag the rode when the boat pulls the rode across the bottom, around and past the anchor, pulling it out backward. Many skippers deploy multiple anchors when expecting storm conditions, but this can result in twisted rodes, which can be difficult and dangerous to unwind, and can cause the rodes to snag the boat’s running gear, stabilizers, rudder or keel.
Colligo Nautique has developed the Bridle Plate, which comprises two hefty galvanized metal plates connected with a 3/4-inch HDG swivel. On one plate are two 5/8-inch HDG shackles, for two rodes going from the plate to the bow, and on the other are three 5/8-inch HDG shackles to which you attach the chain for up to three anchors. The manufacturer rates the system at 8,000 pounds-force safe working load and recommends it for boats up to 60 feet. (An even beefier system is in the works.) The basic monohull Bridle Plate retails for $199, the multihull version for $215, according to information on the company Web site.
Colligo Nautique, Mesa, Ariz., (480) 703-3675. www.colligonautique.com
Streamlight ProPolymer 3C
Flashlights are essential aboard boats. They must be waterproof, corrosion-resistant, rugged, bright and relatively small.
The Streamlight ProPolymer 3C flashlight is one of my favorites. It has a rugged yellow plastic case, simply doesn’t leak, and is small enough (8.5 inches) to fit in a trouser or slicker pocket. It has a momentary or full-on switch, and the three C batteries provide a very bright, narrow beam from the xenon lamp module. It retails for around $24.95. There also is an LED version that retails for around $34.95. Most dive lights are excellent aboard boats, and I carry a small one. The Streamlight ProPolymer 3C just happens to fit my needs nicely when I need more light — to spot a dayboard or unlighted buoy at night, for example.
Streamlight, Eagleville, Pa., (610) 631-0600. www.streamlight.com
—Capt. Bill Brogdon
The LightWedge from Weems and Plath is an optical-grade, clear-acrylic, wedge-shaped lens that you lay onto the page of a book or a chart.
Red light radiates out through the lens and illuminates just the page, not the surrounding space. This results in very minimal interference, if any, with night vision. It measures 9-1/4 by 6-3/4 inches, and there are two brightness settings. Itretails for around $40.
Weems and Plath, Annapolis, Md., (410) 263-6700. www.weems-plath.com
Dexter-Russell Sani-Safe knife
You need a knife at hand when fishing. You might have to cut a line or heavy leader in a hurry, and often you need to make up new end connections or leaders.
Clasp knives may require two hands to open or close, or both. And when I put a knife in a cockpit holder, it often migrates somewhere else. As handy as parallel-jaw pliers are, they usually aren’t as quick as a knife.
I’ve grown fond of a small knife that’s there when I need it: the Dexter-Russell Sani-Safe 3-1/4-inch net, twine and line knife with sheath (product No. 15403). The plastic handle gives a good grip, the plastic sheath doesn’t absorb water, and the scalloped stainless blade cuts fishing line well. It sells for around $7.
Dexter-Russell Inc., Southbridge, Mass., (508) 765-0201. www.dexter-russell.com
— Capt. Bill Brogdon
Portable Honda generator
Roger Marin dinghied over for a visit while I was anchored in the Rockland, Maine, harbor with my portable Honda EU2000i generator running in the cockpit. “Oh,” he said as he rose and looked over the rail, “I didn’t know you had a generator going.” His surprise was the common reaction of other boaters this summer.
The Honda is so quiet that my wife, Monica, and I can easily carry on a conversation sitting beside it. Our friends John and Fran Morrison, who introduced us to the Honda, estimate 65 percent of the boats in the Abacos last winter had one on board.
This mighty mite is about the size of a portable sewing machine and powers all of the electrical equipment — microwave, air conditioner, battery charger, etc. — on our Westsail 32, making shore power superfluous. And unlike a diesel generator, which costs several grand, you can get the gas-powered Honda for around $950. Just point the exhaust overboard and make certain there’s a good battery in the carbon monoxide detector in your cabin.
Honda Power Equipment, Alpharetta, Ga., (678) 339-2600. www.hondapowerequipment.com
— Douglas A. Campbell