GoPro: All-weather HD camera

GoPro HD Camera
Technology has come a long way, baby, especially when it comes to compact, rugged cameras. When my dad sailed to Hawaii in 1985, he took our “high-tech” RCA VHS video recorder. Although an innovative, portable unit – relatively speaking – the camera and requisite VCR was a beast, requiring a tote bag on a shoulder strap, and it was far from rugged.

Those days are gone. Cameras are smaller, more rugged, and loaded with great features that make even amateur work pretty darn impressive. When it comes to shooting video aboard our Cape Dory 36, I’ve been using a Sony Digital8 camcorder, which has proven to be a handy camera for about three hundred bucks, but it isn’t especially rugged and, the biggest liability, it isn’t waterproof. For a couple years now, I’ve been on the lookout for a water-proof (or at least water-resistant) camera that shoots quality video. Back in October I came across the GoPro line of all-weather 1080p HD digital cameras. Their website, filled with customer testimonials, great footage and plenty of detail, convinced me that the GoPro Hero was the camera I’d been looking for.

The GoPro HD Hero comes with a polycarbonate housing that is waterproof to 180′, a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, all necessary cables, and a one-year warranty. It features various modes for recording still and video, including time-lapse and 1080p HD video. The lens has a super wide 170 degree viewing angle (127 in 1080p) for capturing plenty of action. In photo mode, the camera records 5 megapixel pictures. It retails for about 260.00. GoPro also sells several mounts for securing the camera. Their articulating mount designed for bicycle seat posts would work well on a sailboat, allowing the user to attach the camera to railings, pulpits, and other hardware for great angles.

Check it out for yourself. Visit the GoPro HD Hero page for specifications and features. And if you get one, be sure to share your sailing footage here!

U.S. Unveils Plan to Keep Asian Carp Out of Great Lakes

By Douglas Belkin | WSJ

Federal officials Monday unveiled a multi-pronged attack to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes and prevent an invasion that could potentially devastate a $7 billion recreation fishing industry.

Among the tactics in a $78.5 million, 25-point plan: Navigational locks in Illinois waterways that lead to Lake Michigan will be opened less frequently, and officials will more aggressively search for and kill the fish when they are found.

“We are going to hit the carp with all of the tools in the toolbox,” said Cameron Davis, a senior adviser with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The plan was announced following a meeting between several environmental agencies and governors from Great Lakes states at the White House.

Asian carp were brought to Arkansas in the 1960s to clean up algae from sewers and fish hatcheries. After a flood, they escaped into the Mississippi River in the early 1990s and have been migrating north up Midwestern rivers ever since.

The fish are voracious eaters that can grow up to 4 feet long and weigh 100 pounds. They reproduce rapidly and can quickly displace native species. In stretches of the Illinois River they now account for as much as 90% of the fish population by weight. Scientists fear they could do the same in the Great Lakes, potentially destroying native species.

What’s more, the fish have the habit of leaping up to eight feet out of the water at the sound of approaching motors. They have knocked boaters unconscious and broken their bones. Some people now cruise along parts of the Illinois River wearing football helmets for protection.

An electric barrier about 20 miles from Lake Michigan was supposed to be the last, best way to stop the carp from invading the Great Lakes, but last month genetic material from the fish was found in Lake Michigan for the first time. Nancy Sutley, head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said despite evidence that the fish are in Lake Michigan, they aren’t yet established and there remains a window of opportunity to stop them. She called the federal plan “strong and aggressive.”

The issue has become a political hot potato, pitting environmental groups and the recreational boating and fishing industries against commercial shippers. Michigan sued Illinois to force them to shut the locks in the hope of containing the fish but the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

Michigan then asked the Supreme Court to reconsider its decision and filed another suit seeking to separate the man-made connection between the Great Lakes and Mississippi water basins. Minnesota, Wisconsin, New York and Pennsylvania have joined that suit.

At the White House meeting on Monday, Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle and Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm met with federal officials to figure out alternative ways to contain the fish. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell joined the meeting by conference call along with officials from Ohio.

The plan includes an additional electrical barrier in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal to repel the fish, and a restrictive schedule for the locks. If fish are detected near the locks the water could be electrified or treated with fish poison.

