1 LiveBloggin' the ICW: GREAT GEAR!


Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to try a variety of gear on both my own, and others, boats. I’ve developed some favourites - gear that I respect because it does its job well, is dependable, and long lasting. This page will discuss a few of what I consider to be top notch products. They may or may not have a place on your boat  because your needs may differ, but they’re on mine to stay. Also, this page will go into the pages index here on LiveBloggin' and be updated as required.

The first depth sounder on this boat was a unit from the mid 70s which came with it. It actually worked fine for a couple of years, even after seven years on the hard. I replaced it with a Uniden depthsounder, the small 2.5” unit from West Marine. I absolutely do NOT recommend this unit. 
I had two of them fail, both for the same reason. The connection for your wiring is not marine grade - it actually rusts. Knowing this could happen, I sealed the second unit with silicone to protect it. It slowed the corrosion down but didn’t stop it and the unit ultimately failed. And if that wasn’t enough, the unit wasn’t waterproof - one damp and foggy morning, the glass was covered in condensation.
Points however to West Marine, who made good on the unit. Since I already had a 2.5” hole in the cockpit for it, I purchased the Hawkeye depthsounder - admittedly with some reservations - mostly wondering if the units were from the same manufacturer.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. For about ten dollars more, this unit is an entirely different beast. The wiring connections are much better, the system to fasten it to your boat simpler and more robust and the unit itself works much more dependably. Couldn’t be happier with it. And if you want a factory reconditioned unit, you're talking way way wayyyyy under $100. This is a good deal.
For those who want it, this depthsounder also has an optional temperature sensor. I just stick my toe in - or used to, more on that later!
The only two issues I would comment on here would be that it would be nice to have a depth offset with more flexibility. I prefer my depthsounders to show true depth from the waterline so that they match what I see on the chart (hopefully!). This unit’s offset won’t quite get me there, but I’ve learned to live with adding one foot to the depths shown. The other issue is that there is no way to turn down the light for night use, and it’s a fairly bright light. Again, not a huge issue, but it would be nice.
Shortly after purchasing this unit, I came across two other items from this same manufacturer. Although I was initially skeptical of one of them, I’ve grown to love them both.
It's a portable depthsounder, ok?
No impish remarks here!
The first item was a handheld depthsounder. If you’ve ever gone aground and were unsure of how to get clear, you’ll love having one of these. Hop into the dinghy, and scout around taking soundings until you find a path back to deep water. After all, the water was deep enough for you to get there, right? 
I haven’t had to do that for Gypsy Wind yet, but I’ve done it for others, leading them out of their misery. Best part is, this trick is always good for a couple of beers from the ‘rescuee’!
If I want to know the temperature of the water, this unit will give it to me, in °C or °F. It even comes with a very bright LED light - and I do mean very bright - and can be used as your waterproof light for coast guard boardings. I’ve often used mine as a flashlight at night walking the dog.

The final item from NorCross was one I wasn’t quite sure of - an infrared thermometer. Over time though, it’s become an important tool. That’s because, while it doesn’t get a lot of use, when I need it, it does really important stuff for me.
Infrared thermometer
For example, every winter, we read of boats that burn at the dock, often due to the failure of the plug coming into the boat. You’ve seen these plugs, you may even have one, badly charred from overheating. If yours looks like this one, btw, you need to replace it NOW! That would be right now. Don’t take chances with your boat, or your life.
Last fall, I was concerned about the plug on one of my 30 amp cords, so I pulled out the NorCross thermometer and checked the temperature of it, using the laser beam to pinpoint where the sensor was reading. 
Yep! There was a problem. The temperature at the plug was well above the ambient temperature. Clearly, there was a problem with the cord, so I switched to my spare, which tested out fine.
The next time I used this unit was to test the wiring for my solar panels. I had been having some issues with heat in the wiring, and it turned out that the fuse holder wasn’t adequate for the power going through it. I actually had one melt on a previous installation but didn’t realize the problem at the time.
I discovered the issue by aiming the laser at the holder, which showed a temperature of 107° F, a good 25° above ambient. A larger fuse holder solved the problem.
You can also use this thermometer to check temperatures in your engine room - for example, of your mixing elbow, to make sure you’re getting adequate cooling water. Or check the temperature of the water coming out of the boat.
The most fun use of this unit? My pup loves to chase the little red laser dot around the boat! Turns out most dogs and cats love that game! Just be careful not to shine it in your dog’s eyes as, like any laser, it can blind them permanently. See http://www.hawkeyeelectronics.com/infrared-marine-thermometer/
For more information on these products, check out http://www.hawkeyeelectronics.com/

