I've seen the light - Imtra Gibraltar PowerLED

For a sailboat from the late 1980's, we think s/v Bearly-A-Wake still shows and performs very well. This is partly due to the builder (Catalina Yachts) choosing mostly quality fittings, and largely due to regular maintenance and upgrades. One of the original fittings that still functions just fine, but actually is showing some age is the plastic light fixture in the head. The plastic casing is turning yellow and the incandescent bulbs inside are the last remaining non-LEDs in the cabin. Time for an upgrade!

Out with the old...

I recently removed the old plastic fixture and replaced it with Imtra's Gilbraltar PowerLED dome light. I chose the warm white with red bi-color model, so it has an on/off toggle that can switch between white light and red for times when we'll want to keep our night vision intact. Also note, this fixture has double gaskets for splash protection, so you could potentially install one in the cockpit too. Hopefully those gaskets will never get tested in our head, but you never know what's flying about when you go below in snotty weather.

The first thing I noticed when removing the Gibraltar from the packaging is the polished stainless bezel and solid glass frosted lens that give this fixture a heft that's lacking in the all-plastic fixture I replaced. It looks both classy and durable, but time will have to tell.

...In with the new.

Are your pupils dilated?

Installation was simple. Just use the paper template provided by Imtra to choose an appropriate mounting location and drill the two 3/8" clearance holes for the casing nuts, splice the red and black lead wires to the feeds, and secure the fixture with the three provided screws. This particular model is flush mounted (except for the clearance holes) and comes with a soft rubber/foam gasket to help create a seal. In addition to the red positive lead and black negative lead, there is also a white (+) dimmer lead and a grey (-) dimmer lead. Since I won't be using mine on a dimmer, I didn't connect these two wires, but the option is there for those want to be able to dim the light.

I'm very happy with the new, clean look and the brighter (equal to 25W halogen) lighting in the head. I'm also pleased to now feature a cabin with all LED lighting, which will hopefully save us power and maintenance. So is there a downside to this upgrade? Only if you're on a tight budget because the Gibraltar will set you back $229 USD, though a similar G4 halogen model is available for $79 USD. Kind of makes you wish these fixtures came standard from the factory.

Want more info about these fixtures? Practical Sailor recently bestowed an Editor's Choice award to the Gibraltar PowerLED (May/June 2014).

For the specs nerds:
Warm white (2850K) / Red Bi-Color
Power Consumption: 5.5W
Voltage: 10-30VDC
Dimmer Interface: Pulse Width Modulation
Dimmensions: Trim ring = 6.5" diameter, Height = 1.42"

From Dream to Reality - The BEST Sailing Locations

"You can design and create, and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality." - Walt Disney

I've been pondering favorite sailing locations and am finding it difficult to narrow the list to a reasonable number. I'm beginning to realize that the problem isn't necessarily that the Great Lakes are an amazing cruising ground (they are!) full of "best locations", but rather that my true favorites are usually the last place we visited or the next place we're planning to sail to.

The reality is that the memories of quality family time spent getting there and being there make just about any place we've sailed part of my "best" list. Old Walt had it right when he singled out people as the key ingredient.

Still, I'll give it a shot to identify just one location in response to LOOK's quest to find the world's best/most exotic sailing locations (see here) based solely on places I've visited on my own sailboat.

The one place that stands out among all others I've visited is that one little gunkhole on the south side of South Benjamin Island. This spot is truly nature's own pink granite marina with slips carved into the rocks by 1,000's of years worth of wave action.

Hard to beat watching Hannah and Izzy scrambling on coastal boulders

Yup, South Benjamin has all the boxes checked for a classic "best sailing location":
  • Island location - Check!
  • Protected anchorage - Check!
  • Beautiful scenery - Check!
  • Crystal clear water - Check!
  • Wilderness ambience - Check!
We've spent time here on a couple of different occasions, once in the company of other cruisers and once in complete family solitude. Both were great experiences.

If you decide to visit, look for the narrow natural channel on the very south end of the island that cuts through from west to east and stay to the middle. As you wind your way through, you'll see plenty of tempting coves and nooks among the granite shoreline to tuck in for a night...or a week. Don't forget to look for the iron rungs embedded into some of the granite that can be used for a shore tie.

Welcome to the pink granite marina! That's s/v Island Bound in the background.
Hopefully we'll take s/v Bearly-A-Wake there soon too!

Once settled in, you'll enjoy hiking on the giant pink rocks, exploring the little pine forests that dot the island, and collecting wild blueberries for pancakes the next morning. I'm sure you'll also find plenty of perfect places for a sundowner campfire among the bowls in the granite. As evening falls, watch for ursine creatures coming down to the water on the main part of the island to the north and keep an eye skyward for stars so bright and clear you'd swear they're heavenly LED's.

I guess it's no surprise that I've written about South Benjamin Island several times before, so if you're planning a visit or want more details to help you decide, try here and here.