In addition, the plan calls for increased testing to monitor the fish are and speed up research to stop them from reproducing.

Ms. Granholm said after the White House meeting that such measures wouldn’t be enough to protect the lakes.

“You have to permanently shut these locks down,” she told the Associated Press.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, which has advocated aggressive action to stop the carp, characterized the proposal as a head scratcher.

“The complete absence of time lines and triggers for specific actions to be taken in response to specific events make evaluation of the framework’s details difficult,” Thom Cmar, a spokesman for the organization said in a statement. “But, we are concerned that the document released today still doesn’t articulate a clear plan, based on the best available scientific information, that will actually work.”

Read on WSJ

Spin-Tec roller furling review

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Simplicity and technology need not be at odds with each other. Take the technology of Dacron or fiberglass. Both of those bits of technology have proven simple and yet remarkably durable and efficient, making owning, sailing, and maintaining a boat simpler – and more enjoyable – than ever. Now, if cotton and oakum are your thing, read no further. When roller furling emerged on the market, traditionalists viewed it with skepticism, and for good reason. After all, why complicate things? And early furling systems did have their problems. Not only were they bulky and expensive, but they often jammed at the worst possible moment, leaving skippers to watch helplessly as their headsail flogged itself to pieces or, worse, drew greedy gulps of wind as the boat thundered out of control toward another boat, or a dock, or…. Modern furling units have resolved most of those issues and are much more reliable.

There are a number of roller furling units on the market, a few of which have received excellent reviews and some that have not; some are well-known and others unfamiliar. Finding the right combination of quality without publicity could translate to major savings on a great product. One of those lesser-known but quality units is Spin-Tec. We met Betsy, a Spin-Tec representative, at the Strictly Sail show in Chicago last year where she demonstrated the Triumph 2000 system and discussed with us its features and construction.

We were immediately drawn to the simplicity of the design. Unlike most roller furlers, Spin-Tec furlers do not use ball bearings. Instead, the unit – drum and foil – rides on Delrin bushings. Additionally, the unit does not utilize an upper swivel between the headsail halyard and the head of the sail, meaning that the whole thing rotates as a unit so there are fewer parts to wear out and less likelihood of failure. This design eliminates the weak spot of traditional roller furlers. Upper swivels are not only subject to wear, but they can cause halyard wrap if the headsail halyard is not led to the furler at an appropriate angle. Typically, this involves adding hardware at the masthead to achieve a specified angle between the halyard and the furler. Halyard wrap renders a furling unit inoperable, and potentially at the worst time. Finding a unit that eliminated this problem was a priority.

This design certainly is simpler than many of the units on the market, but it’s not without its complications, most notably the inability to hoist or remove a headsail without going aloft to secure the head to a stainless steel bail that is welded to the upper part of the extrusion, or masthead tube. To address this, Spin-Tec sells a device, a sort of car-assembly, called a halyard accessory that rides on the foil and allows users to change sails from the deck with the aid of the halyard. The unit certainly seems handy, and functioned well in Betsy’s demonstration, but the additional expense of $300 is tough to swallow, especially since we have no need to change the headsail and don’t mind a trip aloft. There is an additional drawback to the halyard accessory: It uses a meathook-shaped piece of stainless steel to hook the bail on the masthead tube, thus securing the head of the jib. Imagining that pointy piece of steel aloft immediately conjured visions of a shredded drifter.

The standard roller furling assembly is still a slick, streamlined unit, and the fact that it came with everything needed for setup was equally attractive. When we looked at comparable units by other manufacturers, the advertised price was only the starting point. And not only were their starting prices higher, but the necessary add-ons meant that we would get a lot less bang for our buck. Like most sailors, we are price-conscious and must spread our boat units as far as possible without compromising quality. Spin-Tec’s quality and pricing meant that we were able to buy two furlers – staysail and jib – for only a little more than the price of one furler by big-name companies like Schaefer (which was second on our list) or Harken.

