Super Clothing for Mortal Sailors

Can clothing make you a better sailor? These technical pieces aim to prove the answer is “yes.” "Gear Review" from our October 2010 issue.

January 3, 2012
Sailing World

CW-X Short-sleeve Ventilator Top

CW-X Short-sleeve Ventilator Top: A turbo boost for your torso. Courtesy Of The Manufacturer

If I sail enough, my hands become calloused to the point that gloves are optional. The same is true for the rest of my body; given the proper amount of time on the water, it adjusts to the task at hand. A pro sailing friend once told me of sailing the Tour de France—a month-long regatta around France—with a skipper who deemed lifeline padding an unnecessary luxury. Afer the first few days, the pain of flopping over stainless-steel linelines while going upwind was excruciating. After a few more days, it all but went away. “I could hike all day,” he said, “on bare wire.”

The problem, of course, is that I don’t sail nearly enough, even during Newport’s busy summer months. My hands stay soft, my hips and back never get desensitized to the rigors of big-boat hiking, my arms and torso still strain to turn the winch handle. So I decided to look for help.

I focused this search on clothing that would aid my performance: make me a more effective trimmer and a stronger hiker, and would help me perform to my limit day afer day. I restricted my search to gear that can be worn under (or in addition) to normal crew gear and is designed for keelboat and big-boat sailing.


My favorites
CW-X Short-sleeve Ventilator Top (above, right)
The CW-X brand sells tights and tops featuring the patented Kinesio Support Web, which “creates an exoskeletal support system that improves biomechanics during motion.” In plain English, it aims to focus your muscles on their respective jobs, make them more efficient, and improve recovery. They’ve done the scientific research—mostly relating to endurance sports like running—so I’ll take their word on the benefits. I liked the top instantly. I felt stronger and more athletic the moment I put it on. It’s a snug fit (be sure to use their size chart), but after a few moments, I forgot I was wearing it. Afer testing it over a number of days, I didn’t have a single spot of chafe. It did a great job of regulating my core temperature, too. Despite sweating profusely (I was grinding the jib upwind and the spinnaker sheet on the jibes and July was hot, hot, hot in the Northeast) I didn’t experience the usual cool down between races. When the course signals went up, I was ready to race. $79,

**Gill Race Lycra Shorts **(left)
These shorts (and their three-quarter-length colleagues) were developed with the Quantum Racing TP 52 program. The fabric is extremely light and breathes well. A layer of padding running across the abdomen and hipbones makes hanging over the lifelines more tolerable. A decade ago, I tore the anterior cruciate ligament in my lef knee, and the resulting surgery left it very sensitive. The kneepads that are integral to the threequarter-length tights were not thick enough for my repaired knee, though they would be adequate for most sailors. So I preferred the shorts and a pair of kneepads. $40 (shorts) $85 (tights),



Spinlock Impact Kneepads **(right)
The biggest question when purchasing a pair of kneepads is whether you want removeable kneepads with adjustable straps, or the slip-on kind. I’ve tried both and, as convenient as the former are, I prefer the latter. The Spinlock kneepads are the most comfortable I’ve worn. A Velcro tab on the top of the sleeve allows adjustment. $45,


Magic Marine Thermo Layer Pullover and Pant **(left)
A particularly hot summer didn’t provide the ideal test conditions for these full-length items, but when the weather turns cooler, they’ll be perfect. You won’t find a more comfortable base layer. $59 each,


Other good options
**Zhik Deckbeater Shorts **
Zhik (rhymes with spike) put a lot of thought into its Deckbeater shorts. The butt padding is perforated to be as breathable as possible. A silicone bead on the cuffs keeps the shorts firmly in place, no matter how you move. If you’re a fan of sailing shorts with removable padding inserts, wearing the Deckbeaters under normal shorts—minus the padding—is a more efficient, and signifcantly more flattering, solution. $95,

Sailing Angles Sailor’s Underwear
For about half the price of the Deckbeaters, you can get Sailor’s Underwear. They’re not as technically advanced as the Zhik product, but do a solid job of keeping your butt from getting sore. Either one would be great for a keelboat sailor or a big-boat helmsman or main trimmer, who isn’t required to hike over the lifelines. $50,

Magic Marine Adjustable Kneepads
The articulated design is perfect for working in a crouched position. The padding was ample, and the construction durable. However, the Velcro straps chafed the back of my legs. The d3o version of these pads features thinner, “intelligent” padding that flows when moving slowly and improved straps. $30, $40 (d3o)


**Sailing Angles Knee Sleeves **
Simplicity defined, and at a very reasonable price. The solid tube design creates some bunching behind the knee in a crouched position. They come in four sizes, so try before you buy. $18.

Slam Baselayer Collection
A full range of layering items, from the short-sleeve Kyoti T-shirt and Seamless Bike Shorts to the longsleeve Seamless Zip Terin and Seamless Pants. I never appreciated the value of temperature regulating clothing until I did this survey. The Kyoti T-shirt kept my core at a steady temperature during a hot day of Swan 42 sailing. The Seamless Bike Shorts are very lightweight and comfortable. From $28 to $90,

**Spinlock Pro Hiker **
There are other, beefer pads to ease the pain of hiking over the lifelines. But this is a particularly efficient design. It can be discreetly tucked under your shorts, so everyone will assume you’re just tougher than they are. $33

**CW-X Three-Quarter Stabilyx Tights **
I knew these tights were a bit of a reach. They’re designed for running, skiing, and other upright activities, and I can see their value for many sports. Big-boat sailing just isn’t the right arena. One of the company’s over-the-knee models would’ve been better, as would a lighter three-quarter-length tight. $90

**Sailing Angles Eliot 6 Tights **
These were designed specifcally for the rigors of the new Women’s Match Racing Olympic discipline, incorporating a padded seat and knees into a full-length UV-resistant spandex tight. Customized padding options are available to make the tights more suited for big-boat sailing. $90


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