Deck Shoes or Dive Boots? Zhik ZK Boatshoe Review

If you're at all familiar with footwear for sailing from Zhik, their line of boots probably comes to mind first. But they also make a couple styles of deck shoes. I've recently been trying out the Zhik ZK Boatshoe and have to say, so far I'm impressed.



The look of the ZK Boatshoe is fairly traditional (think Sperry Topsider/Sebago Docksides), but the build and materials are unique. Instead of canvas or leather, Zhik uses perforated neoprene for the uppers. The neoprene gives a snug and spongey feel and holds your foot firmly in place over the sole, but the upper stretches and contorts to your movements. I know that sounds strange, but it's actually really comfortable. The "ZK sole" uses a proprietary rubber formula to give excellent grip in wet conditions. It's a sticky sort of feel and is really reassuring on fiberglass and smooth surfaces. I'm not sure how long they'll stay sticky, particularly if I continue wearing them on the dock and on tera firma, but so far so good.



Think of the ZK Boatshoe as a hybrid offspring of deckshoes and a dive boot. You get the timeless nautical style of the deckshoe without stiff leather. And you get the made-for-water toughness of the dive boot without the fashion disaster. Not digging the look of the ZK Boatshoe but like the idea of a super grippy sole and neoprene upper? Zhik also makes ZKGs that offer the same materials and the same sole (as far as I can tell), but with different styling.

Three New Modern Cruising Sailboats Unlike Any Others

"Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else." - Margaret Mead

Sailors are often traditionalists and sailboats are often traditional in design. I'm perfectly ok with that. In fact, many of my favorite designs are quite traditional, often to a fault. But there are a few new cruising sailboats that have caught my eye and even made me scratch my head lately. It must be boat show season too, because I'm suddenly feeling like a sailing rag editor.

Broadblue Rapier 550
At first glance, the Rapier 550 looks similar to many other large modern cruising cats, but trust me, this one is truly unlike any other. Look just a bit closer at the exterior and you'll see sharp reverse bows. This boat actually appears to have a shorter length-on-deck than the waterline length. You'll also probably notice a smallish cockpit with a large slider door into the main cabin. What you'll notice is conspicuously absent from the exterior is much of the running rigging.


Why is it unlike any other cruising sailboat? The last sentence above should have tipped you off. All of the Rapier 550's control lines are lead to a carbon fiber compression post in the center of the main cabin. Jib sheets, traveler lines and all other sail control lines are found here on the inside and are controlled via electronic switches and winches. There's even an onboard computer system that can be set with pre-determined limits so the boat is automatically de-powered (sails let out, etc.) if the conditions become too much.


Take a look at that "helm". Is that the helm of a cruising sailboat or the driver's seat of an auto racing video game? The small Momo wheel might be cool on an 80's Supra or trendy on a souped-up Civic, but the look doesn't seem right for a sailboat. Tacking simply involves turning the wheel and pushing a button. Easy, but it barely qualifies as sailing. Toby Hodges from Yachting World said the boat felt a bit disconnected and foreign under sail. I haven't been aboard a Rapier 550, but that description seems to fit what I see.

Broadblue bills the Rapier 550 as "The Future of Performance Cruising", but to me it seems more like something a powerboater may opt for if they had a desire to cruise fast and far on a big budget. Interesting design concept, but I have a feeling that most sailors with this budget and desire for a 55-foot cat would opt for the Gunboat 55 if they want speed, and perhaps a Lagoon 560 S2 for max comfort in a production cat.

Varianta 37
Apple's iPhone has always been one of the top performing smartphones on the market. It's always sold well too, but that doesn't mean they're affordable for everyone. Enter the iPhone 5C, a model that performs nearly on par with the 5/5s, but adds value by taking away a few features like the all-alumnium body to hit a price point and meet the needs of a slightly different market. That's kind of how I think of the Varianta 37.

Varianta...Very plain, but very functional.

Based on the hull molds of the Hanse 375, the Varianta 37 is a somewhat stripped down boat that still offers good performance and most of the space and amenities required for cruising. The benefit to this approach is a new 37-footer with a Hanse pedigree/hull for a sailaway price of $132k (more for a model delivered to the U.S.). For perspective, a new Catalina 385 costs about $215k, a Bavaria 37 is about $197k, the new Hunter 37 is north of $175k, and the Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 379 is somewhere between $175k-$245k, depending on options.

