I’ve just returned from a week offshore on SEA’s Corwith Cramer (which I will be very happy to tell you all about in an upcoming issue of SAIL) but as the magazine’s gear reviewer, I wanted to give a quick shout out to some of the packing list’s MVPs. This isn’t my first rodeo, but there are always a few things that surprise me with how much I use them—or don’t.
The Fluffy Mittens
These knit fleece-lined mittens were a Christmas gift from my grandmother years ago that I rarely wear because they’re almost cartoonishly big and fluffy so you can’t fit them in coat pockets. Plus, they’re not waterproof, so by standard wisdom, they have no place on a boat. But after spending the coldest week of my entire life delivering a boat in latitudes far south of where we were scheduled to be, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to have them, even if it was just to warm up after a night watch.
In reality, they were a godsend. At 0200, with temperatures in the high 40s and buffeting winds, I was perfectly cozy—if a bit sleep deprived. I never realized how much heat leaked out my hands until I felt the difference. They were so useful my crewmates and I traded them around while rotating through bow watches and hand steering 24 hours a day (no autopilot, but again, that’s an adventure for another day).
If you’re considering your first overnight sail anywhere north of Washington DC, I cannot overemphasize how late winter bleeds into summer out on the ocean or the Great Lakes. Even as it was in the 80s on shore, it was about 50 out to sea and felt like 40.
Helly Hansen Skagen Bibs
Don’t get me wrong, the neon orange Skagen jacket that I wear offshore is a favorite, but I really fell in love with the corresponding bibs this week. They’re bibs with a long front zip and plenty of pockets—most importantly, two huge ones on the thigh/knee. These cargo pockets are perfectly placed for easy access and can fit anything. Phone? Knife? Sunscreen? Yes, yes and yes. My phone pretty much stayed in the closed pocket as a camera backup all week, and I was never afraid of kneeling on it, getting it wet or losing it. A few other members also had either the Skagen jacket or pants, and we were continually looking at each other and saying, “Oh, I didn’t realize there was a pocket there!” Absolutely A+ storage.
It’s also worth mentioning that the wind really rips through you on the open water, and these bibs were the perfect weight to keep my core temperature up, even when worn without the jacket.
Sperry Cutwater Deck boots
I brought two pairs of shoes on this trip, the Cutwater deck boots and a more standard sailing sneaker that I sometimes wear around town in my regular life. I figured the latter would be my go-to, and the deck boots would be good to have as a backup if we ran into wet weather or big seas. To my surprise, I found myself basically living in the deck boots even when it wasn’t cold or wet.
They turned out to be the more comfortable of the two, in part because I usually wear the sneakers with regular socks, but this time I needed a bit of extra wiggle room for thicker wool socks. Other things I liked about the deck books were that the grippy soles were, as expected, great for wet decks and ladders, and they’re shorter and less clunky than my other pair of sailing boots, which gave me better ankle articulation and dexterity when things got a little sporty.
My advice is to keep in mind that just because gear is great for life ashore doesn’t mean it will operate the way you expect out on the water. Still, I’m glad I brought both pairs since the sneaker would’ve been my footwear of choice if we were stopping in a port or if the deck boots had needed some time off (e.g. drying out, giving me blisters).
My final shoutout goes to a new pair of sunglasses—the Renegades from SunGod. I had to go to the glasses store as soon as I got back because the frames on my regular glasses were bent and the lenses scratched up from living in my pockets and being tossed straight in my backpack when off watch (I know, I know). However, I was not any kinder to the Renegades, and they still look fresh from the box.
The frames were a bit too large for my face, so if you typically opt for smaller-fit sunglasses, maybe go for a different frame shape. That being said, I appreciated that the lenses were nice and big to protect my whole field of vision, and my eyes didn’t feel tired even after a six-hour watch in the sun. The polarization makes for super clear lenses and, perhaps my favorite feature, they’re 100 percent made from recycled materials and are certified carbon neutral.
So that’s my advice: overpack for cold weather, don’t skip on sunglasses and always have a backup. Being offshore is already enough stress on your body, so invest in gear that will help—sometimes that means something as small as fluffy mittens.