If there’s one thing I’ve learned over a lifetime of racing on different boats, it’s that we sailors are a needy bunch. Even if our boats are old, we eventually need new sails, we need good wet gear to keep us warm and dry, we need shoes that don’t slip on worn non-skid. We need butt pads, kneepads, and now spleen pads for long days spent creased over the lifelines. There’s all of this on top of the basic essentials: shades, hats, gloves, watches, and more. It’s a wonder we can actually leave the dock without all of it. No matter. Whatever it takes for us to race at full intensity and with full enjoyment is essential equipment. In the spirit of a holiday shopping theme, we are sharing our favorites, accessories guaranteed to make any racing sailor—big boat or small—smile, without dipping into the new-sail fund.
Put a lid on it
The ubiquitous Mount Gay hats are the universal beacon of the vast majority of yachties, but true red-hat zealots would never chance losing their precious cap to a gust and watching it drift away in the wake mid-race. Nope. Leave it ashore and go for something technical, something with a retainer cord and clip. One of our favorites of late is the Gill Race Cap a huge seller at the merchandise table at our Sperry Top-Sider NOOD Regattas. It’s an incredibly lightweight hat, really breathable, and there’s a mesh headband to absorb the beads when it’s sweltering. There’s no logo on the front, which makes it a great team hat as well.
If you’re like me, you have your wife or significant other buy your socks for you. But the one pair of socks you can buy for yourself are of the waterproof variety. I’m talking Rocky Socks, the standard in dry digits. I’ve tried many other types, and none come even close to out-waterproofing and outlasting these Gore-Tex socks. They’re just as good for inshore racing as they are for offshore racing: when you kick off your boots coming off watch, you can walk around a wet cabin. If you can’t afford a pair of sea boots, they’re the next best thing, and take up a lot less room in your bag. Pair Rocky Socks with good, technical wicking socks (ask Mom to splurge) and your feet will never be happier.
Time on distance
It’s true that a great watch for racing is the one you’ve got on your wrist, and, honestly, for the racing sailor on your list, there could be pages upon pages of excellent options. But you can’t always rely on your run-of-the-mill timepiece to do precisely what you want, when you want it to. I learned this when I started wearing a borrowed Suunto Elementum Ventus. Where most watches take at least two steps to get you into and starting the countdown timer, this one has one-step access. There’s a user’s manual, but you won’t even need it—everything about the functions is intuitive. And I’ll be honest, not a day passes when someone doesn’t say, “Nice watch! What kind is it?” This timepiece will set you back a grand, but if time is money, and money is no issue, it’s worth it.
Let there be light
If there’s one inexpensive piece of gear every sailor should have, it’s a headlamp. Racing the overnighter? You gotta have one. Trailering to your next regatta? Get one. It will come in handy when you’re changing your trailer tire roadside, or digging through your trailer box after the party looking for your room key. But no ordinary headlamp will do. A red light is a must to avoid blinding your watchmates. While there are numerous manufacturers and types, a popular seller at sailing chandleries is the Petzl TIKKA XP2, which is lightweight enough to let you forget you are wearing it, and has three white LED lighting modes (maximum, economic, and flashing). For safety’s sake, there’s even a whistle built into the headband should you become hopelessly lost in the mooring field as you attempt to find your boat well past last call.
Fits like a glove
The ultimate cheapskate’s sailing glove was exposed long ago when a dinghy sailor somewhere walked into his neighborhood hardware store, looked at the Atlas Therma Grip display, and thought, “If I cut the fingertips off, these would make awesome sailing gloves.” And so it began. While sailing-specific leather gloves will far outlast the disposable offerings from Atlas, it’s hard not to resist the $3 price tag. And, they’re cool among the dinghy and cat-sailing set. Atlas’ newer model, the Atlas 370 Nitrile Tough, has a thinner coating (said to be three times more puncture resistant than rubber) that has super grip on wet items. That alone makes the decision to go cheap even easier.
All the coolest tacticians on the pro-sailing circuit have a Ritchie WetNotes pad either tucked in their backpack or stuck in their back pocket. If you don’t have one, you should get one today. It’s the industry standard for jotting down rig-tune notes, to-do lists, polars, and fast settings. SW’s senior editor, Stuart Streuli, ever the frugal Yankee, cuts his in half; giving him two pint-sized notepads.
