If you have been sailing as long as I have, you may have owned a set of oilskins similar to the ones that I had all those years ago. You know the ones, they were usually all black, or an awful florescent orange that made you feel queasy to look at.
I bought my first set of 'oilies' from the fishermen's co-operative. I also bought a pair of wellington boots and a sou'wester to go with them. All togged up, I was ready to face my first gale at sea.
My oilskins were useless. After 15 minutes, I was wet through and that was before we hit any rain or flying spray. When conditions did deteriorate, my foul, foul weather gear scooped up the water and sent it up my sleeves where it met a deluge streaming south from around my neck. Mixed with sweat and condensation, the water continued its journey until it found a home in my equally useless sea boots.
Changes in foul weather gear came slowly to the leisure market and for years, clothes designed specifically for the yachtsman failed to deliver on their promise. Thankfully, that has now changed due, in part, to companies like Gill Marine and sailing teams here in the Caribbean.
Christopher Marshall is the General Manager of Budget Marine; he also leads their race team – one of a group of teams that test Gill clothing on the water, world wide. If you have ever raced a Melges 24, or seen one racing, then you will know why Marshall and his team were chosen to test sailing clothing. Melges 24s are fast, wet and require a lot of physical effort to sail. But it goes deeper than that. The Budget Marine Team sails exclusively in the Caribbean, and that's not the place to wear the same foul weather gear you would use while rounding Cape Horn. That's where on-the-water testing comes in.
Marshall says he just loves to sail, and getting to test a new line of clothing and supply ideas is a bonus. "We've been able to give the guys from Gill some good feedback about what we like and what we don't like. We tell them how we think things could be improved, and they take note. One thing that Gill has yet to make is a proper racing shoe. We've given them a lot of comments on what we would need and what we would look for. They've taken notes and say they will come out with something, and it's really nice to be part of that process."
Gill North America President David Pritchard says involving sailors in the development of sailing clothing makes sense, especially when developing a new line of clothing for a specific area like the Caribbean. "Chris Marshall and his team test our gear, wear our clothing and send us ideas. It's a natural platform for testing. We provide the gear, they supply feedback. We have forms that they fill out and send back to us. We have new fabrics we are testing, and new ideas. A lot of them don't work out, but a lot of them do."
It's good to know that tomorrow's sailing gear has been developed, tried and tested here in the Caribbean. What became of my leaky old florescent oilskins? I cut them into strips. Best fishing lures I ever had!
Author and journalist Gary Brown is the presenter of YachtBlast, Island 92's weekly sailing program broadcast from St. Maarten. Look for Gary's new thriller, "Caribbean High" on Amazon.com or visit garyebrown.net for details.