Soft Science Boat Shoe Review: The Fin

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." -Martin Luther King, Jr.

I began my review of "The Fin" shoes from SoftScience on Martin Luther King Day, and since SoftScience strives for ultimate comfort, I thought the quote was fitting. Are your knees and faith shaken when you're challenged, or are you on solid ground?

But on with the review...

First, let me say that these shoes are different. They look different - like a Sperry/Crocs hybrid. They feel different - like a soft but supportive slipper.

But I suppose the look shouldn't come as surprise once you learn who's behind SoftScience. The top two SoftScience executives have deep connections to Crocs. Scott Seamans is the Crocs founder and former chief designer while John Duerden is Croc's former CEO. Their goal at SoftScience was to create shoes that provide ultimate comfort in a stylish, fun and funky package. They were also striving for simple designs that minimize adhesives and layers of material. If you stop reading the review right here, know that they succeeded.

Check the photos. Yes, these are funky shoes but the look works for me, particularly with the woven, breathable microfiber upper and laces on The Fin, which I prefer to the more plain look of some other SoftScience models. That's about all I'll say in regards to the aesthetics, since you'll have to decide for yourself if you like the styling.

More importantly, particularly for a sailing shoe, is the comfort and grip that these shoes provide. The outsole and insole are both made with a proprietary material called Trileon, a closed cell copolymer developed by Scott, to provide lightweight cushioning and stability. The comfort this provides is outstanding, but the feel isn't as cushy as you might expect based on the chunkiness of the outsole and the "soft" in SoftScience. That's a good thing because it means you'll get a very comfortable footbed without sacrificing stability. I don't know the exact weight of The Fin shoes, but SoftScience says all of their models are between 6-10 oz., which is very lightweight.

One more important feature of the insole - It's self-draining. This is a must for a sailing shoe that's going to see time on deck (i.e. not in the cockpit) as well as in the dinghy and on shore.

I haven't had these on deck yet, but they feel adequately grippy on wood, cement and hard surfaces around my house. The Trillion (Feels like rubber to me!) on the outsole is non-marking and has small nubs built-in, which I'm assuming help with both grip and impact absorption.

So what about the "science" in SoftScience? Well, it comes from "Levelast" [Side note - Shoe companies and men's razor companies are overachievers at inventing new terminology to describe their products!], the footbed design which lies at the heart of all SoftScience shoes. Level = Minimal elevation change from heel to toe, to disperse body weight evenly across the sole and reduce pressure points. Last = A "last" is the mechanical form on which a shoe is constructed and allows for accommodating many foot shapes and sizes. I'm not sure if that qualifies for science, but just go with it.

If fit properly (All SoftScience shoes are only available in whole sizes), your heel won't rest against the back of the shoe and may ride up and down slightly. That's how mine fit and I'm a bit concerned that this will lead to heel blisters, but it hasn't during the two days that I've worn the shoes so far. The open heel design of my Crocs caused no such worries. If I find blisters to be a problem in the future, I'll update this review.

So to sum things up, The Fin from SoftScience checks all the boxes for a good sailing shoe: self-draining, fast drying, good traction, toe protection. And it manages to do so while providing all-day comfort and support. If you like the look and want better comfort and support than the many flat, thin soled more traditional deck shoes, these are worth a try.

Want more sailing shoe reviews? Check these:

Homeport, sweet Homeport

"Relatively speaking you make me who I am. I need you exactly like the ocean needs the land." 
- John Denver (lyrics from Relatively Speaking)

Muskegon Lighthouse (by K. Walters)

As much as I love being on the water, there's truth in John Denver's lyrics above - "the ocean needs the land". The contrast between soil and sea makes each come alive. You've probably read about a sailor's senses being awakened at the first whiff of land after a long passage. Even miles out to sea and hours or days away from landfall, our bodies sense the contrast. Land is a necessary component of sailing, even for those of us who enjoy the journeys more than the destinations.

And so, I'm giving my homeport of Muskegon, Michigan some blog love.

To the uniformed and many sailors and powerboaters alike, Muskegon is nothing more than a large, safe harbor from Lake Michigan's gales. You can exit the "big lake" through Muskegon's two outstretched arms of limestone boulders and then meander down a dredged channel through sand dunes on into Muskegon Lake. At 4,150 acres, Muskegon Lake is at the mouth of Michigan's second-largest river and is itself a huge freshwater playground complete with dune beaches and at least one quiet anchorage. If the big lake (Lake Michigan) is too gnarly for even the hardiest sailors, the approximately 4 mile stretch to the far eastern shore is still a worthy run. But what about the land surrounding the lake? And the city that is the namesake?

