Shades for Racers, More Than Easy on the Eyes

/SW/ Editors discover there are sunglasses built for every head out there. From "Tech News" in our July 2008 issue

March 17, 2009

sunglasses gear test 368

Courtesy Of The Manufacturers

There’s no refuting that sunglasses are an essential piece of sailing gear. Going out on the water on a sunny day without them is basically unthinkable. We have our personal favorites here at SW, but sometimes we’re lucky enough to try new offerings from the best sunglass manufacturers around. Curious how good high-end shades really are-and whether they’re really worth the associated price tag-we sought out the latest styles from brands that are popular among racing sailors: Maui Jim, Oakley, and Kaenon. We put them through some rigorous sailing on the waters of Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay, and collectively came to the easy conclusion that, yes, you do get what you pay for, and what you get is worth it.

Kaenon Lewi, $209
Tested by Tony Bessinger

The Lewi is perfect for those of us with big heads (measurement wise) who want lots of coverage and a comfortable fit. But the best thing about Kaenons is their lenses, which are available in three colors-gray, copper, and yellow-and a variety of Light Transmission Levels (the percentage of light that passes through the lens). According to Kaenon, gray offers the truest possible optical experience with no color alteration, eliminates glare, and dramatically improves your visual acuity. Copper is specifically developed to enhance color contrast, depth perception and detail recognition. Copper also enhances your optical experience by amplifying details on surfaces such as water. Yellow combines superior color contrast enhancement and detail definition, and is recommended for semi-cloudy, changing light, hazy, and low-light conditions. In other words, Kaenon is suggesting you wear different types of their lenses for the different conditions you’ll be sailing in, from bright, sunny days to overcast conditions.


That may be overkill. I tested the Lewi, which have the gray lenses at LTL 12-the lowest of five Kaenon offers, running as high as 50-in all types of conditions and have been very pleased with the clarity of the lenses, and the durability of the frames. It was easy to see wind and current patterns on the water, the glare was significantly reduced, and even after many hours of wearing, they were still comfortable. When my wife, who has been known to criticize my choice of sunglass styles in the past, first saw me wearing them, she expressed approval, so I know they look OK, too. I’d suggest that anyone who has a large head, wishes for complete coverage, and needs some of the best lenses in the business to take a serious look at the Lewi.

Oakley Straight Jacket, $170
Tested by Dave Reed
In my book, there are two things I want out of my sunglasses: they should be so comfortable (lightweight) I forget I’m wearing them, and I want everything in my field of view to be sharp, especially the tiny wavelets that show me from where my next puff is coming. The latter is the most important, of course, and when I first read the copy in the Oakley ad featuring Dean Barker in this magazine in June, my curiosity piqued. The copy reads: “The Deep Blue Iridium coating filters harsh blue light to let you read the smallest details on the water’s surface, including wind velocity and direction…” “Hmm,” I thought. “Let’s see about that.” I’d been wearing a similar style from Oakley with standard black polarized lenses, so I had a good gauge to go against. How much of a difference could the Deep Blue Iridium coating make? Turns out, a lot. On a series of bright and windy spring days, I could comfortably scan across the water, easily picking out fanning puffs. The sky was rich blue, the light haze non-existent, and colored spinnakers turned neon. The technical low down is that the Deep Blue coating filters out blue light, which is at the harsh end of the color spectrum. The glare bouncing off the water on a sunny day contains a whole lot of the blue stuff, which is not necessarily good for your retinas. The Deep Blue lenses (LTL is 10 percent) were originally designed for the fishing market to bring out surface features, and while they may be good enough for scoring trophy tuna, they’re even better for scoring that next windshift.

Maui Jim Shaka, $209
Tested by Stuart Streuli


“I don’t like those sunglasses,” my wife said when I first wore the Shaka sunglasses home. “I don’t like the mirrored lenses, I can’t see what you’re thinking.”

I nodded understandingly as she said this. I may have even peeled them off so she could see my pupils. But inside my brain I was adding subterfuge to my list of positives. Like most men, I’m more comfortable when people don’t know exactly what I’m thinking, or where I’m looking.

I didn’t really need another reason to like the glasses. But since these shades retail for just north of $200, I felt obligated to make the list as long as possible.


Maui Jim started to make a positive impression long before I even tried my sunglasses on for the first time. The website is very slick and does as good a job, if not better, of any in the business of helping you select the right pair of glasses. For example, I have a fairly narrow face, and wider glasses tend to look awkward. By comparing the eye size measurements, I was able to select a pair that I knew to be on the narrow side. As a result, the Shaka model fit me perfectly. Even if you’re not sure what size works best for you, the website will help to narrow down its vast selection to those that are best suited for your facial shape.

The performance is equally as satisfying. The polarized glass lenses do a great job of cutting down glare without sacrificing any detail. It’s not like the world gets any darker when I put them on-despite the fact that the LTL for the lenses is 8 percent-but my eyes simply relax. I often find myself fighting to find puffs through the glare of a late-day sun during summer beer can races. A good pair of sunglasses like these makes a big difference in those situations.

One final note about the Shaka sunglasses: I was happy to see them arrive with their own cleaning cloth and hard case. Nothing is more insulting that paying top dollar for a pair of sunglasses and then having nothing to protect them when they go into your sea bag.


Industry News
The latest addition to the constellation of GPS satellites is the PRN32, an upgraded version of the satellites already circling. As a result, older models of Northstar’s GPS receivers, including the 941/951/952 models may have problems receiving data from the new satellite. The models affected are no longer covered by warranty, but Northstar is offering a software patch to correct the problem. Owners with the aforementioned models need to check their GPS RX software version (not the same as the system software version), by accessing the “Service” information menu accessed by using the star key, then head to for the proper update.
-Tony Bessinger


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