Why is it unlike any other cruising sailboat? "Simple" and "agile" are words that describe the Varianta. She's also a bit plain looking with the lack of a factory cove stripe or any other hull graphics. Not only has the cove stripe been removed, but there must be other "stuff" taken off too, because the displacement is about 1,000 pounds less than the Hanse 375 she's based on. Joinery work in the cabin is at a bare minimum and the look is very white and spartan...like an Ikea showroom. In fact, you can even opt for bean bag style settees in place of traditional foam cushions in the salon. Most systems are as simple as they can possibly be while still maintaining functionality.

Aisle 7 at Ikea or main salon of the Varianta 37?

So the feature that makes the Varianta 37 unique is actually a lack of features found on more expensive boats. But don't confuse this lack of features and a lower price point with shoddy workmanship or questionable build quality. SAIL Magazine and Yachting World both report that the boat seems structurally robust and at least up to Hanse's normal reputation in the production sailboat world. While I'm guessing the Varianta will probably do well in the charter market and as a trainer for sailing schools, I'm willing to bet she'll also become a a decent option for budget minded cruisers who want a new boat, but don't want to spend the ~$200k that a 37-footer typically commands. Kinda reminds me of the kit boats that were popular with cruisers in the 1970's.

Neel 45
The popularity of multihulls among cruisers (and bareboat charters) is validated by simply scanning any popular anchorage in the Caribbean. For many, the allure of vast cabin spaces, multihull stability and the potential for monohull-besting performance is tough to pass up. Still, multihulls, whether they be catamarans or trimarans, have always seemed a bit radical.

Now along comes a large cruising trimaran that pushes the edge of what is considered radical, even by traditional multihull standards. The Neel 45 is the offspring of Eric Bruneel, former general manager for cruising catamaran giant Fountain-Pajot.


The Neel 45 flying a hull on an easy reach

Why is it unlike any other cruising sailboat? First, this is a legitimate world cruising trimaran. How many of those do you know of? Then, there's performance. The Neel 45 reportedly makes 10+ knots easily on most points of sail and averaged 230NM days on a recent transatlantic crossing. Next is the very unique look and layout. This isn't your typical v-berth forward, salon amidships and galley aft arrangement found on many cruisers.

Cabin layout for the Neel 45

The Neel 45 is a unique boat that I'm guessing will require a unique buyer. But if you value speed, and want something different from a name with a reputation (Eric Bruneel), then this might be your boat. Want to learn more? Visit Neel Trimarans.

So there you have it: a monohull, a cat, and a trimaran all breaking new ground in the cruising sailboat realm. Cool boats, but I'll still take a Hans Christian 33t and a nice starter fund for the cruising kitty.

Julbo Wave Review

"Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others." - Jonathan Swift

Sailors have great vision, speaking from a mental perspective. We see what's beyond the horizon. We see the journey being equally important as the destination.

Physical vision is important while sailing too, so it makes sense to invest in a quality pair of sunglasses that can combat the intense glare off the water and UV rays from the sky. But can't any frame and lens do that just about the same as any other? Maybe on land, but when you factor in spray and wind bombarding your eyes and the high level of activity sometimes required to sail a boat in challenging conditions, a specialized pair of sunglasses begins to make more sense.

Julbo Wave sunglasses handle the job of providing excellent optics by cutting glare and protecting your eyes extremely well, thanks to quality vented and polarized lenses that are light weight and shock resistant. That's all great, but again, there are many sunglasses on the market with good polarized lenses for use on the water.

Your humble SFLF author sporting Julbo Waves on a calm day

So what makes the Julbo Wave special?

First, there's a cephalopod. A multi-armed mollusk, you say? In name only actually, but what Julbo's Octopus lenses do uniquely feature is "NTS technology" to darken or lighten with the ambient conditions, regardless of temperature. And then Julbo adds a water-shedding hydrophobic coating that keeps spray, rain and the occasional breaking wave from blurring the lens. There's also an oil-repellent coating to prevent finger prints, something that drives me crazy with most sunglasses!

Hannah and I tried a simple splash test on the Octopus lens. They shed water nicely and dry spot free.

But wait, there's more!

The Julbo Wave has a sporty appearance out of the box, but you can change from a sporty look to sporty function by adding the protective frame skirt and floating head strap. Now you've got sunglasses with an excellent watersports lens that function more like goggles. The skirt keeps water, spray and direct wind from reaching your eyeballs, while the strap holds everything in place even during ultra-active deck work or capsizing in a small keel boat (Laser, Butterfly, etc.). And the whole package floats, which is always a good feature for sailing gear.

With skirt and strap in place, you'll look like you're ready for some serious action. Which is to say, you probably don't want that look if you're lounging at anchor or schmoozing at the marina. No worries...Simply remove the skirt/strap and you've got a stylish, if not a bit large frame that will still draw some attention.

