Monday, June 29, 2009

Weekend Yachting

Working at APS is sort of like crewing on a boat during an intense regatta. We're flying all over the place trying to get our jobs done, working in close proximity (occasionally leading to a sharp elbow or comment) and trying not to fall off. And when it's all over at the end of the day, we go out and have a beer or twelve together...

Last Friday was a great example of this, as five of us went to a local outdoor speakeasy to relax and have some laughs. At some point, Aaron asked me if I was going to sail the next day in the Severn Sailing Association's Summer Laser Series. Now, you might think that sounds like an innocent question... it's not. It's really a punchline to the three year joke that is my Laser's forced hibernation, brought out whenever anyone at APS plans on sailing or when the day ends with a "y".

Normally, I answer with some variation of "Yeah, the shore crew is working 24/7 to get the boat ready. We're looking at a Spring of 2011 launch...". This time was different though -- filled with courage, determination and a lethal combination of Jim Beam and Red Stripe, I said I'd do it. And, in a move picked up from ESPN's ridiculous coverage of the World Series of Poker, I came over the top and raised the stakes by putting a friendly wager down that I'd beat him the next day.

The next morning, we both showed up here at APS and brought our boats over to SSA. Having slept the majority of my courage off, I was setting more realistic goals for the day -- namely, not making a fool of myself. After purchasing a new mainsheet (the original having been lost to a friend needing to tie a surfboard to the roof of their car) and a clew strap (just hate using Spectra), I took my time rigging the boat and was one of the last people to the race course.

James, my fellow Stern Scoop editor, lost his crew at the last moment for his Jet 14 and decided to sail Laser's instead. It was a smart career move, as the day was perfectly suited to his wiry/emaciated frame, with breeze somewhere in the 6-8 knot range with a moderate chop being kicked up by the powerboaters.

Panoramic photo of skippers meeting by Jon Deutsch @

As we got within a minute of the first race, I realized that my hiking strap was 97% untied; by stopping to fix it, I was able get a fantastic start with clean air at the boat. Unfortunately, this was because I was right in the neighborhood of 20-25 seconds late. James and Aaron both had decent starts and I immediately tacked off to the right to find clean air and pressure. Coming into the first windward mark, I'd salvaged some dignity and rounded in fifth or sixth -- I managed to make some gains downwind (without succumbing to the numerous death roll opportunities) and held on to those gains for the rest of the race, finishing behind James for a third with Aaron pulling a seventh.

The next race got interesting early for me... not so much for James. James was launched and I'm pretty sure that he beat me by like a month and a half. Aaron and I were mixed up with a number of other boats though, clawing for the finish line to take eigth (me) and ninth (Aaron).

Going into that last race, James was sitting in a tie for first with three points and Aaron and I had no idea where we stood. James got a good start again and rounded with the other first place Laser-er about 129 boatlengths clear of everyone else... Aaron was in good shape, rounding third or fourth, and I was probably in seventh or eigth.

I was able to make some decent gains downwind and rounded a boat behind Aaron at the leeward mark -- he was still in a good controlling position and actually tacked where I wanted to go. Unfortunately (for him), the wind was fickle where he tacked and I found some pressure off to the right. I was able to get around him to sneak into third -- a position I held until the last 200 yards of the final upwind leg (heading to the finish line) when the wind COMPLETELY died. Aaron was able to tap into his years of fickle breeze sailing in New Jersey to get over the line before me. I'm told James got second, but I didn't really see it since the curvature of the earth hindered my ability to see that far away.

So, when it was all said and done, James finished the day in a strong second place with five points after three races. The shock of the day came when I showed up in third place and Aaron showed up in fourth, giving APS a 2, 3, 4 with 24 boats competing.

For his part, James was a terrible winner, pitching a fit because he thought we'd finished deeper and he'd have something to hold over our heads. This was after Aaron and I graciously congratulated him on owning us on the race course -- and really, finishing behind him like we did doesn't do his performance justice. Weight differences aside, James smoked us... I don't know about Aaron, but I was able to catch up a little downwind, but he was gone upwind.

I actually had a great time; I'll probably do the other two events in the Summer Series just because it was really fun racing. The folks at SSA were great hosts -- very friendly and helpful.

And thanks to Aaron, who will graciously be subsidizing my lunch for the next three days...

PS - the pictures of SSA and James aren't really recent. The picture of the Red Stripe is certainly more timely...

Friday, June 26, 2009

Life is Good

Sometimes it's easy to forget just how good you have it. But with the warm sun setting over the cityscape of the self proclaimed "Sailing Capital of the Universe" on the way to the hoist from a night of weekday racing it's pretty hard to forget around Annapolis this time of year.

Pictured above Katie, one of APS' fulfillment team members, and James, APS' storefront manager share a laugh over a cold one after racing last night on a J80 with Warren and Aaron, both APS customer service team members, and myself. Despite a fickle warm Southerly the RC managed to get 3 solid short course races for each of the 3 fleets of J boats on the water. Now if my counting is correct that's 9 races for nearly 50 one design keelboats and close to 200 sailors.

I'm no Einstein but in my mind those simple variables certainly = life being good.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Fight Night in Annapolis

Starting around 5:15pm on a Wednesday night, almost everyone walking on the street within a half mile radius of the Annapolis Yacht Club is either wearing or carrying sailing gear. That's because AYC's Wednesday Night Racing is the big deal racing night here in Annapolis with about 125 boats registered to race.
(FWIW - Arguements can be made that Thursday Night J/22, J/24 and J/80 racing is better; Friday Night Beer Cans at Eastport Yacht Club is pretty "relaxing" too...).

Fun fact for me: the inspiration for AYC starting up Wednesday Night Racing came from my home yacht club back in Rhode Island. After seeing the Wednesday Night Races at East Greenwich Yacht Club in Rhode Island in 1958, Past Commodore Gaither Scott inaugurated midweek racing at the Annapolis Yacht Club in 1959.