An early spring look to the west from our marina over the expanse of Muskegon Lake.

I stumbled on a chapter in Ron Dwelle's Summer Studies - Retro Cruising on the Great Lakes that stirred my curiosity about Muskegon's history.

Here's a snippet:

"Muskegon was cosmopolitan in those days. There was a large contingent of Dutch Calvinist immigrants who settled there, hoping to indulge their strict religious teachings. But the town was most famous for its sin - particularly the whorehouses and saloons frequented by the lumber jacks, river drivers, mill men, and sailors - the "Timber Beasts" as they called themselves - who normally left their entire paychecks in one or another of the waterfront dives. Among the Beasts, it was said that you could smell Muskegon whiskey 50 miles upriver at Big Rapids. And 25 miles offshore in the Big Lake, they said, you could sniff the first whiff of the perfume on the whores." 

Beasts. Whiskey. Whores. All the makings of a Hollywood classic. I had to know more.

Muskegon, like most port towns, is and always has been largely defined and sustained by its connection to water. The name "Muskegon" is derived from the Ottawa Indian term 'Masquigon' meaning "marshy river or swamp" or more simply "the river with marshes". Human occupation in the area probably goes back seven or either thousand years to Paleo-Indian hunters who lived here after the retreat of the glaciers. Next were the woodland Indians, most notably various bands of the Ottawa and Pottawatomi tribes. Archeologists and history books tell us the area was first used as a winter home for the tribes who would retreat up the river into the thick forests to seek shelter when heavy weather came ashore.  There's also lore that says a great battle took place between the nomadic Algonquins and the local farming Potawatomi, the aftermath of which is said to have left thousands dead near the mouth of the Muskegon River, very close to our marina. The developed shorelines and hundreds of pleasures boats plying the waters here today belie that historic tragedy.

The 'Masguigon' river is shown on French maps from as far back as the late seventeenth century. After early fur traders first began taking up residence in the area in the late 1700's, official settlement of Muskegon began in 1837 when Muskegon Township was organized and the lumber companies moved in. This period was the commencement of the area's lumber industry and what many view as the most historic and romantic era for the region.

At the peak of the lumber industry, sometime in the mid-1880's, there were at least 47 sawmills around Muskegon Lake and another 16 or so to the north on the shores of White Lake. By this time, Muskegon was known as the "Lumber Queen of the Midwest". The river itself served as a highway of logs and profits as the forests along its shores and tributaries were cut down and boomed up in Muskegon Lake. Schooners carried the lumber mostly to Chicago and Milwaukee to build those cities and many others to the west in Illinois and Iowa. In fact, it was Muskegon lumber that rebuilt Chicago after the Great Fire of 1871.

Dwelle says that during the 1880's, Muskegon mills averaged enough white pine to build a city the size of Chicago each year, and there were commonly 100 lumber schooners in the lake with 40 to 50 departing on a normal day. White pines, and to a lesser extent other tree species, brought riches and all the associated plagues that come with it. During the lumbering era, Muskegon boasted more millionaires than any other town in America.

For those so inclined, you can read all about the debauchery that ensued along the waterfront area known as "Dust Flats" because of the accumulation of sawdust that littered the shore and filled shallow areas of Muskegon Lake. When the trees ran out, the whiskey and whores weren't far behind and the town lay collapsed after a booming period. The city later rebuilt itself as an industrial port, only to collapse again during the rust belt era that followed World War II.

Even today, the bottom of Muskegon Lake is still littered with sunken logs from the lumbering days. I'm sure we're not the only boaters on the lake to have snagged one of these waterlogged relics when retrieving our anchor. I'm told there are still plenty of places where you can dig down through a couple of feet of sand and hit a thick layer of sawdust. History might be sunken and buried, but its not gone.

There's power in knowing history. But there's also affection. Before we switched homeports, I didn't think much of Muskegon or Muskegon Lake. After we moved our sailboat here almost 5 years ago, I found a natural affinity for Muskegon Lake and her easy access to Lake Michigan, but still wasn't too keen on the city itself. Now that I've spent some time there and took a peek back at the history of this place, I have a new respect for how it was shaped and the influence its had on the region. Relatively speaking, the lake makes the city what it is and the city makes the lake too. They need each other, exactly like the ocean needs the land.

