Inflatable Life Vests
Kestrel 1000 Pocket Weather Meter
Yamaha 2.5 four stroke **New** 4-4-04
Pettit Underwater Epoxy 
Survivor 35 Watermaker
Solarex MSX-10L Solar Panel
Flexible Solar Panels

INFLATABLE LIFE VESTS -  (Mustang Airforce-left, SOSpenders-right)
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This review is more a comment about why we chose to go with inflatable life vests than it is an analysis of the two models we chose, the SOSpenders and the Mustang Airforce.  To begin with, we'd like to admit sadly that in the past, our old (non inflatable) life vests had a tendency to remain crammed in the bow of  the boat much of the time because they were so bulky and uncomfortable to wear.  Also, because Little Cruiser is so small to begin with we couldn't afford to have them just laying around, so we tended to wear them only on major crossings.  The fact that it might take us a minute or two in a real emergency to even get our vests out compelled us in the end to spend the money on a vest we would wear more often. 

To this end we bought the SOSpenders (model 25MSPT-1) and the Mustang Airforce(MD3000) life vests.  Both are Type III USCG approved life vests that require the user to inflate them by pulling a cord or by blowing them up manually.  Therefore, if you were to be knocked unconscious (by say the boom) and ended up in the water, you would drown.  However, there are newer models now that inflate automatically when the user enters the water (USCG V).   In terms of quality both seem well made, but the Mustang Airborne is the preferred choice by the U.S. Airforce we're told, hence it's name.   On the other hand, one nice feature about the SOSpenders that we really liked was the handy pockets on the front which were great for putting small things in like a GPS, VHF radio (small one) or a hand bearing compass.  At around $100 for either model, they'll set you back a few bucks, but we've found it a worthwhile investment.  On our last trip, we wore our vests regularly.  Mindy wore the Mustang Airforce and David wore the SOSpenders.  Both were lightweight, and we hardly noticed we had them on.  So if you find your old life vest bulky and uncomfortable you might want to try one of  the new inflatable ones.  We did, and we won't go back.  

kestrel1000.jpg - 20285 BytesThe Kestrel 1000 is a neat hand held device that measures windspeed in knots, mp/h, km/h and M/S.   It weighs only 2.3 ounces including the case and runs for around 400 hours on a single battery. The unit measures windspeeds from 0.7 mph to 89 mph with the use of a replaceable shock mounted impeller, and the LCD screen is easy to read.  It is even waterproof, which is perfect for boat use!  We've wanted one of these for years, but this past winter we finally treated ourselves to the Kestrel 1000 which we bought  at WEST MARINE .  During our Bahama trip we used it a great deal, and we were very pleased with it's performance.   In the past we've had to guess at the windspeed, and usually we were wrong, guessing too high or too low. Judging the windspeed for us is important because we need to be able to determine the conditions accurately before we make any significant crossing in our rather small boat.  Also it's kind of neat to measure the maximum wind speed at the height of a squall or a storm. 

This brings up one of the Kestrel's neatest feature which is that it measures the AVERAGE wind speed as well as the MAXIMUM wind speed.  For example, when we sailed 27 miles from Morgan's Bluff , Andros to West Bay, New Providence the average wind speed was 22 knots while the maximum wind speed was 26 knots.  This proved rough going for Little Cruiser since the wind was hard on the nose and the seas were 6 - 8  feet high in the Tongue of the Ocean.  From this measurement we've now determined that this is pretty much the practical limit for our small boat to windward in these conditions.  Anything windier and it would be best to stay in port.  On the other hand, we sailed 75 miles across the Banks, downwind in windspeeds averaging 26 knots and gusting to 32 knots and the ride proved manageable in the 6 foot seas with two to three reefs in.  These are but two examples showing how the Kestrel 1000 helped us to access or boats performance under the various wind conditions we encounted on our last trip.  The only improvement that could be made with the Kestrel 1000 would be the addition of a backlight for night use.  Otherwise, it's a great device which you can learn more about at nkhome.

Yamaha2.5 - 24346 BytesYamaha 2.5 hp four stroke outboard engine Review

For about two years now Mindy and I have been thinking about replacing our Mercury 3.3 hp two stroke engine with one of the newer less polluting four strokes.  Therefore, when the opportunity arose to give one a test try we jumped at it. Unfortunately, it wasn't possible to try it out on "Little Cruiser" , but we did get to use it on a 17 foot aluminum Jonboat. To get some idea of how the Yamaha compared to our Mercury in terms of performance, we mounted both engines on the transom of our test boat. Then, each integral fuel tank was filled to capacity. The Yamaha held 0.9 liters while the Mercury held 1.4 liters. In all we ran the Yamaha engine about four hours, while the Mercury was run for only one hour.  