Wednesday Night Racing at EGYC was where I learned how to sail on larger keelboats, getting my first shot on the bow of a J/34. That was a heck of a boat to learn on -- no room for error downwind with an "eclectic" crew that always made it fun.

Anyways, one of the cool parts of Wednesday Night Racing is that everyone has to finish in front of AYC; this brings you up a relatively narrow creek that has a drawbridge at the end (see aerial view to right -- sadly, the water is actually pretty clean in that satellite photo). It occasionally get pretty hairy, especially on nights where you can carry a kite to the finish or when there's big breeze. The creek is also where huge gains or losses can be made -- many races have been lost coming up to the finish because of the fickle winds and close quarters.

With the finish so close to the bridge, Annapolitan's rountinely line up to watch the finish of the races, as James and one of his friends recently did. While they were standing there, Christina made a time-lapse video of the finish line and we thought we'd share with everyone on the Stern Scoop today:

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

New Equiplite NSM Connectors

I expect a lot of people are familiar with Equiplite's soft shackles. For a while now they've been making a number of different lightweight, super strong shackles and blocks. The most commonly used ones in my experience are their J-lock style non-swiveling connectors. They function just like a J-lock but they don't bang up the rigging and they weight much less.

Now Equiplite has come out with a line of non-swiveling connectors with an eye at the racer/cruiser market for whom cost is a factor and the working loads tend to be less extreme. These NSM connectors (I don't actually know what NSM stands for I imagine it's non-swiveling molded but Ian is insisting it's "not so mucho") feature a molded plastic thimble that the sheet splices to instead of the aluminum one found on the standard high load model.

Basically you splice your line around the thimble - you need a pretty tight splice or it will come off when flogging - and then pass the Dyneema loop through the grommet / ring and hook it around the small end of the thimble. The Velcro is only there to keep the shackle from coming apart when it's not under load.

The main advantage of the new shackles is that they are much cheaper than their higher load brethren. Equiplite says these are to only be used with covered lines. I don't think that's really the case, you could certainly use them with an uncovered line, but their point is that they're not that strong.

You shouldn't expect to take a 3/8 or 7/16" jib sheet on a boat like a Farr 395 and strip the cover off the end and splice to this and expect it to hold. You'd likely be using a 5/16" shackle and while we've installed the high load ones for that application these new NSM shackles just wouldn't be strong enough.

I've put together a chart comparing the NSM and standard Equiplite J-lock style shackles in terms of their working loads and cost.

Line DiameterWorking Load (lbs) Price
6 mm (1/4") 5,000 880 $110.50 $46.80
8 mm (5/16") 5,000 2,200 $115.70 $62.40
10 mm (3/8") 6,600 3,100 $128.70 $76.70
12 mm (1/2") 10,000 4,000 $178.75 $98.80
14 mm (9/16") 13,500 5,300 $184.25 $126.10

As you can see these new connectors are a lot cheaper but you sacrifice a lot of strength. My impression from talking to our Equiplite rep is that they haven't tested the full limits of these and obviously aren't going around recommending them on go fast race boats that are pushing the limits of weight and strength.

For a racer/cruiser who is looking for a jib sheet shackle that won't break the bank and won't scratch up their rig - I think this is a very viable option. As long as you are careful about the loads involved and don't try to minimize the size these new NSM connectors should work great.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Video Blog: Holmatro Wire/Rod Cutters

If you race sailboats long enough, you'll probably drop or break a mast. There's nothing fun about a rig coming down either -- in fact, an incident where the boat I was on snapped its rig ranks among the scarier experiences of my life (topped only by the time I was t-boned in my car by an eighteen wheeler and shattering my elbow in like three places).

During the pre-start, we had an issue with the vang and I was working on it with one of the other crew members, Nick. Another boat came in behind us and hooked our backstay with their bow, tearing it off the boat and breaking the mast at the fractional point. Nick and I looked up just in time to see the top of the mast taking a gravity-induced ride straight at our faces -- luckily, the halyards caught the suddenly rouge mast section, stopping it about 10-12 feet above our heads.

In my case, the rig didn't come all the way down because the lower shrouds kept everything below the breaking point upright. After getting back to the marina (and quickly changing my underwear), we cut away the mainsail and safely lowered broken portion of the rig to the deck.

But what if the whole rig had come down? What if we weren't a few miles from home, but 1,000 miles from anything? What if it wasn't blowing 10kts - 12kts with light chop, but 35kts - 40kts with angry seas?

When your rig comes down, you need to be ready to immediately deal with it -- your mast can pull an Incredible Hulk-esqe transformation from mild mannered upright stick to a raging mess of wire and carbon/aluminum, flopping around in the water with every intention of punching a hole in your boat if it can... and it can.

And while the decision to cut the rig away isn't always an easy one, when it's time to cut through the standing rigging, it needs to happen fast. We haven't found anything better for reliably cutting through standing rigging than Holmatro's Wire or Rod Cutters.

Now, I'll be the first one to admit that there are slightly faster options out there like a battery operated grinder or some other electronic doo-dad. But that requires you to have a charged battery ready to go, all the time -- additionally, anything that's electronic like a drill or grinder is going to be at a higher risk of shorting out or failing if you catch a wave or water with them.

Anyways, we gave a Holmatro Rod Cutter to James with the hope that he'd hurt himself put together a solid demonstration of how quickly and easily the Holmatro cutter works. Take a look -- as always, let us know if you have any questions.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Chesapeake Racer Profile: Keith Mayes

Impressively, we've managed to completely forget about posting our Chesapeake Racer Profiles here on the blog since the middle of March. It's gotten so bad that the target of April's profile actually sent us an email wondering if he'd said something to anger us. Of course, the answer is no -- there's a highly technical reason relating to the launch of the new APS website, some strings of code and a complete brain fart on my part that led to the delay. And since he's been the most egregiously offended party (at three months late and counting), we're getting Keith Mayes up today with the intentions of catching up on May and June ASAP.

