Thursday, July 30, 2009

Hands On: Laser Wind Indicators

You may have noticed that we have a number of active Laser sailors here at APS. It's not all that surprising since the Laser is one of the most active one designs out there, and it's probably the most active classes for adults.

In my opinion, one of the great things about the Laser is how simple it is. There's very little you can change or tweak about the boat - you just get in and go racing. One of the few things you can add to the Laser to aid your performance is a wind indicator. Sure, adding a wind indicator to your boat won't turn heads like a new sail, new blocks or like Chris does when he goes out for a night on the town dressed up as "Christine". But, a wind indicator will alert you to deviations in the wind when they're not always apparent and that can mean valuable points across the finish line.

With that in mind, I took a look at, and tested, the four most popular mast mounted wind indicators for the Laser to see how they stack up against each other. I also spoke with some local Laser gurus to get their tips on getting the most out of your wind indicator. I also spoke with Ryan Minth, creator of the C-Vane, about what sets his wind indicator apart from the others and how he uses it.

The wind indicators I looked at were, from the top of the picture to the bottom, the Davis Black Max, the C-Vane, the Kingfisher & the Little Hawk Mark II.

At first glance, all four of the wind indicators share some similarities. They all mount to the mast with a wrap around bracket and share a similar shape in terms of how the wind vane sticks out from the mast. The C-Vane does offer something new in terms of design with its dual arms - the other three have the same single L shaped arm.

For testing purposes I mounted them all to Aaron's lower mast section and evaluated them in terms of responsiveness, weight, cost, mounting bracket construction and durability. Admittedly the last two were fairly subjective but I've tried to provide a lot of pictures so you can draw your own conclusions as well. As usual a disclaimer about the non-scientificness of our testing procedure applies here - I've done my best to evaluate these fairly but I'm only human so errors are possible and even likely. And so with that, on with the results....

Rightside UpUpside Down
Kingfisher1.5 oz$27.541st (6)2nd (11)
Little Hawk MkII1.0 oz$25.752nd (8)3rd (12)
C-Vane3.8 oz$35.003rd (12)1st (4)
Davis Black Max1.4 oz$23.194th (14)4th (13)

As you see from our comparison, the Little Hawk MKII comes in as the lightest and the Black Max is the cheapest. Responsiveness was measured in two ways: with the wind indicator mounted right-side up (arm on the bottom) and right-side down (with the arm on top to protect the indicator from being flicked into the water by a passing mainsheet). Right-side up the Kingfisher and Little Hawk MKII faired well, but when they were upside down the C-Vane was clearly the favorite. The C-Vane was still right-side up though, as its design naturally sheds sheets, adding a little wrinkle to the results.

How We Tested (Warning Science "ish" Content)

To determine responsiveness I mounted all the wind indicators to the mast and tied it up inside the shop. Unfortunately, the purchase request I submitted for a wind tunnel with our Accounting Department was still "pending", so we had to make do with a fan.

I turned on the fan and slowly walked towards the mast, noting which indicators began to respond first. I rotated their positions on the mast and performed the test over a total of 4 times. I then repeated the tests with the wind indicators mounted upside down - except for the C-Vane which I left right side up because, once again, it naturally protects the vane from outside sheets.

Rob "supervising" in the wind indicator testing lab.

After performing all the tests, I added up the scores for each wind indicator and determined rankings with the lowest total being ranked 1st. In parentheses next to the rankings on the chart above you can see the total score which gives you an idea how where they all compare to each. The C-Vane was clearly dominant in the upside down test with the rest sharing fairly similar results. Right side up both the C-Vane and the Black Max were a step behind the Hawk and Kingfisher.

The wind indicators started to move at around 0.5 knots of wind and all of them had responded by the time the wind speed was just 1.4 knots, so this wasn’t exactly a high wind velocity test. I expect that responsiveness becomes less relevant the windier it gets so if you often sail where it’s windy it may not be much of a consideration for you.

Right Side Up or Upside Down?

The argument about which way to mount your wind indicator is older than time itself (aka, Steve in Customer Service). Much like putting jam or butter on your toast, this is a matter of personal preference.

As evidenced by our tests, right side up gives you increased responsiveness - this makes a lot of sense because that’s how these wind indicators were built to operate. The loss of responsiveness when the indicator is upside down seems to directly correlate to the construction of the vane itself (discussed in greated detail with each indicator below) and you'll need to decide whether decreased performance in light air is worth the decreased possession of the indicator itself. If you really are worried about losing your indicator, mounting it upside down is probably going to be a better, more cost effective option for you than just avoiding other boats and starting in the 3rd row. Then again, Chris likes to start 3rd row all the time, and he doesn't sail with a wind indicator at all.

Anyways, here's a closer look at each of the four wind indicators with some brief conclusions about each.

