In terms of cut and detailing, different sailing styles require very different approaches. A cruising-style jacket (or a jacket designed for more casual offshore racing) will typically feature a longer three-quarter length, or hip-length, cut reaching halfway down the thigh to keep water from sneaking up around the tops of your bibs. It will also include a fully zippered front, to make it easier to take off and put on.
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An excellent example of this approach can be found in West Marine’s Trysail Jacket, which is expressly designed for bluewater cruising or coastal cruising in heavier conditions. Read more about the Trysail jacket and bibs, and see our video review here.
Note that the zippered front includes what West Marine calls a “double storm flap” to keep water from penetrating the zipper and a robust double cuff, which can be sealed up on the inside with an elastic Velcro flap to keep rain and spray from finding their way up your arms. The external portion of the cuff can then be sealed around a pair of waterproof gloves.
Racing style jackets, on the other hand, will often employ a waist-length “smock” cut with no zipper. The result is a jacket that is easier to move around in when, say, prancing about the foredeck in a gale. Because there is no zipper, a smock will also be more capable of withstanding the “firehouse” the conditions that racers often encounter in the heat of battle, albeit at the cost of being harder to put on and take off.
Helly Hansen’s Ocean Drytop smock is an excellent example of this kind of top. Like the Trysail, it is constructed with unlined three-layer fabric, in the interest of comfort and weight, but it is waist-cut to promote ease of movement. To keep the water out, it includes a velco-adjustable waistband and wetsuit-style neck and wet seals, which again, can be a bear to pull on and off, but are the only thing that will do when you’re out grinding winches or changing a headsail in extreme conditions.
One thing in common to all these jackets (and all top-quality bluewater tops) is a comfortable, well-built collar and hood combination. No flimsy protection here: in all cases the hoods are constructed with the same rugged three-layer fabric and taped seams as the rest of the jacket.
West Marine’s Trysail “Optivision” hood also includes a narrow fleece lining across the forehead in the interest of comfort, while the Helly Hansen Ocean Drytop has a reinforced visor, as befitting those forced to keep a constant eye on sail trim in the dirtiest weather.
Most important, the hoods on both these jackets come with a number of adjustments to ensure they not only fit snugly, but don’t block your view by flopping down over your eyes when deployed—a serious problem back in the good-old days. These include adjustable elastic cords along the sides and back of the hood. The Trysail hood can also be synched in at the top to fit the size and shape of your skull—a nice touch.
The collars on both jackets are also tall enough to reach the ears, fleece lined for comfort and double sealed along the front with a pair of flaps, one of which is elastic. Anyone who has stood a dirty night watch or spent hours doing rail meat duty in dirty weather knows that a good collar and hood are key to your happiness. Even if the rest of you is toasty warm, a rough seam chafing against your forehead or shots of cold, wet air sneaking around the back of your neck can leave you chilled and less able to concentrate on sailing.
A point of difference between the two is the number of pockets: while the Trysail has no less than five—including a lined pair on the chest that do double duty as hand warmers and a small pouch on the left arm for holding things like a phone or small GPS—the Ocean Drytop has a single “kangaroo” storage pocket on the chest. The reasons for this include weight and breathability: the former is increased and the latter decreased with every pocket you add.