Spinsheet is a sailing magazine based out of Annapolis (about three blocks away from APS, actually) that covers racing and cruising on the Chesapeake and across parts of the Mid-Atlantic.

Each month, APS sponsors the "Chesapeake Racer Profile" in Spinsheet -- this profile focuses on a local sailor who actively races or promotes the sport of sailboat racing in the area. Past profiles have featured locals like unknown sailor Terry Hutchinson, world-class Race Officer Sandy Grosvenor and local junior sailors who won the Sears Cup for Annapolis Yacht Club.

This month, we're featuring Keith Mayes. Keith is a local Beneteau 36.7 owner and the is the class' Chesapeake Bay Fleet Captain -- I've actually sailed on a different 36.7 a few times and Keith has always been a class act on the water. He's also a former Rear Commodore of the Herrington Harbour SA and Secretary of CBYRA, a member of the Beneteau 36.7 National Technical Committee (writing rules and ensuring one-design compliance) and a U.S. Sailing Club Race Officer, who is working on judge certification.

He also dreams of getting a Sydney 47 CR or a King 40 -- and on the off chance that dreams become a reality, I'd just like to inform Keith that I'm always available to crew...

Read Keith's profile here at our website.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Come on Down

Gone are the days when men were men and taking 2 or more weeks off to do SORC wasn't a problem. With all the demands people have on their time these days we know that good crew is getting harder and harder to come by. But, today's post isn't about getting crew for our boat it's about us getting good crew to join our team at APS.

As the premier performance sailing retail/mail order company, APS is a dynamic and constantly growing company and we're currently looking for a few motivated sailors to join our crew. We've got a variety of positions open and if you or someone you know is in on the hunt for a new gig we encourage you to check out our employment page.

We work hard but we also like to have fun and since it's Friday I'd like to leave you with a little video we shot during lunch. That's Kyle on lead, Ian on rhythm guitar, Aaron on bass, Chris on drums, and of course James, the small pianist player.

PS. We might even give extra credit if you have some sweet cowbell skills. It should go without saying that we need more cowbell.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Video Blog: Numbering A Laser Sail

I'm going to catch hell from James and Aaron for writing the blog post about numbering a Laser sail. You see, I bought a Laser a little over two years ago and haven't sailed it yet... not once... ever. Why, you ask? Well, I'm a pansy who won't sail during a frostbite series because it's stupidly cold and thanks to a knee injury, other sailing conflicts and general laziness (read: it's really just the laziness) I haven't gotten out there at all.

But when I do finally make plans to splash the "Land Laser", one of the first orders of business will be numbering my sail. Now, I could slip the guys downstairs an Alexander Hamilton to do the job -- not that they'd be doing me any favors since APS is always happy to install sail numbers on your new sail for a mere $10.00 -- but I'm more of a hands-on kind of guy and I'll end up doing it myself.

In addition to providing you a link to the written instructions for numbering a sail (clicky clicky), we also put together a video featuring our Boat Sales Manager, John Maloney, numbering a brand new Laser Radial sail.

The video is a little under 10 minutes long, so I'd suggest going to the bathroom or getting some popcorn before hitting play. Also, for those of you that don't have the Crazy Super High-Speed Business Internet Package with Power Boost and GoofySillyFast Compression Technology, you might want to pause the video when it starts for about 20 or 30 seconds -- this will allow it to queue up and eliminate any jumpiness.

Two notes: we kind of apologize for the tape gun that keeps going off during the video. We filmed this right next to our Shipping Department and these gosh darn youngsters have no respect for folks trying to film a video for a moderately viewed niche blog. "We have to get customer's orders out!", they cried. Whatever...

Also, around the 4:20 mark, Jarrett starts moaning in the background like a choking walrus to throw John off his game -- John has none of it. He's a pro... you hear me? Pro.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

I See the Light!

The Morning Light that is. For those who haven't heard of it Morning Light is a documentary put together by Disney that follows 15 young sailors as they train and race a TP52 in the 2007 TransPac.

Basically Disney took 30 sailors and picked the 15 they liked best to train in Hawaii and then let the team pick the final 11 who actually got to race the TransPac. The movie shows some of the selection process and their training while introducing you to the sailors. Most of the 2nd half of the movie is about the race itself from the star in California to the finish in Hawaii.

You are introduced to all 15 sailors and get to know them as the movie progresses but the truth is it's too many people and not enough time to really figure out who's who aside from a few of the key people. They way over dramatize the selection of the 11 crew for the race - they call people one by one into the room and announce who gets to be on the boat.

The race itself is fairly interesting - the film focuses on their rivalry with Samba Pa Ti during the race. It's hard to say how much rivalry there actually was but it makes for good entertainment since the boats were fairly close together at one point during the race. They also show some interviews with the owner of Samba about the race.

Importantly the movie doesn't just take a try to explain everything and appeal to everyone approach. I was actually pleasantly surprised at how little I found myself thinking: oh great an explanation of how tacking works (there was one but it was fairly brief). I had expected there to be a lot more catering to non sailors. This might mean the movie wouldn't be as interesting if you don't sail but I'm gonna assume that if you're reading this you probably do.

Obviously there is some heavy editing that goes into a documentary like this. They focus on the people who they felt were more interesting, some of the guys on the boat barely get any camera time and others get lots. It's obvious there are details left out and huge portions of time skipped but it tells a good story and stays interesting to watch throughout.

So is it worth watching? I didn't have high expectations but I ended up really enjoying the DVD. It's a great movie to watch with some friends, maybe poke fun of a few parts and watch what to my knowledge is only the 2nd sailing movie ever (that scene at the beginning of Thomas Crown Affair doesn't count). I'd also think that it'd be great for sailing schools or other kids who are just getting into sailing. The reality-show type approach is accessible to them and there's plenty of fun, fast sailing to watch.

