Spring arrives in the minds of many sailors as soon as the ice has been carried out to sea. Its often the time when the breeze is consistent and only the temperature stands in the way of great sailing. Hypothermia is a concern, but the latest wetsuits, semi-drysuits, and full drysuits can add both comfort and safety to an early start. The new drysuit technology is a quantum leap forward in both comfort and thermal efficiency. Unlike a wetsuit, which traps and warms a thin layer of water next to the skin, the drysuit keeps all water out. The drysuit is not a survival suit. (See story, facing page.) It allows more freedom of movement. Its made of multiple thin layers, and in some cases, a breathable fabric. The drysuit allows the user to dress like a mountaineer, with wicking undergarments (Practical Sailor, January 2006) close to the skin, followed by layers of fleece, hollow fill, or other high-tech insulating layers. Hands are uncovered, but a wide range of glove options are available (see Practical Sailor, September and November 2008), allowing a sailor to keep warm and still maintain dexterity. Many drysuits incorporate sealed booties that accommodate sock-covered feet. Deck boots or other footwear can be worn over the sealed socks, insuring that the toes stay toasty warm. The semi-dry option is a high-tech wetsuit with some drysuit features. Neck and zipper seals and a unique top entry keep the chest and upper arm area of the neoprene suit dry. Legs and lower arms are warmed in wetsuit fashion by trapping a layer of water between the skin and the neoprene. Thicker material and high-tech insulation like Neil Prydes Zirconium yarn liner add warmth, and the combined effect delivers a suit thats both warm and flexible to wear. Wetsuits and semi-drysuits are often designated with numerals separated by a back slash. The first refers to the millimeter thickness of the torso portion of the suit and the second designation is the material thickness covering the extremities.
In our continuing effort to stay warm and dry this winter, testers took a look at a few pairs of waterproof socks from SealSkinz, the maker of cold-weather gloves recommended in the November 2008 issue. Protecting feet from the elements typically involves trudging on deck in a pair of clunky, heavy boots. Waterproof socks, however, mean you can stick to your favorite deck shoes-or sandals for that matter-and still have your feet warm and dry. Testers tried out two styles of SealSkinz waterproof socks (all-season and over-the-calf lengths) as well as the companys WaterBlocker sock. The SealSkinz socks have three layers: A nylon/Lycra spandex outer layer offers durability and flexibility, while the inner layer is knit from a wicking material, and the mid-layer is a Moisture Vapor Transportation membrane designed to keep water out. The WaterBlockers have the same weight, construction, and materials as the other socks, but they have the added benefit of an in-cuff seal intended to keep water out.
Cruising sailors often need a wetsuit to clean the bottom of their boat or clear a fouled line from the prop-not to mention the added fun of snorkeling the clear, cool waters of the west coast or granite ledges of Maine. Neil Prydes new Elite II semidry suit answers these needs and then some. Better known to many of us as a sailmaker, Neil Pryde is also one of the largest wetsuit makers in the world, catering to windsurfers, kite boarders, and other water-sports enthusiasts. The companys latest offering, the Elite II is a unique product that combines a drysuit-style top with a regular wetsuit bottom. The tops "roll-neck" seal keeps the wearers torso completely dry, as a heat-locking liner improves heat retention.
Practical Sailor’s annual wrap-up of the year’s best sailing equipment looks at our favorite top-rated products from November 2007 to November 2008, including the Facnor furler for light-air sails, Scad Solo external holding-tank sensor, Pelican Recoil LED flashlight, and Adventure Medical’s first-aid kit for coastal cruisers. In the boat maintenance category, Interlux’s Micron 66 bottom paint and Spray Nine’s waterline stain remover garnered Editors’ Choice picks. Foulie sets (jacket and bibs) by Gill and Helly Hansen were tapped as Practical Sailor Editor’s Choice in apparel, and a host of marine electronics made the list, including the Icom CommandMic III remote mic and Garmin GPSMap 545s 5-inch chartplotter sounder. Jeppesen was recognized for its top-notch electronic chart updating services. Other top gear picks were the Acco proof coil mooring chain and the Achilles HB315-LX fixed-transom inflatable dinghy.
Cold-weather sailing apparel needs to be more waterproof, more windproof, and much warmer than gear for most other cold-weather activities. To find the best glove for cold-weather sailing, two Practical Sailor testers took 14 pairs with them on a three-season cruise of the Chilean channels. The cold-weather sailing gloves fell into four distinct categories: mid-weight, water-resistant gloves; heavyweight, neoprene gloves; insulated gloves; and layered gloves comprising an outer waterproof shell and an inner glove liner. The test gloves included the Gill Extreme, Gill Dura-shark Winter, Gill Three Seasons, Gill Helmsman, the Henri Lloyd Offshore Racer, Henri Lloyd Stealth Winter, Musto Frostbite, SealSkinz gloves, Stearns Arctic Water, Gul Anatomic Cut Helmsman, Zero Featherlite by Fairfield Line, L.L.Bean Vortex, Lined Nitrile (heavy-duty rubber gloves), and Montanna Hyvent by The North Face.
It always seems that a storm rolls into Annapolis, Md., just in time for the United States Sailboat Show. Held in October, the annual exhibition is the nations biggest sailboat-only show. Until this year, my favorite show was in 2006, when a 40-knot gale whipped into town, and the floating docks rolled like a Nantucket whaler with her decks awash. With the wind and spray lashing the show tents, boat buyers defiantly carried on, one hand groping for a lifeline, the other grasping the checkbook. This years storm was of a different sort. Theres something eerily soothing about a large crowd of people ogling new boats while the world markets go into a death spiral. During the shows opening day, five televisions in the waterfront bar Pussers Landing tracked the Dows precipitous plunge. In one fell swoop, my boys college fund and any hope of retiring before Im deaf as a post were carried off in an avalanche of debt. To my surprise, the people around me seemed preoccupied with only boats.
Practical Sailor testers are constantly schlepping tools between the Practical Sailor workshop, our own garages, and—of course—our boats. So we’re always on the lookout for a toolbag that makes said schlepping a little easier. Enter the Original Nantucket Diddy Bag, which we came across at a recent boat show. It is the first tool bag we’ve seen that is reversible and convertible. Designed by a Nantucket carpenter, the bag’s well-thought-out design is practical and versatile. With 36 various-sized pockets (including a hidden one in the bottom), the bag makes tools easy to find and keep organized—no more digging to the depths of a cluttered tool bag.
Options today for sailing gloves seem endless, so Practical Sailor testers set out to find a comfortable sailing glove with excellent grip and dexterity. In this test, PS looks at 12 pair of short-finger performance sailing gloves from eight manufacturers, including Musto, Gill, Gul, Henri Lloyd, Harken, and Sailing Angles. Most of the products were made of Amara, a microfiber-based, synthetic leather. We tested for grip, comfort, durability, and dexterity. We looked at seams, stitching, and materials and tested resistance to odor, mold, and mildew. Gloves tested were the Gill Pro, Gill Championship, Gul Anatomic Cut Neoprene, Harken Reflex Performance, Harken Black Magic, Henri Lloyd Stealth MaxGrip, Henri Lloyd Stealth Pro, Musto Performance, Ronstan Sticky Race Glove, Sailing Angles Kontrol, Sailing Angles Tru Blu, and West Marine three-quarter finger sailing gloves.
Practical Sailor tested seven sets of mid-level marine foul-weather gear, four sets of which were designed specifically for women. The other three were unisex jackets and bibs. The gear tested was: the Gill Key West, Gul Newport, Helly Hansen Fjord, Plastimo XM Coastal, Plastimo XM Offshore, Ronstan Inshore, and West Marine Third Reef. Each set (coat and trousers) was evaluated for fit, comfort, ease of doffing and donning, and breathability. Testers looked closely at the details including zippers, Velcro, snaps, pockets, hoods, and cuffs. One of the most significant findings was that fit can greatly affect foul-weather gear performance as far as water-proofing and wind-proofing are concerned.
At a recent boat show, Practical Sailor editors ran across some interesting kneepads made by Crocs, the manufacturer of those annoyingly popular brightly colored, clog-like shoes. Still sore from some serious knee time during spring maintenance, we decided to see whether the Crocs kneepads were an improvement over our homespun design (Duck tape and sponges). The Crocs are lightweight and made of the same thick, foam-like material as the shoes, which the company claims is buoyant, non-marking, anti-microbial, and odor-resistant. The stretchy elastic straps are adjusted with plastic buckles.