Friday, October 10, 2014

Not putting your best foot forward

Yesterday I spent a very long day at the United States Sailboat Show in Annapolis, MD. I will be writing up a complete report on that experience later on. This is just a quick set of observations  - things that I noticed and experienced that disappointed me. Here's the thing: Boats are expensive. People pay a lot of money for anything that says boat or marine because they are subjected to an extreme environment. As such, the quality of the design, parts, and manufacturing processes need to be exceptionally high. We pay more for that quality. It disappoints me when I see an otherwise beautiful and well put together vessel where there are obvious shortcuts taken. It makes me wonder what else is happening in areas that are less visible. If airplane manufacturers built planes the way some boat manufacturers operate, we would have a lot of planes falling out of the sky. And this is why I recommend that ALL vessels (used AND new) are surveyed as part of the purchase and delivery process. Your surveyor will undoubtedly find quite the list of things that need attention even on a brand new vessel.

Three things that did not impress me:

1. Shoddy workmanship: Can you spot the poor workmanship here?
Oh Beneteau... What were you thinking?
Boats move. A Lot. and because they move, objects that touch each other tend to do more than just touch. They rub. If one of those objects is harder and sharper than the other, it will wear or cut right into the other object in a heartbeat. Really, how hard would have been to run those wires inside the mast until they got below deck and put some kind of a bushing or chafe guard around the wiring coming out of the mast? I walked around a LOT of boats yesterday. Beneteau was the only manufacturer that even exposed the mast wiring in this way and it was VERY poorly executed. Additionally, the wires could be stepped on by a crew member and over time they will be damaged from being crushed. Since the visible part of the job was poorly done, one also wonders if the deck fittings were properly bedded to protect the core from water intrusion. After I spotted this problem, I made it a point to check every Beneteau on display. They were all consistently done this way. So it was clearly not a mistake or one-off done on this one boat.

2. Poor design: I don't have a photo of this one because it's hard to document it with photos. The new 2015 Hunter 31 debuted at the Annapolis show. This vessel has a unique engine arrangement. The engine is turned around backwards with the drive shaft pointing towards the bow, with a Sail Drive unit attached to it, forward of the engine. Hunter claims that the more central location of the Sail Drive gives the boat more power and maneuverability while motoring. However, there is no access to the side of the engine where the dipstick is located. You have to access it from the rear berth and reach back (forward?) along the side of the engine to get at the dipstick. History shows that poor maintenance equals early death (or rebuild) when it comes to boat engines. If you make it difficult to check the oil, fewer owners will take the time to actually do it, or any other maintenance for that matter...  I asked the sales rep about it and he said - and I quote - "We're still working on it. This is hull #1 and it's going back to the factory after the show to address that issue and a few others."  This reply blew me away. I know you want to show off your new product, but don't rush it to the show when there are still issues to fix!

3. Rude sales people: As I walked around the show, visiting boats, most of them have a sales rep on board to engage with customers. If you make eye contact with any good sales person, they will always greet you first. I stepped on to a Catalina 355 and there was a sales person sitting in the cockpit that clearly found his cell phone more interesting than greeting customers. I tried making eye contact but he wouldn't even look at me. I said "hello" - no answer. So I went about inspecting the boat on my own. After 5 or 10 minutes, I walked by him on the way off the boat. He STILL didn't acknowledge me. Good thing I wasn't in the market for a new boat. He definitely would not have gotten my business! Remember that scene in Pretty Woman where Vivian goes into the swanky clothing shops on Rodeo Drive and they wouldn't help her? Same thing here. BIG mistake. Only I'm not buying, just blogging about it!

Considering how much money is spent on marine equipment and boats in general, you would think that poor workmanship and design would be less prevalent. These were just a few examples of many. As for rude sales people, I guess there are rude people in all lines of work...

Monday, October 6, 2014

Bacon - not just for breakfast...

Back in August, on a beautiful, windy Saturday afternoon, my son Dylan and I were sailing along on a father-son weekend getaway. We were in the middle of the Chesapeake bay, tacking our way to the next night's destination when disaster struck. As I was setting the Genoa on the next tack, the sheet slipped out of my hand and in its flailing, it popped the winch handle overboard. Later on, my son admitted to me that he has never heard me say THOSE words before. <grin>  I guess he now knows what cursing like a sailor means...

Luckily, September Song came with a decent inventory of spares (courtesy of the PO) and I was able to go below and pull out the spare winch handle. However, it was a shorter handle and did not provide me with the same amount of leverage that the lost handle did. It made managing the 150% Genoa on windy days a little difficult, especially for the first mate. I started pricing replacement handles and after I saw how much new ones cost, I decided that it would be an off-season purchase. Or maybe I would ask Santa for one.

I had my eye on the Lewmar One-Touch handles but was put off by the $100+ MSRP. I have known about Bacon Sails in Annapolis, mainly for their used sail inventory but I had never spent any time in the store shopping in their consignment area. I had some spare cash and a free morning recently on a Saturday and I decided to stop by and see what they had in the way of used (previously loved) winch handles. To my surprise, I found exactly what I was looking for, laying right on top of a giant bin of winch handles: a 10" One-touch, Power Grip winch handle for $31! SCORE! Priced new at $102 on Amazon.

As I was wandering around the rest of the store, I found a wealth of used hardware, electronics, lines, canvas, railings, stanchions, spars, shackles, winches, etc. I just couldn't believe my eyes. Below are a few pictures. If you get the chance to visit, make sure you ask to see the back room. There is some amazing stuff back there!
GPS, anyone? There are stacks of used electronics!

Found my winch handle in the blue bin
 To the left you can see all of the previously loved electronics. I found a few items that really weren't that old for half the price of new. Below is the aisle where I found the winch handle - right there in the blue bin!
They have some winches...

All kinds of canvas items!

How about an anchor?


On the left you can see they have an extensive inventory of used winches. Some of them quite nice. Sorry, I did not see any wenches...

Here you can see they have shelves full of canvas items. Dodgers, biminis, sail covers, you name it...

They also have an entire section of used anchors for sale. some are well worn, others look hardly used.

A few spars!

 Along the wall in the back room is a complete collection of spars. Booms, whisker poles, spinnaker poles... you name it, they probably have one for sale. I'm pretty sure I had a big grin on my face when I walked out of there with my treasure. I will definitely be back!

The other great thing about Bacon is their used sail inventory. They have a comprehensive list of pretty much every production sailboat made in the last 40 years with all of the vital measurements. On their web site, or in the store, you can tell them what kind of boat you have and what type of sail you're looking for. Their used sail consignment registry will pop up a list of all the used sails they have on hand that will fit your boat. Check it out at Bacon's web site.

Now I realize that not all sailors are as fortunate as I, to live less than 30 minutes away from Annapolis, MD, where you can find just about any sailing part or service that you desire. For the rest of you, here is a link to a comprehensive list of sailing related consignment shops all over. Do yourself a favor and visit one soon. You'll be amazed - and you just might score a used part for a fraction of new like I did.

The exhaustive list of consignment shops from all over