So I think Morning Light is worth a look. Besides it's a Disney movie so there's some awesome previews for the re-release of Fantasia from the "Disney vault" that I already have on pre-order that you have to sit through at the start of the DVD.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Open Letter to Stern Scoop Readers -- Call to Action

Our plan was to drop a "Tech Tuesday" post on you today; we actually came up with a pretty great idea too. But we're going to need a little extra time to pull it off...

This is our way of saying -- we ain't got nothing for ya today.


Before you go and cruise to that Jonas Brothers forum that James moderates, we have a request.

Since it turns out that you happen to know what you like to read about better than we do (weird, I know), there's a comments link at the end of every post where you can leave your thoughts about what we've written, filmed or photographed. In the comments section for this post we're asking you to leave us your request for a comparison/test of products that we have here at APS. For example, when we did this post about carbon tiller extensions, it was by far our most popular post ever on the blog and people were coming into the shop saying that it was really cool.

But that was our idea of what we thought you'd find interesting -- mercifully you did too. Seeing as we're a blog of the people though, and instead of taking educated stabs at what you want to read, we're electing to put you in the drivers seat. What do you want us to compare on your behalf? If you could "do this" to compare products, what would you do?

One caveat: please keep in mind that we're not running a fully funded Mythbusters lab here -- try to keep the requests reasonable. We're not really in a position to test out whether Forespar or Forte Carbon Blanks hold up better to the combined weight of four Oompa Loompa's from the 1971 version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory featuring Gene Wilder, Jack Albertson and Peter Ostrum. Nor will we be all that eager to fire tennis balls at a TackTick display to see how long it takes to break. Sure, we're 100% open to screwing with the boss' stuff/inventory and blaming the new summer staffers if anything breaks, but there's still limits to what we'll do.

So with that in mind, have it at Stern Scoop Nation. Let us know what you want from us!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Remember that time?

Remember that time when the weather wasn't particularly fantastic for sailing? Remember that time when things just didn't seem to go your way at all the marks? Remember that time when you narrowly missed taking out two boats and as a result spun two circles?

This past weekend I took the northbound Annapolis sailor bus (aka, the Thurs/Fri evening Southwest flight to Newport)in order to sail the NYYC 155th Annual Regatta aboard the RP 55 Rima2. After a weekend of trying conditions, drizzly weather, and some tough breaks on the course we found ourselves deep in fleet of some tough competition. But last night, southbound and surrounded by a flight full of familiar sun burnt faces each on their way back to the real world, I forgot about all of that.

Remember that time when you got to race on a really neat boat against some of the best big boat sailors in the world? Remember that time you spent a weekend on and off the water surrounded by the people you had the honor and pleasure to sail that boat with and against? Remember how at one point in time those people were complete strangers and now thanks to the sport of sailing they're some of your favorite people in your life?

Remember that time.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Is this the APS Gun Show?

No I'm not talking about Chris showing off his biceps (there's not much to show anyways). Apparently one of our vendors is a believer in recycling and reusing - so they sent us some of our merchandise in a previous used box today. This is pretty common and we here at APS fully support everything we can do to help the environment.

Sometimes the result can be a little misleading - as in the case of one of today's boxes. At first Aaron down in customer service thought it was the official Red-Ryder carbine-action two hundred shot air rifle his mother promised him for Christmas but he never got - I think he might have cried a little when he found out it wasn't.

Turns out it was just some Opti stuff which is probably for the best since I don't think the local squirrel population would have appreciated the original contents of the box in the hands of Aaron and Warren after work.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Snipe Class DVD: Tuning & Better Boat Handling

One of our Hot New Item's last week was the new Snipe DVD Tuning and Better Boat Handling. Thanks to a break in the action here at the office, I was able to sit down with this new offering from the class and see what it had to offer.

Produced by Greg Fisher and Rick Bernstein, this DVD also features class heavyweights (in stature, not girth):
- George Szabo from Quantum Sails
- Brian Bissel from North Sails
- Brian Janney
- Dave Hughes

This is a two-disc DVD, which is pretty cool -- it's a great value for its $49.95 price tag. Both George and Brian start the first DVD off by giving set-up tips and illustrations from their respective company's tuning guides. Depending on your preference of "Big Blue" or "Da Q", these compliment their published tuning guides nicely. In fact, you can probably learn a thing or two from the other guy, so you should watch both.

Next comes some tacking/gybing info, starting with a 7 minute on-land tutorial with Szabo and Janney. I liked this section because it allowed both skipper and crew to slowly go through their thought processes and movements. Janney's portion is a must-see for new crews, showing the proper coreography for tacking and gybing with great explainations of what he's doing.

The on-water portion of the tacking/gybing section is about 13 minutes -- they've mic'd up all four sailors for on-boat commentary and both Fisher and Bernstein provide some useful voice-over commentary while you continue to watch two of the better Snipe skippers/crews do their thing. This section was great, but a little dry in places -- sort of unavoidable to demonstrate proper technique and I do have the attention span of a 7-month-old puppy, so take that for... SQUIRREL!!!... what it's worth.

The last part of the first disc deals with navigating "the corners" -- aka, getting around marks. It's about six and a half minutes of on-the-water examples of good roundings, focusing on communication and fluid motions. It's a nice section to watch as a skipper/crew together -- you know, for a little bonding time without all of the yelling and swearing that's commonplace for anyone I happen to sail dinghies with (yes, it's always the crew's fault).

Disc 2 moves from technique to technical, dealing with stuff like shifting gears, boat handling, powering up/depowering the boat, etc. This is illustrated with more on-the-water video and voice-over commentary; everything that they talk about in the first two sections (upwind and then downwind) is good stuff. Some of the information in these sections is obvious, but just think about how often you don't go out and speed test before the start of a regatta or don't tweak this line or that line and you'll realize that you can never hear these things too many times.

