Foul Weather Gear Refurbishment: Step by Step
By Chris Museler
It always seemed to me that all it took was one long distance race of sitting in puddles of water between a stack of sails and the rail to have new foul weather gear become the same damp experience the old ones were. The seat of bibs are a particular area of discontent for me.
With age, comes wisdom (and better technology) and today’s tri-laminate, breathable foulies are not only durable and comfortable, some even stretch, they can also be refurbished to have water bead off like on a mallard duck.
In preparation for the Bermuda race, putting the right combination of gear into your duffle is only step number one for a comfortable ride south. Making sure your outer layers shed water instead of absorb it is the key to comfort.
In search of the fountain of youth for my fowlies and boots, I spoke with Martha Parker at Team One Newport who has watched a generation of sailors graduate from delaminating nylon, to the ultra sweaty PVC (Line 7 circa 1980s) and through the trials and tribulations of breathable fabrics including the most popular, GoreTex.
Martha recommends any of the tech washes on the market for breathable clothes. Class 40 sailor Rob Windsor and I chose the Nikwax Wash and TX Direct Wash Kit, a two-part system. Martha explained that these washes are only for unlined tri-laminate materials produced within the last five or so years, according to Parker, though it could help with older gear.
These include most of the major offshore, breathable jackets and bibs on the market. The laminate consists of a durable, waterproof outer layer, the breathable membrane, then a scrim on the inside to protect the membrane.
“We all get bummed when the water stops beading off our gear,” says Parker. “The reality is that when the outer layer starts wetting out, water still isn’t getting through, you’re just asking a lot more from the membrane and after a while, then the membrane will fail.”
To prevent the wet trousers syndrome, Parker suggests that active sailors refurbish their gear once a season. Professional sailors often repeat the process four times a season. She says you have about 10 cycles in a set of gear so you can do the math on the lifespan of modern breathable foulies.
For our refurbishment, we both took full sets of Musto HPX foul weather gear and followed a combination of Parker’s and Nikwax’s directions.
1- Zip up jackets and bibs then turn inside out (it’s easier to do this instead of using Velcro when inside out)
2- Put in washing machine (if a bleach load was done recently, run an empty cycle first).
3- First do a cycle with the tech wash using Cold/Delicate (tip: you can use twice the amount of garments for the recommended amount of washing agent).
4- Run the machine a second time using Cold/Delicate, this time putting in the conditioning agent.
5- Next place the gear in the dryer using the Low/Delicate temperature setting along with a few dry towels, these will absorb excess water and allow the gear to dry quicker (note: do not use a commercial dryer, temperatures can get too high and ruin your gear).
This process does two things: it cleans the gear, getting rid of oil and other residues; then the two-part treatment puts another Durable Water Repellency layer on your gear. There is also a spray-on refurbishing agent where you wear a glove and rub your jacket and bibs down with the agent, but we did not attempt that one.
There are also hand-applied products for breathable leather boots, which we hope to try before the June 15 start.
Now you will have that newly waxed car feel as that first bow wave that goers over your head slides right off your jacket leaving hundreds of little droplets on the surface. After his servicing, Windsor sailed more than 1,000 miles and said his gear was close to new in performance, save his knees that see a lot of the deck in doublehanded sailing.