Once upon a time, the neoprene boot (or bootie in surfer parlance) was as basic a piece of footwear as you could get, with the exception, of course, being the flip-flop. But with Sperry Top-Sider’s latest offering into the dinghy boot market, that’s clearly not the case any more. Through its collaboration with the U.S. Sailing Team, Sperry Top-Sider has developed the Submersible Boot. This seemed the ideal kind of boot for dinghy or small (wet) keelboat sailing, so I brought a pair with me to Acura Key West Race Week last month, curious how they’d fare on a bigger keelboat, and in the heat of the tropics.
My first assessment of any boat shoe or boot is also the most obvious: how good is the grip? The non-marking outsole on the Submersible is as sticky as I’ve ever experienced with a boat shoe: outstanding. It’s likely because of a combination of Sperry’s patented wavy outsole design, and the type of soft rubber they use (it doesn’t need to be hard because you’ll never wear these on pavement), but I believe it’s the Submersible’s overall design that most contributes to its great gripping qualities. With the neoprene’s stretchiness throughout the boot you seem to get a more natural bend in the outsole, and with the outsole wrapping up and over the front of the boots, your forefoot really plants when sprinting uphill after a roll tack or jibe. From my experience, many boat shoes lack sufficient grip in this area (it’s all on the bottom), and this is how many of us end up face planting on the deck every so often.
But there are a bunch more great features that I’m told result from the sailing team’s input: there’s a three-inch cut-out notch at the top of the boot (with Velcro closure), which makes getting the boots on and off much easier than a traditional neoprene boot. Across the instep is a Velcro cinch-strap, which allows you to snug the boot properly. The most unique feature of the Submersible, however, is its internal “toe post.” Those of you who’ve ever worn split-toe booties for other water sports know how much this improves your footing when you lean into a turn. Your foot is not sliding around in the boot and you can better plant your big toe (technically, the Hallux) for better balance. To achieve this same effect, the Submersible has a semi-rigid post that rests between your big and second toe. It does take some getting used to, but it’s really no different than having a flip-flop strap between your toes.
There is generous leather reinforcement on the sides and heel, which will greatly extend the life of these boots. One potential problem I see is the lack of reinforcement on the instep, which will get abused after hours chafing under a hiking strap. I put the question to the folks at Sperry who told me the athletes requested there be nothing there. My guess is Laser sailors currently using the Zhik system (grip on the boot instep and hiking strap) would agree that something there is better than nothing, but for a Melges 24 sailor, for whom this boot is absolutely ideal, the Submersible is better off (flexibility wise) without any instep reinforcement. There are drain holes in several places to prevent the boot from holding water should you capsize and go for a swim or dunk your foot while sitting on the rail.
You can pick up a pair (Red or Black) at any Sperry Top-Sider retailer or at www.sperrytopsider.com. They’ll cost you $70.