The third section on the second disc is video of four or five races in light to moderate air that has on-board audio with George Szabo and his crew. He does a great job of describing EVERYTHING that he's doing -- after a little while, you start expecting hear personal commentary like "and there's a squiggly line in my eye", "I just swallowed a bug..." or "milk was a bad choice". It's a great illustration of the amount of communication that should take place during a race, the skipper and crew talking all the time about everything that's going on.

There's a final section which is just a goodbye/credits section -- nothing too special.

A nice little feature during the entire DVD is that at the beginning and end of each section, there is a hit list of the topics covered. The list at the beginning is like a table of contents and the list at the end of the section is basically a cheat sheet, running down the important points -- it's nice you're taking notes.

I was actually really happy with Tuning & Better Boat Handling -- it's definitely not a J.J. Abrams production with tons of cool explosions and special effects. But it is a fantastic resource for Snipe sailors that should really help the majority of racers out there looking to step their game up. You get about an hour and a half of video instruction and observation straight from your living room or computer from some of the bigshots in the class -- short of buying all of them a bunch of drinks during a big regatta, there's little chance that you're going to get anything close to that in real life. And trying to get technical knowledge from someone who's a little buzzed never comes out right anyways...

PS - If you're wondering why the screen captures look like their from a 1970's Instamatic Polaroid camera, it's because we had some trouble with the whole screen capture thing, so I took a photo of my screen. The actual quality is way higher...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Wrap it up!

My father always preached to me about safety. "Don't drink and boat, wear a PFD, and always wrap your ring dings," he'd say. Of course, I may or may not have taken those life lessons to mean "always make sure your beer has a coozie so your hands don't get cold" but that's not what today's lesson is about. Today's lesson has to do more with the latter part of his suggestions. Wrapping it up...with tape! If duct tape is a landlubbers best friend rigging tape is a sailors. Here at APS we offer lots of different kinds of tape but today we're going to take a close look at PTFE (aka Teflon®, or, as it's known in the biz, "millionare's tape") and UHMWPE (aka Ultra High Molecular-Weight PolyEthylene). More specifically, we're talking about Dynaglide MT, the Teflon®, and Dynaglide UB, the UHMW.

Both are products of DeWAL Industries of Saunderstown, RI. Since 1974, they have been a leader in the manufacture of high performance polymer films and pressure sensitive tapes. Little known outside the belt and hose industry beforehand, in the early 2000's they got into the sailboat racing market with Dynaglide MT, their Teflon® tape, and the sailing world has been relying on them to help them "put the slip" on their competition ever since. So what's the difference between the tapes and what are they used for?

Dynaglide MT is a skived PTFE (Teflon®) film with a silicone adhesive that's quite aggressive yet easy enough to remove when necessary. While PTFE is generally clear in order to get the adhesive to stick they must score the film which gives the tape a slightly golden color. But the bling color is not what earns it its nickname. The fact that it’s roughly twice the cost of its UHMW brother and quintuple the cost of standard 3M vinyl tape it certainly earns its nickname as “millionaire’s tape”. But, made of 100% PTFE and at 3.5 mil thick we think it's pliability is its strong suit and it’s perfect for wrapping around really tight radius bits that need to be ultra slippery or, used in extremely thin areas where you just don't have much room. For instance, it’s perfect for wrapping Melges 24 spreader end fittings, lining the small space in the hatch slide track, and of course wrapping ring dings where sails might have a chance of getting torn. But given the expense if you’ve got an application where width and pliability isn’t as much of a concern you might want to consider Dynaglide UB.

Made from UHMWPE, Dynaglide UB is nearly as slippery as the Teflon® variety, half the price, and 15 times more abrasion resistant than carbon steel. Instead of a silicone adhesive it uses an acrylic adhesive. I’m told it’s traditional to use acrylic on UHMW but that it really boils down to a concern for at what temperature materials breakdown occurs. But, those temperatures are so high it will not be a concern of sailors. Either way, it is plenty aggressive for our needs anyway. While it is available in both white and black we’re told the UV stability/life of the black is expected to be longer. We stock the 6.5 mil thick type in a variety of widths and only in the color black. This is really great stuff for a myriad of applications where abrasion resistance is critical. Common applications include on batten pockets, head foils, under blocks that hit the deck, places where lines run over wood or fiberglass, etc. Essentially, the uses are endless and people that think they need the “millionaire’s tape” certainly ought to consider Dynaglide UB instead.

Here’s the technical data:

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny: Harken Blocks vs. Ronstan Orbit Blocks

This year Ronstan released new smaller (20 and 30 mm) sizes of their Orbit blocks. They're pretty nifty blocks and as with any new introduction into the realm of marine hardware they beg the question - are they better? Our very own Rob Beach set about answering that question and came up with a whole bunch of numbers for us to crunch.

We set about comparing the new 20 and 30mm Orbit blocks with the comparable Harken and older Ronstan blocks. Basically we looked at two main categories - working loads and weights. Rob was very meticulous in his calculating and measuring, there were even spreadsheets involved. In the end we found that the numbers weren't as straight forward as we'd thought they would be and it was difficult to make direct comparisons but we've done our best.

Below is the working load data for the blocks. The main thing we found was that there appears to be no standard safety factor being applied by manufacturers to calculate their MWL (Max or safe working load). They vary from around to 2 to above 6 and it does seem to be the case that Harken's numbers are generally higher than Ronstan's. Even within manufacturers they don't appear to be standardized.

We calculated an average of all the safety factors and then used that to calculate an standardized MWL using the BL (breaking load) of the blocks. We felt this was the best way to compare strengths across the different blocks.

