Thursday, August 10, 2006

Marine FOUL Weather Gear (Rant warning)

OK... the saying goes that "If we can put men on the moon, why can't we (fill in the blank)". In this case, why can't we come up with some decent, user-friendly, foul-weather gear?

Over the years I have used various foul weather gear from hyper-expensive to cheap-as-it-gets and, the fact is it all works about the same... BADLY. It's either too heavy to the point of not being able to work on deck and less than waterproof or, it is less heavy and not very waterproof. The few designs that seem to get the waterproof thing right, apparently forget that the human body sweats and so in essence, create a portable sauna and the end result is that you still wind up soaking wet (and thus FOUL - Sheila's note)...

It really does not have to be that way. Ages ago, the mountaineering industry sorted out decent rainwear that you can climb in. Though in my opinion, they took the wrong road in buying the hype of the breathable-fabric lobby which was OK as long as they were working to the old designs which allowed for freedom of movement and enough room within to allow some air circulation. But, in these days of form-fitting, stretchy, "breathable" fabrics it is back to the sauna... Another reason (which is totally unrelated to sailing/climbing) that I am not a huge fan of the breathable fabrics, is that I work in the film industry. As a camera operator I have had numerous complaints from the sound department who have an aversion to the sound of people wearing goretex moving through a shot.

Sure you say... a lot of people say their (insert hyper expensive foul weather brand name here) works just fine... Well they would say that because they just spent five hundred frigging dollars on something that does not quite deliver... "Hey Bob I just spent $600 on this jacket and guess what? It works piss poor and I'm a dummy for buying it!" Not bloody likely. Truth be told most folk never use their foul weather gear in foul weather and have a real surprise in store for them faster than you can spell Musto when the going gets wet... But hey, they look good and that is all that counts... Right?

I used to own a truly wonderful piece of gear made by the North Face simply called the Cagoule. In essence, this was an oversized, pullover anorak of very waterproof nylon that reached near-knee length when fully extended but could be snapped up to hip level. It was waterproof and baggy enough that some air circulation kept humidity at bay. In fact, one of its design briefs was that in a bivouac situation you could pull up your knees and the Cagoule became a tent covering you from head to ankles while sitting down. Actually quite handy when having to hand steer in the cockpit when the weather was ugly. It worked and weighed in at a quarter of what Yachty foul weather gear did and kept me much drier and, just as important, allowed me to work the boat without having to fight the foul weather gear in the process.

When my North Face Cagoule finally gave up the ghost after several years of climbing expeditions, several trans-Pacific passages, and just around town wear when it was raining, I switched to a similar cagoule design (North Face had discontinued theirs) made by Patagonia. They used a foam backed material that also worked great, though I have to admit it was sort of... well, UGLY... and was something of an acquired taste. Sadly, both companies long ago quit making these items but if they ever came back on the market, I'd buy a half dozen sets!

Campmoor seems to have something in their catalog that looks like the old North Face, but the price is a bit too little so I doubt it uses the same sort of material that made the North Face Cagoule such a winner. But, if anyone has experience with it, I would love to hear about how it works...

As it happens I'm in need of new foul weather gear and studying all of what is available shows me that there's not a lot available for something that works the way I think it should... One possible exception I have my eye on is the Skanorak by Patagonia that is designed for Sea Kayakers who need to be able to paddle while dealing with some serious water from time to time and perhaps, even the odd Eskimo roll... Seems like just the thing for a transatlantic jaunt!