The Wave's skirt and strap installed.

Want a pair of Wave sunglasses?

This kind of versatility doesn't come cheap at about $190 retail. Julbo also offers the Wave with a standard polarized lens (non-Octopus) for $120. Both versions comes with the snap-on frame skirt and sport strap.

Usually choosing apparel like sunglasses is a very subjective decision based on personal style preferences, but it's a no brainer for me to recommend the Julbo Wave simply because of all the function they bring for sailing and water sports.

The full package included with Julbo Wave sunglasses

Looking for addition reviews of sunglasses suitable for sailing? Here are some previous reviews we've done:


Heavy Weather Tactics: 5 Options for Sailing Through a Storm

"I hate storms, but calms undermine my spirits." -Bernard Moitessier, The Long Way

Moitessier had a way with words. I would like to have been a fly on the bulkhead to hear the conversations he had with his sailboat on the long solo passages that define his sailing legacy. Consider his quote above. It wasn't heavy weather and storms that challenged his inner self, but rather the monotony and silence of being becalmed. Storms on the other hand, have a way of shaking us to the core and tossing us out on the other side a little scared but often a better sailor for the experience. And frankly, the threat of storms can sometimes undermine my normally free spirit.


How do you deal with storms while sailing? What follows is merely my overview of options for dealing with heavy weather while sailing, rather than a deep discussion about the particulars of each storm tactic. I personally don't have extensive experience with all of these tactics nor do I have offshore heavy weather experience, so I'm not qualified to give advice to anyone but myself on this topic. However, I've done a lot of reading and talking with folks who do have the requisite experience. This post is a result of those conversations and readings stewing in my head over the last couple of years. [Note - Several excellent resources (books, websites, podcasts, etc.) from experts are given at the end of the post.]

Keep in mind that all of the tactics below have several variations and their utility as part of your storm sailing repertoire depends on your own skills, your boat's design, your crew, and your willingness to practice and be prepared to implement any or all as needed.

If you have experience or details to add, please share them below. Hopefully we'll even get a few experts to chime in. In the coming months I also hope to have future blog posts with perspectives on some or all of these tactics from others who have used them at sea during storm events.

So if you find yourself sailing with a storm approaching and you can't (or won't) head for port to wait it out, here are your options as far as I can tell:

Fore-Reaching
This is a tactic favored by many of the experts, but one that admittedly seems a bit nebulous (at least to me) until you've had a chance to try it. Fore-reaching is generally done with just the mainsail. Beth Leonard (author of The Voyager's Handbook) recommends starting with the main sheeted to centerline and the helm locked in a position that holds the boat close-hauled. You're officially fore-reaching when the boat jogs up to windward until the sail starts to stall, the boat falls off to leeward, and then starts sailing again. The motion is a controlled weave or gentle s-curve to windward. Think of fore-reaching as a very active tactic for sailing into and through the weather. John Kretschmer (author of Sailing a Serious Ocean) lists fore-reaching as his go-to tactic for coping with truly severe weather, including large breaking waves.

A depiction of fore-reaching from SAIL Magazine

Heaving-To
Heaving-to is a tactic that allows the sailboat to slow forward progress almost completely while requiring no input from the crew once the sails and rudder are set. Depending on conditions and your specific boat, you’ll likely still crab at about 1-2 knots to leeward, but things are slow and usually settled. Essentially, the sails and rudder are set so they are in balance and cancel each other out. The headsail typically gets back-winded while the rudder is held so the boat wants to turn to windward [For more details about heaving-to, you can read this earlier post]. 

This is a tactic we've practiced on multiple occasions and used for quick lunch breaks and rests while day sailing. While I haven't hove-to in high winds and storm conditions, it might be what comes to mind first since I'm comfortable with how our boat behaves and have practiced enough to potentially pull it off under the stress of a thumping gale.

The following are some considerations for heaving-to as a storm tactic (i.e. riding out the weather):

  1. Do you have enough sea room to allow the boat to crab slowly to leeward? The answer will obviously vary depending on your distance shore, the direction of the wind/current, and the longevity of the storm conditions. Remember, heaving-to is a passive tactic, so you’ve got to be o.k. with letting the boat do its thing while you hunker down in the cabin.
  2. Are your sails and rigging up to the task? As with many storm tactics, your sails and rigging will be subjected to high loads and chafe. Is your boat equipped with storm sails that can handle strong winds and potential flogging? Our boat's sails wouldn't be up to the task of remaining hove-to for hours on end, but I'm confident that I could ride out a short summer squall. 
  3. How well does your particular boat heave-to and will it remain hove-to without putting your beam to the seas? Large swells and breaking waves can be trouble for a boat that doesn’t like to heave-to.
Interesting note: Consider the infamous and tragic 1979 Fastnet race where 25 of the 306 boats in the race were either sunk or disabled and only 86 finished the race. Fifteen sailors died during this event. There were 26 boats that chose to heave-to during the horrendous Force 10 conditions (wind 55-63mph, waves 29-41 ft.) and none were capsized or suffered serious damage. Other boats in the race that did capsize or were severely damaged chose to race onward, lay ahull, or run under bare poles. I’m not sure if this is a strong case for heaving-to as a storm tactic because I don’t know all the details, but clearly some very experienced sailors have had success heaving-to in horrendous conditions.

