Editors’ Gift Guide - Soundings Online

Editors’ Gift Guide

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Each year at this time, our team of editors and writers takes stock of the gear and equipment they’ve had a chance to handle (or mishandle) over the course of the season. The good stuff winds up in this feature.

Each year at this time, our team of editors and writers takes stock of the gear and equipment they’ve had a chance to handle (or mishandle) over the course of the season. The good stuff winds up in this feature. Our collection of gear this year ranges from the simple to the sophisticated, with prices from about $8 for a mini lamp to $1,700 for an inflatable kayak. We tested lights, electronics, safety equipment, inflatable PFDs and more. A nice assembly of boat gear just in time for the holidays.

A CHART PLOTTER IN YOUR iPHONE

Load the iNavX application from the iPhone App Store on your iPhone or iPod Touch, and you’ll be holding a full-function chart plotter in your hand. The 3G iPhone’s integral GPS receiver will fix your real-time position on the full-color NOAA RBC chart that appears on the screen (with backup position determination from cell tower triangulation, also used on first-generation iPhones that lack the integral GPS receiver). You will be able to enter waypoints, create a track log, measure bearings and distances, and, if you wish, display AIS and instrument information relayed from your boat’s main navigation system via a wireless TCP/IP connection.

Download any U.S. chart you want at no cost using the phone’s Internet connection, and store as many as you may need for a voyage (about 1 MB of memory per chart). Scroll the chart with the touch of a finger, zoom with a finger tap on the scale bar (5 to 100 percent). Create a waypoint with a tap on the chart or by entering the precise latitude and longitude, along with an alphabetic/numeric identifier of whatever length you desire. A key click will capture and store an image of the screen for later downloading.

System control is through four on-screen icons: Chart, Info, Waypoints and Instruments. Like the GPSNavX and MacENC chart programs, iNavX is easy to use and operates without resorting to time-consuming pull-down menus. Both the iPhone and iPod Touch will work with a chart plotter running MS Windows software, such as Coastal Explorer and Expedition. At a price of $49.99, you can’t afford to be without iNavX on your iPhone or iPod Touch. (The iPod version relies on a Wi-Fi connection to your main chart plotter for position information.) www.apple.com

— Chuck Husick

NANTUCKET BAGG

I have been using the canvas Nantucket Bagg (model 711) for more than a year, and it remains an integral part of my daily working life. Company founder Charlie Cirigliano created this unique product, which can be configured in a variety of ways and is easily changed when the situation requires. It can be opened up as a conventional flat tool roll; zipped up on three sides as a tote, with all the tools and pockets inside and with a large, open storage compartment; and reversed before zipping to be used as a tote with the tool pockets on the outside and uncluttered storage inside. The Nantucket Bagg can also be cinched closed at the top, carried as a knapsack or tied as a tool roll. It’s constructed from 23-ounce No. 8 canvas duck and has a nylon zipper with a nickel-plated double-pull head. It uses 1.25-inch-wide cotton webbing for the handles and knapsack mode, while 3/8-inch poly rope for cinching the bag closed runs through solid brass grommets. When zipped, the bag measures approximately 12-by-6-by-16 inches. After more than a year of service, the canvas has softened nicely. It retails for $59.95 and is available directly from the manufacturer. www.nantucketbagg.com

— Frank Kehr

TERRALUX WORKSTAR 60

The TerraLUX WorkStar 60 cordless LED work light may look like a typical drop light you’d find in an automotive garage, but it’s much more practical than that. The unit’s 60 LEDs are powered by rechargeable NiMH batteries, producing full power of approximately 240 lumens for two hours, then half intensity for another two hours. Recharge time is only 90 minutes using either of the included chargers (120 volt AC and 12 volt DC). The batteries are rated for up to 500 charge/discharge cycles and are not replaceable. I’ve been using the light for several months, and it’s come in handy whether working in the bilge or looking into the cabinetry on board. It produces a wide, diffuse rectangular light pattern that’s much more practical than the round beam of a typical flashlight. The light is splash-resistant, but not waterproof. Retail price is $34.99 at Sailors Solutions (www.sailorssolutions.com ). www.terraluxcorp.com

