Sunglasses are often thought of as a fashion accessory. I would argue that for sailors, they are a health necessity—and my optometrist agrees. When she first marveled at the youthful look of my eyeballs (which are, apparently, still much clearer and whiter than my calendar age would suggest), I mentioned that I’d started wearing polarized sunglasses in my teens.
I’ve happily worn Maui Jims since 2004, so don’t expect this to be an unbiased comparison of different brands. Do expect to learn about their latest technology, MauiBrilliant, which manages to combine the polarized clarity and scratch resistance of glass with the lightweight, impact resistance of a polycarbonate lens.
I still use my original pair of Maui Jims as backups, so their titanium frames and glass lenses were as durable as advertised. They were also heavy, but I accepted that in exchange for their clarity and eye protection. It wasn’t until 2010, when I updated to the new MauiPure lenses, that I realized how fatiguing all that glass weight had been. Frameless MauiBrilliants take lightweight even further, weighing in at a mere .6 ounces. Maui Jim claims the new lenses are one-third the weight of their current glass, which is “20 percent lighter than standard glass.” All I know is I forget that I’m wearing them, even at the end of a long day in the bright sun.
Of course, lenses are only as good as the structure that holds them in place, and “frameless” might not sound very durable. The Kapunas I tested over a weeklong Snipe regatta in the winter tropics (with its low sun angles) were treated just as badly as my old glasses: Almost every morning they got knocked off my head onto pavement (when, forgetting they were there, I pulled a shirt off over my head). And almost every afternoon, I dropped them down into the boat while adjusting layers or rinsing salt off my face between races. On one occasion, I only narrowly missed stepping on them, but having done that to my previous pair of Maui Jims, I’m optimistic they would’ve survived that too. After several weeks of wear and one intense week of regatta abuse, they still look brand new. If only the glasses from my optometrist were this scratch resistant.
The glasses are less adjustable than previous pairs; only the bendable nosepiece can be customized. But the sidepieces grip my head well, without digging grooves into my skull when crushed beneath a hat on its heavy air setting. And a rather unscientific test proved they fit a wide range of Snipe faces. Prescription lenses will be available in early 2017, eliminating one more reason to stick with glass.
As for clarity, Maui Jim continues to impress. It was easy to see puffs on Bahamas-clear water no matter what color/depth it was, because the glare was removed without altering any of those vibrant blues. When I got off the water my eyes weren’t tired, even after a long day of staring into bright low-angle sunlight—and I also wasn’t tired of wearing them, the way I would’ve been with a heavier pair.
It’s hardly news that Maui Jims help keep eyes healthy by reducing glare, without compromising clarity. What is news is that they do this in a lens that weighs almost nothing while standing up to the rigors of dinghy racing. I’m not into fashion accessories, but I do like the idea of spotting puffs easily while protecting my vision—and I also like continuing to impress the optometrist with the whites of my aging eyeballs.