Here's more of what we love so much about where the water meets the land in a place called Muskegon (Click the pic for a bigger view):

Looking east from the dunes at the west end of Muskegon Lake on a typical summer weekend

Anchored in our favorite spot on the lake

Looking west at Lake Michigan from the other side of the dunes shown a couple pictures above


Can you believe all that beach gear fits in the dinghy? It does (barely)!

First Look: Mantus Anchor Swivel

You may not need an anchor swivel between your chain and your anchor, but a quality swivel can help your anchor perform its job even better and store more easily. Shifting winds, changing tides, currents and swell can all make your anchor pivot, twist and turn in its set, potentially compromising the ability to hold firm. An anchor swivel minimizes the impacts of boat movement on the anchor set. It also allows the anchor to position itself in the right orientation when you bring it up to your anchor roller on the bow.

Typical anchor swivel design

John over at MorgansCloud actually swears against using swivels because the more traditional designs end up being a weak link when sideways torque is involved. One of the two screws can give way with heavy side loads or quick, jerking motions. Mantus recently introduced a new uniquely designed swivel that is stronger than the corresponding Grade 40 anchor chain, potentially making it the strongest link in your anchor/rode/shackle combo. But more importantly, the Mantus design also incorporates a large bow shackle for the connection between the swivel body and the anchor and largely eliminates the side loading associated with other swivels. The pin on the chain side of the swivel is oblong to further maximize strength and reliability.

Here's a look at my Mantus Swivel

And here's a look at how the Mantus Swivel functions:

I haven't had a chance to anchor with the new Mantus Swivel yet, but I'm eager to give it a try and see how it performs. Anyone else have experience with the Mantus Swivel or others?

Reality TV, Sailing Style: Best Cruising Video Series

"Don't bury your thoughts, put your vision to reality. Wake up and live!" - Bob Marley

My favorite genre of books is, no surprise, non-fiction cruising/sailing books. But I've got to be in the right frame of mind to read and actually get something out of it. If it's not quiet or I've got other tasks looming, I might as well forget about reading. My mind just won't focus under those circumstances. However, the latest wave of cruising/sailing videos is there to fill the void. Often I'll put on my headphones and let my mind drift while watching YouTube just before bed. I know in a sense this is burying my thoughts and escaping the reality of a long, cold winter, but I've accepted that in the short term.

Our addition (from a few boats & years ago) 
to YouTube's cruising annals.

Several years ago when I first started blogging (~2007), YouTube was still just an infant and there was little in the way of sailing content. Nowadays, there seems to be a new and interesting voyage being documented through YouTube every couple of months. I hope the trend continues because I enjoy watching most of them much more so than anything that's on broadcast or cable television. Sure, the production quality is often low (shaky cameras, lots of wind noise, loose or absent plots), but the characters are true reality personalities.

I'm of the mind that the only thing more boring than playing golf is watching golf on television, so I can understand how some of you might think watching sailboat cruising videos is a snoozefest. But truth be told, there's nothing more entertaining and fulfilling for me than being on the water under sail, so watching it on an iPad screen works for me too, even if the wind and spray on my skin are imagined. Based on the Patreon per-video profits and subscriber numbers for several sailing YouTubers, I'm not the only one.

In any case, here's what I've been watching since s/v Bearly-A-Wake was hauled for winter:

Wicked Salty: Wes, Kate and their dog Lola purchase an Ericson 30 and journey from the east coast of the U.S. on through a romp in the Bahamas.

SV Delos Sailing: You probably already know Delos, Brian and crew. This video series has a ton going for it. First, they're the exception to the "low production quality" rule of cruising videos. Second, the characters and crew are a hoot. Third, the videos take place in ports most of us will never sail to.

Monday Never: New faces to most of us, but not a new story - This is a young couple who quits their jobs and goes sailing through the Caribbean. They're laid back, personable and fun.

Sailing La Vagabonde: Like Delos above, Elayna and Riley are quickly become rock stars of the YouTube sailing world. They've got a big subscriber list and tons of views...which speaks to how enjoyable their videos are.

Real Cruising Life with Drake Paragon: Drake tells it like is in an informative, written-blog-to-video sort of way. His videos feel honest and give a good sense of what it's like to live and travel aboard a sailboat in various latitudes and regions.

Sailing Vessel Prism: Follow Shannon and Jon as they sail their Hans Christian 33t from California to Mexico.

s/v Catchin' Rays: Watch new sailors learn the ropes on a catamaran and take her through the Caribbean.

Untie the Lines - White Spot Pirates: Mostly solo female sailing and learning aboard a classic, starting in Panama. Nike is a real go-getter!

Know of other cruising videos we should be watching? Let me know in the comments below.