Running-Off
Running-off means to run downwind, either with reduced sails or under bare poles if the wind is too powerful. If the waves aren’t too gnarly and you’ve got room or your destination is downwind anyway, then running-off seems like a decent option. We’ve all experienced the calming effect of a downwind run in “normal” conditions, so this tactic seems appealing up to a point. John Kretschmer, an accomplished and respected offshore sailor, views running-off as one of the very best short-term storm tactics and uses it often on his own passages.


Considerations for running-off:

  1. Do you have sea room to run off? That is, is there land, shallow water or other dangers downwind of your position that make this tactic unadvisable? Furthermore, will running off simply serve to keep you in the path of the storm longer than an alternative tactic? 
  2. Can you maintain steering with the wind and waves on your stern quarters or directly abaft?
  3. Do you need to deploy a drogue or warps to slow your forward speed in order to maintain control and keep from being overpowered by the waves?
  4. Are you up for the physically exhausting challenge of manually steering your ship for potentially hours or days on end? 
Lying Ahull
Lying ahull seems like the most passive and least favored tactic among the experts, at least for monohulls. It basically boils down to taking down all the canvas and securing hatches/ports while locking the rudder to windward and putting yourself at the total mercy of the storm. Again, depending on your boat’s design, you may find yourself lying ahull with the waves directly on your beam…not how I’d choose to ride it out. At best, this will be uncomfortable. At worst, you’ll be faced with repeated knock downs, pounding waves and even the real potential for a roll over. More modern designs with fin keels may find that the windage of bare poles is enough to keep the bow at least partially pointed to the weather and waves, which could make lying a hull more bearable…until the waves get really large and start to break. Note - lying a hull seems to be considered a more acceptable and safer tactic for moderate to large multihulls.


Given the passive nature of this tactic, rough motion and potential for a roll-over, I'm not sure I'd ever be ok with giving this a try unless I was too injured to for other tactics or damage to the boat (blown out sails, broken rudder, etc.) dictated that lying ahull was the only option.

Motoring

Here's a tactic that isn't mentioned by the experts as far as I can tell, so maybe I shouldn't even include it in this post. Still, it seems like something that could come to mind, particularly for new sailors who aren't fully comfortable with sailing yet somehow find themselves in a squall or worse.

On the surface, it may seem like just firing up the iron genny and pointing the bow towards safety is a simple solution. But as sailors, you all know that a sailboat is MUCH more balanced and stable with the sails up and the engine off. This may be lessened in storm conditions because of wave action, powerful wind and the fact that you sometimes can't have sails up (i.e. they're shredded or the wind is simply too strong). But the point is, several of the aforementioned tactics will likely provide better balance and control, which leads to increased safety. Furthermore, running the engine in these conditions probably isn't sustainable because of fuel limitations and the stress on the engine itself from operating at extreme angles of heel (think lubrication).

Perhaps in coastal conditions when dealing with a passing squall, motoring may be an option in some instances, but relying on the engine in offshore storm conditions wreaks of ill-preparation or signals something has going terrible wrong (dismasting?).


So that's my review of the most common storm tactics. What I've learned so far is that there are many ways to deal with storms while on passage and no one single tactic is right for every situation. Likewise, sailors tend to each have their own preferred tactics and variations, which is to say that you need to find out what works best for you and your boat before you're faced with making an uneducated decision in the teeth of a gale. 

And don't forget to practice your man-overboard procedures!

We never left port on this particular day, 
but could we have sailed in this if we had to?

Additional Resources
Here are some excellent resources on sailing in heavy weather and dealing with storms. I've included each of these as a resource not only because they are from notable experts, but because they also each represent different and sometimes contradicting philosophies and perspectives for storm sailing. Each gives details about the tactics shown above and provides the specific experiences and examples of using the tactics. I found it interesting to compare the slight differences in how each expert implements a particular tactic and which tactics are favored by each particular person.

Books






Podcasts

Training