Little Hawk MKII

Vane: The Little Hawk Mark II vane mounts on a pin shaped bearing and is held on with a small black plastic bracket that snaps into the base of the vane. One downside of this system is that I expect it's difficult to make these plastic pieces exact enough that the weight rests on the bearing and not the plastic bracket. Since I don’t have x-ray vision I can’t tell if it’s really resting on the pin bearing inside the vane or not so your guess is as good as mine.

Mounting Bracket: The Hawk mount has a plastic bracket with a loop of shock cord that wraps around the back of the mast and hooks onto the other side of the bracket. You can see in the pictures above the small orange plastic tab that hooks it together(the middle picture is the “locked” position). The two black tabs are there to prevent the tab from flipping off through accidental contact.

The Good
The Little Hawk MKII is the lightest wind indicator of the four at only 1.0 oz and it's also fairly inexpensive. It's also pretty responsive, finishing a close 2nd in our right side up test.

The Bad
I think the Hawk has the worst mounting bracket of the group - the elastic attachment is the least secure of all the brackets and the material of the bracket itself is made of a fairly lightweight plastic. Overall it does not feel as secure or as durable as the other indicators. It also has a lot of wobble on the mast because the bracket is fairly narrow – if you tap on the wind vane it will bounce up and down more than the others.

The Little Hawk MKII is a very lightweight, low cost wind indicator that is pretty responsive. You pay a price for the weight savings (which honestly are negligible) in terms of durability though. Overall I think this is probably my least favorite of the group.

Davis Black Max

Vane: The Davis Black Max vane spins on plastic bearings both above and below the vane. When right side up it sides on three small points for lower friction. This vane is the only one that comes already assembled and the top cap that holds it on feels very secure.

Mounting Bracket: The bracket on the Black Max is fairly sturdy plastic with some extra vertical tabs to keep it more secure on the mast. The shock cord clip hooks into a J-shaped loop in the bracket and the shock cord itself has an adjustable toggle. It allows you to tighten the shock cord to compensate for elongation with age or if you just want the bracket to be tighter.

The Good
The Black Max, the least expensive of the lot, has a solid, secure bracket that can be tightened down. The wind vane has a bearing on both the top and bottom making it nearly as effective upside down as it is right side up. The Black Max also comes assembled in a plastic tube that you can store the vane in to prevent damage from sitting in the pocket of a blade bag. According to Davis the tube is “unbreakable” – honestly, it says that on the package. While I think that’s perhaps an overstatement it is really useful.

The Bad
The Black Max is not the most responsive wind vane we tested. It was the least responsive of the group in the right side up position and while it’s fairly comparable to the others upside down it still finished last in that test as well.

The Black Max is a great value – it is pretty durable and it while it’s not very responsive it is about par with everything but the C-Vane if you mount it upside down. The storage tube is actually a very useful accessory since the indicators can be damaged in your blade bag if you’re not careful. All in all I think it’s a solid vane for a great price especially if you live in a windy area where the lack of responsiveness won't matter as much.


Vane: The Kingfisher vane sits on a pin type bearing similar to the Hawk. Unlike the Hawk the vane snaps into place so that it actually rests on the bearing itself making it more responsive than the Hawk. The vane itself is shorter than the rest and the tail portion is made of a fairly thin plastic.

Mounting Bracket: The Kingfisher mounts similarly to the Hawk with a little toggle on the end of the shock cord that wraps around the mast. I like the Kingfisher system much better – it really snaps into place (middle picture) and definitely feels secure once closed. The plastic of the bracket itself feels fairly durable as well.

The Good
The Kingfisher was the most responsive of the group when mounted right side up. Even upside down it still finished second although it was a ways behind the C-Vane. Based on our test data and just observing it moving outside in the breeze I think this is the most responsive wind indicator of the group. The mounting bracket also has a solid snap closure.

The Bad
The vane on the Kingfisher does seem to live up to the durability of the bracket. Rob was “testing” it for durability by tossing it up in the air and the tail actually broke off when it hit the ground from about 4-5 ft. Obviously it’s not getting thrown up in the air on the water but I definitely think if you aren’t careful on land it might break easier than the others.

The Kingfisher is my recommended vane if responsiveness is your primary concern. It’s definitely the most responsive and as long as you are careful with it on land I think it’s built strong enough to hold up to most things you can throw at it. If you generally sail in light and shifty conditions I think this vane is a great choice.


Vane: The C-Vane is obviously unique in many respects. The vane itself rests between the two ends of the metal support. There is a black plastic clip that connects the top and bottom supports and keeps them at the right width. I spoke with C-Vane creator Ryan Minth and he said the proper position for the clip is just aft of the vane - that way it keeps the distance at the tip at the proper 2.36 mm. The vane then sits in the gap between the metal rods and it actually spins on a point that's molded inside the plastic vane. Ryan says this creates a very low friction vane because there's no need for a plastic clip or retaining device that adds friction. The vane itself is also individually replaceable.