Spin-Tec furlers differ from other furlers in their assembly. Rather than rivets to secure foil sections, Spin-Tec includes aluminum channel inserts that are glued in place to join foil sections seamlessly. The theory behind this is that the entire furler is in compression when in use so there is no need for fasteners. This certainly speeds and eases assembly, and seems plenty stout, but only time will tell how well the system will hold up. I should add that the aluminum channel inserts fit snugly within the extrusion, so the glue is mostly redundant and a gap-filler to ensure a snug fit. The unit is also designed to fit over existing fittings, so there is no need to cut or modify the rigging. Simply remove the turnbuckle from the lower swage fitting and begin sliding foil sections toward the upper swage fitting, joining sections as you go.

During assembly, five Delrin bushings are inserted at regular intervals in each foil section to secure the furler to the headstay, ensure smooth operation, and eliminate metal-on-metal contact. Spin-Tec includes a steel rod that is used to push each bushing to its proper location within the foil. This process involved quite a bit of grunting and resulted in a couple of blisters. The instructions suggest that moderate force may be required to push each bushing to its seat – i.e., projections within the extrusion. Either “moderate force” is an understatement or I’m a total wuss. Yes, there were some bushings that went into place with “moderate force,” but that was the exception and not the rule. Most bushings required a fair bit of coaxing, which occasionally involved a few taps with a hammer. The upshot of all that effort is that it’s unlikely the bushings will ever shift out of position.

I completed assembly of both furlers over a two-day period, totaling about six hours. This system is the only system I’ve assembled, so I can’t make any comparisons to other brands. The assembly did catch the attention of the harbor master and a few boat owners. The harbor master commented on the size (diameter) of the foil sections and the lack of rivets, shrugged his shoulders and left. The double-grooved foil, shaped like an airfoil, is elliptical and slightly larger than most.

Adjusting headstay tension once the furler is in place is accomplished easily. The drum assembly of the furler slides over the extrusion and the lower tube, and is secured with six machine screws. Accessing the turnbuckle requires removing the six screws and sliding the drum up the extrusion where it can be locked in place. With the drum out of the way, the turnbuckle is adjusted easily.

The furler’s open-drum design is simplicity itself, and good lead placement results in a smooth, tight coil of line. This is another feature that sets Spin-Tec furlers apart from other brands that use closed or semi-closed drums that can make clearing furling line jams impossible or, at best, frustrating and time consuming. Because the Spin-Tec drum is open, however, some tension needs to be kept on the furling line when the sail is unfurled lest the line work its way off of the drum. Simply cleating the furling line prevents this from happening. We installed a genoa track-mounted jam cleat for each furling line on the starboard side and another, mounted to port, for the staysail outhaul since it’s set on a boom. The kit included four fairleads, which was not enough for Ariel’s length. Betsy from Spin-Tec happily sent us four additional fairleads that I placed in strategic locations to minimize chafe and provide smooth operation of the furling line, 60′ of 7/16″ double-braid nylon that comes with the kit and is easy on the hands.

Rigging the furling unit for the staysail was only slightly more involved than the jib. Beyond the standard assembly and furling line routing, we needed to rig an outhaul that would allow us to maintain the boom-mounted staysail’s self-tending feature. We already had a block on the aft end of the staysail boom for an adjustable outhaul that would redirect the line forward toward the staysail boom pedestal. From there, I added a small block to the staysail gooseneck and routed the outhaul outboard to the rail-mounted block included in the Spin-Tec kit. The staysail outhaul then travels aft through standard fairleads where it terminates at a jam cleat mounted on the genoa track. Unfurling the staysail requires uncleating the line to the furling drum, then hauling in on the outhaul. Furling the staysail is just a reversal of these steps, the staysail boom topping lift keeping the boom under control when the sail is furled. This setup has the added benefit of making it possible to adjust staysail outhaul tension from the cockpit.

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We logged several daysails and a two-week cruise last season. The furlers performed flawlessly, saving time and energy, and relieved us from going forward to ready or douse the staysail and jib. The units spin freely and easily thanks to the large diameter of the drums. The system’s quirks, such as they are, don’t cramp our style any. The simplicity of the Spin-Tec design would probably appeal less to sailors who expect to change headsails frequently, but for the cruising crowd it’s a great system: we set the jib and staysail at the beginning of the season, tensioning the luff with a Spectra seizing at the tack, and there they remain until haulout. The absence of the upper swivel also means that we have a free halyard, which we have used for our drifter. (Note: Spin-Tec does offer a furler for race-minded sailors, the R/C 1000)