Cool is fast
A buddy of mine turned me on to the wonders of Gold Bond Powder. Sure, go ahead and snicker, but when I pack for a distance race, it’s the first thing in my bag (I do prefer the travel size for shorter races). Its “triple-medicated” drying powers will do wonders to the clammy environment inside your salopettes. For the extended race, the Extra Strength powder (in the green container) has an extra “medicated” cooling kick. By the time you reach Mackinac, you’ll roll into the Pink Pony fresh as the day you left the Chicago YC’s men’s room.
Slices, dices, and opens
Multitools are like the aforementioned watches; everyone has their preferences, especially when it comes to blade size and the number of tools. When it comes to multitools, I’m a minimalist; I only want the essentials; everything else comes out of the toolbox. The best multipurpose knife I’ve used in the past few years is the Leatherman Skeletool CX. You’ve got your 2.6-inch stainless steel blade, pliers, bit driver, pocket clip, and carabineer/bottle opener, which, by the way, does not require peeling back eight other tools to access. It’s 4-inches long (closed), weighs only 5 ounces, and has the carbon fiber, so you’ll ooze fast when you whip out the opener to crack that post-race Heineken.
Dry bag, dry gear
I stumbled upon Glacier Clear Dry Bag while browsing the aisles of APS Ltd., in Annapolis one fall, and as a fan of the roll-top drybag, it instantly caught my eye: finally a drybag that allows you to see its contents, rather than blindly digging into the bottomless hole. There’s pros and cons, though: you see what you have inside, but so too, does your weight-conscious skipper who can see how many clean pairs of underwear and magazines you’re smuggling onboard. It’s worth it though, and you can’t beat the waterproofness. If you’re sailing sportboats, you’ll be glad you have it when your bag gets shoved in the wet bilge.
You’d be hard pressed to find a lighter (1 oz.) and more effective temperature regulatory device than the Patagonia Capilene 4 Beanie. Putting it on can take the chill out of a cloudier—or windier than-expected—afternoon; taking it off opens the human body’s primary heat vent (the top of the head). When not covering your dome—hirsute or chrome— it’ll fit into the smallest of pockets. And it does not absorb water. patagonia.com
Speed in hand
One-design dinghy sailors have long been disciples of relative speed. It doesn’t matter how fast you’re going as long as it’s a fraction faster than the boats around you. That’s one of the beauties of one-design racing. There’s also the fact that installing speed-monitoring electronics on a dinghy or a small keelboat has been a serious hassle. But with Velociteck’s Speedpuck, this is no longer the case. The GPS-driven speedo and compass is completely self-contained—it runs on three AA batteries—and mounts just about anywhere with some industrial-strength hook-and-loop fasteners. While racing, it monitors speed to the tenth of a knot, heading, and whether you’re headed or lifed. It also records your track for review later (initially this feature only worked on a PC, but now there’s a program for Macs, provided you’re running OS 10.6). It’s great for racing in small keelboats and dinghies (double check that it’s not against class rules), or for solo training.
It was always the ultimate conundrum for the sailor/photographer: how to get good onboard images. The best photos always came when the conditions were most likely to ruin expensive camera equipment. Waterproof housings were one option, but they turned even a nimble point-and-shoot into a cumbersome appendage. The Olympus Stylus 8010 is one of a handful of high-megapixel cameras that can be dropped, submerged, and (in the case of the Olympus) frozen. The zoom is limited, and the quality won’t match that of the top digital SLRs, but it will likely outstrip the best digital point-and-shoots you found under the Christmas tree three years ago. It also takes YouTube-quality movies and will fit comfortably in your pocket.
For professional marksmen
Some sailors can sense boatspeed through their butt and evaluate sail shape down to the millimeter with a squinty glance. For the rest of us, it’s about working to find the right settings for each condition and then remembering them. That’s where a multicolored electrical tape pack (and a few permanent markers) will come in handy. Mark sheets, halyards, jib tracks, the outhaul, the cunningham, and the boom vang.