An Arch Decision...
For years, I’d wanted an arch for my boat. I’d considered building one from fibreglass à la Hunter, and decided my glass skills weren’t up to it. I priced out stainless steel arches at the boat shows and decided my earning skills weren’t high enough. 
In place, and ready to bolt in!
I finally ended up building a puny little thing using stainless tubing. It did the job, but I was never very happy with it. It looked amateurish, and I didn’t trust it in rough weather, even though I’d nailed it down to the boat every possible way I could imagine.
Then, I came across Atlantic Towers at the Toronto Boat Show. They manufacture a high quality arch for sailboats at an affordable price - we’re talking about $1500 and up. They can do this because their arches are adjustable. You get a custom fit without a custom price. Also, they build the arches with a high quality aluminum tubing. Looks just as good, it’s just as strong too, but a lot less pricey.
The big deal here is placement and measurement - you have to figure out how and where you want the arch to fit on your boat, then measure to make sure you get the correct unit. It’s not hard, but hopeless mechanical doofuses (doofi?) such as myself can get all kinds of telephone assistance from the company. We traded sketches, photos of the boat and measurements back and forth until we (Atlantic) were satisfied that we (Wally) had it right. 
It actually helps just to sit on the dock and look at your boat (with a suitable cold beverage in hand of course) and just think on it for a while before making any decisions.
Installation isn’t all that difficult. Again, if I can do it, anyone should be able to. 
Optional items include carriers for solar panels and wind generators, dinghy davits, lights and even stereo speakers. Mine has the davits, plus carriers for both my wind generator and solar panels. It’s an impressive setup when done, and I’m immensely pleased with it.
If you’ve ever thought about customizing your boat with an arch, these are the folks to talk to - http://atlantictowers.com. For more information, and photos, about these units, check out my article on them at An Arch for All Reasons, which is also reproduced at Atlantic Towers website.

Hot hot hot!
The whole point of going south in the fall is to avoid cold weather, but cold weather has a habit of sneaking up on you...even as far south as Florida if you don’t get far enough south, fast enough. This past winter of 2013/14 was a prime example - it was cold right into February in northern Florida, and we’re talking not far above freezing.
A few years ago, I got caught in some cold weather coming south, and the next year, my good friend Tory Salvia (http://thesailingchannel.tv) loaned me his Mr. Buddy. Get your minds out of that gutter now, because it’s a portable propane heater, and a great unit. I was very impressed, and considered one for Gypsy Wind.
Warm is GOOD!
However, I ultimately went with a propane ice hut heater from Procom. An ice hut heater, for my southern friends, is a heater used in an ice fishing hut in Canada. NO NO, we don’t fish for ice, we fish ON the ice through a hole cut in it - awww, never mind....you know we Canucks are crazy anyhow!
This unit is about 20 inches by 16 by 6 deep and is mounted to a bulkhead. Above it is a Caframo fan from West Marine, which blows all that lovely hot air down to the cabin sole where it can warm my toes, and my pup. It runs off a 20 pound propane tank and uses about a pound per evening, so it costs me roughly $1 per night to stay warm. The units themselves run about $125 at Harbour Freight and similar outlets.
Although it has an oxygen depletion sensor, I don’t run it while I’m sleeping, but use it simply to warm up the boat. It’s efficient enough to quickly rewarm the boat in the morning, even at near freezing temperatures, and a bit of chill reminds you of why you’re heading south in the first place.
Typically, I run below and fire this unit up just before I come to anchor, then close up the companionway. By the time I get below for a glass of wine and some nibbles, the cabin is nice and toasty! YES!
The only drawback to propane is that it’s damp heat - which is exacerbated by the cold walls of your boat. You’ll get some condensation, but it’s not a big issue and a good fan eliminates a lot of it. I can assure you it sure beats being cold. I know of several cruisers this past season who took my advice and bought either a Mr. Buddy or a propane heater...the rest spent a lot of money at marinas! And one, I believe, did both!
You'll find more about this unit at Procom.

Wirie Internet Extender
Time to stretch your neck!
Free is Good®, but sometimes, you have to spend a few bucks to get free. That’s the case with internet wireless. Most of the places you’ll stop along the waterways you’ll find a stray internet wireless signal you can make use of. Some are inadvertent, some are meant to be there. A lot of private signals are encrypted, making them useless to you without the password. In busier locations, you’ll find good signals provided by companies that sell internet services to boaters. 
Very occasionally, you’ll pick up a megayacht’s signal, but they’re always encrypted. You can always ask the yacht’s captain if he’ll provide the password. That’s how I got online in Marina Hemingway, in Havana, Cuba, where there is no internet service available.
In almost every anchorage, you’ll get a better signal with a wireless antenna, or signal booster. What these units do is pick up the signals around you and amplify them. Often, the improvement is enough to do video calls, although it’s a rare signal that will let you stream video.
The unit I use is the Wirie. It’s entirely marinized, strongly built and encased in a waterproof Otterbox. My unit, an older one, operates via a USB cable to the computer; the newer ones are wireless and even permit you to establish a hotspot for other of your devices.
It’s not cheap - but it’s been dependable and the customer service has been superb the few times I’ve needed them over the last four years. I’m quite happy recommending this unit to you. Check them out at http://wirie.com

So what's with the title of this post? I won't hesitate to name products I don't trust, or have discovered I cannot depend on, or that are just essentially worthless. Such as that Uniden depthsounder. Despite my complaints to the company, I never heard back from them. So I not only got rid of the unit, I also got rid of the Uniden VHF I owned.