Part #BL #MWL #Manuf.
Max Work Load
Safety Factor = 3.2203
20 mm Singles
RonstanNEW 20 mm Orbit; single lashing20 mmRF2510912105502.20376
Ronstan20 mm Single Loop Top20 mmRF2010112105502.20376
Harken Micro Single22 mmH22412002006.00373
20 mm Doubles
Ronstan20 mm Double20 mmRF2020215407702.00478
HarkenMicro Double22 mmH22612003503.43373
30 mm Singles
Ronstan30 mm Single Swivel30 mmRF3010016506602.50512
RonstanNEW 30 mm Single Swivel Orbit30 mmRF3510013236612.00411
HarkenBullet with Swivel29 mmH16620003006.67621
Harken29mm Carbo Single (w/ swivel)29 mmH34010003303.03311
30 mm Doubles
Ronstan30 mm Double30 mmRF3020220908802.38649
RonstanNEW 30 mm Double Orbit30 mmRF3520219849922.00616
HarkenBullet Double29 mmH08420004005.00621
Harken29 mm Carbo Double29 mmH34216256602.46505

We also looked at the weights of the blocks, both as stated by the manufacturer as well as our own measurements from our postal scale. For the most part they were the same but there were some small variations. We also calculated a strength to weight ratio in two ways. First we used the manufacturers stated MWL and weight and then we used our calculated MWL using the average safety factor and our own measured weight.

ManufacturerBlockSheave DiameterPart #Man. Listed weightStrength to weight ratio based on man. dataWeight per postal scaleStrength to weight ratioMan. Stated Max Diam. Rope
20mm Singles
Ronstan20mm Orbit (Single Lashing)20mmRF251090.318330.312526mm (1/4")
Ronstan20mm Single (Loop Top)20mmRF201010.511000.66266mm (1/4")
Harken Micro Single22mmH2240.54000.66216mm (1/4")
20mm Doubles
Ronstan20mm Double20mmRF202021.55131.53196mm (1/4")
HarkenMicro Double22mmH2261.52331.42666mm (1/4")
30mm Singles
Ronstan30mm Single Swivel30mmRF301001.25501.24278mm (5/16")
Ronstan30mm Single Swivel Orbit30mmRF351001.16011.23428mm (5/16")
HarkenBullet with Swivel29mmH1661.751711.54148mm (5/16")
Harken29mm Carbo Single (w/ swivel)29mmH3400.93670.93458mm (5/16")
30mm Doubles
Ronstan30mm Double30mmRF302022.83142.62508mm (5/16")
Ronstan30mm Double Orbit30mmRF352021.75841.83428mm (5/16")
HarkenBullet Double29mmH0842.51602.42598mm (5/16")
Harken29mm Carbo Double29mmH3421.83671.82808mm (5/16")

So what does all this mean? Well, clearly the Ronstan safety factors are lower than those used by Harken. When we calculated the MWL based on our average safety factor this meant the Ronstan blocks generally saw their MWL reduced while the Harken's increased. This affected the strength to weight ratios in the same way.

Does this make the Harken's better? I don't really think so. The vast majority of dinghy applications see these blocks used at loads far below their MWL let alone their BL. If you are pushing the limits of the loads though, I think the data supports leaning towards the Harken products over the Ronstans.

There's also something to be said for the fact that the Ronstan blocks may just function at a higher percentage of their breaking load than the Harkens. Unfortunately I don't have the technology to test that in house - but if anyone wants to give me a load cell for free I'd gladly break some things.

The new Orbit blocks are definitely a new direction in block technology and it's great to see Ronstan pushing the boundaries of classic hardware. Using the soft loop attachments are a great idea and I think definitely something we'll see a lot more of in the next few years. They don't appear to offer the weight advantages you might expect though - the Harken blocks are the lightest in many of these categories.

If you were expected a "this is the best one" conclusion at the end of this post I'm afraid I'm going to disappoint you. I do think the 20 mm Orbit single is a pretty cool block - it's super lightweight and can be lashed anywhere you need it. I think the 29 mm Harken Carbo blocks are still a great choice for larger diameter lines. Beyond that there's no clear winner here. Each block has advantages and we didn't even cover pricing.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Laser Radial & 4.7 ACCs Wrapup

Panoramic photo of skippers meeting by Jon Deutsch @

The Laser Radial ACCs were held this past weekend at SSA in Annapolis. It was a fairly light air event with a total of 5 races held. Even though it was light it was a great regatta and I think everyone had a good time. The radial event was won by Christopher Stocke and the 4.7 winner was Mary Hall.

Here in the US the radial is primarily a junior and women's boat so there were a lot of young sailors out for the event. Out of the 63 competing radials 32 were juniors including all of the top 5. There were also 8 4.7s racing, all of whom were juniors.

Standing around the keg Saturday night a number of us were lamenting how badly we were being beaten by kids from high school with our only consolation being that we were old enough to drink the beer. I certainly have a lot of admiration for all the younger sailors who were all very fast(more so than your author who finished in the back half).

Saturday we got in 2 races in super light conditions and both races saw big ups and downs as puffs filled in from different sides of the course. The second race was shortened at the 2nd weather mark after the breeze died and then filled in from the right side causing a bit of reversal in the middle of the fleet.

Sunday we had a bit of a sea breeze and got in 3 races in probably 6-10kts. There was a lot of mixed up chop on the course which made keeping the boat moving fast forward and finding clear air key. Overall youth clearly won out over experience - although the honest truth is that a lot of the younger sailors probably had both in their favor having sailed on high school or college teams.

Here's the top 10 from the radial fleet.

What about the blocks? Those of you who were reading last week know that this weekend was my first real experience using the new Harken boom and traveler blocks. I thought they worked really well. Did I honestly notice a vast improvement over the old blocks? I wouldn't say vast, but there's only so much you can change and they were never going to be light years ahead of the old ones.

The ball bearing blocks do run better, but I also think the block itself moves more freely - it is more open at the top and doesn't bind against the boom as much as the old ones. The new traveler block is also a nice improvement - doing away with the shrink wrap / tape to hold it together. It stands much straighter than the old block which I think might offer advantages in leech tension when the sheet is eased but I don't have any data to support that. The small traveler sheave is the only non ball bearing one - which is no big deal since it's stationary most of the time anyways.

