Kitting out for an Ocean Race

Is that a wave or a mountain?One of the questions I am often asked, is what do you bring with you for a race across one of the biggest and coldest oceans in the world?  One thing I can say, is that it will be a challenge, as I’m limited to just 25 kilos of clothing and gear to bring with me for a five- to six-week race across the North Pacific Ocean on a route that could take me closer to the Aleutian Islands than Hawaii.  This will be a race across seas where the waves can be the size of four story buildings, and temperatures can drop below freezing.

Kingsbury above Lake Tahoe

Layering for the cold is vital

Luckily, having grown up in Canada and other cold places, I can say that I am somewhat familiar with the concept of layering to keep warm.  In the case of the Clipper Race, the concept is the same, the only difference is that rather than having a closet or two of clothes to survive the winter months, I’ll only have one duffel bag to carry everything I need.

So, to start:

Sleeping Bag

Ocean Sleepwear – Thanks to fellow Clipper sailor, Paul Rayner, I had the opportunity to try this out for a week of sailing in 38 to 48 degree weather in the English Channel.  All I can say, is fantastic.  I stayed both dry and warm in the bag, notwithstanding the constant drip of condensation on my forehead.


Base Layer: Icebreaker – For base layers I am bringing Icebreaker 260 leggings and a combination of an Icebreaker 200 t-shirt, Icebreaker 260 half zip and Icebreaker 320 full zip.  Why Icebreaker?  Simple, it’s merino wool.  Actually, it’s because I think it is one of the best base layers that can withstand a week of wearing day in and day out without smelling!  And, it is great at staying warm even when wet.  I have tried various synthetic base layers before and although helpful in wicking moisture away from the body, tend to smell more and more with each passing day!

It may not be obvious, but sailing across an ocean in a stripped-down racing boat does not give much opportunity to wash clothes.  The only chance you will likely have to do laundry is roughly once a week when you are on mother watch and spend the day down in the boat cooking and cleaning for the other crew members.  But, it is hand washing only, and with no heat on the boat, the chance of anything drying on a northern ocean crossing in March is slim to probably non-existent.

Mid-Layer: Henri Lloyd Nero Jacket and Salopettes – The jacket and salopettes are waterproof and windproof and the jacket has a nice thick fleece inner lining.  I will try to bring a second set of mid layers as a backup so I can stay semi-dry as long as possible.  I find nothing worse than being wet through-and-through when it is nasty and cold up on deck.

Paul & Shark Watershed sweater – Not for everyone, but I do love this sweater!  It is warm, does not hold water, and has been a constant companion under my foulies for many a year on those miserable cold days when the rain comes horizontally.

Outer Layer: Henri Lloyd Ocean Pro Smock and Ocean Explorer Trousers – Henri Lloyd is one of the sponsors of the race, so these are the foulies you will get.  The smock is a challenge to pull over your head (both on and off), but it is warmer and drier than having a zipper to contend with.

Shoes: Dubarry Ultima boots – expensive, but, oh so worth it!  My feet have stayed warm and mostly dry in these on many a cold weather sailing trip.  I’ll see how they fare though on the race.

Also, keep a dry pair of shoes down below for walking around and going to the head (bathroom).  It can be a tad wet in there and you don’t want to be in socks!

Other Essential Gear

Spinlock knee pads – Great for kneeling over winches when it’s time to grind. These are often overlooked by people, but at least for my aging knees, much appreciated.

Gloves – I’m bringing two pairs.  Gill Helmsman gloves which I’ve used before and are not too bad (they’re not 100% waterproof but are mostly warm) and new to try are a pair of Sealskinz waterproof winter mittens.  I am hoping these do a better job at keeping hands warm for those long, cold, wet nights at the helm.  I don’t like to use gloves for ropework, instead I find it’s better to use my bare hands and then put them back in fleece lined pockets to keep warm.  Sailing gloves just get wet and stay wet.

Toques and balaclava – Bring an assortment of balaclavas and toques (also called beanies for the Americans).  You will lose a few, so bring spares.

Sunglasses – A few pair.  Knowing me, I will lose one or two on the trip.

Spex Amphibious Eyewear – Basically goggles for watersports.  These are great for at the helm when it is raining horizontally or when waves are breaking over the bow and rushing down the deck.

Petzl Headlamp – LEDs are the best, and you will need one with a red lens for night sailing.

Waterproof flashlight – Having a spot beam for checking distant objects (top of mast, the end of the spinnaker pole) is better than a headlamp which tends to disperse the light.

Multitool – I’ve had the Alinghi multitool from Wenger for many years, and this is a necessary tool for the boat (has a shackle key).  Make sure it is tied to you so you don’t accidently drop it overboard.

Handwarmers – These are air activated and good for 8 hours. They really work well when you slip them in your gloves when you’re at the helm or in your pockets when working the sheets or lines (ropes).  After your watch is done, they add warmth in your sleeping bag.

Quick dry towel – Not that it is likely to ever dry on the trip.  Also, it is unlikely that you will have a shower on board. Wet wipes will be your best friend!

Fanny pack – And you thought these things went out of style!  Great for keeping things in (chap stick, sun/wind cream, snacks, flashlight, spare toque) when heading up on deck.

Waterproof notebook – Good for jotting down notes/thoughts/musings while up on deck.

Skin protection – sun cream, moisturizer, or whatever protects your skin. It’s not just for sun burn, though.  Wind burn can be just as damaging for the skin as the wind dries out your skin and can irritate it.

Carabiners – These are good for organizing and hanging things from the bunk.

Dry sacks – The one constant on the boat is that everything will get wet if not stored in dry sacks.  Have several with different colors or that are see-through for organizing your clothes.  It’s much easier to find what you need when you are waking up to go on watch and don’t have a lot of time.


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