After a frustrating and fruitless day of shopping locally for gear appropriate for a 30-something woman to wear on the race course, Practical Sailor editors set out on a mission to find a pair of padded sailing shorts that: fit properly (unlike most womens board shorts, which seem styled for a 13-year-old); did not look like theyd been borrowed from a mans locker; and were fast-drying, comfortable, and functional (even when hopping around a racer-cruiser or hiking on a dinghy). We found few options, and most of those were made by Camet International, a California-based sailing apparel manufacturer.
As we noted in our last look at mens athletic-style boating shoes (June 2007), the marine footwear market is changing quickly. This hasnt necessarily been good for the consumer, as a lot of poorly executed "copycat" shoes are turning up at boat shows. Last year was the first time Practical Sailor had the opportunity to take a hard look at any boat shoe from Columbia Sportswear, an Oregon-based apparel company that over the last 10 years has expanded into the boating market. Testers put a pair of the companys PFG Sea Ray Boating Shoes through our battery of shoe tests (nonskid grip, water absorption, odor resistance, etc.) and then wore them around for six months. The ability to multi-task is one of the appeals of the moccasin style of boat shoe.
Practical Sailor recently tested the first line of foul-weather gear released by Massachusetts-based Bluestorm. The three mens bibs-and-jacket sets are named appropriately for the general areas they are designed for use in: the lightweight Latitude 33, medium-weight Latitude 48, and heavy-duty Latitude 61. The sailing jackets and bibs were tested for wind- and water-resistance, fit and comfort, design, construction quality, warmth, design and fit of hood, design and construction of zippers, and reflectivity. Small, innovative details that Bluestorm incorporated into its foulies include the triple-closure system for jacket storm flaps and recessed Velcro fasteners. All sets have excellent hood design, and testers found the jackets to be supple, highly breathable, and comfortable, if a bit pricey.
Its hard to believe, but the 2009 holiday season is upon us. As is custom, Practical Sailor editors have put together a varied roundup of gifts to stuff those stockings more likely to hang from a bulkhead than the mantle. For the racing or small-boat sailor whos making the leap from wire rope to high-tech fiber, Colligo Marines Softies offer a lightweight alternative to traditional steel shackles and headsail hanks. Made of extra strong and chafe-resistant Dyneema, the "soft" hardware is the perfect solution for use with synthetic forestays, and unlike metal hanks, theyll never leave rust stains on sails. Using the Softies is as easy as pulling the shake-resistant knot through the expandable spliced loop, then sliding the slip ring (rubber O-rings) up to the knot. A lanyard ensures easy opening, but the self-tightening O-rings offer added security against accidental opening or shaking loose.
As with most types of sailing gear, picking the right sea boot is dependant on the user and intended use. Caribbean cruisers have different needs than offshore voyagers sailing in the high latitudes. Practical Sailors tested the performance and comfort of 15 pairs of mid-calf, knee-high, and three-quarter sea boots from Aigle, Dubarry, Gill, Helly Hansen, Puma, Sperry, Ronstan, West Marine, and Musto. Although you don't necessarily need to spend several hundred dollars for decent boots, we did find that boots priced at $150 and higher fared much better in our tests.
Practical Sailor editors pored over the dozens of products reviewed in the previous months to find the best of the best sailing gear, products that are worthy of the designation Gear of the Year. This years editors choice list includes a rugged rope clutch (Spinlock), a grippy ratchet block (Ronstan), feature-filled VHF handheld radios (Standard Horizon and Cobra), high-quality nesting cookware (Magma), a proven paste wax (Collinite), an ocean-ready first-aid kit (Adventure Medical Kits), a reliable LED bulb for cabin lighting (Imtra), an economical ice box conversion kit (Frigoboat), an innovative ultrasonic tank sensor (BEP Marine), cold-weather gloves (Gill), and an easy-to-install Wi-Fi booster (5mileWiFi).
When it comes to gear for the outdoor enthusiast, there are a lot of crossover products. Hikers, bikers, boaters, backpackers, and climbers share a need for lightweight, durable, and practical equipment. So as Practical Sailor editors geared up for our summer adventures, we looked for products that could serve double-duty on the boat and on the trail.
As a new boat owner, I have no end of questions, but here’s a quickie: I have recently had my boat hauled and sanded to the gelcoat, and repainted with all the right stuff. (The bottom was coated with Interlux CA Bottomkote.) Now, how often should I have a diver clean the underside, bearing in mind I live in San Diego? The service providers have a vested interest in selling frequent cleans—one company running a special at the moment wants me to sign a contract for a bottom clean every three weeks, but that sounds way too often to me. I realize it may well vary with geography and ambient temperature, but there should be some kind of general rule of thumb, perhaps?
Practical Sailor ran field tests and lab tests on dozens of polarized sunglasses ranging from cheap to high-end products, including those popular for watersports eyewear. Field tests included wearing the products for eyeball navigation in shoal waters and assessing glare, color brightness, sharpness, fit, peripheral vision, and any interference with reading LCD screens or charts. Sunglasses that did well in field tests, and a few that did poorly, were sent to Pacific University College of Optometry, where they were tested in the lab for lens warpage, prismatic effect, tint, and resolution. The test field included polarized glasses from Bolle, Costa Del Mar, Gill, Harken, Hobie, Kaenon, Maui Jim, Oakley, and Nike.
I read with interest your evaluation of first aid kits, which wrapped up with the final installment in the December 2008 issue. Id like to add a couple of points: Weekend, cruising, and bluewater sailors should invest in a good up-to-date first aid and CPR course. It is as important as a functional bilge pump. The responsible sailor can outfit a substantial and superior first-aid kit for much less money than a commercially available kit. The kit should be appropriate for the expected duration a victim will need treatment prior to evacuation. Most commercial kits contain a lot of fluff and are unnecessarily redundant-a lot of Band-Aids. I stress to distance sailors stocking a few prescription items and aggressive treatment for seasickness, beyond Bonine. I favor a solid medical text such as "A Comprehensive Guide to Marine Medicine," by Dr. Erick Weiss and Dr. Michael Jacobs, or "Medicine for Mountaineering and other Wilderness Activities," by James Wilkerson. The latter is available from Mountaineer Books. Both texts give guidance on stocking kits appropriate for your boat. Remember, the victim may be the captain or medical officer, and a novice may be the one rendering treatment. A medical guide is an invaluable resource.
If you're going to sail you'll be doing some stitching-no two ways about it. That doesn't mean you have to go overboard with sail repair tools. Don't jump into the $100 do-everything kit. Start with a modest kit, adding tools and materials only as your skills grow and projects require them. Chances are, you already have most of what you need in your other supply lockers or tool boxes.