Overall I think it was a great event and I had a lot of fun. I thought it was awesome how far people traveled to sail - I know there were people from Texas and Canada who made the trip. Even though the conditions were tough it was a great weekend to be out on the water.

You can find more information and results on the 2009 ACCs website.

Friday, June 5, 2009

APS Goes to the Races

While Rob was out in California this weekend watching the most exciting version of sailboat racing, Aaron and I were watching the most exciting form of racing off the water, NASCAR. We were given two passes from our Fed-Ex representative, Rich Veverka, that included all the Fed-Ex hospitality and perks. We left early Sunday morning in the rain and dreary conditions, hoping, and expecting the weather to perk up, and mother nature did not disappoint. We arrived at Dover International Speedway shortly after 10am, given about an hour to travel the final mile in traffic. The sun was shining and the concrete was already drying off as we arrived. For those of you that don’t follow NASCAR, Dover is one of only 3 concrete tracks in NASCAR and with its reputation is known as “The Monster Mile.”

We had excellent parking, courtesy of our Fed-Ex race pack, and got set up to tour the area with our cameras as well as APS stickers in tow. We were glad to see that the staff at DIS had received our banner and gotten it hung appropriately by our parking spot. First stop was by the Fed-Ex car to make sure that they received our new sponsorship and had it displayed prominently upon the car. Check! Next stop was the Fed-Ex hospitality chalet. We arrived and were warmly received by all the staff there. Included in our promotional pack were two #11 Denny Hamlin hats and a Fed-Ex racing flag. While we hung out we were able to get a picture with the team, while waiting for Denny Hamlin, the driver to show up. When Denny arrived it was all eyes and ears as he was very friendly and personable for autographs and pictures. JD Gibbs (Son of Joe Gibbs, racing owner and former Redskins coach) the owner of the team came to introduce Denny and answer all our questions about racing. He was very open about the team with their successes as well as their trials and tribulations.

After being pumped up to watch the race, we headed to the walk around the track/midway and experience the atmosphere. There were all sorts of vendors with fantastic types of items for sale, and Aaron and I each picked up hats for our favorite drivers. After taking some pictures with some cars, banners, and “the Monster” it was back to the hospitality chalet for lunch. There was a fantastic lunch buffet the Fed-Ex team prepared and made sure that we were well taken care of and about ready to race. Now we were provided with our personal race viewers that are wirelessly enabled and allow you to watch any of the TV feeds or listen to any of the Radio feeds from your seat in the grandstands. This was highly beneficial as we weren’t able to see Pit Road but our viewers let us see it like we were right there on the front stretch. We get to our seats and what do we find but the APS team Hauler, the race car trailer for those of you who don’t follow NASCAR, parked right in front of our seats. Fantastic!

Boogity Boogity Boogity and lets go Racing. The race commenced and Aaron and I were thoroughly enjoying our seats. Our driver, Denny Hamlin in the #11 Fed-Ex car was doing well after starting in 16th and in short order had moved up to the top 10. After spending a great deal of time in the top ten during the first part of the race, Denny Eventually moved up to 2nd and was running there for quite some time. There were several NASCAR mandated cautions for debris on the track and one to allow for a pit stop. Unfortunately, or I guess fortunately for the drivers, there were very few crashes and the race only saw 7 cautions total. This was great because it led to lots of green flag racing, but low on the crash excitement. Denny was unfortunately the victim of debris or a worn out tire and as he was running in 2nd, cut down a tire and lightly tagged the wall. Apparently that was it for Denny for the day and while dejected, we watched the rest of the race with the same excitement. In the final laps Jimmy Johnson was running very well and with 4 fresh tires was driving his car on rails to pass Tony Stewart with 3 laps to go. Jimmy held on for the win and congratulations to him and his team.

So for those of you that have left a sporting event at the end, you will know that traffic is usually at a gridlock for quite some time, and Dover Speedway was no exception. With over 100,000 people in attendance traffic was actually slower than molasses moving uphill in wintertime. So with that in mind Aaron and I made a bit of a detour to burn some time while we waited for traffic to dissipate. In doing so we were able to wait for traffic to totally clear, and have a traffic free drive home.

During that drive, somewhere in the Eastern Shore of Maryland, a State Trooper was nice enough to direct me to the side of the road while only doing 52 in a 50 zone. Fortunately he was nice enough to notify us that our taillight on Aaron’s jetta was out. In addition he ran some tests to make sure that I was not driving under the influence, and as the Designated Driver I was most certainly not. He let us go with a warning and we were on our way to arrive back home in Annapolis. Editor’s note: I would like to commend Aaron for staying in the car and quiet during the whole police episode. Apparently their stop off included a lot of time at a black jack table and a waitress named Erin who was streaming free drinks to Aaron.

Aaron and I would especially like to say thank you to our Fed-Ex rep, Rich Veverka as well as the whole Fed-Ex team. We were treated like family from start to finish and greatly appreciate their hospitality as well as the tickets to come to the race. Thanks for a great race as well as our fantastic shipping service from Fed-Ex.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Hands On: Harken Laser Blocks

Last week we let you know about the new Laser blocks that should be available at the end of the month. We've even had a bunch of people pre-order them already, so kudos to you early adopters.

Since then I managed to get my hands on a set of these and install them on my boat. I took them out for a spin during the weeknight racing we hold here at SSA on Tuesday nights. Unfortunately the weather didn't fully cooperate with my plans as the we mostly drifted around in a breeze that varied between 0 and 3 knots.

Never the less I was impressed with the new blocks and I got a few comments from some of the other Laser sailors out on the course - so at the very least these new blocks will totally make you look cooler. And everybody knows that looking cool is the first step to going fast.

Here's a video we shot before I went out sailing talking about the differences between the new and old blocks. Sorry for the intermittent applause, there was an awards ceremony going on for the Snipe Women's Nationals that had just concluded - which was won by Carol Cronin and Annapolis local Kim Couranz by the way. There are some more detailed technical specs below the video.