Before I go into the results of our test ride, let me tell you about my initial impressions of the French-made Yamaha.  To begin with, I think the build quality is superb, and the fit and finish of all the parts is excellent. There were no signs of rough castings on the exterior of the engine, and everything was painted carefully with no overspray.  All the fasteners appeared to have been made out of high quality marine grade metals. The same can not be said of our Mercury. Since the Yamaha is a four stroke, you obviously don't need to add any oil into the fuel. Instead the oil is added directly to the engine like you do with your car, and the exact level of this oil is easily monitored through a tiny glass window in top of the engine.  One of the really nice things I liked about the Yamaha was that it had its throttle control located on the tiller. This control was found to be very smooth to operate, and its resistance was easily adjustable with a small knob. I also noticed that the kill switch was located nearby on the tiller, which came in handy when I needed to stop the engine quickly. Unlike many small engines today that only come with a cheap flexible plastic prop, the Yamaha was equipped with a nice sturdy metal one. When I lifted the engine onto the Jonboat for the first time, I did notice that it felt heavier than my 30 pound Mercury- 7 pounds heavier to be exact. Nonetheless, it still wasn't too hard to handle. After running the engine for a while, I decided to tilt the outboard out of the water. I found that this maneuver was easily accomplished, and I was happy to see that a sturdy metal locking bar secured it down in place. Releasing this bar let the outboard go back down so that I could continue with more tests. Finally, at the end of the day, I took the engine home and mounted it on "Little Cruiser's" transom to see how it looked. I must admit that its small size seemed to fit the boat perfectly.

Now, how did the Yamaha perform on the water?  Well, for one thing, the Yamaha was quieter and vibrated less than the Mercury; though it wasn't as quiet as I thought it would be. I think our old two cylinder, 4 hp Evinrude ran smoother, and it certainly was equally quiet when run at lower throttle settings. In terms of power, the Yamaha pushed our Jonboat with the two of us aboard at 5 knots using full throttle.  However, when we switched over to the Mercury, it seemed significantly stronger, driving the boat easily at 7 knots on that windless stretch of lake. I have to admit that this surprised me a little since both engines have similar engine displacements  (72.6cc/74.6 cc Yam/Merc), and they both develop their maximum horsepower at around 5500 rpm. Nonetheless, the Yamaha is only rated at 2.5 hp while Mercury is rated at 3.3 hp. I guess that 0.8 hp increase makes a difference. In terms of fuel economy, the Yamaha went through its 0.9 liter tank in about an hour at full throttle, while we know from past experience that the Mercury will take about an hour and ten minutes to deplete its fuel when run wide open. Of course, fuel consumption dropped noticeably when the engines were run at a more modest 1/2 to 2/3 throttle.

So what is my overall view of the new Yamaha 2.5 hp four stroke engine. Well, it's a real nice outboard for the $755 that our dealer is asking for it; however, I don't think it has enough muscle to push a heavy boat like "Little Cruiser" in difficult conditions.  In the past, there have been times when we needed every bit of the Mercury's 3.3 hp to buck the current in a tricky inlet or to complete a long windless crossing before the next front arrived. So for now we'll just have to stick with the Mercury. However, if you have a smaller or lighter boat, the Yamaha will certainly do the job admirably.


Have you ever thought of bringing your beloved pet along with you in your small boat, but then said to your self, "no, there  just isn't enough room!"  Well you'd be surprised to know that we've brought our Lovebird and our Senegal parrot on several of our Bahama trips.  Of course, we couldn't fit a regular cage aboard so we built a custom "Little Cruiser" sized one.  The smaller size doesn't seem to bother the birds much as they are just happier being with us.

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This mini cage is easily constructed from galavanized fencing and wire available at your local Home Depot.  The bottom is removable and made of  vinyl. Of course other types of pets do just fine too. As you can see from the next picture that parrots aren't the only pets that can fit aboard a little boat.  The Bishops had two miniature terriers on their fourteen foot Peep Hen. 

PETTIT UNDERWATER EPOXY (5-9-03 - We've been told that this product is DISCONTINUED!!!)

