Our Vanguard 15 racing venue of Clipper Cove, at Treasure Island Sailing Center (TISC), on Treasure Island, can have a range of conditions. And not when you’d expect, either: we’ve had shorts days in April, and wetsuit-and-dry top days in August. If you’re showing up to race, you want to ensure you have gear that covers the full spectrum of possible conditions so you’re ready to put everything you have into sailing the boat, and have a good time doing so.
It’s hard to overemphasize how wet a Vanguard 15 can be when sailing upwind in breeze. If you’re sailing the boat flat and hiking out hard, you’re inches above the water, planing upwind at maybe 5 or 6 knots, with the breeze carrying the spray at you at 20 knots apparent. Imagine getting sprayed down with a saltwater firehose for five minutes, and you get the idea. It’s a lot of fun, but it helps to be dressed for it.
As for gear, here’s what I bring, starting from roughly bottom to top:
- Hiking boots — I’ve wear Zhik 360s, and they look your foot in and grab the hiking strap well.
- Wetsuit — a farmer john works well for moderate- to heavy air. A wetsuit vest works on its on during lighter wind days, or over the farmer john for windy and cold days. Either way, I personally don’t like full-arm wetsuits since I like my arms to have freedom to move. That said, a lot of crews like full wetsuits that go over your arm. Another nice thing about wetsuits is the padding they provide, resulting in fewer bruises the day after. I’ve gotten a wetsuit at Wise Surfboards on Ocean Beach, but there are plenty of other places to get them in the Bay Area, including REI.
- Shorts —Clipper Cove does have its warm days, and for these, shorts made of quick drying material, like nylon, are good. Women typically wear shorts over a bathing suit. Either way, it’s good to wear Bermuda-style shorts so you have protection between your bottom side and the rail.
- Rash guard shirts — one for under the wetsuit, and one over my lifejacket and dry top if it’s windy, to keep from getting caught in mainsheet when your mast is raked back for the breeze.
- Smock / dry top — velcro seals are better than latex seals, since they’re durable. Rooster tops are warm and have a big neck so you can take it on and off more easily.
- Lifejacket — US Coast Guard approved. The Astral YTV is low profile and has minimal zippers to get in the way during a tack, or when pulling yourself back into the boat after a capsize. I also bring an old lifejacket in case anyone forgets theirs.
- 2 pairs of gloves — I like full finger Nitrile gardening gloves that you can buy for maybe $7 in a hardware or gardening store. Help you grip sheets better than leather sailing gloves. I bring an extra pair in case my crew or another boat forgot theirs.
- 2 watches — I like cheap G-shock watches, so it’s no big deal if you lose one. Also you can loan one to your sailing partner or another boat. If you search for “Casio countdown” you can often find a watch for $10 or $20. That said, our race committee typically runs collegiate-style sound signals, so a watch isn’t a must-have.
- Polarized sunglasses — I like Kaenons with Amber tint. Expensive (~$200) but crucial for seeing puffs and not getting blinded since the sun is often near the weather mark. Kaenons are designed by world-class sailors, and are worn by a lot of the top Olympic and America’s Cup teams. Having good sunglasses is crucial since seeing windshifts is one of the most important factors of sailing well on the course. I’d rather sail V15s on Clipper Cove with good sunglasses and old sails, than new sails and poor sunglasses — so if you’re on a budget, that’s something to consider.
- Baseball cap — To keep the sun out of your eyes. This is a significant challenge, since when we race, the wind typically blows out of the west and the sun is often 10 or 20 degrees above the horizon. I prefer a lightweight jogging cap that won’t overheat me on warm days or downwind, which has a black bill underneath which won’t reflect glare from the water.
- Chums — to not lose your sunglasses, obviously, but can also keep your cap on if you cow hitch the strap on the back of the cap through the end of the croakies. Nothing’s worse than having to mess with your cap during a close situation on the course. I bring a couple extra in case my crew needs one.
- Warm cap/beanie — I don’t usually wear a cap, but on cold windy days I like to offer one to my crew. Planing upwind is a blast, but can be chilly. I love my Outdoor Research wind pro hat — compact enough to easily fit into a dry top, largely windproof, and very warm. One longtime V15 crew wears an earflap hat made for winter snowstorms. The strap on the bottom keeps that hat from coming off.
One crew in our fleet wears a neoprene kiteboarding jacket over her full wetsuit. She’s never bummed on cold windy days. If you’re often cold even with a full wetsuit, this is a good choice to consider.
Bring a beach towel so you can change in the parking lot at TISC. There are changing rooms available, but since they’re a bit of a hike from the parking lot, most folks just change at their car.
To ensure I don’t forget anything, before packing I lay out all my gear in a line, ordered by the bottom-most article of clothing (boots) to the topmost (hat). This might seem obsessive, but nothing’s worse than showing up on race day without a key item.
In my lifejacket pockets I stuff in a few things to help with contingencies:
- Leatherman — actually a small SOG multitool, which has 2:1 grip on the pliers, as well as screwdrivers.
- Cassette tape — to tie telltales around the shrouds. Cassette tape only lasts a few weeks, so it’s good to be able to tie on a new telltale if yours comes off. I find wool telltales to be much less responsive than cassette tape, even though wool is much more durable.
- A few feet of 1/8" Spectra rope for simple repairs.
- Mylar blanket — in case someone on the course becomes hypothermic. Cost is several bucks for a packet of 5.
- Small flat whistle
In my top I sometimes carry a bar to stuff down and/or share with my crew between races. (We only get a couple of minutes between races, so stuff down is quite a literal term.)
In the halyard bags, I’ll pack a water bottle each for my crew and myself. We almost always need a few gulps of water after a race. Bike bottles work well since you can use them to squirt the spray of your sunglasses.
I’ll also bring sunscreen, lip balm, a headlamp (for unrigging if we race very late), and a warm jacket or two to wear at dinner after racing. I don’t bring these out onto the water and leave them in my car.
I carry all the above in a plastic crate with a lid, so that after racing I can just dump all the wet clothes into the bin, put the lid on, and the car doesn’t collect funky smells. I also toss in a sneaker ball or two into the bin to further reduce the funky smell.
Post racing, I like to toss my sailing gear into mesh bags, so they don’t get torn up, and wash them in washing machine on a cold, gentle cycle. I also toss my mainsheet and jibsheet into a mesh bag and into the wash to get the salt off and keep them running smoothly. I’ll let all these drip dry.
I’ll also put my leatherman/SOG tool (as well as any fastpins) into an old tupperware container of white vinegar, available from any grocery store, to remove any existing rust and keep any new rust from forming on them.
So there you have it. What do you think? Anything in addition or instead of this list?