2012 Holiday Product Review

Not really a gift guide, but rather a collection of items that we've tested and reviewed over the past few months, including some of the usual suspects when it comes to gifts for racing sailors, and a few that you maybe didn't quite expect.

HitcasePro
I loved my GoPro Hero HD2. That was, until it ended up somewhere at the bottom of Lake Garda, Italy. But my biggest beef with the GoPro is the toolbox full of accessories and adapters I was dragging around. And don't get me started on knowing whether the camera was running or not (blinking red lights don't show well in the middle of the day). Plus, I could never count on having the GoPro with me all the time, charged up and ready to go. That's where my trusty iPhone 4S has come into favor. It's now my go-to device for all things media capture (interviews, photos, and videos). My company's phone policy, however, is that if I break it, or dunk it, I own it. With the HitcasePro, that's no longer a worry: with this $130 hardcase, I've got more than protection: I have a built in wide-angle lens that doubles my field of view, and a fun App from Hitcase called "Vidometer" (available at the iTunes Store) that overlays speed, altitude, shock, and G-Force on top of my videos so my buddies at the yacht club bar know how fast I was really going when I sent it down the mine—and thus the reason why I called them from the middle of the bay for a tow back in from the racecourse. I can use my phone as I wish—even though it's snug in the case I can still surf, call, and text. And better still, it's compatible with all the GoPro accessories I've collected over the years. www.hitcase.com -Dave ReedCourtesy Hitcase
Gill Compressor Vest
Your search the ultimate PFD ends here. Well, technically speaking, Gill's Compressor Vest, is not a street legal PFD, but rather a "buoyancy aid" that's legal in Europe, not here at home thanks to outdated U.S. Coast Guard standards. Regardless, if the special someone in your life is still sporting a tattered Omega foam-block PFD vest every time they hit the racecourse, set them up with a Compressor Vest, and they'll love you forever. The combination of neoprene (for warmth), aggressively contoured flotation panels, and a smartly cut minimalist design, make this by far the most comfortable lifejacket I've ever worn. And I've worn a lot. A short side-zip and waist buckle make it easy to get on and off, and a V-notch on the front panel allows it to be worn over a trapeze harness for quick hook-ins. But the best secret with this thing is to wear it underneath a rash guard in the summer: The foam pattern gives the illusion that you're sporting six-pack abs. Intimidation is half the battle. And let's face it: It's the closest most of us will ever get to Anna Tunnicliffe-caliber abs. The photo, thanks to Newport (R.I.) Laser Fleet 413 resident photographer Jeff Stevens, shows the vest, and my other most essential piece of frostbiting kit: a Kokotat Meridian Drysuit (with "relief" zipper). Gill Compressor vest: $140; Kokatat Drysuit: $1,000. Combined together… priceless. www.gill.com; www.kokotat.com —Dave ReedJeff Stevens
EcoXGear
Music afloat is a luxury for me, whether rigging, sailing out to the racecourse, or chilling in the cockpit after a hard day. And nowadays, my music comes from only one device: my iPhone. iPhones, we all know, don't mix well with water, so the only way it's getting onboard is locked up tight in the EcoXGear hard case. Over the past year I've used this single-speaker sound system in many ways—clipped to the lifeline with its carabiner, thrown on the cockpit floor, tied to my hiking strap, thrown in the tub with the baby, and even in the sauna—and after months of abuse and tune cranking I'm still using the same three AA batteries, so I know it's good on juice. It delivers good sound and deep bass for a single speaker (3-inch/3 watt), but best of all, unlike other waterproof phone-based music systems, this one's got a little extra room, and a pocket inside for your car key, credit cards, cash, and/or your stash. There's an external headphone jack, so if your teammates don't like your selection, you can plug in and tune out. $50, http://www.ecoxgear.com —D.R.Courtesy EcoXgear
Marlow Glow in the Dark Markers
Trying to discern which line is which on the mast during a sail change at night can be a tough task, even with a headlamp on. But thanks to some discotheque-inspired technology, it's about to get a lot easier. Glow-in-the-dark markers will give your important lines that little extra something special, as Ryan Scott explains in our Jan/Feb 2013 issue. "Some manufacturers, such as Marlow, now offer this for full lengths, or certain spans of your specified lines," writes Scott. "Use it for all your halyards and sheets, or select a few control lines that you need to quickly identify at night." marlowropes.com –Meredith PowlisonCourtesy Marlow
39270: Volvo Ocean Race Book
If you're looking for a new book for your coffee table that will impress sailors and non-sailors alike, check out the official book of the 2011-'12 Volvo Ocean Race: 39270 (named for the 39,270 nautical mile route—the longest course ever set for the race). This photo-driven book captures the jaw-dropping imagery of the race through the eyes of top photographers, like Paul Todd and Ian Roman, and on-board media crewmembers, like Amory Ross and Harnish Hooper. Its 192 pages of 250+ photos will keep you daydreaming until your next sailing adventure. Available online here. –M.P.Courtesy Volvo Ocean Race
