If you sail regularly offshore, you know the absolute importance of a good, warm, dry pair of seaboots. There are plenty on the market, most of which are very good, and -- like ski boots -- a lot comes down to individual fit, but if your foot is a fairly common size, you'll go far to find a better pair than the Dubarry Ultimas. These Gore-Tex-lined leather boots were designed for the grueling rigors of the Southern Ocean, but breathe well enough to be used in all but the hottest weather. I've used my pair in a wide variety of conditions, ranging from a circumnavigation of Vancouver Island, to various ocean races, passages, and deliveries, and they have quickly made it onto my "must-have" list of sailing gear.
At first thought, leather sea boots sound like an oxymoron. Exposure leather to the sun, salt, and wetness of an offshore boat? Huh? I was a doubter at first as well, until I tried the boots. Since they are Gore-Tex-lined, there's no worry of your feet getting wet. This took a little getting used to, especially when I'd gaze down at my feet, hanging over the rail, and see that the leather appeared to be saturated. This is only the outer layer, and, with proper treatment sprays (available from Dubarry), is easily prevented. I've used these boots for almost two weeks straight, and I've never once had wet or sodden socks or feet, even when the outer surface looks saturated. I have, however, found that the boots are happier if I give them a quick fresh-water rising when I get back ashore.
Once I got over the disbelief that leather works at sea, I started to notice very little in the way of information coming from my feet to my sensory system. No feelings of frosty toes or soggy arches; no feelings of cramped toes or discomfort anywhere. Instead, all I felt were warm, dry, happy feet. As someone who spends a lot of time both offshore and in the mountains, this is a highly-prized feeling, and one that is worth its weight in gold, especially on longer trips.
One small annoyance that I discovered, and which is purely cosmetic, is that the leather has a tendency to scuff up a little bit, especially if you're on a raceboat with a sharp deck. Provided that you can remember not to sit Indian-style, this isn't a problem, but I did find myself wondering how I had managed to sand down the boots after a couple of years, but even after this wet sanding, my Ultimas are still warm, toasty, and comfortable.
As far as traction goes, the Ultimas do a good job. Sure, they could use some of the stickier rubbers that become grippier when wet, but these compounds always seem to wear down fast. Instead, the rubber that Dubarry specs performs well in all situations and on all deck surfaces.
Perhaps my favorite aspect of the Ultimas is the ankle, foot and lower leg protection that they offer. No more scratched or scrapped ankles; no more worry that a lashing lazy sheet could end your running season. Dubarry uses high-quality, sturdy leather that's more than capable of serving as a buffer between hard, sharp surfaces and your feet.
But perhaps the best endorsement that I can give these boots comes from a recent trip that I made to the Baltic Sea and the Finnish Archipelago on a boat-testing trip. After a big storm blew through, dropping rain and cold temps, several of my boat mates were shivering in their oilers, obviously cold from their feet up. While I felt bad for their choice in foot wear, I certainly didn't feel bad enough to offer them use of my Ultimas (friendship only goes so far, especially when frostbite isn't an issue), but I did quietly suggest that they look at Dubarry's webpage. Something tells me that several orders were placed just based on that one cold afternoon! Prices vary based on where you buy them, but they likely run at roughly $325. Dubarry 1-866-658-3569, www.dubarry.us