The C-Vane bracket is noticeably more substantial than the other indicators in our group. The bracket is about twice as tall as the others and is held on with a Velcro strap. The bracket itself is made of a flexible rubber material that is an upgrade from the original C-Vane bracket material. I've spoken with several people who had the bracket break on the original design (it used to be made of stiffer plastic that was somewhat brittle) but the more flexible design now offered is much more durable. The Velcro strap is available as a replacement part.

The Good

The C-Vane is extremely durable - the bracket is very strong and the Velcro should hold up better than the shock cord on the other designs. The availability of replacement parts is also nice. The upside down responsiveness test shows that if you're worried about mainsheets hooking your indicator the C-Vane is the clear choice. Ryan told me that in the next model they are looking to refine the balance of the vane and use a more durable vane material developed by golf tee manufacturers - I can't hit a driver to save my life so I don't see a lot of tees but it sounds like a promising improvement.

The Bad

The C-Vane is the most expensive wind indicator as well as the heaviest. The extra ounce or two is hardly worth crying over though since that's probably worth a couple spoonfuls of water in the cockpit. This vane wasn't the most responsive compared to the other wind indicators in the right side up test.


The C-Vane is my recommendation for the best all around wind indicator. It's only real downsides are being slightly less responsive and more expensive. The expense is mitigated by the availability of replacement parts and I think once there's any real amount of wind the responsiveness isn't as much of a factor. The real stand out quality of the C-Vane is it's durability - the mounting bracket is far superior to the rest. Particularly if you sail in an area where it's generally blowing more than 10 knots the C-Vane is definitely going to be the way to go. If you're tired of buying new indicators because you keep losing them off the boat this is also probably a good way to go.

Ok, so once I get a wind indicator how do I use it?

I talked with local Laser sailor Luke who works for Farr Yacht Design so I figure he knows a thing or two about wind and making boats go fast (he also happens to be very fast in the Laser). I asked Luke about how he uses his wind indicator and he offered a couple useful suggestions.

Both Ryan Minth and Luke mount their wind indicators so that they're right in the line of sight between you and the waves in front of the boat. This can enable you to trim your sail without having to look up so you can stay focused on working the waves.

Luke also suggested that one of the best uses of the wind indicator is downwind both to determine whether you are by the lee or not as well as keep track of small shifts. I find that it's easy to miss out on a shift and be sailing 5-10 degrees to high or low of by the lee because the feel of the boat remains similar. Having a wind indicator can help you catch those shifts and react faster to them. It's also useful in light conditions upwind when Luke says the tell tales don't respond as quickly as the wind indicator does to small shifts.

What does this all mean?

I think having a wind indicator on the Laser is definitely a benefit and will help you improve your sailing if you don't already have one. If you do have one inevitably it will need replacement and I think the C-Vane is a great choice particularly because of it's durability. The Kingfisher is a solid choice as well if responsiveness is paramount to you, but really only if you mount it right side up.

As always if you have any comments, questions or suggestions leave us a comment or send us an email.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

APS/Spinsheet Chesapeake Racer Profile: Dr. Walker

The following is the August APS Chesapeake Racer Profile, a monthy hi-light in Spinsheet Magazine (written by Molly Winans):

When Annapolis sailor Dr. Stuart Walker read C. Stanley Ogilvy’s Thoughts on Small Boat Racing, he was struck by a line at the end that said the best way to learn about racing was to write a book about it. So, he did. Nine of them.

Born in Brooklyn and raised mostly outside Larchmont, NY, Walker started sailing at the age of 12 on his father’s Q Class sloop, on which he and his father cruised as far as Nantucket and raced on Long Island Sound with various clubs. During World War II when he was in medical school at New York University, Walker bought an old Star and raced her. His top opposition was the world-renowned boat builder and racer Skip Etchells, “who always won,” says Walker. “Occasionally, I got close.”

In the same time period, he met Frances, who not only became his wife 64 years ago, but also agreed to spend her honeymoon sailing on his Star around Fisher’s Island and into Peconic Bay (NY)—a feat for which the groom’s father noted that she was either “the dumbest or the bravest girl he had ever met.”

While in Japan in the Army, using “struts from the Bachelor Officer Quarters fence and plywood from an assault boat we commandeered,” Walker built a Penguin, which he sailed and carted around on a Jeep trailer. Upon his return to the States in 1952, he requested an Army post near a sailing center and landed in Annapolis, where his Penguin habit evolved into a love of International 14s. In 1957, he founded Severn SA (SSA) and was commodore for five years.