Weight Comparison
Old Laser BlocksNew Harken Blocks
Traveler Block2.7 oz (including shrink wrap)2.5 oz
Aft Boom Block1.71.6
Forward Boom Block1.51.3
Total5.9 oz5.4 oz

So the new blocks are 0.5 oz lighter which is a littler more than a 8% reduction in weight. Is that significant? I can't imagine anyone would ever actually notice that small of a weight difference. If you're doing an Olympic campaign than sure, every little bit counts, but for most of us that's not the big selling point here.

The blocks all measure pretty similarly. The distance between the bearing surfaces of the sheaves on the new traveler block is 1/8" further apart than on the old blocks but Laser Performance assures me that the over distance when the traveler and the boom block nest together is the same. I still need to measure the overall traveler line to boom distance with both of them and will put those measurements up this weekend after I have a chance to put a tape measure on both setups.

Overall the new Harken boom and traveler blocks seem pretty cool and I think will be a welcome new change (albeit a small one) in a class that's been pretty static for a while.

I'll be using the blocks this weekend at the Laser Radial & 4.7 ACCs here at SSA so any additional feedback I have I'll post as a comment here.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Mac Designs - Invasion of the Giant Sticker People

So maybe the new deck labels and polar charts from Mac Designs are not quite as exciting as the title might imply, but they're pretty cool. Mac Designs is a graphics design company based in Newport that does all sorts of designs for some big time race programs including Numbers and Moneypenny.

You've probably seen the Accutak that's been around for a while. Mac Designs has now come out with a few more stickers for your boat to help you go fast.

One of the new stickers is the Deck Control Grand Prix pack that's so big it has Chris running scared. Seriously though this package of stickers is 4 ft 3 inches long and some of the individual stickers on it are pretty sizable. There'll be no excuses for tightening the rig the wrong direction with these labels next to your turnbuckles.

The link above explains what's in the package but basically these are super durable super sticky labels to put on your race boat. Anything smaller than a 35 footer is going to look a little silly since these are pretty big but I think they'd be super useful on larger boats. They'll stick to your non-skid or wherever you need labels on your boat.

There's also a some more regular sized labels as well for labeling rope clutches on all types of boats in a different package. That has lift point and turnbuckle labels as well and is a great choice for some basic labeling on a standard boat.

The other new products from Mac Designs are polars for a number of one design boats. These useful charts are great to put on the back of a bulkhead or maybe on the inside of the cockpit to keep them in view while racing. They're available for the Farr 30 & 40, Melges 32, Swan 42 and J/105.

Overall these new labels and stickers are pretty useful. The Grand Prix pack is fairly pricey but I think they look a lot more durable than most labels out there so they should stick around a lot longer.

Monday, June 1, 2009

APS/ICSA Team Race Nationals

For the uninitiated, team racing is just that. Two teams of boats race against each other in a head to head competition whereby the team with the lowest combined finishing score wins. In the case of college sailing the format is 3 boats versus 3 boats. As one can imagine this makes for some of the most intense and strategic racing there is with an emphasis on every aspect of sailing one can imagine. In fact, the often used analogy of sailboat racing being like a game of chess is a vast understatement for this genre of competition. If that's fleet racing, team racing is more like playing a game of chess in your lap while racing. Allow me to use a run-on sentence to demonstrate... Not only must you start perfectly, catch the first shift, and go the right way there's also all the strategy of positioning yourself and controlling your opponents while being absolutely perfect with your boat handling and keeping in mind where your teammates are and whether or not you can help them help you win. A bit like learning perfect grammar, a whole mess of practice, coordination, and many late night ruminations on the subject are necessary to win and there's no better place to get that than in college.

Here at APS we're big fans of college, the ICSA (Intercollegiate Sailing Association), and team racing. Heck, following college sailing is the closest thing we get to March Madness and that is why we're proud supporters of the ICSA and title sponsors of the annual APS/ICSA Team Race Nationals . So where am I going with this? Well, this past weekend 14 of college sailing's best team racing teams took to the chilly waters of San Francisco to battle it out it to be crowned the 2009 APS/ICSA Team Race Champions. Tucked in a cove on the lee side of Treasure Island teams of three in colored sail FJs raced their way around a digitial N course in a round robin format set up to determine a Final Four and ultimately college sailing's team race champion.

To begin on Friday, the 14 teams were randomly divided into two groups. From there a round robin within the groups was sailed to determine a Gold and Silver fleet based on team's total wins from the first round. Proving just how tight the competition was after the first round there were four teams, Yale, SUNY, Stanford, and USF, each tied with 3 wins and 3 losses for the bubble position of the Gold fleet. An 8 race sail off between them was needed to determine who would go where and by the end it was Yale, SUNY, and Stanford who had made the cut. Saturday the Silver fleet sailed a one round consolation series while the Gold fleet began the first of two full round robins. By the end of the day USF had won the Silver fleet and the Gold fleet had made it to race 18 with a few races left to sail Sunday morning to determine the Final Four.

Sunday dawned cold and gray with the lightest breezes of the event but that didn't mean the racing wasn't hot. With legendary Tufts coach Ken Legler providing color commentary over a loud speaker for those ashore spectating the teams took to the water and after just over 2 days of tight racing, including a few last minute incredible come from behind wins, the competition was narrowed down to the top 4 teams, Yale, BC, St. Mary's (my and Kyle's Alma mater...go Hawks!), and Georgetown. While I was fortunate enough to be there representing APS unfortunately scheduling (read the cheapest flight of the day to get me back in the office this morning) meant I wasn't able to watch the Final Four. However, some tech savy sailors using Web 2.0 meant I was able to follow the event Twitters between connecting flights. Upon touch down in Philadelphia for a plane change I learned it was Boston College who in the end pulled out the win to be named the 2009 APS/ICSA Team Race National Champions. Congrats BC!