Deck Shoes or Dive Boots? Zhik ZK Boatshoe Review

If you're at all familiar with footwear for sailing from Zhik, their line of boots probably comes to mind first. But they also make a couple styles of deck shoes. I've recently been trying out the Zhik ZK Boatshoe and have to say, so far I'm impressed.

The look of the ZK Boatshoe is fairly traditional (think Sperry Topsider/Sebago Docksides), but the build and materials are unique. Instead of canvas or leather, Zhik uses perforated neoprene for the uppers. The neoprene gives a snug and spongey feel and holds your foot firmly in place over the sole, but the upper stretches and contorts to your movements. I know that sounds strange, but it's actually really comfortable. The "ZK sole" uses a proprietary rubber formula to give excellent grip in wet conditions. It's a sticky sort of feel and is really reassuring on fiberglass and smooth surfaces. I'm not sure how long they'll stay sticky, particularly if I continue wearing them on the dock and on tera firma, but so far so good.

Think of the ZK Boatshoe as a hybrid offspring of deckshoes and a dive boot. You get the timeless nautical style of the deckshoe without stiff leather. And you get the made-for-water toughness of the dive boot without the fashion disaster. Not digging the look of the ZK Boatshoe but like the idea of a super grippy sole and neoprene upper? Zhik also makes ZKGs that offer the same materials and the same sole (as far as I can tell), but with different styling.

Can't get enough of sailing shoe reviews? Try the others we've written:

Stand Firm - Sailing Shoe Reviews

A Sailor's Sole - The Original Reviews

Astral Porter Sailing Shoe Review

Three New Modern Cruising Sailboats Unlike Any Others

"Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else." - Margaret Mead

Sailors are often traditionalists and sailboats are often traditional in design. I'm perfectly ok with that. In fact, many of my favorite designs are quite traditional, often to a fault. But there are a few new cruising sailboats that have caught my eye and even made me scratch my head lately. It must be boat show season too, because I'm suddenly feeling like a sailing rag editor.

Broadblue Rapier 550
At first glance, the Rapier 550 looks similar to many other large modern cruising cats, but trust me, this one is truly unlike any other. Look just a bit closer at the exterior and you'll see sharp reverse bows. This boat actually appears to have a shorter length-on-deck than the waterline length. You'll also probably notice a smallish cockpit with a large slider door into the main cabin. What you'll notice is conspicuously absent from the exterior is much of the running rigging.

Why is it unlike any other cruising sailboat? The last sentence above should have tipped you off. All of the Rapier 550's control lines are lead to a carbon fiber compression post in the center of the main cabin. Jib sheets, traveler lines and all other sail control lines are found here on the inside and are controlled via electronic switches and winches. There's even an onboard computer system that can be set with pre-determined limits so the boat is automatically de-powered (sails let out, etc.) if the conditions become too much.

Take a look at that "helm". Is that the helm of a cruising sailboat or the driver's seat of an auto racing video game? The small Momo wheel might be cool on an 80's Supra or trendy on a souped-up Civic, but the look doesn't seem right for a sailboat. Tacking simply involves turning the wheel and pushing a button. Easy, but it barely qualifies as sailing. Toby Hodges from Yachting World said the boat felt a bit disconnected and foreign under sail. I haven't been aboard a Rapier 550, but that description seems to fit what I see.

Broadblue bills the Rapier 550 as "The Future of Performance Cruising", but to me it seems more like something a powerboater may opt for if they had a desire to cruise fast and far on a big budget. Interesting design concept, but I have a feeling that most sailors with this budget and desire for a 55-foot cat would opt for the Gunboat 55 if they want speed, and perhaps a Lagoon 560 S2 for max comfort in a production cat.

Varianta 37
Apple's iPhone has always been one of the top performing smartphones on the market. It's always sold well too, but that doesn't mean they're affordable for everyone. Enter the iPhone 5C, a model that performs nearly on par with the 5/5s, but adds value by taking away a few features like the all-alumnium body to hit a price point and meet the needs of a slightly different market. That's kind of how I think of the Varianta 37.

Varianta...Very plain, but very functional.

Based on the hull molds of the Hanse 375, the Varianta 37 is a somewhat stripped down boat that still offers good performance and most of the space and amenities required for cruising. The benefit to this approach is a new 37-footer with a Hanse pedigree/hull for a sailaway price of $132k (more for a model delivered to the U.S.). For perspective, a new Catalina 385 costs about $215k, a Bavaria 37 is about $197k, the new Hunter 37 is north of $175k, and the Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 379 is somewhere between $175k-$245k, depending on options.

Why is it unlike any other cruising sailboat? "Simple" and "agile" are words that describe the Varianta. She's also a bit plain looking with the lack of a factory cove stripe or any other hull graphics. Not only has the cove stripe been removed, but there must be other "stuff" taken off too, because the displacement is about 1,000 pounds less than the Hanse 375 she's based on. Joinery work in the cabin is at a bare minimum and the look is very white and spartan...like an Ikea showroom. In fact, you can even opt for bean bag style settees in place of traditional foam cushions in the salon. Most systems are as simple as they can possibly be while still maintaining functionality.