Sailing World
Remember when analog watches were the simple ones and the digital watches required the lengthy manual to operate? So do I. Trying to fully comprehend the analog Cat Deep Ocean GMT watch I received last spring took the better part of nine months. Sure, 99.99 percent of that delay was due to distraction. And when I finally tracked down the appropriate manual for the watch—the one that had, like the watch, three buttons on the right side, instead of just two—it was fairly easy to set the watch's primary features: time, 24-hour alternate time zone, date, and alarm. But the whole experience left me pining for a simpler time. Ironically, that seems to be what you should get from the company that is synonymous with heavy earth-moving equipment. Of course, in simpler times, Caterpillar wouldn't have bothered itself with producing watches. And all this is doesn't begin to address how these watches ended up at Sailing World. But they did, and we're happy to review them. We didn't include these watches in our review of sailing watches because aside from the water-resistance properties (200 meters for the Deep Ocean GMT), they don't have the key features one needs in a sailing watch, namely a countdown and a stopwatch. They're more in the wrist-jewelry category, which is one I'm wholly unqualified to review in any substance. But that hasn't stopped me before, so why let it now? For the price, $275 (but going for less online) the Deep Ocean GMT is a solid chronometer. The blend of style and functionality seems appropriate for a watch made by a construction equipment company. It'll survive on the job site, but clean up nicely for a dinner out. The secondary time function seems a bit superfluous—I never used these much on digital watches either—and maybe that arm could've been better utilized for a countdown or a stopwatch. But the alarm is a nice feature for an analog watch, as is the date. Like many luxury products that come from companies with more industrial pedigrees, the attraction of the Cat watches will probably depend upon your affinity for their primary product. If you still haven't shaken your prepubescent obsession with big yellow machines that make lots of noise and move tremendous amounts of rock and dirty with aplomb, I don't think you'll be disappointed in the Deep Ocean GMT; provided you take the time to read the manual. www.catwatches.com -Stuart StreuliCourtesy Of The Manufacturer
ProBar Energy Bars
I ate it. It tasted good. I'll wax poetic about ProBar energy bars so this review doesn't look suspiciously anemic, but that first sentence is the bottom line. I'm a fan of energy bars, gels, and chews while sailing. Nothing is more uncomfortable than gorging on a huge sandwich and, five minutes later, folding your torso over a lifeline while you gradually burp up each of the 15 flavors that went into your lunch. "Hey, pickles!" Often, only other option is going hungry, which has its own unfortunate side effects. A good energy bar will supply you all the fuel for the next race or two, but won't leave you feeling bloated or sluggish. ProBars had significantly more raw ingredients than your average energy bar—identifiable nuts and berries—were easier to chew, and tasted great. Eating them was not a chore, like it is with some energy bars. Whether they supplied me with more sustained energy than the competition, I can't say. But they're definitely easier to hike on than a turkey club on a sesame seed bulkie roll. www.ProBar.com, $1.59 to $2.99 per bar. -S.S.Courtesy Of The Manufacturer
2013 Dr. Crash calendar Sailing World
Now for the shameless plug... If you can't control your boat, at least you can control your schedule with the 2013 Dr. Crash calendar. With a full year's worth of hair-raising marine mishaps, this calendar makes a perfect gift! Buy three and get one free. -Eds.Sailing World
Maui Jim Waimea Canyon Sunglasses
I visited Waimea Canyon a few years ago as part of a trip to the Hawaiian island of Kauai. It's a stunning place and every bit deserving of the nickname the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. While I generally don't put much stock into product names, especially for things like sunglasses, in this case the name ofMaui Jim's Waimea Canyon sunglasses did add a slight bit of extra allure, if only because of the fond memories. Fortunately the glasses also delivered a stellar view themselves, even when the subject matter was a brisk late fall day in Newport, R.I. Maui Jim's polarized lenses are as good as ever- I tested the Neutral Grey Lenses, which are designed for bright light—and take the edge off the sharpest glare. The glasses are light—quite light for their size- but the frames and spring-loaded hinges are built to take a beating. The press release described them as a "mid-size wrap frame," which may be one more indication that the recent trend toward large sunglasses has gotten out of hand. They are big, too big for my liking, and would be best suited for someone with a large and/or wide face. Of course, Maui Jim has 20 other styles in its On the Water collection so if these don't quite fit; it shouldn't be too hard to find a pair that does. www.MauiJim.com, $229 -S.S.Courtesy Of The Manufacturer
Lemon and Line bracelets
Need a gift idea? Knot a problem! The perfect stocking stuffer, Lemon and Line bracelets will make you feel closer to the water even from a landlocked desk. The brainchild of our associate art director Dave Norton, they're available in several New England-themed styles in a variety of colors. I didn't even know they made line in so many colors! New spinnaker sheets might be in order for next season ... Find them online, $25 a pop. -M.P.Lemon and Line
Aerobie AeroPress
Espresso On Watch A coffee snob will scoff at the instant stuff until, of course, it's the only thing onboard. There's no reason to suffer anymore, though. The Aerobie AeroPress, designed by West Coast sailor and inventor Alan Adler, is a clever portable coffee press to keep you wired all watch long. All you need is hot water (140 degrees) and finely ground coffee. Here's how it works: Place the provided microfilter in its basket, screw the basket onto the bottom of the chamber, add two scoops of finely ground coffee, pour in the water, stir, and slowly push the plunger down the chamber. High pressure pushes the water through the grounds; 15 seconds later an espresso is in your cup. Add warm water to make an Americano. Drink, and get on deck. Exhaustive trials confirm the brew is excellent. See how it's done. $30, aerobie.com -D.R.Courtesy Aerobie
Sailing World's Knots and Splices App
Sailing World's Knots and Splices App
For better or worse, most sailors use some splices and knots so infrequently there's just no way to store the information in their memory banks. And while the info is available online, that's often not very much help if you're out of range of a Wi-Fi signal. That's why Sailing World and Green Mountain Digital produced Sailing World's Knots and Splices App for the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, which is available in the App Store. The app includes step-by-step directions, animations, and professionally shot and edited video for 19 knots and six splices, more than most sailors will ever need. And it's all stored on your phone. No Wi-Fi or 3G connection required. You can find the app ($3.99) in the App Store! Plus, it will be on sale for just $0.99 from Dec. 23 to Jan. 4; the perfect way to customize that new iPad you got under the tree! -Eds.
Kyocera Advanced Ceramic Cutlery
Boats need knives. On any racing big boat, you should find one strapped to the boom vang, or some other accessible spot, for that dreaded moment when the best solution is to start cutting things away (If you don't it might be time to reassess your commitment to that program). You'll also often find one below for more mundane tasks like dividing up sandwiches, slicing limes for post-race beers, or prepping a quick cheese platter for a romantic evening sail (because some people actually do use their boats for more than racing). It's a luxury for sure, but one that is often well worth the miniscule weight penalty. If you put it on the boat, you want to be sure that it won't rust or corrode, which is a big ask, especially when you sail on salt water, and especially when this knife tends to be set someplace damp and dark and forgotten until needed again. Kyocera has a solution,their Advanced Ceramic Cutlery utilizesa ceramic blade. According to the press release: "Kyocera's proprietary ceramic is 50 percent harder than steel and second only to diamonds in hardness, which translates into a rock-like edge with more precision than conventional blades. The strength and density of the ceramic blades allow grinding to microscopic precision by diamond wheels, for unrelenting sharpness. A thinner blade means minimal resistance, for a cleaner, easier cut." Of course, I have no way to test whether this is true. I do know this: it's sharp, it cuts food well, and it's yet to show even one speck of tarnish. I tested the 4.5" Utility Knife, which retails for $29.95, and the peeler, which try as I might I couldn't think of a reason to carry it on a raceboat. The rest of the line, which is extensive, runs up to $250. www.kyoceraadvancedceramics.com -S.S.Courtesy Of The Manufacturer
Lifeproof Lifejacket
In our April issue, I reviewed Lifeproof's ingenious iPhone case. At the time, however, I'd yet to fully take advantage of the case's attributes. This summer I did so multiple times, taking the iPhone sailing and running North U's tactician app (see next product) to help track windshifts and checking WindAlert for the latest wind readings from surrounding buoys (between races, of course). The only worry was that I would drop my phone overboard while pulling it out of my pocket. Lifeproof's Lifejacket takes care of that, providing your phone with 20-foot-drop impact protection and enough flotation to keep it on top of the water. The bulky orange donut isn't for everyday use—unless you're looking to make a radical fashion statement—but it's great on a boat. Combine the jacket with the included neck lanyard and you can carry your phone much the way many tacticians carry a hand-bearing compass. $39.99, www.lifeproof.com -S.S.Courtesy Of The Manufacturer
Sailing World
