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Here are some products we love and companies that have provided great service.
  • Weicon
    They make the best wire stripper I've ever used (the No. 5) and the Canada office has excellent customer service. Really great quality and great people.
  • Defender
    Good prices, yes, but truly excellent customer service.

    Garhauer Marine Hardware
    Excellent quality boat hardware from a really nice, family-owned business. And good customer service, too!
  • Delta Faucet
    This company made the faucet we installed in our galley. When it had a problem, they replaced it free of charge -- no questions asked -- after five years. Wow. It's the best galley faucet we've ever used on a boat.

  • Chacos
    We love our Chacos sandals. I (accidentally) hiked up a volcano in them in Migrations #6.
  • Makita
    They make the best cordless drills ever.
  • Vai Ora
    The most amazing chocolate milk you will ever drink. But you have to go to Tahiti to get it.
    A fantastic dive shop online. Excellent customer service.
  • Visibility Unlimited
    A great dive shop that really helped us out by sending parts to Costa Rica.
  • Racor
    They make our diesel fuel filters and provide excellent customer service.
  • Scanmar
    Makers of the Monitor windvane. Our original broke in the gale off of Easter Island (Migrations #9). Scanmar provides amazing customer service and they checked out and shipped our next Monitor which we bought used.
  • PYI
    They sold us our Max-Prop and ShaftSeal. They provide some of the best customer service on the planet.
  • Spectra Watermakers
    Our watermaker is fantastic and Spectra's customer service has been excellent. Our only complaint is their ridiculous prices for spare parts. Wake up, Spectra and stop ripping off your loyal customers.
  • Whale
    I used Whale System 15 plumbing when I replumbed Migration 20 years ago. What a great system. I highly recommend it. Not a single problem in 20 years... except a piece of pipe that split because I had run it under a window that got a lot of sunlight. The UV did it in. That was my fault. Update: After our 2013-2015 refit in Thailand, two service valve fittings split when we pressurized the system. Whale doesn't make these fittings any longer so I wonder if there was a problem at some point. However, they were over 20 years old.
And here are a few companies or products with mixed reviews:
  • Porta-bote
    The makers of Plover. They are a strange company but we do like their boats. However, don't count on their warranty... they are very difficult to deal with if you want service. And, we have to say, the boats don't seem as robust as they once did.
  • Ocean Gear
    A dive shop in Southern California that is run by a very nice and knowledgeable diving couple. We got our custom wetsuits through them. In the past they have been terrific, however they did drop the ball on an order which is the only reason they are in the mixed reviews section.
  • Lewmar
    Lewmar makes tons of marine gear. Some of it is great. Some of it is just OK. Our hatches are Lewmar and they are excellent. Unfortunately the welds have cracked on two of them. Our windlass is Lewmar and the base corroded completely. We include the company here because they did stand behind the windlass and sent us a new stainless steel base. They didn't send us a new hatch, however. Also, in 2017, we had a 2 year-old hatch start leaking. I still like their hatches but am disappointed that a new hatch would have an issue.
  • Lavac Toilets
    Best marine toilets made. Really. At least, they were. Our 8-year old toilet has a cracked base -- unacceptable to us. Also, the customer service from the UK is ATROCIOUS. And I mean it. They never respond until you send multiple emails and they are not helpful at all. SBI, the US distributors is much more responsive. Unfortunately, replacement parts prices are too high. It's a shame because it is (was?) a great product. Hey BLAKE-LAVAC-TAYLORS, wake up and serve your loyal customers!
And here are a few companies or products we aren't so fond of. And some we actually detest:
  • Caframo Fans
    Horrible fans. Poorly designed. Unusable. We tried them because we were tired of our Hella fans clicking. But Hella fans are so much better than Caframo.
  • Navico
    We have no experience with their products but they purchased Navman Marine Instruments which we do have. Our Navman autopilot has been great but all other instruments (wind, knotmeter, depth sounder, NMEA repeater) rate from fair to total crap. Although Navico replaced our wind instrument (after 4 letters and 2 faxes -- and it still doesn't work!), we will never buy a product from them after dealing with their absolutely atrocious technical support department.
  • North Sails
    It's actually very difficult for me to put North Sails in this category. The first suit of sails I bought for Migration in 1996 were from North and I was very pleased with the sails and the service. In 2004 I bought a new main before leaving California. That main shredded when we left Fiji in 2011. Six and a half years is not what I expect from a sail. When I asked North Sails in Auckland, NZ for a quote for a new sail, and questioned them about the short life of the last sail, they replied that, given our use, that is the life expectancy of the sail. We do put a lot of miles on our sails but we also take care of them and sail conservatively... I don't think a sail should last less than 7 years.
    Additionally, because I was so happy with our first suit from North Sails (we were still using the 1996 jib and mizzen), we purchased a jib and mizzen from North in Auckland in 2010. They bungled the size of the mizzen but stood behind it and made us a new one the following year. However, in that one year several of the lashings to the sail slides came off. When we received our new mizzen in 2011, the same thing happened. When I emailed our salesman about a possible quality problem, he replied that we should check the stitching before long passages. That was it. I think North once made excellent sails. But I will not buy from them again.