Aisle 7 at Ikea or main salon of the Varianta 37?

So the feature that makes the Varianta 37 unique is actually a lack of features found on more expensive boats. But don't confuse this lack of features and a lower price point with shoddy workmanship or questionable build quality. SAIL Magazine and Yachting World both report that the boat seems structurally robust and at least up to Hanse's normal reputation in the production sailboat world. While I'm guessing the Varianta will probably do well in the charter market and as a trainer for sailing schools, I'm willing to bet she'll also become a a decent option for budget minded cruisers who want a new boat, but don't want to spend the ~$200k that a 37-footer typically commands. Kinda reminds me of the kit boats that were popular with cruisers in the 1970's.

Neel 45
The popularity of multihulls among cruisers (and bareboat charters) is validated by simply scanning any popular anchorage in the Caribbean. For many, the allure of vast cabin spaces, multihull stability and the potential for monohull-besting performance is tough to pass up. Still, multihulls, whether they be catamarans or trimarans, have always seemed a bit radical.

Now along comes a large cruising trimaran that pushes the edge of what is considered radical, even by traditional multihull standards. The Neel 45 is the offspring of Eric Bruneel, former general manager for cruising catamaran giant Fountain-Pajot.

The Neel 45 flying a hull on an easy reach

Why is it unlike any other cruising sailboat? First, this is a legitimate world cruising trimaran. How many of those do you know of? Then, there's performance. The Neel 45 reportedly makes 10+ knots easily on most points of sail and averaged 230NM days on a recent transatlantic crossing. Next is the very unique look and layout. This isn't your typical v-berth forward, salon amidships and galley aft arrangement found on many cruisers.

Cabin layout for the Neel 45

The Neel 45 is a unique boat that I'm guessing will require a unique buyer. But if you value speed, and want something different from a name with a reputation (Eric Bruneel), then this might be your boat. Want to learn more? Visit Neel Trimarans.

So there you have it: a monohull, a cat, and a trimaran all breaking new ground in the cruising sailboat realm. Cool boats, but I'll still take a Hans Christian 33t and a nice starter fund for the cruising kitty.

Julbo Wave Review

"Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others." - Jonathan Swift

Sailors have great vision, speaking from a mental perspective. We see what's beyond the horizon. We see the journey being equally important as the destination.

Physical vision is important while sailing too, so it makes sense to invest in a quality pair of sunglasses that can combat the intense glare off the water and UV rays from the sky. But can't any frame and lens do that just about the same as any other? Maybe on land, but when you factor in spray and wind bombarding your eyes and the high level of activity sometimes required to sail a boat in challenging conditions, a specialized pair of sunglasses begins to make more sense.

Julbo Wave sunglasses handle the job of providing excellent optics by cutting glare and protecting your eyes extremely well, thanks to quality vented and polarized lenses that are light weight and shock resistant. That's all great, but again, there are many sunglasses on the market with good polarized lenses for use on the water.

Your humble SFLF author sporting Julbo Waves on a calm day

So what makes the Julbo Wave special?

First, there's a cephalopod. A multi-armed mollusk, you say? In name only actually, but what Julbo's Octopus lenses do uniquely feature is "NTS technology" to darken or lighten with the ambient conditions, regardless of temperature. And then Julbo adds a water-shedding hydrophobic coating that keeps spray, rain and the occasional breaking wave from blurring the lens. There's also an oil-repellent coating to prevent finger prints, something that drives me crazy with most sunglasses!

Hannah and I tried a simple splash test on the Octopus lens. They shed water nicely and dry spot free.

But wait, there's more!

The Julbo Wave has a sporty appearance out of the box, but you can change from a sporty look to sporty function by adding the protective frame skirt and floating head strap. Now you've got sunglasses with an excellent watersports lens that function more like goggles. The skirt keeps water, spray and direct wind from reaching your eyeballs, while the strap holds everything in place even during ultra-active deck work or capsizing in a small keel boat (Laser, Butterfly, etc.). And the whole package floats, which is always a good feature for sailing gear.

With skirt and strap in place, you'll look like you're ready for some serious action. Which is to say, you probably don't want that look if you're lounging at anchor or schmoozing at the marina. No worries...Simply remove the skirt/strap and you've got a stylish, if not a bit large frame that will still draw some attention.

The Wave's skirt and strap installed.

Want a pair of Wave sunglasses?

This kind of versatility doesn't come cheap at about $190 retail. Julbo also offers the Wave with a standard polarized lens (non-Octopus) for $120. Both versions comes with the snap-on frame skirt and sport strap.

Usually choosing apparel like sunglasses is a very subjective decision based on personal style preferences, but it's a no brainer for me to recommend the Julbo Wave simply because of all the function they bring for sailing and water sports.

The full package included with Julbo Wave sunglasses

Looking for addition reviews of sunglasses suitable for sailing? Here are some previous reviews we've done: