Staying Warm

Ocean Rodeo drysuit a good option for cold-weather sailors.

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hypothermia test

Agility test

Hard-core dinghy sailors affectionately refer to their drysuit as the bag, and until recently, its been an appropriate, descriptive nickname. But in our last look at drysuit technology, we recognized the contribution to comfort made by breathable fabrics that do a great job of keeping water on the outside and still allow water vapor to migrate across the semi-permeable barrier. In past testing, we liked Gills drysuit and Ocean Rodeos Soul suit.

Our latest test looked at Ocean Rodeos new Ignite breathable drysuit. It really got us thinking about how the gears very un-bag-like fit and its breathable membrane make it useful attire for offshore sailors handling heavy weather as well as a great match for frostbiting sailors and early-season windsurfers and kiteboarders.

Testing began when ice-choked, mid-Atlantic estuaries were reeling from last winters deep freeze, and PS Technical Editor Ralph Naranjo put the new gear to a serious hypothermia test. Suited up in the Ignite, Naranjo found that by adding multiple under layers for thermal protection, the icy water was tolerable, and the suit kept him and the under layers bone dry.

The Ignite suit features a new zipper arrangement, built-in dry socks, and an attached jacket and hood. It also has flexible, abrasion-resistant overlays in key chafe areas, a smooth-pull main zipper, a secondary zipper for male bladder relief, and soft, flexible Polytex neck and wrist seals. The one-piece jacket, hood, and full drysuit can be worn in a standby mode, where the suit is on but the main zipper is open and the neck seal has not been pulled over your head.

The attached shell is zipped up, and all it takes to regain full dry-suit protection is to pull the neck seal over your head and zip up. This gives an offshore sailor coping with intermittent squalls or prolonged bouts of heavy weather a chance to be dressed in gear that retains agility and provides superior thermal protection thats nearly as good as a survival suit.

The reason we decided to revisit the drysuit topic now is because of an email conversation we have been having with two Coast Guard captains intimately familiar with search-and-rescue procedures and concerned about the recent Cheeki Rafiki tragedy (see PS blog May 2014 online). Among the issues theyve raised is a need for hypothermia protection in colder water sailing. They underscored that with EPIRB and PLB beacon effectiveness, staying afloat and protected from the elements usually results in rescue.

The problem for sailors is that theres no telling when the big wave or brutal wind gust will hit, and it may not leave time to don a survival suit. Donning such gear early lessens a crews agility and capacity to respond to boat-handling needs. Some survival suits have sewn-in gloves that make it almost impossible to turn on the radio or deploy a PLB. Thats why wearing a comfortable, breathable drysuit like the new Ocean Rodeo Ignite makes sense. It leaves you much more ready to respond to the challenges lurking in heavy-weather encounters.

The Ignite retails for $1,099 and is available through any of the dealers listed on its website.

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