    As a follow-up, I wrote a letter to CEO Tom Whidden, President Gary Weisman, and NZ Loft General Manager Richard Bicknell and received no reply. Here's the letter.

7 October 2012

Dear Mssrs. Whidden, Weisman, & Bicknell,

Before I began fulltime cruising, I co-founded a software development firm in California. I was always pleased when our customers provided feedback as it was the best way to improve our products and services. Though I am sure you are extremely busy, I do hope you will give this letter your attention as it is delivered in the same spirit as that of my former customers.

In 1994 I purchased a new suit of sails main, mizzen, and jib from North Sails San Francisco for my Cross 46 trimaran. The sails were excellent and Jeff Madrigali, my sales rep, did a great job. I spent years sailing the SF Bay area with those sails as well as 2 years in the tropics in Mexico including the bash back up the coast to California.

In 2005, in preparation for a circumnavigation, I ordered a new main from North Sails Long Beach. Im a firm believer in brand loyalty and I had been very happy with my sails.

So far, so good.

In New Zealand in 2010, I ordered a new mizzen and jib from North Sails Auckland. The 1994 jib and mizzen were tired as one would expect after so many years and miles. But here the problems begin.

Despite bringing the old mizzen to the Auckland loft, along with a new boom that was to be fitted, the sail was cut short on both the luff and leach. Our sales rep stood behind the original quote and, since there was no time to manufacture a new sail before our departure for the tropics, he suggested we sail with the short mizzen for a season and he would have the new mizzen ready when we returned to New Zealand.

He was as good as his word and we received that new mizzen in May 2011. However, the short mizzen had shown a tendency to have the webbing come unstitched at the sail slides. I pointed this out to our rep as it was a surprise after only one year.

Later that year in November, upon our departure from Fiji for New Zealand, our 2005 main (from the Long Beach loft) ripped along most of the leach. We were close reaching in 20 knots with a single reef. The sail was not repairable as the sailcloth could be easily torn by hand. Again, this was a surprise after less than seven years. When I asked the Auckland loft why this might have happened, the response was that that was the life one should expect from a sail. Ask the sailors out here cruising fulltime and you will be pressed to find one that agrees with that statement.

This year in May, our new mizzen had the same issue as the short mizzen: the stitching began falling out of the webbing attaching the sail slide. Again after only a year. Worse, we were delayed for three days in the Torres Strait while we hand-sewed the leach and foot line pockets of our jib. Not what I would expect from a 2-year old jib.

We take care of our sails. They are never left uncovered except when at sea. We expect sails to require some attention and repair, but this is so different than our previous experience with North Sails.

Besides the larger issues, there have been small ones. For example, listing our trimaran as a catamaran on the sail bag label. This is not big deal but it indicates sloppiness. Coupled with the other issues, it simply says, We dont care about this job.

Whats the good news? When our mainsail ripped in Fiji in 2011, we put the 1994 North main back on. It has since carried us another 5,000 miles and is flying as I type this 100 miles east of Bali. Its done a great job. So back then, you were clearly doing it right.

For me, buying sails is not just about price. Loyalty to a company that has served me well is important. Unfortunately, I feel that North Sails is no longer a company that cares about sails for sailors like myself.

Thank you for your attention. I do hope my views are of some benefit to your company.

Yours sincerely,

Bruce Balan
s/v Migration
currently lying Serangan Island, Bali, Indonesia



This site was last updated 11/22/17