The highlight of his 75-year sailing career remains being the first American to win the Prince of Wales Cup in an I-14 in Lowestoft, England in 1964. Walker was also the first American to win the Princess Elizabeth Trophy in an I-14 in Bermuda. In the 1968 Olympic Games in Acapulco, Mexico, he was the tactician on the U.S. 5.5 Meter and the team meteorologist. He has also raced on Ynglings, International One-Designs, Etchells, and Chesapeake Bay log canoes. In Solings, he has won the Great Lakes Championships (1973), Atlantic Coast Championships (1974), Australian Gold Cup (1982), European Lakes Cup (1988), and Jungfrau Trophy (Switzerland 1984-85-88) among other regattas.

Over the span of 35 years—with 25 of them being since his retirement from pediatric medicine and teaching—he has won the Soling National Championships in the United States (2003) and eight such titles abroad in Switzerland, the Netherlands, Austria, Hungary, and Scotland (2007). He will travel to Toronto, Canada in September to compete in the Soling World Championships.

As well as judging, umpiring, and acting as Senior Race Officer for a wide variety of major events in many classes, Walker has been writing a monthly column for Sailing World since 1962 and has contributed to multiple international sailing publications from Yachts and Yachting and Australian Sailing to Soling and International 14 class bulletins.

Longtime crew and illustrator of each of Walker’s books, Tom Price describes his friend as “one of those larger than life figures who you leave feeling lucky to have known. I could write a book about Stu.” We wish he would.

SpinSheet: Who were your mentors or influences in sailing?
Paul Elvstrøm, who convinced me to get a Soling. I’ve admired particularly Buddy Melges, Lowell North, and Bill Abbott, who is so at ease with competition.

Who are your best sailing buddies?
Tom Price (pictured above racing Stars with Dr. Walker in July off Gibson Island), Bruce Empey and his son Owen, and Doug Loup.

What is your favorite place on the Chesapeake?

The Wye River. We used to take the I-14s there just to go sailing.

What kind of music do you listen to?
1940s swing. Benny Goodman and the like.

What do you like to read?

I’m re-reading the Patrick O’Brien Aubrey/Maturin series. I read mostly historical novels, history, and biography.

What piece of advice would you give a young racing sailor?
I’d give the same advice I heard Buddy Melges give a journalist who asked the same question in Australia at the America’s Cup: “Marry smart.”

Do you have a sailing disaster story to share?
I sank a Soling right off SSA. We were racing in winter in a strong northeaster and broached. Two hours later when I was home, I got a call from Seattle saying, “I understand you sank your boat.” Bad news travels fast.

What gear do you depend upon?
Henry Lloyd foul weather gear and Dubarry boots.

Do you have any sailing pet peeves?
The racing rules. To use fewer words, they keep making them more complicated. They were simpler 15 years ago before they simplified them. These days, there are three groups: those who race; those who manage races; and those who write the rules. Unfortunately, they are no longer the same people.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Team APS Rocks Thursday Night Racing in Annapolis

Those of you who have been following the Stern Scoop have probably heard us talk about Thursday night sailing here in Annapolis. It's organized by J-World and they hold races for J/22s, J/24s and J/80s starting at 6:30 during the summer.

Last night Rob and I were supposed to go sailing on a J/22 but the vessel was in need of a little repair work that we just weren't able to get done in time. In lieu of racing we took out our boss' powerboat to watch and film some of the action - along with maybe a little bit of heckling our friends.

We had 6 APS employees out racing with photo evidence to prove it below. They got two races off in a light 5-7 kt breeze and it was a beautiful night to be out on the water.

Sailing the J/80 Spank Me were customer service reps Warren and Aaron along with newly promoted Katie who is now working upstairs with Chris on the website. They had a great night rounding this mark in 2nd as they hoist the kite. Aaron made sure to let everyone know the next morning that Katie popped him in the jaw during this hoist - apparently there's a little tough love to be found between the crew of Spank Me.

Jarrett from the rigging department sails with the J/24 Milenium Falcon. Jarrett has told me that this crew is faster than a ship in hyperspace on the Kessel Run (my words, not his) and they sure look like it here.

Mike from our fulfillment department sailed on the boss's J/22 doing bow. On the way back in, they let him drive for a little bit, and he passed this pressure filled test with flying colors - don't worry Kyle that streak down the port side will buff right out.

Last but not least, the Stern Scoop's very own Chris regularly does bow on the J/22 Handbasket and last night he was showing his graceful prowess on the pointy end as usual. Honestly though he doesn't actually fall off the boat that often, but luckily we were there with camera in hand to document this for everyone. I've even ordered a life size blow up to mount on the wall above his desk.

A night of sailboat race spectating wouldn't be complete with some video commentary so here is a clip of the 2nd J/22 windward mark rounding with some color commentary from Rob and yours truly. I really feel like Rob has a potential career in on the water commentary but he may not be getting off to the right foot with some of the others in the industry...

