Some solid research and the golden rules of our 'gear connoisseur' will help you select the products you need
Through the years - and that's quite a few - I've enjoyed many facets of sailing: white-knuckle competition in Olympic-class dinghies, family cruising on Dad's self-built catamaran, daysailing by myself on a vintage keelboat. Adventure, challenge and recreation rolled into one.
But boating is different things to different people and, aside from the boat they operate, nothing reveals more about style and personality than a list of preferred gear. I admire the zeal for finding the most durable sacrificial anodes, the best engine oil, energy-efficient watermakers, whiz-bang navigation software or the latest and lightest in carbon-fiber sailing hardware. Then I congratulate myself for my choice of going small, simple and easy.
Make no mistake - I still have plenty of stuff I consider essential for my boating experience and safety, but that also earned me the dubious distinction of "gear geek." Outfitting boat and crew is very personal (see above), so have it your way.
But frankly, I take umbrage with "gear geek." If I must be labeled, I prefer "gear connoisseur" because I take pride in picking good stuff and keeping it in working order. That's because I learned too many lessons the hard way with preventable gear failures at the most inopportune times.
Lacking a pile of cash for frivolous acquisitions is another reason I scrutinize my rationale before buying a product. How will I use it? Do I just want it or do I really need it? Hence, much of my gear is gilded by age, but that is a compliment to the selection criteria, the maintenance schedule and to product quality. If you like the ring of that, here's a simple road map that has worked for me.
- Let your fingers do the clicking. An ounce of research early can save you a ton of agony later. Read about the product you want to buy, watch YouTube videos, compare brands and find out what people in boating forums have to say. A friendly chat with your dock buddies can be enlightening, too. They might have useful intelligence that you could tap for as little as the cost of a pint at the watering hole. Or (gulp) troll your Facebook friends for advice.
- Less is more. I try to think about how an item would improve your boating experience, performance or safety before buying. Often those "nice-to-have" items lose their luster quickly. Less stuff means you worry less, repair less, replace less, trash less. And sail more.
- Give KISS a chance. Simple is as simple does, which often is frowned upon because simple has fewer features. But when push comes to shove on a stormy night before a lee shore, all of the features are for naught if the gizmo's dead, out of juice or clamoring for a software update when the anchor is dragging and you're heading for the surf zone.
- Nothing is more expensive - and potentially dangerous - than buying cheap. One exasperated circumnavigator says designers and manufacturers of boating accessories should have to "spend one year sailing non-stop using their creations."
- There are exceptions to these rules, including spousal consultation.
1. One of the KISS products I'd like to include in my emergency kit is the TruPlug from Forespar.
It's a soft, cone-shaped plug that conforms to the myriad shapes of hull breaches and can seal most through-hull fittings, valves and hoses. It retails for $19.95. Forespar, Santa Margarita, Calif.,
(949) 858-8820. www.forespar.com
2. As long as I go boating, there will be pesky bugs. Rather than slather on smelly and toxic repellents, I'd attach a shoo!TAG to my clothes. Silent, odor-free and non-toxic, the insect-repelling tag is waterproof, environmentally friendly and safe for humans and animals. MSRP is $24.95 for one tag or $59.95 for a family pack of four. Energetic Solutions, West Austin, Texas, (877) 746-6512. www.shootag.com
3. Equally pesky are electronic devices that run out of juice when you really need them. Small-boat operators who are limited in power generation capabilities might appreciate the portable $29.99 solBAT II, a solar-powered charger for
almost any hand-held device with a USB connector. When fully charged, the solBat's 1,500 mA lithium-ion battery can charge a typical cell phone up to two times. Scosche Industries, Oxnard, Calif., (805) 486-4450. www.scosche.com
4. Although you'd like the sun to help charge your phone, you don't want it to burn your skin. Trying to cut back on nasty chemistry that's bad for my body and the environment, I found MelanSol, a natural sunscreen that protects against skin damage with mineral pigments (zinc oxide and titanium dioxide) instead of chemical filters. It has a pleasant smell and goes on easy, but it isn't cheap. A 6-ounce bottle of SPF 30 is $28.95. Oceana Natural, Panama City Beach, Fla., (850) 249-2442. www.puresunscreen.com
5. Whenever the weather hits the far side of the spectrum with cold, wind and rain, out comes the breathable, comfortable and easily stashed Atlantis Microburst jacket, which combines function with fashion for $135. Atlantis WeatherGear, Marblehead, Mass., (781) 631-6157. www.atlantisweathergear.com
6. Whenever the occasion calls for "yachty" attire, I kick off my flip-flops and lace up Sebago Admiral's Club boat shoes. They have a slip-resistant rubber lug outsole, offer nice support and cushion the feet all day, which is why I like to wear them to boat shows. Good looks and quality materials account for the $155 price tag. Sebago, Rockford, Mich., (866) 699-7367. www.sebago.com
7. At the bar or on the boat, the Optimum Time OS 463 sailing watch is a noticeable accessory. Aside from its rounded steel case, which harkens back to the iconic Memosail of the 1970s, it packs a truckload of practical features that include countdown modes, a built-in tide graph and a compass. It adds a touch of cool for $120. Ocean Racing, Grosse Pointe Farms, Mich., (313) 887-8415. www.oceanracing.com
8. Less cool is my old hand-held GPS, which still works, although two operating buttons are missing. Either I spiff up the iPhone with a GPS app or get a dedicated unit, such as Garmin's $350 GPSMAP 78 with a touch screen, color mapping, high-sensitivity GPS receiver and microSD card slot. Garmin Ltd., Olathe, Kan., (913) 397-8200. www.garmin.com
9. If I were ever to go top-shelf with wind instruments, I'd look at Etesian Technologies' Mariner. The wireless wind speed and direction sensor requires no cables, no batteries, and it's network-compatible, so it can be integrated with other on-board electronics. Retail price is $1,079. Etesian Technologies, Amherst, Mass., (413) 835-5387. www.etesian-tech.com
10. Less high-tech but still very useful is the portable OM4500 Omnia Oven, which allows small-boat artists to prepare baked meals and fresh bread on a gas or alcohol stove. It weighs 1.1 pounds and retails for $79.95. InterCon Marketing, Sarasota, Fla., (941) 355-4488. www.contoure.com
11. Although I like fresh bread, I hate lights that don't work, especially on board at night. Stanley now offers the Dip It, Drop It, Dunk It LED spotlight. The $59 light is designed to withstand abuse and it floats with its light on if dunked. The rechargeable battery is good for up to 10 hours of operation. Stanley Tools, New Britain, Conn., (800) 262-2161. www.baccusglobal.com
12. No batteries are required for Walker Bay's Airis Sport inflatable sit-on-top kayak. It has no frame tubing but inflates to 90 psi with a manual pump, so it is quite rigid. Although it can't compete with composite ocean kayaks, it's stable and fun for kids and novice paddlers alike. It pumps up in no time and rolls up to fit in a backpack. The Airis Sport sells for $999. Walker Bay USA, Yakima, Wash., (888) 449-2553. www.walkerbay.com
13. If a folding boat is in my garage, what about a folding bike? The $549 Dahon Mariner is not a fancy folder, but it's a lot of fun. A brushed aluminum frame, stainless-steel spokes, rust-resistant chain, fenders, rack and compact size make it a perfect travel companion, especially when the other vehicle is a boat. I ride it more often than my "real" bike because it packs quickly and travels well. I even got the bag and the suitcase for it, just as any gear connoisseur would have. Dahon North America, Duarte, Calif., (626) 305-5264. www.dahon.com
This article originally appeared in the December 2010 issue.