When Sailing Gloves = Glugs

There was general delight from my friends and family when I got back in to sailing a few years ago.

I thought it was because they cared about me and were pleased I was getting involved in an activity that was good for both my body and my soul.

As it transpires, they were mainly pleased because it made birthday and Christmas presents easier to buy. Men, especially men over the age of about 18, are pretty hard to buy for and so a sport, a hobby or an interest can make things easier.

One Christmas I got a pair of sailing gloves as a present. They were very nice - I can't remember the brand, but it was one of the famous ones - and I was delighted because I hadn't bought any up till then and every so often, after a breezy day on the water, I'd have those nasty rope burns that we're all used to getting. I never really wore gloves in light air anyway, but when it's windy a good pair of gloves can save you a lot of pain.

I used the gloves a few times in light airs at the beginning of the season to wear them in and then, finally, we had a windy day. It was one of those beautiful, sunny, breezy days where the world looks at its best. And, probably because it was such a nice day for sailing, there was a great turn out for racing.

I got a good start and had a great first beat, and I was feeling pretty good about life as I led down the first reach. I gybed and set off on the second reach - an a-bit-lower-than-a-beam reach where the boat planes the whole way and you can hang off the toe-straps and enjoy an icy cold blast of water every so often from the spray.

And suddenly it all went wrong.

My gloves had been feeling a bit more slippy in the grip than I'd have liked, and as I flew down the reach I sheeted in a little to maintain the plane and whoosh - the sheet slipped out of my hand and disappeared. The boat bore off as the sail whipped out and, in doing so, heeled dramatically to windward. As I was hiking hard I found myself lying in the water and, before I had time to think 'I really need to work on my core strength', the boat had capsized on top of me and I was treated to a refreshing early spring swim.

Now, I'm a man that likes to spread a little joy around when I can, but it is a source of constant wonder to me that I'm never more successful at brightening the lives of others than when I'm falling out of a boat. No matter how many spectacular or ungainly methods I use to end up in the water rather than on it, the joke never seems to tire or get old.

And so it was that boats sailed past me in various states of happiness - many congratulating me on my new downwind technique, whilst others offered helpful advice on how I could improve it. Personally I was struggling to see what was so amusing, but it remains a source of great pride that I can bring pleasure to others without even trying.

I got the boat back up and finished the race, but from that point on I was very conscious of my gloves. I would constantly have to re-sheet as the rope slowly slipped in my hand and, after my experience on the first lap, the reaches were pervaded by a sense of impending doom. The gloves looked nice, and felt nice, but they had a major fault - they weren't much good at holding on to rope.

That week I decided to have a look and see if there were any recomendations as to how to solve the issue. And as I searched I came across this from Michael Blackburn in his book "Sail Fitter" - now "Sailing Fitness and Training":

Rubber dishwashing or gardening gloves are my choice for dinghy sailing. The main advantage of the rubber glove is that it virtually grips the rope by itself, requiring less grip strength than a bare hand or a leather sailing glove.

This is a tip that has much to recommend it:

  1. It's from an Olympic medallist so it's probably good
  2. It requires less grip strength than bare hands or leather gloves - anything that requires less effort from me has to be good
  3. It's cheap - much cheaper than 'proper' sailing gloves
My Sailing Gloves

These are the gloves I use - they cost about €3

So I decided to try it out. I bought a pair of black heavy duty household gloves from the supermarket and wore them the next breezy day we had. And Mr Blackburn was right! They gripped amazingly well and protected my hands perfectly.

So are there any downsides?

- Michael Blackburn reckons they wear out quickly: my experience is that I'll get through 2 to 4 pairs in a sailing season, which still works out pretty cheap compared to leather sailing gloves.

- I thought they mightn't keep my hands warm, but I've used them for frostbiting in Ireland and it was never a problem. But if it is, you could easily buy a pair of thin gloves to go under them - the layers would keep the heat in very well.

- I also thought people would think I was a bit weird, but no-one even noticed. The only time anyone's ever realised I don't use sailing gloves was when I was sailing a two person dinghy and I had them stored in the boat. It was only when I asked my crew to pass them to me that he noticed. The crew in question was a top sailor (this guy, in fact), and when I told him why I wear them he decided to give them a go himself. He now wears them for sailing too, and the only difference is that he snips the tip of the thumb and forefinger off so he can tie and untie things if he needs to.

The only other downside I can think of is that I have had to find other ways of falling out of my boat to retain my reputation as a "sailor/performance artist". Fortunately this has caused me little trouble - my most recent effort involving falling out the back quarter of my boat as I rounded the windward mark and watching my boat continue sailing just far enough before capsizing to allow me the time to really consider how deeply undignified swimming in a wetsuit and pfd can really be.

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