Thursday, July 16, 2009

APS's Civil War... in Lasers. Part II.

Sunday, July 12th (not the 13th -- thanks Ellie), 2009 started off as a day of great promise for decent wind and a good day of Laser sailing. James, Aaron and I all made our way down to the Severn Sailing Association at the crack of 9:30am to rig up and take on the second leg of their Summer Laser Series.

For those of you who follow the blog with any regularity, the first leg of the series found Team APS' James, Chris (aka, me) and Aaron sitting overall in 2nd, 3rd and 4th respectively after the first day.

With that good start to the series in mind, we set off on Sunday to fight it out with 19 other boats in an encouraging 10 knots of breeze and hope in our hearts...

That hope, that breeze and the will of Aaron and I to ever sail on the Chesapeake again shut down shortly thereafter.

The Race Committee set up just off of Whitehall Bay, which is just a little south of the Bay Bridge. The breeze was holding in there when we first got to the race course, but there were some pretty significant shifts. Right before the first scheduled gun, the wind clocked about 70-degrees and up went the most used flag in Annapolis sailing, the AP.

When the breeze finally settled in from an ENE direction (a wind direction that's rarely useful without a named storm causing it...) we found ourselves in a dying breeze with about a knot and a half of current against us.

It's really all downhill from there -- in the end, I had a couple of results with ones and twos in them. Unfortunately, both numbers were in the same race (that means I got a 12th, for those of you playing the Stern Scoop home game). Aaron and I had so much fun that we basically beelined it to Davis' Pub to start drinking afterwards.

Speaking of Aaron, it would appear that he had an equally frustrating day when looking at his wrap-up of the day:
"It [edited] sucked."

For his part, James had a mixed bag of a day -- 8, 3, 6. It was enough to keep him in second overall with 22 points overall. Unlike us normal sized folk, James' hunger riddled body loved the light stuff. There was one leeward mark rounding where James, Aaron and I rounded together (in that order) -- James was hiking while Aaron and I were up against the boom with our weight over the daggerboard. I can't look at a sandwich anymore without thinking that it's just another .05 knots that I'm losing to James.

Despite the poor day, Aaron and I sit tied for fourth overall with over twice as many points (50) but still have a shot at third. We technically have a shot at second too... if James doesn't show up.

Congratulations are in order to James and local Bob Tan, who have spoiled overall leader Brady White's picket fence attempt. Brady has just eight points in six races. I guess he deserves congratulations too, but since he's kind of embarrasing me out there that's just not going to happen. I really can't wait for him to come into the shop and pick up a copy of "The Laser Book" from our Sale Rack to give to us...

For a look at the overall scoring, clicky clicky.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Video Blog/Hands On: Hutchinson & Skelly Hiking Belts

It happens every time there's going to be a crossing situation, a windward mark that's going to be tough to get around, or when that last little bit of speed is needed. It comes from somewhere in the back of the boat, where the instruction being given probably won’t apply to the person giving it -- "HIKE [EXPLITIVE(S) OF CHOICE]!!!"

And with that kind, well-thought out request, you impale yourself with even more force onto the 1/4” piece of wire or Spectra in front of you to squeeze every bit of juice from the sails and foils.

To outsiders, this practice must seem ridiculous – and I think 98% of us would agree that hiking, for lack of a better word, sucks. The remaining 2% of you are out of your damn minds.

Anyone who’s done it knows that serious hiking hurts. It leaves bruises and marks that conjure images of medieval torture or an alien abduction. It leaves you exhausted, never seems to end and rarely seems to be enough for the slave driver in the back of the boat. But hiking is a necessary evil of our sport and when the conditions warrant hiking, it’s the only way to get you around the course with any speed or success. And since we’re all out there to beat the other guy…

[side note]
I often get the feeling that skippers/owners turn a blind eye to the discomfort of hiking and the subsequent benefits they can gain from more effectively moving their crew’s weight outboard. Worries about the weight of a backpack or getting every possible inch of a halyard stripped to minimize the weight aloft often trump the poorly taped on pool noodle or 15-year-old padding that covers their lifeline.
[/side note]

So what’s a crew to do? Well, we have three products here at APS that we know will take the sting out of sailing – hiking belts. Hiking belts provide a level of padding and protection from the lifelines that is really unmatched by any other product on the market. There are three options from two companies right now: the Skelly Hiking Belt and the Hutchinson Sports Leg Savers in a Max Padding and Brief Cut.

The Skelly Belt is a great option for hiking off of wire lifelines. The exterior of the belt is made up of 9-10 individual crescent-shaped segments of PVC, stacked side by side, that cup the wire as you press against it. By stacking the segments side by side, this allows the belt to more accurately conform to your waist. On the opposite side of the belt, they have put about a quarter-inch of padding to cushion your weight. The belt has an adjustable buckle for fit and two padded neoprene leg/crotch straps that keep the belt in place.