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There are lots of fine epoxies out there like West System, System Three and MAAS to name a few; but for repairing wet damaged surfaces there is no other product like PETTIT'S POLYPOXY .  We found out about this great glue/filler from our friend and fellow small boat sailor Warren Bailey.  Way before Matt Layden was exploring the Bahamas in his tiny boats, Warren had sailed his 14' micro cruiser, STORMALONG, there.  However, Warren discovered the virtues of  POLYPOXY when he cruised the Bahamas aboard his 36' flat bottomed sailboat BEACHCOMBER.  Since BEACHCOMBER frequently touched bottom while drying out on the tide or while nosing up the many shallow water passages between islands, Warren found it necessary to patch up the gouges and the scrapes that accompanied such adventures.  Because he and his wife Hertha were often in remote areas, repairs to their wooden boat had to be done on the tide and out on the sand flats.  Therefore a quick drying epoxy that could stick to wet surfaces was needed.  To this end, he found the POLYPOXY ideal.  As the Pettit literature says, PolyPoxy 7050/7055 is a " two-part epoxy made espescially for patching and repairing wet, damaged surfaces. It cures to a hard, tough film with excellent adhesion. [It] may be applied underwater for emergency repairs."  

Our experience with POLYPOXY has been very good, and we too have used this epoxy many times after we hit various underwater obstructions like reefs! What we do is to dry out on the tide with a block of foam or driftwood to prop the boat up.  Then we clean out the damaged area with a knife and let it dry a bit in the sun.  Next we mix up the glue on a piece of scrap cardboard and we spread it into the damaged area.  No additional fillers are needed since the "goop" is already pretty thick and non sagging.  The POLYPOXY dries relatively quickly (couple of hours) in the tropical sun, and it is firm enough before the tide rises to take some more abuse.  Finally, it is important to note that the epoxy is an ugly battleship grey color so don't use it on white topsides unless you are willing to use a lot of paint to cover it up.  (On the 2001 Bahama trip we applied the POLYPOXY underwater while Little Cruiser was afloat.  We found that this was best accomplished by mixing the epoxy on a small scrap of cardboard.  Then we dove overboard and rubbed the epoxy on the damaged area.  Next we smoothed it down with our finger.  Surprisingly, the epoxy sticks to the wood but not your skin.  Go figure it.   In a few hours (in warm tropical water), the patch was dried, and we sanded it down with  240 grit wet/dry sand paper.  So far the patch has proven to be long lasting.  Don't ask us where all the excess moisture that was trapped inside has gone.  Since we have no fiberglass on the boat in this area, the water must have evaporated out over time.   


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We have enjoyed using a Survivor 35 aboard Little Cruiser for 5 out of our 6 trips to the Bahamas.  Though not absolutely necessary, we have found that this reverse osmosis unit has made life aboard easier, and it has permitted us to stay in more remote locations longer.  The hand operated Survivor 35 weighs 7 pounds, and it is sufficiently compact that we keep it under the floorboards.  It can make 1.2 gallons of fresh water an hour from clean salt water.  Though it is easy to pump, the operation can get a bit tedious and boring after an hour or so.  Therefore, we use it primarily when we are in isolated areas where we are running low on water or we don't want to dip into our limited supply.

What can we say about the quality of the Survivor 35 and the manufacturer?  The construction is top notch, and everything is extremely durable and well engineered.  The unit is Coast Guard approved, and we've never had a failure of any part in all the years we have used it.  Maintainence is simple.  Anytime you need to store the unit and you don't plan to use it for a few day, you simply pump a small amount of  BIOCIDE (preservative) through the membrane.  Otherwise, normal daily use of the Survivor 35 will flush away any deposits or bacteria which might accumalate on the membrane.  If you use it enough, however, the membrane inside will get dirty, and you will have to clean it by pumping an ALKALINE membrane cleaner through it.  Or if it is really dirty, you can use an ACID cleaner.  While the BIOCIDE comes with the pump, the cleaners are extra, and they need to be used with a seperate housing.  Incidently, we went several years before we decided to clean our unit with the ALKALINE membrane cleaner, eventhough it was still working okay.  However, before our 2001 trip we decided to also replace all the seals just to be sure since our Survivor 35 was eight years old then.   This operation was not too difficult, but you do have to take your time since there are a lot of "O" rings to replace. 

At an average price of $1400, the PUR Survivor 35 isn't cheap, but it does work very well.   We believe that this hand operated unit is ideal for small cruising boats like Little Cruiser and even in sea kayaks that travel in areas where fresh water is scarce.  However, if we had a little more space and power aboard Little Cruiser, we think that a better alternative would be the Power Survivor 40E, which produces 1.6 gallons per hour at 4 amps.  Of course this unit is considerably larger and weighs 25 pounds, but it would free us from pumping and could provide us with larger amount of fresh water.  For more information on these neat watermakers go to PUR .

