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Despite Economy, Innovation Prevails in Annapolis

Harken's Radial winch is among the groundbreaking products that made their debut at the U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis, Md.

October 13, 2009
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Courtesy Harken| |The diagonal ribs on Harken’s Radial winch maximize grip while reducing line wear.| Given the impact the recession has had on research and development budgets worldwide, I wasn’t expecting the sailing industry to unveil much new gear at this year’s U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis, Md. In terms of sheer quantity of stuff, I was right-many manufacturers held off on rolling out new product lines. In terms of innovation, however, I was dead wrong-the 2009 show included some of the most revolutionary new gear in years.

Hands down, the most exciting new gear to debut in Annapolis is Harken‘s Radial winch. In addition to unveiling a range of hydraulic equipment, an electric furler, and some new apparel and accessories, the company introduced a completely new winch, the first major overhaul of it’s bread-and-butter product line in two decades. From the ground up, Harken engineers designed its Radial winches for use with electric and hydraulic power. Available in all sizes, aluminum or chrome, these winches improve upon their predecessors in just about every area. Use of composite materials reduces weight; the drums’ diagonally ribbed surface, shaped differently for each winch size and material, maximizes grip while reducing line wear; redesigned stripper arms, which cover the tops of the winches, improve safety by eliminating the moving parts that can snag fingers and clothes. The winches’ most significant innovations, however, may be their stud-bolt mounting system, which dramatically decreases installation time, and snap-fit construction, which takes some of the hassle out of maintenance. Look for more on the Radial winches in a future issue of Sailing World.

****| |Musto LPX jacket| On the foul-weather-gear front, the most innovative garment I saw is Musto ‘s LPX jacket. This simple, Gore-Tex Paclite shell does away with all forms of interior lining, which reduces weight, improves breathability, and promotes integration with mid and base layers. With its low collar, short waist, and minimal features, the LPX is not intended for offshore use. But it’s ideal for buoy racing. The articulated arms allow full range of motion, and you can easily cram it in a gear bag and whip it out when the going gets wet. Reinforcement in the forearms-which tend to wear out quickly when you’re doing a lot of grinding-is another nice touch.

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****| |Ronstan Superflex sailing shoes| Ronstan has strengthened its foothold in the apparel market with the introduction of a complete line of dinghy wetsuits, which includes: a sleeveless, one-piece Skiffsuit; neoprene pants and shorts; neoprene tops; rash guards; thermals; Superflex sailing shoes; even a new gear bag. The line uses a neoprene laminate that’s lightweight, windproof, water-repellent, quick-drying, flexible, and warm. The neoprene top has a stretch panel in the back for increased range of motion, and the rash top is made of environmentally sustainable, naturally antibacterial bamboo fiber. The Superflex shoes have grippy, bendy soles and soft, internal toe separators for enhanced stability. All of this gear comes in junior sizes, all the way down to children’s size 8.

****| |Spinlock Rope Sense line-load gauge| For the serious offshore racer, Spinlock has a couple of new gadgets: Rope Sense, a compact line-load gauge that loops easily into any rigging system and can even wirelessly relay data to a computer; ZR1014, a high-load jammer featuring hands-free release; and Deckware STR safety lines, lightweight race tethers that attach via clips and cow hitches and feature a Dry Coat to reduce water absorption.

The oddest new product I saw in Annapolis is an emergency plug from Forespar. In the event that a through-hull fitting fails and water starts gushing into your boat, stop the leak with this doohickey, which expands in water like a foam bath toy. I can’t wait to get my hands on one of these-should make for an entertaining test, provided there’s a Coast Guard vessel on standby.

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