The Good
The belt really does a nice job of conforming to wire with the crescent shape of the exterior. Does a good job of spreading the load out on your mid-section as opposed to point loading everything. The construction is solid for hard wear – the waist buckle is beefy and the protective material on the outside is really quite durable. The design is compact and doesn’t limit mobility in any way.

The Bad
The neoprene leg straps are a little narrow and can occasionally work themselves into an “uncomfortable” position for guys. A little more padding against on the interior would have been nice. Due to size, use appears to be limited to wire lifelines; while it would probably provide some protection on larger padded lifelines, it’s not ideal.

This is a great option for PHRF boats where wire lifelines are the norm; especially on the smaller boats where hiking really makes a huge difference. Any discomfort that comes from the leg straps or light padding is overshadowed ten-fold by the comfort of not hiking on a thin little piece of wire. If you order three or more of these belts at the same time, APS will take an additional 10% off the retail price.


The Hutchinson Sports Leg Savers offer a greater range of protection for hiking, making them ideal for more than just wire. These are great for boats like the Melges 24 that have wider lifelines for hiking, giving you no excuse but to have every ounce of weight on the rail.

There are two versions of Leg Savers – the Max Padding and the Brief, with the biggest difference being the overall size and coverage. As you can see on the image to the right, I’ve superimposed the Brief Leg Saver on top of the Max Padding option (I outlined the Brief in red to make it easier to see…). The Max Padding Leg Saver sits just a little lower above your waist but extends well down your legs compared to the Brief. It’s also just a hair or two wider.

Each puts right around 1-1/4” of padding between you and the lifeline. Each has a stretchy/elastic belt at the waist and leg straps that are Velcro adjustable – the width of the belt/straps on the Brief is 3” wide while the Max Padding’s measure in around 6”. The Max Padding has a built in knife sheath on the back of the belt; this isn’t standard on the Brief.

Both options have facilities to insert battens to give even more support. These battens are made of a high-strength plastic and sit in line with your legs – they are flexible enough to cup around the lifeline while still being stiff enough to help reduce fatigue.

To get the definitive word on the intended weight range and uses for the different sizes, I shot the creator of the Leg Savers, Brian Hutchinson, an email. Here are the highlights:

- I recommend the "Max" to sailors heavier than 65 kgs (approx. 143 lbs.) who sail on single-lifeline boats. This seems to be the weight that requires the extra padding that comes in the Max, and sailors of this weight or heavier are able move this padding around without much trouble.

- Sailors of double-lifeline boats and single lifeline sailors lighter than 65 kgs usually prefer the lighter "Brief" design for the mobility it allows and the aesthetically pleasing "Itallian cut". Sailors of double-lifeline boats tend to sit on the deck more and thus load the lifeline less. This, along with the lower clearance, begged for a smaller Leg-Saver design. Most of the larger crew (100 kg 220 lbs and above), tend to like the "Brief" design, too. For many of the big crew it is already a challenge to move from side to side, so they are mainly interested in protecting the skin.

- … if I anticipate a long slog to weather on the Mackinaw or Annapolis-Newport Race, I would certainly slip a pair of plastic battens in the front of my Leg-Savers.

The Good
Versatile design works for any type of forward hiking – can be used on virtually any boat. Lots of padding to really separate you from the lifeline. Battens definitely help to reduce fatigue and put something else between your body and contact points with the lifeline. Firm design, but pliable enough to conform and move with you as you bend, move around. Cordura outer surface provides plenty of long lasting protection for your investment in these hiking belts. Available in three sizes for different body types.

The Bad
The Max Padding is a little cumbersome; admittedly, not so much that you won’t be able to perform a task, but you notice that it’s there when you’re moving around. Gets in the way of “the call of nature”. Both sizes can get a little bulky when you have full foulies on. Yeah, we're reaching a little for stuff to put here...

Once again, the good vastly outweighs the bad. The Hutchinson Sports Leg Savers make forward hiking incredibly easy on any boat, giving you a huge advantage over the competition. I’ll be honest, we struggled a little to find things to put in “The Bad” section for these hiking belts – they really do the job.

To give you a better look at these hiking belts in action, we got Ian out of the storefront and brought him over to Eastport Yacht Club to do some hiking on a Melges 24 and a PHRF boat with wire lifelines. If you’re thinking about these belts, it’s a must see – if you’re not thinking about these belts, Ian is a clown in a few spots and we made him hike off of bare wire at one point, still making it a must see.

A special thanks to Henry Filter (owner of “Wild Child”) and Greg Robinson (owner of “Incognito”) for letting us use their boats for the demonstration.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Happy Thistle of July!