Solarex  MSX-10L Review

For  ten years we have been using three MSX-10L solar panels aboard Little Cruiser, and overall we have been happy with their performance.  One panel was bought for around $125 while the other two were "seconds" which we acquired at an Amateur Radio flea market in Dayton, Ohio for $45 a piece.  The main difference between the first quality panel and the seconds we believe is that the latter did not have output cables.  Each 10 watt panel is rated at around 0.58 amps and 17 volts in full sunlight.  The thing that makes these panels so nice and the reason that we chose them to use on Little Cruiser is that they are very thin and light weight.  To acheive this light weight the polycrystalline cells are sandwiched between two layers of EVA (Ethylene Vinly Acetate) and then mounted on to a thin layer of semi-flexible metal.  Originally this metal was anodized aluminum, but today stainless steel is used.  Our older panels are all aluminum and they weigh around 1.625 pounds apiece; however, the new stainless steel ones are about 32 % heavier at 2.375 pounds a piece.  When we called the manufacturer to inquire why they changed metals, we were told that the EVA was easier to bond to stainless steel than to aluminum.  We would imagine also that the stainless steel is more weather resistant than our aluminum panels which show some pit corrosion on their reverse sides. 

The only real flaw that we can see in these panels is the fact that the EVA has a tendency to lift off a little around the edges of the panel.  You can see this problem in the picture below.  If you look at the upper right hand corner of the blue panel which has it's output cable removed, you can see a light spot where this has happened.  It hasn't effected the function of the panel in any way, but all our panels show signs of lifting.  So far our solution has been to stick the edges down with a bit of Shoe Goo, but we believe that the manufacturer should have attached a rubber "U" channel molding around the edges to help prevent this from happening in the first place.  Hopefully the new stainless steel panel which we just purchased as a backup will fare better.  Finally, if you ever happen to get some solar panels without output cables, we've found out that one way to seal the new connections against moisture is by using some 3M5200 (black) over the leads.  In the past we used Silicone caulking, but the salt water found it's way into the cables.  For more technical information on these panel you can read this pdf file .

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(New stainless steel backed panel and older aluminum one)

Flexible solar panels

After we wrote the review on the MSX-10L panels we were asked on the Microcruising forum why we chose rigid crystalline solar panels over the new flexible amorphous panels.  We are reposting it with some minor updates because it brings up some  valid reasons for using the flexible panels onboard small boats.

Our MSX-10L panels are made from crystalline silicon cells, which produce the most amount of power for a given amount of space.  Because they are mounted only on a thin metal backing they are "somewhat" flexible and can take a slight bend; however, I wouldn't dare walk on them though they appear quite durable.  These are the type of solar panels that most people have become used to seeing, and generally they are also mounted in a rigid frame.

Flexible amorphous silicon cell panels are somewhat less effecient.  They take up more space and are more expensive to buy per watt.  Nonetheless, they have several important advantages.  To begin with they are much more flexible and generally lighter; therefore, they can be mounted or even draped over a curved surface like a dodger or a boom to take advantage of unused space onboard a boat.  Since you can roll the whole thing up in a sort of tube, it can be stored safely down below when not in use.  As mentioned in the prior post, the failure of a single cell does not render the panel useless, and we're told that they continue working even when partially shaded.

So now you must be asking yourself why we chose the rigid panels.  Well, to begin with they are more compact for a given wattage and they are actually quite light because of their unique construction.  The MSX-10L measures 17.5 " x
10.5" and is rated at 10 watts, while a comparable Uni-Solar flexible 11 watt panel measures 21.8 x 16.7".  The cost for a single 11 watt flexible panel runs around $159 (Jack Rabbit Marine ) while the MSX-10L costs around $139 today. Since we could only fit 3 smaller 10 watt panels wired in parallel on our hatch, the lightest and least expensive solution was the Solarex panels at the time .  Considering we got 2 of them for only $90, the total cost for all three panels was $215. If we had the space we could have used a single 30 watt rigid panel which costs around $284 or a 32 watt flexible panel for $329.  What we've seen over the years on many large cruising boats is that they use several large hard framed panels coupled with a smaller flexible panel which they move around the boat while at anchor.  Nonetheless, if the cost of the amorphous panels continues to drop sufficiently, we will seriously consider adding one of them to our inventory. 

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