— Frank Kehr

WALKER BAY AIRIS

Walker Bay’s Airis line of inflatable sit-on-top kayaks can be inflated to 6.5 psi thanks to their AirWeb fabric, which makes them rigid without a frame. I tested the top model, the 11-foot Sport, and found it to be a versatile companion that tucks into the boat’s lazarette or goes on the road with you on a bike or in the car. The kayak stows in its own backpack and can be inflated and launched in less than 10 minutes. Features like an adjustable backrest, keel and skeg for better tracking, carrying handles, integrated dry bag, bungees and D-rings, drain valves and cup holders show that WalkerBay did its homework. The Sport 11 is stable and easy to paddle, with good tracking and great turning. It is also surprisingly dry, thanks to the generous freeboard. The Airis carries a two-year warranty and is available in several models from 8 to 12 feet, including specialty versions like Tender, Angler, Velocity and Tandem. Prices range from $899 to $1,699, including the backpack, pump and patch kit (paddle extra). www.walkerbay.com

— Dieter Loibner

BOATING TOOLS FOR YOUR iPHONE

Your iPhone can provide a number of “tools” any boater will appreciate. For example, Clinometer ($0.99 at the iTunes Store) turns your phone into a precise angle measurement tool and a two-axis bubble level (±0.1 degree). No more arguments about how far over you were heeled on that last tack. Want tide information? Download TideApp (free), l Tide Graph ($1.99) or AyeTides ($14.99), and all you need to know will be on the phone’s screen. Sailing along the coast, why not use the current and precise weather conditions (METAR) and forecasts (TAF) used by aircraft pilots? You can download the free application at AeroWeather. List all of the coastal airports along your route, and the latest information will be yours whenever you are in range of either a Wi-Fi network or the cell system. Want to see the latest NOAA weather radar for free? Use the Safari browser on your iPhone and go to radar.weather.gov/ridge, select radar, and choose the site nearest your location. (Creating a bookmark for weather radar on your computer and listing all of the radar sites you are likely to use will speed access to the radar you want to view.) Keep checking the Applications Library in the iTunes Store; there are thousands of programmers working to enhance the marine utility of your iPhone (and iPod Touch). www.apple.com

— Chuck Husick

WRINO MULTIFUNCTION BOAT HOOK

I wasn’t sure how much different the WRINO could be from other boat hooks I’ve used, but rest assured it is different and, I believe, much better. A conventional boat hook can only retrieve a line, but the WRINO gives complete control over it, allowing you to place the line where and how you want it, as well as retrieve it. It comes with instructions that may appear a bit intimidating, but they are well-illustrated and easy to follow. After 10 minutes or so, I was able to pick up a line, loop lines around a dock cleat and over pilings, and untie mooring lines from cleats. Using the line-handling clip, you can place a line eye over a cleat, and the snap hook holder allows you to easily attach a snap hook to a mooring or bow eye. The telescoping handles are rigid when extended, which isn’t always the case with other telescoping hooks. “They lock together with a twist, but instead of the standard 1/4-inch-wide cam at the joint, WRINO uses a 1-inch-long threaded connector with dual multihelix threads,” says Keith Nicholls of Anzus Imports, the sole U.S. distributor. The WRINO is lightweight and corrosion-resistant, and it floats. At $67.50 it’s a bargain boat hook. www.anzusimports.com

— Frank Kehr

GARMIN OREGON HAND-HELD PLOTTER

Forced to seek shelter behind Sandy Hook, N.J. because of a severe wind-over-tide chop outside New York Harbor, my wife, Monica, and I had to navigate into a blinding sun along a rapidly narrowing channel if we were going to reach a safe harbor. The Garmin Oregon hand-held chart plotter we’d been using for less than two weeks gave us confidence and made the passage manageable. The Oregon is the size of a cell phone, but most of its surface — 1.5 by 2.5 inches — is occupied by a screen that is remarkably readable in sunlight. The unit has only one button: the power switch. You select from its various functions simply by touching the screen on the appropriate icon. Using the Oregon is intuitive enough that a digital Neanderthal such as I was navigating with it almost immediately. Touch the nearest shoreline, and it tells you how close you are to beaching your boat. Drag your finger across the screen to move the chart in any direction. Touch the “plus” sign and see nearby depths. Hit the “minus” sign to zoom out to the big picture. Straddling the tiller in rough following seas, I could hold the Oregon close enough to read it, unlike a fixed-mount plotter. The only drawback: no power cord. Northwest lumberjacks devour pancakes; the Oregon eats batteries. Suggested retail price is $639.99. www.garmin.com