This past weekend, I sailed the Pymatuning Independence Day Regatta on the Thistle I'm sailing with this summer. It's my friend Brent's boat - a wood hull # 1115 and we're sailing a number of regattas this summer getting ready for Nationals at Cedar Point in August. Our forward Gina is working here at APS for the summer.

We all had a great time at the event. It's a great club on a really beautiful lake in way western Pennsylvania (we actually drove into Ohio briefly because we missed the turn for the club which is only about 1/2 mile east of the border). There were 41 Thistles sailing as well as Lightnings, J22s, Highlanders and Fireballs. Everyone at the Pymatuning Yacht Club was super friendly and helpful.

The conditions were perfect on Saturday and we sailed 3 races. The breeze was about 10-12 kts out of the North which is the right direction on the fairly narrow and long lake. Sunday races were canceled due to a lack of wind. Brent wanted to practice in the light air so we went out and sailed briefly but ended up paddling in.

We struggled in the first race of the regatta because we let ourselves get bounced around the middle too much. After the first race we came in for lunch which was a pleasant bit of relaxation on a beautiful day. We regrouped a little and had a discussion about how sailing up the middle of the course wasn't necessarily the best thing to do on a lake.

After refining our lake racing strategy races 2 and 3 went better for us as we finished 10th and 12th which we were happy with. We were in the top 10 at a couple marks and lost a couple boats each race on some shifts upwind.

We ended up 17th for the regatta - we would have liked to have been in the top 10 but with only 3 races the fleet was pretty close together and every point counted. Brent Barbehenn won with a solid 1, 1, 2 sailing with Jeff & Keven Eiber. I've sailed against Brent a lot and he's fast all the time but seems to get even faster in shifty lake conditions. I don't understand how he does it.

Regatta winners Jeff Eiber, Keven Eiber & Brent Barbehenn (left to right)

We all had a great time at the event. Everyone camped out at the club which was really awesome and there was a great party Saturday night. It was a beautiful place to sail and to hang out so thanks to the Pymatuning Yacht club for having us.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Hands On: Holt Nautos XR Clutch

New from Holt Nautos is their line of XR rope clutches. It's available in two sizes and features an innovative double action cam system that offers greater leverage for both opening and closing the clutch. Both sizes (creatively named the XR1 & XR2) are available in singles, doubles, triples, and quads. Here are the basic specs for these clutches:

ClutchLine Diam.SWLHole SpacingWeight
XR11/4" - 1/2" (6 - 12 mm) 1,653 lbs (750 kgs)3 - 1/8" (79 mm)13.3 oz
XR23/8" - 9/16" (10 - 14 mm)2,645 lbs (1,200 kgs)2 - 3/4" (70 mm)1 lb 4.9 oz

Looking at the specs, the first nice feature of these clutches is that Holt matched the hole spacing on the XR to that of the comparable Spinlock clutch. So, the Spinlock XAS matches up with the Holt XR1 and the Spinlock XTS matches up with the Holt XR2 -- by doing this, it's really no problem to swap out an old Spinlock for one of the new Holt clutches. Replacing a Lewmar clutch is possible with their smaller D1 clutch as the XR1 matches up, but the hole spacing is different between the larger D2 and the XR2.

Both the Holt XR and the Spinlock XAS and XTS clutches use a similar cam system to jam and hold the line (the Lewmar D1 & D2 both use a "falling" domino system); however, the manner in which the cam pivots up and down is where the Holt clutch looks to carve its niche'. The Holt clutches feature a unique double-action cam system that provides more leverage for the user to release the clutch under load.

Here's a rundown of how the Holt Nautos XR works, referencing the image above:
Position #1: The clutch is closed and locked.
Position #2: The handle has been lifted but the clutch is still engaged - it's from this position that you gain your leverage to throw the handle forward.
Position #3: You can see the handle is vertical but the cam is still mostly in the down position. It is at this stage that the line will release under serious load but not under light loading.
Position #4: The clutch is fully open and the line slides through easily.

One thing that we did notice was that the line will run in Position #3. When testing the XR clutches, we mounted them to our rigging bench and loaded up a line with a 6 : 1 purchase system. With the purchase system loaded up, we opened the clutch to Position #3. This caused the the line to jump forward by about a foot, causing the purchase system to go slack. When we tensioned the system up again, the line continued to slowly drag through indicating that the line would be on the run if it was constantly loaded.

Functionally, these Holt clutches operate with cam system similar to the Spinlock -- both rely on a pivoting cam on the top and a fixed plate on the bottom of the clutch. You can see in the picture above the two cam surfaces and the insides of the XR1 clutch. Both clutches are easily disassembled by removing the 5 bolts holding them together. The clutches can also be side mounted by using longer bolts in those same holes - the bolt holes have raised edges to allow the clutch body to sit flat against a deck so no extra parts or adapters are needed.

