SAILING | Braving the sound in wintry weather

sailing gear
Gear you’ll want should you be brave enough to undertake winter sailing, as our newest correspondent, Edward Briganti, has.

Edward Briganti
ejforbes.com Contributing Writer

If you’re a New Yorker (or live anywhere on the eastern seaboard for that matter), you know we’re coming off what’s proved to have been a long winter. As a lifelong sailor, however, I long ago swore off heading out on the water between October and late April unless it was in warmer climes. But after New York’s fourth major snowstorm, I was driven from my cramped, stuffy, over-heated apartment into the outdoors. I have begun “Frostbiting,” as winter sailing in New England is known, on Sundays at Larchmont Yacht Club. It’s amazing how “up” life can look just by spending a few hours in the sun, even if it’s 40 degrees.

On the other side, winter sailing can be a brutally cold and miserable affair — the water is a hypothermic 36 degrees — so cold the floor of the cockpit gets chilly and forms ice inside the boat as you sail; there is more wind and it is shiftier and puffier and more unpredictable than in the summertime — all increasing the dreaded threat of a capsize. The fear of capsizing, however, is what also makes winter sailing so exciting. It’s healthy for the soul to scare the crap out of yourself every now and again. Winter sailing can also be some of the most strategically rewarding and visually appealing sailing there is. The light refracts off the water in a crisper, clearer way and the lack of boat traffic creates smooth waters. When it’s good, there’s often nothing better, so it is critical that outdoor sportsman dress appropriately for the conditions. Below is a summary of the gear I use, love, and recommend. All are based on two key and reinforcing themes: warmth and moisture transfer.

My take on gear is that you pretty much get what you pay for and cheap can be expensive. I take a long-term investment approach to my gear: if you buy the good stuff, it will perform better, longer. While it is recommended that anybody recreating in waters colder than 50 degrees wear a drysuit, it is not mandatory. For the sake of comfort, I use my Gore-Tex and capilene based offshore foul weather gear as my winter sailing attire.

1. Top: Musto MPX Gore-Text Race Smock: My top layer has an active cut, room for layering, articulated elbows and underarms for ease of movement. I like the smooth non-abrasive stretch neck seals with Velcro adjustment, side opening neck with waterproof gusset, and Velcro adjustable neoprene waistband. Side pockets with water resistant zips stash granola bars or a beanie on warm days. The waterproof coating keeps me dry.

2. Bottoms: Musto MPX Offshore Trousers: I lived in these bibs for 4 sultry days in the Gulf Stream on the way to Bermuda during the 2008 Newport Bermuda Race. The 500 denier Cordura seat & knee patches resist abrasion while hiking and moving around the cockpit. There’s plenty of room for layering. The multi-tool sheath stores my Gerber multi-tool. My favorite feature is the 2-way zip, which allows one to relieve oneself over the side without having to derobe.

3. Boots: Shamrock Stretch Boot by Dubarry of Ireland: Cozy feet are happy feet and happy feet make for a good sailor. These boots are gore-tex lined and incredibly comfortable. There’s enough room to fit a Little Hotties toe warmer inside as well. Some people think it’s cool to
wear these boots around town. Don’t. These boots will save your life, so treat those award-winning slip resistant soles with respect and have a pair of sneakers to change into when you’re
back on the dock before you reach the pavement.

4. Lifejacket: Lotus Designs PFD: This was my lifejacket from college sailing. I picked it up on a five-finger discount from the Lost & Found at the yacht club after watching it go unclaimed for an entire summer. The low profile/flak-jacket look is key to keep the things flow. The utility pocket on the front carries your knife, lip balm, granola bar, and beer koozie.

5. Gloves: Atlas Thermal Fit gardening gloves: Yes gardening gloves. Sold individually and preferred by sailors who always seem to lose just one glove. Much cheaper than brand-name sailing-specific gloves, just as warm, and in many cases more functional.

6. Sunglasses: Haber Vision Kenais: A bunch of ex Bollé guys got together and produced a gnarly line of polarized shades at value prices. The full coverage blocks out glare, and the polarized rose-colored lenses allow you to spot that lefty shift coming down the course from 300 yards
away.

7. Hat: Patagonia Beanie: Crews might prefer a thicker wool hat, but as a skipper, I often get warm when I’m in the thick of racing.

8. Fleece Sweater: Patagonia R2 Jacket: This piece will essentially be your mid-layer between your smock and you base underwear. It is super light, super compressible, breathable, and heck, the U.S. Marines even use this jacket (have yet to find the special issue tan and olive drab), it must be good! The softly lined inner collar is where it’s at.

9. Fleece Pants: Patagonia R1 Pant: Similar to the R2 jacket but for your legs. Could get a little warm on the more mild days, if so, drop down to full-length capilene tights.

10. Wicking Undershirt: Patagonia Capilene: No cotton t-shirts in here. We wick and we stay warm and dry. Not much more to say here.

11. Wicking Underwear: Patagonia Active Boxers: The outdoor sportsman can’t have enough pairs of this wicking boxer short.

12. Socks: Patagonia Mid-weight Hiking Socks: If it seems like I’m obsessed with Patagonia, I am. They make good stuff and I believe that pretty much all others are just imitations. In all practicality though, you need a warm sock for frostbiting but it’s important that your sock not be a thick one. In the event you end up in the water and your boots fill up, you need to be able to kick them off easily. While this is an extreme situation, in reality, the Dubarry’s seem to fit better with a thinner sock.

13. Multi-tool: Gerber: The icon on this tool is a sword in a stone. I’ve had this tool since high, school and it has truly been my Excalibur. The quick deploy needle-nose pliers are a big help in clasping cold ring dings and adjusting shroud tension.

14. Knife: Boye Boatknife: A multi-tool AND a knife you say? What for? Well, the Gerber is your toolbox in a sheath for all the nuts, bolts, ring dings, pins, and other misc. hardware on the boat that might require attention. Yes the Gerber has a blade, but every sailor worth his salt knows a knife is really for personal safety. When things get rough and that line needs to be cut to free yourself or your crew from danger, you need a blade that will deploy quickly, cut inch-thick line like butter, and it’s dendritic cobalt so it won’t rust in the saltwater environment. For that you choose Boye.

15. Activated Warmers: Little Hotties:
It might seem like cheating with all this gear to use these little suckers but when it’s cold out, you’ll be glad to have them. Who said you have to suffer and be uncomfortable?! Enjoy some creature comforts and stuff yourself (especially crews) with these activated charcoal warmers.

16. Neck gaiter: Buff Original: Some people like the fleece ski neck gaiter, I prefer the lower profile, climate controlled Buff. The fish scale pattern lets the competition know I’m serious.

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