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What to bring and what to leave when facing an offshore race.

I’d bet the two most frequent thoughts in the heads of sail-enthusiasts in this period are: “First of all let’s hope the health emergency is soon over” and – immediately after that – “We all wish that, somehow, the race season in the Mediterranean is not totally compromised”.

Up to now many important events have been cancelled (151 Miglia and Palermo-Montecarlo among the others). However, the hope that some races may take place (e.g. Rolex Giraglia and Middle Sea Race) is still alive.

So, imagine we have the chance to take part to a nice offshore race in the Mediterranean and therefore try to focus on the personal equipment we may need. In short, if you like the idea, let’s pack together!

This is a 2-to-4-day race, during which watchkeeping and rest periods alternate over 24 hours under environmental conditions that can be harsh even in summer. Weather can be bad also in July: gusts of wind, rain squalls and rough sea may put our mental well-being to the test. And, in addition to this, tiredness and cumulative fatigue will weaken your staying power.

With this in mind, a question may arise: <<But who makes you do it??>>, well, this is a legitimate question but, if you are one of this blog’s readers, it has been long since you found your answer.

But now, back to us!

One of the first issues when getting ready for an offshore race is what to pack in your bag, or even before, how to choose the right bag.

Usually both the ship owner and the skipper of a racer set quite strict restrictions on the number and weight of the baggage each crew member can bring on board. Personally, I have met ship owners more severe than a ground hostess in an airport and several times I have witnessed baggage weighing and relative discussions and exhausting negotiations.

First of all, choosing the right bag is essential. Rigid baggage is totally banned. The bag must be light, spacious, divided into compartments. Why? Because during the race you don’t unpack. Your bag is your small territory on board. It must be well-arranged so that you can separate clean clothes from dirty ones and find at the first try (even in the dark) all what you are looking for.

I have personally chosen (and found very useful) a certain small fabric baggage with zippers you can buy on the Web for few euros. This kind of baggage – which was recommended to me by someone who “knows a lot about” baggage, proved to be extremely effective in keeping items separate (sweaters, soft-shell, trousers, etc.). This is useful to avoid that in a few hours your bag may look like a messy container in which you can’t single out what you need unless you empty it completely.

A final word on the bag: if you get to the marina by train, plane or ferry or if to reach the boat’s mooring place you have to walk the last mile, the market meets your needs providing very light, wheeled trolley bags. These are generally more expensive but the comfort and benefits they give are indeed remarkable.

Well, the bag has been chosen and now lies open on the floor waiting to be filled. It’s time to think about what to put inside it.

Those a little older among us maybe remember the scene of The deer hunter where Robert De Niro, at the beginning of a hunt trip, rebukes a friend and refuses to give him a pair of boots that the friend – after a night out in a disco – had forgotten to bring with him.

What is implied is this: do not overdo but bring with you all what is needed, as it is likely that the whole crew will require the same object, or the same piece of clothing, at the same time and there may not be someone who can provide you with what you need and you don’t have.

But let’s come to the point: the basic principle, by now well proven and mentioned by almost all sailors and expert racers is that of the three layers: the base layer is in contact with your skin and dries sweat, the mid layer protects from chilling and, finally, the outer layer i.e. a waterproof jacket not to get wet. Obviously, the choice of clothes is strongly influenced by the season. These were the clothes I packed last year when I took part to the Palermo – Montecarlo race (a 4-5-day race at the end of August, about 600 miles):

BASE LAYER

  • 5 T-shirts                       
  • 5 pairs of socks           
  • 1 Bermuda shorts        
  • 2 long trousers           

I choose both short-sleeve and long-sleeve T-shirts in breathable technical fabric that absorbs and dries sweat fast and is easy to wash and dry. Don’t ask me why but I never go barechested on a boat, even in summer. I’m going to test my psyche on that, but I think it has to do with my respect – almost like veneration – for the boats I have the honour to sail. A feeling that urges a suitable attitude as well as a proper clothing. But, anyway, I need to wear something comfortable and versatile. There is a huge variety and – luckily – you don’t have to spend a lot of money for good products anymore. The same for my socks in wool/synthetic blends, breathable and very comfortable.