Wind shifts are like stocks. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. But in the absence of anything better to go on, when it comes to predicting the movement of the true wind direction, the recent past can be a powerful tool. It can tell you the frequency and magnitude of the shifts and give you an idea of what how far left or right the breeze will wobble so when you come around the leeward mark you know rather quickly whether you're on an up or down number. If you're on a boat with an advanced instrument system, that information may be just a few buttons away. But on a smaller one-designs or big boats without a CPU to store and regurgitate key data, it can be tougher to corral that information. This is where the North U. Tactician App comes in. It's basically an electronic version of scribbling on the side-deck with a pencil. It allows you to input port or starboard headings (upwind and down) and wind readings, and displays them all on one chart, including the time of data entry. It requires some dedication to make it useful, but even the process of tapping the headings and wind readings into your smartphone will give you a much better feel for the wind than trying to keep track of it in your head. www.NorthU.com, or find it in the iTunes app store. The price is unbeatable; it's free. -S.S.Courtesy Of The Manufacturer
I'm a big believer in the fashion pendulum. Or at least that's what I tell my wife when she asks me, with that dismissive tone, why I hang on to those faded, pegged jeans that I bought a few years out of college (i.e. a long time ago). It's a somewhat lame excuse, but as someone famous once said, "It's gotta work better than the truth!" The truth is I do it more because I'm too cheap to toss out a pair of functioning pants. Now my standards in that regard may be fairly low, but still, there you have it. That all said, the fashion pendulum is real. A few decades ago, the polo shirt was the go-to choice for crew gear. Technical T-shirts have long taken over that market, but the polo may be primed for a comeback, especially since you can now get them made from some more advanced fabrics. The Sailfly Cocona Polo Shirt, which is made from a blend of Pima cotton and the Cocona polyester fabric, is a good example. The cotton gives the fabric a soft feel, which is one area where technical shirts tend to suffer. They're just not as comfortable against your skin. The Cocona fabric, according to the company website, "permanently incorporates natural active particles that have micro porous structures, into fibers, fabrics, polymers, and films. These active particles have been tested by industry standards and have been found to enhance the performance of fabrics by 30 to 50%." My personal fashion pendulum swung away from polo shirts a while back, and then got stuck. But many people still prefer them to T-shirts and they have a dual-purposeness (new word!) that you won't find in your long-sleeve crewneck shirt: A technical polo can be worn on the water and in the collars-required clubhouse bar. www.sailfly.com, $69 -S.S.Courtesy Of The Manufacturer
Ono's Grand Lagoon sunglasses
Ever seen someone wearing a pair of reading glasses over sunglasses? Apparently someone who works for Ono's did. They have aimed their sunglasses squarely at the far-sighted-but-active market, offering a wide variety of styles and lens choices, most of which offer the option to add a bifocal reader from +1.5 to +2.5. While I'm nearing the age when I'll require some help to read, I'm not quite there yet, so I can't comment on how well Ono's bifocals function. They do also offer all their sunglasses without any vision correction and I tried a pair of those, testing a pair of polarized Ono's Grand Lagoon sunglasses. Given what top-end polarized sunglasses normally go for—upwards of $200—it was nice to see a pair retailing for half that price. The Grand Lagoon's are priced at $90, or $100 if you get the upgrade to polarized lenses. And they deliver more than adequate optics. Do they compare favorably with top-of-the-line lenses? Not quite. But if you're of the mind that $200 or more is too much to spend on something that can be so easily lost, broken, or scratched, these are good alternative. The Grand Lagoons are best suited for narrow faces and I would recommend treating them with care—and storing them in the included hard case when not on your face—as they are quite lightweight. However, that said, the company prominently displays a lifetime warranty on its website so if they break and it wasn't because you sat on them or tried to clean them with a power sander, you might be inline for a replacement pair. www.Onos.com, $100 -S.S.Courtesy Of The Manufacturer
Fresh Balls
A few of you (hopefully) will remember a little piece I wrote about Fresh Balls prior to the Bermuda Race. (They also make a product called Fresh Breasts for the ladies). This lotion is designed for men to fight wetness in areas where it can lead to chafe. As this is a persistent problem on distance races, often necessitating the use of liberal amounts of baby powder, I wondered whether Fresh Balls would be a better remedy. As it turns out, old faithful (Gold Bond is my personal choice) is still the best. Without getting too much into the details, I'll just say that while Fresh Balls is just not as effective offshore, in the 100-percent humidity of an ocean racing yacht's cabin. It would, however, be great for inshore events, where you're able to shower on a daily basis and then dry off before applying. www.FreshBalls.com, $14.99 for a 3-oz. tube. -S.S.Courtesy Of The Manufacturer
NOOD merchandise
Get a free 2012 NOOD backpack when you spend at least $100 on NOOD apparel from Coral Reef Sailing Apparel. With more than just your average regatta polo, the regatta shop includes quick-drying, moisture-wicking tech tees and stretchy weather resistant softshells from Gill's Race collection. -Eds.Courtesy Of Manufacturers