While doing a little initial research the XR, I called and asked the folks at Holt Nautos for a little history/inside information about the development of the XR clutch. They basically said that a lot of time was put into engineering a clutch that would be kind on the rope while providing solid holding power. In other obvious news, the Earth is round and blondes really do have more fun...

Anyways, the Holt XR clutch goes about accomplishing these goals in two different ways. First, the upper cam on the XR2 is channeled to provide better grip without point loading the top of the line. It should be noted that the XR1 has a standard, non-channeled cam -- the loads are lower and lines are smaller on the XR1, so the concern of point loading is slightly reduced.

The other "line friendly" feature of the XR clutch is the double action of the cam, as it greatly reduces line slip when it's initially loaded. But... there's a catch. To take full advantage of this feature, you have to "double pump" the clutch handle when closing it to get the maximum hold out of the cam. The "double pump" causes the cam, which rotated down at an angle, to lift up just a little bit when you move the handle back up. When you put the handle back down, it drops the cam down vertically, reducing the cam set that occurs when the line is loaded up. Since it's a little hard to explain, I've illustrated what I mean below:

So, when I tested both the XR1 and XR2 clutches using 5/16" Paraloc Pihrana line, I loaded it with the 6:1 purchase we had set up. When you first close the XR clutch from Position #1 to Position #3 you can see that the cam pivots from the upright position all the way down to the closed position. When in Position #3 we found that, on average, the line slipped about 5/16 of an inch on both the XR1 and XR2 when it was loaded up.

Again, this is pretty common on cam clutches, because the force of closing the clutch never loads and fully rotates the cam -- the cam only fully loads and rotates when the line loads up, causing the cam to rotate down and back even further before getting a firm hold. While the cam is rotating to its full grip position, the line is allowed to slip.

However, when the clutch was given an extra pump of the handle (Position #4) and is then closed again (Position #5), the cam lifted up, rotated backwards and came back down in its fully loaded position. This elimated the time where the line is allowed to slip while the cam sets and thus line slipage was reduced to only 1/8 of an inch on the XR2 and 1/16 of an inch on the XR1.

This really is the biggest advantage offered by the Holt XR clutches. When tailing your jib halyard you can close the clutch to Position #3, winch it up to where you want it, do the "second pump" and then take the halyard off the winch and be confident it's going to stay there.

So, in short what do we think?
The Good
The ability to prevent halyard slip when initially loaded is a new idea - in my experience cam style Spinlock clutches will always slip a bit when the line loads up. Obviously we're not talking about a lot but I've certainly had times when I forget about that fact and then have to grind it up a bit more.

I also think the opening mechanism does offer increased leverage in comparison to other clutches. Position #2 in either diagram presents you with a solid surface to get some force into opening the clutch.

The Bad
I'm not 100% sold on the double-action opening system. You could really chew a halyard up if you only opened the clutch to Position #3 in either diagram, as we noted that the line will start to run if its loaded.

More importantly though, I have concerns about the handle locks. On the XR2 the handle locks down with the barely visible (look hard...) rounded nubs on the side of the handle tip and on the XR1 the handle locks into the little red plastic tab.

These handle locks are important because if the handle isn't locked down, the clutch may pop open if you tail a line through it. I was told by Holt Nautos that replacement parts are available, including that little red tab, which is good because I don't think that piece will last the life of the clutch.

Also, when the handle is locked down we found it difficult to open at weird angles, such as from an arms length and reaching behind our back (similar to the position a pit person would be in while trying to open a clutch from the rail in preparation for a rounding).

Testing Methods
We mounted both an XR1 and a XR2 to a 2 X 4 and put it in a vice on our rigging bench. We then put a line through the clutch and connected that to a 6 : 1 purchase. I do not have any measurements as to how much we loaded the lines using the purchase system since we don't have a load cell to measure that with. To measure the line slip I put tape on the line where it met the clutch and then pulled on the purchase as hard as I could and measured how far the tape moved from the clutch.

Since I don't know how much I was loading the line I do not know how close to the SWL of these clutches I was operating. I would imagine it was not more than half of the SWL. I also did not test the clutches at the outer edges of their line diameter range.

The new Holt XR clutches are, for the most part, similar to the Spinlock XAS and XTS models. They both are cam-based, operate similarly and share the same hole pattern. The Holt sets itself apart by offering the ability to reduce initial line slip. Additionaly, it should be kinder to lines and cause less wear -- but that can only be determined for certain with extended use and obviously varies greatly depending on how it's used, line material, etc.

If you're thinking about replacing your clutches, the Holt XR's have some pluses and minuses, just like any other clutch. Their upside is huge though, which is why I would certainly recommend using them. I can imagine that once your pit person gets used to them, they'll perform swimingly.

FYI - Holt has the clutches in-stock in the UK and we expect delivery of our stock within the next two weeks.