If you’re like me, you don’t spend a lot of time thinking about cam cleats. That is, until you have to buy one, at which point you might say, “Really? Fifty bucks for a cam cleat?”
Making a late, but not unfashionable, entry into the field of aluminum cam cleats, Schaefer Marine is hoping to relieve some of this sticker shock. The largest cleat in the company’s line of Fast Entry Cam Cleats retails for $28, significantly less than comparable products from other manufacturers.
But are these cleats any good? We haven’t had the chance to test them on the water–that will come soon enough–but on first impression, the cleats feel sturdy and look to be well crafted. Made from die cast, anodized aluminum, the cams rotate smoothly on Delrin ball-bearings and feature articulated teeth and a smooth, rounded line entry. The cleats come in three sizes, accomodating line diameters from 1/8 inch to 5/8 inch, and the hole centers line up perfectly with those of corresponding Harken and Ronstan products.
When designing the Fast Entry cleats, Dave Dion and Schaefer president Fred Cook carefully considered the balance between ergonomics and performance, says general manager Will Donaldson. “We were looking to hit that point right between the cleat being too hard to release and the line slipping out of the top of the cleat,” says Donaldson.
To determine the cleat’s optimal geometry, designers used a stereolithography apparatus (SLA) to create several epoxy prototypes. They varied the height of the inside of the cams, the sharpness of the teeth, and the shape of the line entry. “With SLA we can design in 3D and produce a solid model to work with,” says Donaldson. “Of course the model isn’t the same material we’ll ultimately be using, but it gives us a lot of flexibility to experiment with different designs.”
To test the functionality of each model, designers installed them in a custom-made testing station equipped with a hydraulic ram.
The ability to produce and test prototypes at its facility in New Bedord, Massachusetts, lets Schaefer fine-tune its designs before passing them on to production in China. The result, in this case, is a solid, thoughtfully-designed aluminum cam cleat that costs less than $30. What’s not to like?