About foul weather gear. When it comes to foul weather clothing, my Norwegian friends have often reminded me of the fact that there is no such thing as bad weather just bad clothing. It’s a much voiced adage around the world. They are absolutely correct on this and I have always used quality clothing when sailing. What do I wear? Good question. For years I have been wearing my sets of Musto and Gill gear, carefully looked after them as they are not cheap and must be considered an investment. Lately I have been looking at replacing with some of the Zikh gear which is most impressive given the advances in materials and textiles. For me donning foul weather gear is a bit like reefing, you do it the first time you think about it. On with the salopettes and jacket while its easy to do so.
I am a bit of mix and match person when it comes sailing clothing. It all depends on where I am sailing, what the weather is like, and what the forecast is. I prefer shorts and tee shirt but alas it is not always possible. In tropical climes I tend to get into my old one piece light weight dingy suit, keeps me dry without overheating. When it’s a bit cooler then into my saloppetes and jacket and on go the Goretex seaboots. Having sailed single handed through Biscay gales (very scary) and crossed the North Sea in winter, having the correct and quality offshore foul weather gear including good boots made all the difference. We have those fearless round the world sailors to thank for much development. They are wearing foul weather gear for several consecutive days or even weeks in the worst conditions one could encounter. Foul weather gear to be lived in not just worn.
As most will have seen, those round the world and serious offshore racers have some serious foul weather clothing on. Good quality foul weather gear has to cope with serious spray, heavy rain or snow, and the odd wave and total immersion. Foul weather gear is the offshore sailing equivalent of Personal protective Equipment (PPE) ashore. It is actually all about safety. Being wet, cold and going hypothermic are serious hazards. Good quality seaboots or sailing boots are essential and I am glad I spent the money and bought the best Gore-Tex boots that I could, as having dry and warm feet is important. Given my tendency to kick my toes they have saved me severe injury and also have prevented many trips, slips and falls working on around a wet and heaving deck. In addition you have to also be able to wear a harness over that and in some cases a PFD.
Besides being waterproof foul weather must offer enough ventilation to stop it turning into a sauna suit, and must breath to afford some measure of comfort. The gear also must allow freedom of movement, as everyone knows how much physical work is required, it is a balance, being comfortable enough to work in without making work difficult. Materials resilience is important as well as it will suffer saltwater, then drying out and salt encrusted, and be exposed to snagging on fittings on board. In my own experience you can be in the foul weather gear for days in worst case scenarios. Most of principal manufacturers offer a range of targeted models, that are tailored for Offshore, Coastal and Dingy as well as fishing and a range of other conditions. So whether you choose Musto, Gill, Zhik, Henri Lloyd and so on, choose the best that you can afford. Many of these leading manufacturers have their own proprietary fabrics in the product range.
Many manufacturers have foul weather gear with similar heavy duty materials and construction. Some of them feature multi layer materials, up to 4 layers, tall and adjustable high collars and wrap around face guards and adjustable peaked hoods. Good foul weather gear must have high breathability, be very durable and well constructed, that means stitched together well and not cheap and cheerful Chinese style. The hoods, collars, along with storm flaps and seals have to prevent the ingress of water through any opening. The gear must be properly reinforced where it counts to prevent abrasion and wear while working winches and deck gear. Of course zippers must also be heavy duty and extremely durable and non corroding, malfunctioning and jamming zippers are a pet hate of mine. All come with reflective tape and high viz colours for maximum visibility.
Coastal foul weather gear is a step down from the full offshore standard, they are mightier in weight and have to be just as windproof and breathable as the offshore kit. They also have to be liveable for several days in rough weather. For me if you venture offshore for extended periods then like me opt for the offshore gear as it isn’t that much difference in the conditions, but that is just me. If the weather gets fair and not as challenging as offshore then coastal gear is a nice fallback and less constrictive. The fabric in use is lighter in weight and are also very durable. Many have reinforced knees and seats and some even have fleece lined hand warmer pockets. Luxury! In the Med or Caribbean and not too much serious offshore coastal passage making then lightweight gear is an option. Day sailors also like this level of protection. Light weight and good protection at a much lower cost.
My light weather gear that I throw on if it gets a little bumpy and some spray coming in is my dingy gear. I still like to sail a Laser even as I get older, besides being the best fun it hones the sailing skills a little. These suits are designed for complete immersion and are also very light weight. The fabrics in use are ideal designed for comfort and mobility, but besides being waterproof they are not insulative although with activity you soon warm up inside. My suit has reinforcement in those high-abrasion locations such as rear end and knees, and the seals at the wrist, ankles and neck are good at preventing water ingress. Choose foul weather gear carefully and buy the best you can.