Low-cost neoprene dinghy boots or rubber sailing Wellies like those from West Marine are all well and good for inshore or coastal work—in fact, when combined with a good pair of socks, the latter in particular work great. But if you’re going to be at sea for any length of time, a pair of high-quality breathable boots is vital. A good pair of boots will also last much longer than a pair made of lower-cost materials using less rigorous manufacturing processes.
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Once again, it’s a combination of good design and quality materials that wins the day—as is evident in boots like the Ultima, from Ireland’s Dubarry company, an all-around sailing boot that has logged countless sea miles with both racers and cruisers.
Key to the success of these boots is a breathable, waterproof Gore-Tex lining that wicks away perspiration from your feet at the same time it’s keeping them dry—a Dubarry innovation that solves the central problem with traditional rubber Wellies.
Complementing this Gore-Tex layer is a leather exterior that is fully impregnated with a water repellent during Dubarry’s proprietary tanning process, as opposed to having the waterproofing simply applied on the outer surface as an afterthought. According to Dubarry general manager Danny Hulse, in addition to helping the Gore-Tex keep water out, this weatherproofing keeps the leather from shrinking and cracking after multiple wettings; makes it easier to flush away salt at the end of the day; and makes the boots lighter because they absorb less water in rough conditions.
Another problem with traditional rubber boots is the way the uppers can rub against the calves of your leg. But that’s not a problem with the Dubarry Ultima, thanks to the soft lining between the Gore-Tex, which is attached to the inside of the leather layer, and your skin. After a wet regatta in the UK it’s not at all uncommon to see hoards of sailors strolling about the docks in their Ultimas (or Shamrocks, another Dubarry model) and shorts—the boots, which like any good leather boot that grows to accommodate the contours of your feet, are that comfortable.
Completing the equation is a solid, non-marking rubber sole that is directly injection-molded onto the leather upper for durability. Seams in the uppers are also kept to a minimum, again with durability in mind. Never forget that the amount of wear and tear on all sailing equipment increases exponentially on longer passage, because they are being used 24-7. The boots even include anti-microbial materials in the footbed to keep odors under control.
For extreme racers who plan on spending hours at a time calf deep in bluewater there is the Dubarry Crosshaven, which has to be seen—and worn—to be believed.
Like the Ultima, the Crosshaven incorporates a Gore-Tex lining, which makes the boot breathable as well as waterproof, although the uppers are built primarily of Cordura, as opposed to leather, in the interest of even greater durability and lower weight. Despite their apparent bulk, it’s nothing less than amazing how breathable these boots are.
The uppers are also taller to keep out blue water (a pair of leather “finger pulls” make them that much easier to pull on when crawling out of the bunk) and encased in a lightweight, water repellant abrasion-resistant gator, which goes around the cuffs on your bibs to prevent water from getting inside, no matter what the conditions. According to Hulse, these gators are just one of a number of features inspired by the many Volvo Ocean Racers his company has worked with over the years and even include a set of mesh drains for shedding excess water (another feature, which comes directly from Dubarry’s work with the Green Dragon team in the 2008-09 race).
Rounding out the Crosshaven’s many features are reinforcements in the toe and heal and what Dubarry calls its “D-Chassis System,” a two-part support system that adds extra support and protection for your feet when the boat is on its ear. Again, these are boots that have to be seen to be believed.