North Sails had been dabbling in sailing gear for many years, mainly in Europe, and while it was perfectly suitable for inshore racing and the streets of St. Tropez and Sardinia, it wasn’t built for hard and wet ocean miles. And we all know that if you’re wet and cold, you’re slow, and North doesn’t do slow. So, they recently set out to produce the best and most durable foul weather gear they possibly could and the key step was to hire Nigel Musto, whose eponymous brand was long considered the gold standard of serious performance sailing gear, both inshore and offshore. That same standard now applies to the new North Sails Performance Collection released this spring and immediately earning praise among the pros as the most technical kit on the market today.
Yes, it’s top-shelf gear with top-shelf pricing, but with top-shelf materials and construction, it may very well be the last bit of sailing gear you ever buy (as long as you take care of it, of course). That’s the sentiment of Martha Parker, founder of Team One Newport, who has the first shipment of inventory in the States, https://www.team1newport.com/North-Sails/products/1269/). Parker has seen her share of foul weather gear over three decades in the apparel business, and her last impression is, “it’s incredibly light.
“Even when you pick up the offshore stuff it feels like the weight of a windbreaker, and once you get down into the inshore stuff, it’s amazing what they’ve done,” Parker says. “The first thing I do with foul weather gear is turn it inside out because that’s the whole story, and this stuff is definitely cool. The seams are impeccably finished.”
The range is designed and built for bigger boat applications (no dinghy gear), and offered in Ocean, Offshore and Inshore categories. Using Gore-Tex Pro, the absolute best membrane fabric from Gore, the gear is certainly durable, breathable, and it’s most definitely waterproof. To address seam and reinforcement construction—the Achilles Heel of sailing gear, North designers developed what they’re calling “4DL,” which is a four-layer laminate used in high-wear areas like the knees and the seat. There’s weight savings, too: by not stitching on a chafe protection layer (especially the seat area), the real benefit is eliminating water absorption and leakage where it’s most likely to happen.
Excessive absorption, or what’s referred to as fabric wet-out (when the applied water-repellent coating is no longer effective), is what hinders the membrane laminate’s breathability. To eliminate this fabric saturation, designers also developed what they call “Tightweave,” a fabric construction that uses thinner threads and a tighter weave. By doing so, we’re told, they’re less reliant on the water-repellant coating and more reliant on the fabric itself to maintain waterproofness. For wrist and neck seals, they’ve gone away from the traditional flimsy rubber dry-suite type gaskets and use thin, slippery neoprene instead, which is a far more durable material and stretchy enough to get a reliable watertight seal without cutting off your circulation.
In the Offshore range, the top of the line are certainly the Southern Ocean Smock and the Atlantic Ocean Smock. Designed by true blue-water professionals and field tested during the recent Vendée Globe, they have the key attributes you’d want in the extreme latitudes or cold-water passage: high-collars, a deep front hand pocket, an extra-long back panel, tight seals, and a streamlined design to make it easier to don and fit harnesses and PFDs. Pair one of these tops with the bib-style Ocean Trousers and you’ve got yourself a full-send package that’ll keep you dry all watch long.
While most sailors don’t require the sophistication of the Ocean range, the North Performance gear transitions into the Offshore and Inshore offerings using the same Gore-Tex Pro for streamlined smocks and bibs. There are proper layers in the lineup, too, from fleece-lined jackets, to shell, shorts and pants. They’ve got your pants, shorts, belts and beanies, too, which is also top-of the line stuff to get you across the finish line warm, dry and ready for another race.