— Douglas A. Campbell

PELICAN STEALTHLITE 2410 RECOIL LED

This light utilizes Pelican’s “Recoil” technology to overcome the low-light drawback of LEDs. It’s reported to burn for 32 hours on its four AA alkaline batteries. The light fires backward, focusing on a well-honed reflector that shoots it forward in a very bright white collimated beam with no spot in the middle. I used the original standard Pelican StealthLite in my engine room for years because it’s tough, has a switch that’s relatively fool-proof, and can be operated with one hand. It’s rated to be submersible to 500 feet (I’ve got one hell of a bilge) and shines a very bright, concentrated, broad beam where I need it. Also, the light doesn’t roll when you set it down. This new StealthLite looks similar to the original, but it throws a brighter beam (measured at 32 lumens) that is, to my eye, more concentrated and penetrating. With its low battery consumption and a rated LED module life expectancy of 10,000 hours, it’s incredibly reliable. Mine is yellow to show up well, and its photoluminescent lens shroud glows in the dark after some exposure to light. For diving, engine-room disasters or general use, this is a great gift. Manufacturer suggested retail price is $67.95. http://pelican.com/home.php

— Tom Neale

DAHON FOLDING BICYCLE

Earlier this year, Dahon introduced an updated version of its Mariner folding bicycle designed for boaters. It’s made from corrosion-resistant materials suited for the marine environment: brushed aluminum frame; rust-resistant cranks, brakes, rims and seat post; sealed hubs; stainless-steel spokes; and a specially treated chain. With seven gears (controlled by a grip shift), 20-inch wheels, V-brakes, mud guards and rear rack, it does more than short hops from the dock to the harbormaster’s office. I logged more than 300 miles on the Mariner this summer, including trips to the sailing club and the farmer’s market, a tour of Bainbridge Island, Wash., an assignment in Europe, a boat delivery, and a ride across the 10,000-foot Tioga Pass in the Sierra Nevada. Without fail, it was up to each task — and drew the attention of fellow cyclists. It takes about 30 seconds to fold into a lazarette-friendly package that measures 12-by-27-by-32 inches. At 25 pounds, it is light enough to carry on crowded trains and buses, or check in at the airport. Useful accessories include the El Bolso carrying bag ($65) and the Airporter case ($300). Dahon’s list price for the Mariner is $479. www.dahon.com

— Dieter Loibner

RESCUE TAPE

I just offloaded about 75 pounds of spare hose from my boat, keeping only a few special pieces. In lieu of those hoses, I have an ample supply of silicone Rescue Tape for temporary repairs. The company says this tape is self-fusing, has a 700 PSI tensile strength, insulates 8,000 volts per layer, withstands 500 F heat, and remains flexible to minus 85 F. It can be applied to a wet surface, including pipes, and resists fuels, oil, acids, solvents, salt water, road salt and UV rays. I obviously can’t personally verify the data, but I’ve been very impressed with Rescue Tape. I learned about it from a very accomplished mechanic last spring, and I’ve used it for many projects, including the repair of a burst water hose with around 60 pounds of pressure, sealing a shore power cable, and whipping rope ends. The tape doesn’t stick to itself; it “fuses” to itself. You stretch and overlap it as you wrap it. Wrapping more tape increases its ability to withstand pressure. It comes in various colors, as well as transparent. Follow the instructions to use it and practice a bit. Taking a moment to do this is more than worth it for the results. Suggested retail pricing is $24.95 for a two-pack, $44.95 for a six-pack, and $49.95 for a 36-foot long, 2-inch-wide, 30-mil-thick industrial roll, which I prefer. www.rescuetape.com

— Tom Neale

RESCUE LASER

The Rescue Laser is a high-tech, yet simple, tool that can be used to signal for help, find a person who has fallen overboard, or simply locate gear. It’s about the same size as a Mini Maglite, but can effectively signal from 20 to 30 miles depending on the model and atmospheric conditions. The lasers are constructed from anodized aluminum with an O-ring-sealed battery compartment, making them rugged and waterproof to 80 feet. The laser projects through a lens that changes the beam to a fan of light. To use the laser, line it up with your target as you would a signal mirror and slowly scan from side to side. Each time the fan of light crosses the target, it will see a brilliant flash. Rescue Lasers are non-flammable, non-hazardous and can operate continuously for hours on replaceable batteries. They can be attached to PFDs, put in ditch bags, or used as key rings. They are available in three configurations: Rescue Laser Light ($99.95), Rescue Laser Flare Magnum ($109.95), and the Green Rescue Laser Flare ($249.95). www.greatlandlaser.com

