Saturday, 24 May 2008

A rant against snake oil

This is a rant, but it's well intentioned. Out there at the far end of it, it just might save someone's life.
It's not intended for people who just sail around the cans, but for those of us who go offshore.

I've just made a minor mod to my Henri smock - simple and easy with the trusty sailmaker's needle and I thought about McQ's boots and how the Fashionistas and the marketers and the brand managers - the manipulators and the snake oil merchants - have taken over the sport and the minds of the gullible. Very expensive boots - to take one example - look cool at the briefing (how often do you see the rockstars sitting there for the cameras?) - but they have to work out here on the ocean as well. In my experience, they are no more effective than my $40 wellies and I've seen and sailed with a lot of people who were wearing them and have tried them myself(borrowed a pair and they were already wet inside and leaked like the proverbial). My wellies do two seasons before the rubber begins to perish and I chuck them and buy another pair - and I have dry feet all the time unless I get water over the top. It is utterly ludicrous that poor McQ has to wear plastic bags inside hers, but maybe she will not get conned so easily next time. This is her second pair - for that money Our Appointed Sailmaker could make me a new storm jib and many of you out there are in the same situation? The fishos, who spend their lives out here, wear wellies like mine. Dry feet reduce fatigue and contribute to safety. And, having said all that, perhaps there are some boots out there that are worth the money but I doubt it.

Then there's wet weather gear. I always used to buy Gill because it is excellent gear, quality control superb and they used to listen to people like me and fix things that didn't work. Before the last Fastnet, I looked for a Gill smock only to find that they only had silver or black ones. So the fashion statement has taken over from the safety factor there too - the primary function of this stuff is to keep us warm and dry, and the secondary one is to provide maximum visibility to the helicopter pilot who might be looking for us in a 1998 storm. It is not - not - to sell product for a sponsor. Or to look good in the bar afterwards. They come way down the list. If you are in the water in a crashing storm at night and you can hear the chopper, would you rather be in a black or silver top or dayglo orange or red or yellow? And the sponsors are now insisting that crews be dressed in company livery - there's a well known outfit that puts people in light blue and white kit - if I were an owner at that level, I'd refuse, point blank, just as I did in my own small way to the Gill HQ salesman who tried to tell me that colour didn't matter - after all, they had a yellow hood. Bollocks. Paint a soccer ball yellow and put it 500 feet away and see how small it looks. Then arrange for waves to break over it. That's what the chopper pilot sees from 500 feet - then try it at night. So now I have a dayglo red Henri smock, lots of retro tape, plus yellow hood and there's a pair of pants on the way to Dutch to match it. Sorry, Gill, but I tried. McQ, incidentally, has a black smock, light blue jacket and blue pants. Dame Ellen, from hazy memory, wore grey.

If us sailors don't insist on these things, it serves us right if there's nothing but froth on the market. Tell them, loud and clear and don't buy it! You will be glad you insisted if it's you in the water. I'd like to see race authorities taking a stand as well - while it might interfere with individual liberty, the safety issue is so important that it's worth it. Just a recommendation would be a start. 1998 changed a lot of things for the better - let's not lose sight of the basic principles just to keep sponsors and the fashion industry happy.