On Your Feet!

You don’t want to be slipping on the deck of a boat. At best, you look the fool. At worst, you’re in the drink. And in between, there’s a bunch of stuff to knock your head or bruise your backside on. Believe it or not, the best thing to do, although they deny this in all the sailing books, is to go barefoot. Bare feet have something even the most advanced sailing footwear can’t provide: nerve endings. When you step on a slippery surface in your bare feet, you can tell before you fall that you have no traction. This is better than finding out when you’re fanny-over-teakettle. “Crivens! That was slippery!” Of course, when sailing barefoot there will be the occasional broken toe when your naked foot encounters a cleat or block, but everything’s a compromise.

That’s fine for the tropics, but in the extra-tropics where we are, I’m not man enough to go barefoot. Cold feet are one thing when you’re about to get married, but quite another when your actual feet are cold. So San Francisco sailors wear stuff on their feet. Typically, this is a sailing boot that is tall and made out of some rubber-like product. They are hard to get on and off, cold, and clammy.

But I always wonder why people really need that height. How many times on a sail around the Bay have you had ten inches of water in the cockpit? Okay, now cut that out! It is possible for the waves to climb up your leg in an impertinent way if you are sitting on the rail on a windy day. But my solution to this is to advance my position in the crew beyond rail meat.

So in the winter or wet weather I wear duck boots. L.L. Bean, I believe, originated them, but there are lots of knock-offs and they come in a variety of styles and heights. They lace up so you can adjust them to just the perfect tightness. You can buy them lined with Thinsulate so they are nice and toasty. Should you find yourself swimming, it is possible to untie them and kick them off. The best thing is, their gum soles are as sticky as any boat shoe you can buy—even if they aren’t as secure as bare feet.

They may not be fashionable, I don’t know. Sometimes people laugh at me, but there could be other reasons for this.

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