— Frank Kehr

CREWSAVER CREW FIT150N

Inflatable life jackets are a more comfortable alternative to foam PFDs, and they work well, providing more buoyancy than the average foam life jacket. I’ve tested many of them over the years, and the U.K.-made Crewsaver Crewfit 150N inflatable stands out as one of the best-performing vest-style PFDs. (The “N” stands for newtons: 50 newtons equals 11 pounds of buoyancy.) Many inflatable PFDs provide as much or more buoyancy than the Crewfit 150N (33.7 pounds), but they fall short in two critical areas: comfort and fit. The 150N is comfortable to wear uninflated, and its waist belt can be tightened and loosened easily for proper fit. No inflatable PFD I’ve tried is “comfortable” when it’s inflated and you’re in the water. But at least the Crewfit provides ample room around the neck and chin so the inflation chamber doesn’t strangle you. The 150N comes in manual or auto/manual versions and has 48 square inches of reflective tape, an attached whistle and a lifting handle. It carries a three-year warranty. Two caveats: Although it meets European safety standards, the Crewfit 150N is not U.S. Coast Guard-approved, so it cannot be counted as one of the required PFDs aboard your boat (one for every crewmember). Also, as far as I know, there is only one U.S. distributor, High Seas Trading Co., which sells the 150N for $195. www.highseasusa.com

— Chris Landry

GARMIN GPS 72

Every year, GPS units — both fixed-mount and hand-held — become more complicated, with endless features and seemingly limitless memory. For a hand-held, I use the tried-and-true Garmin GPS 72, a no-nonsense, WAAS-enabled unit with a grayscale screen and no cartography. “I think boaters particularly like it because it has a nice, big display, and it floats,” says Ted Gartner, Garmin senior manager of corporate communications. Right on, Ted. I do like the 1.6-by-2.2-inch display. Plus, the buttons are relatively large and well-placed. I can easily press with my thumb the Page, Menu and Enter/Mark buttons on the right side. The 72 — sold only in black-and-white, and that’s fine with me — weighs 7.7 ounces and takes two AA batteries. I used it to take speed readings for boat reviews during my days at now-defunct Powerboat Reports. The speed numbers on the screen were big enough to read even while testing the roughest-riding boats. My unit endured at least a dozen drops onto decks over the years. I actually have two of them — I keep one in my boat utility box, and the other is attached to my motor scooter with Velcro. (The speedometer on the scooter was inaccurate and then simply stopped functioning.) I’ve kept the bike outside with the waterproof Garmin 72 attached for nine months, and it still works fine. Garmin sells the unit online for $130, as does West Marine. By the way, it is capable of storing 500 waypoints. www.garmin.com

— Chris Landry

STYLUS REACH

Ignoring the “insurance” signs ordering me out of the repair garage, I peered under my old Chevy with a mechanic. He pulled from his pocket what appeared to be a ballpoint pen, and a tiny, brilliant LED flared on, brightly illuminating even remote cracks and crannies. He said it was a Streamlight Stylus he bought from the Snap-on Tools man and that no mechanic worth his salt would be without one. I chased down a Snap-on truck and bought the Stylus Reach, with a high-intensity 5mm LED and a flexible extension that reaches into even more remote areas. I found Streamlight has a plethora of lights with many functions. The company has 110 patents and 80 trademarks, and its Web site is an ideal place to go looking for gifts. I also use the awesome Streamlight Jr. Reach. Its head is larger, and it utilizes the new C4 LED technology, making it very bright. It has a 14-inch reach with its extension and a magnetic holder to clamp it to your engine to free your hands and brightly light your work for up to four hours. I also use the 3AA HAZ-LO headlamp, one of the brightest small headlamps I’ve seen. (The high-flux LED produces 34 lumens.) Other possibilities include the Stylus Reach 18 with flexible cable for a 25.5-inch reach and the waterproof handheld Fire Vulcan spotlight with C4 LED technology. Suggested retail prices: Stylus Reach, $29.95; Stylus Reach 18, $34.95; Streamlight Jr. Reach, $62.95; 3AA HAZ-LO, $64.95; Fire Vulcan, $235. www.streamlight.com

— Tom Neale

SEAKITS FLUID ANALYSIS

Give your boat the gift of its life with a SeaKits fluid analysis kit. It includes everything the user needs to take oil, coolant and fuel samples, and send them to a professional lab for analysis. The lab sends back detailed reports with more than enough data to satisfy the most discerning boater or mechanic. The best part of this program is that SeaKits has partnered with Polaris Laboratories to provide not only quick turnaround and detailed documentation, but technical support to go along with the reports. After initial tests, Polaris automatically links future results with your equipment history. I have used several independent labs for oil analysis in the past, and Polaris’ turnaround time and report quality are top shelf. SeaKits offers analysis systems for oil (use for engine, transmission and gear oils), hydraulic oil, coolant and fuel. Pricing varies, but the oil analysis kit is available for a single sample ($24), three samples ($68), and as a three-sample starter kit that includes a vacuum pump and water-resistant storage box ($95). www.seakits.com

— Frank Kehr