Bermuda shorts and long trousers must be loose but not baggy and have handy and spacious side pockets. Belt loops to the waistband are necessary to hold the utility knife case, an inseparable tool which will be mentioned later. My set of trousers is mainly suitable to trekking and wandering. They are made of light, stretch, breathable fabric and are comfortably shaped.

MID LAYER

  • 1 sleeveless softshell                             
  • 1 sleveless down jacket         
  • 2 pile sweatshirts                     
  • 1 midlayer jacket                      

A wide choice of sleeveless down jackets and down shells is available on the market, so it is not difficult to find the right product at a price within your budget. Personally, I also wear a water repellent polyester double-layered waistcoat. As for pile sweatshirts, I don’t have particular recommendations: a good sweatshirt for hiking is just what you need. Mine have full-length zipper closure because I feel more comfortable this way, but it’s just a matter of personal taste.

Finally, I have chosen a good quality jacket with pile innen lining. It is worth paying attention to the choice of your jacket as it has to be extremely comfortable and made of insulating and breathable fabric against the elements.

OUTER LAYER

  • waterproof jacket
  • waterproof overall

Here, a world of possibilities opens up. The last barrier, the last defence against cold and water. On the market there are jackets and overalls for all tastes, all needs and all budgets.

If you have planned to sail in the Mediterranean, a so-called coastal jacket (BR1 or BR2 so to speak) and matching overall will do nicely. I have a no logo coastal jacket I found many years ago in an amazing store in Brittany. A kind of huge Toyland crammed with sailing clothing, accessories and must-have gadgets you have ever seen. I spent there a few hours and when I left I was carrying many shopping bags while thinking I was poorer than when I got in.

I have a long john overall I use during triangle races and a classical brace overall to be used during long races, when you have to put on and take off your waterproof jacket easily and quickly.

FOOTWEAR

Here, again, I have to add a personal note: I cannot stand boots. I know, they are absolutely necessary, especially at bow, in rough sea or in winter. But, as for me (I never stay at bow), I really can’t wear them. I just wear high quality and very comfortable technical shoes (I tried several).

However, for the average user, boots are necessary and I suggest to spend some money on a good or even high quality product. I always bring a pair of flip-flops on board. They are useful in the shower or when you get to the quay after a race and you need freedom and comfort. It seems just a small detail but after 4-5 days at sea, it can make the difference! 

To this “wardrobe” a set of accessories must be added. They are necessary, as experience shows. First of all safety equipment: a self-inflatable life jacket, AIS transmitter and light, a safety line, a head lamp provided with white light, red light and flashlight and the famous SS utility knife (knife, shackle opener, snap shackle and pliers) which, in my opinion, you should always have with you.

You also need a sun hat, a (woolen or pile) hat against the cold, a neck warmer, a pair of sailing gloves (half fingers), anti-glare sunglasses and their lanyard. To foresheet men and tailers I strongly recommend a pair of kneepads, whose benefits – in the long run – cannot be emphasised enough.

Before closing your bag, don’t forget a light sleeping bag, a microfiber towel and a small wash bag with your personal care products. Don’t forget a precious cocoa butter stick and sun cream to protect your face.

If your bag does not have a lock, I suggest  to  buy a TSA combination lock, useful and safe in case your luggage has to travel in the plane hold. Regardless of the size and weight of your bag, forget that your beloved utility knife may be stowed in the cabin of an aircraft. And also the tank of the self-inflating jacket may not be allowed on board. I suggest to arrange the contents of your bag in order to load it onto the hold.

Last but not least: I strongly recommend to have some watertight bags to protect your handy and other equipment from water; also your tablet – when you look through Navionics or other navigations apps –must be in a watertight bag. I have found a very good one on the Web: it has a practical handle so you can look at the display and have a hand free at the same time.

Well, now let’s close the bag and try to lift it……it’s too heavy, isn’t it? This means two things: the first is that wheeled trolley bags are definitely very useful and the second is that surely both the ship owner and the skipper will complain about the weight you are loading on board. Is there a way out? Of course, this, however, has to do with the monumental task of lightening the ship, but this topic will be described in another article later on.

Renzo Crovo

Renzo Crovo
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