All, fingers on deck! Vibram Five Fingers Review

Gear Review: Vibram FiveFingers for Sailing/Deck Shoes

Deck shoes seem to be a very personal matter to most sailors. Some swear by Sperry’s TopSiders or Sebago’s Docksider line. Racing sailors often seem to prefer a more snugly fitting athletic shoe with a sole specialized for the deck, such as those offered by Harken. I’ve always been much more casual with my choice of footwear for the boat. Typically you can find me in flip-flops, Crocs or often barefoot while sailing. Crocs provide a bit of protection from stubbing a toe on deck hardware and have a decent amount of grip in wet conditions when they are new. However, the sole loses its’ grip rather quickly, particularly if they are worn on hard surfaces such as asphalt and concrete. Admittedly, flip-flops usually don’t offer much grip, stability or protection from stubbed toes so they aren’t ideal for deck work in anything but the calmest of conditions. Even if it is calm and I’m wearing flip-flops, I’ll typically go barefoot if I have to leave the cockpit to go on deck. I prefer the natural grip my foot and toes provide.

This past spring I purchased a pair of Vibram FiveFingers Classics hoping they would be good deck “shoes”. Vibram has long had a reputation as a high quality manufacturer of durable soles for shoes and hiking boots. Aesthetically, FiveFingers are funky with their bright colors and toe pockets, making them look like gloves for your feet. The tread on the sole is non-marking and sipped (see picture) for great wet traction. Additionally, you’d be surprised how much more grip you have when you get your toes involved in the process. Without a doubt, my FiveFingers are the best deck shoes I’ve ever worn. The grip is tremendous, dexterity is remarkable and the construction is proving to be highly durable. FiveFingers also offer good ventilation for your feet when compared to more traditional deck shoes. Additionally, Vibram claims that FiveFingers stimulate muscles in your feet and lower legs to make you stronger as well as improving your balance and agility.

FiveFingers are also great for going ashore on slippery rocks, swimming, wading and scambling over rocks and boulders like those found in the North Channel. If you haven't looked, there are many different styles of FiveFingers available, including ones with straps for an extra snug fit (Sprint, KSO, Flow), neoprene for water performance and warmth (Flow), open top designs for warm weather (Classic), and rugged soles for off-trail hiking (KSO Trek, TrekSport).

FiveFingers do take a bit more effort to put on than a more conventional shoe and also take some getting use to, but the grip, comfort and benefits to your feet make FiveFingers a great deck shoe for my sailing needs.

Navigation & Charting Tools for the Great Lakes

There are several navigation and charting sources available online that are potentially very useful for the Great Lakes sailor.  The following is listing of some that we have found the most useful for planning a cruise in the Great Lakes.

1) OpenCPN - Awesome free software to convert your laptop into a GPS chartplotter.

2) Printable NOAA Charts - Great for desktop cruising, planning and some printing.

3) NOAA BookletCharts - Excellent for printing your own charts in 8.5" x 11" booklet format.

4) Lake Michigan Waypoints - Perfect for updating your GPS with common waypoints while at home.

5) - Nice, simple website with Lake Michigan specific information

6) Great Lakes Information Network - Tons of information, maps and tools specific to the Great Lakes.

There are of course many, many more sites that are also useful. For instance, Google Earth is an amazing tool for getting a bird's eye view of your sailing area.  If you know of other sites that our readers may find useful, please contact us!

Weather for Great Lakes Sailing

Having access to good, reliable weather reports is critical for any serious Great Lakes sailing.  If you're planning a cruise or preparing for a race, you'll need to track the wind, temperatures, precipitation, waves and any number of other variables.  We've compiled the list of website links below as a tool for Great Lakes sailors to use.  You will also notice that we've added a sidebar with the same Great Lakes weather links so that you'll also have access from the Great Lakes Sailing homepage.

Here are the Great Lakes weather links:

NOAA's Great Lakes Weather Map: A great tool for visually viewing current and forecasted data on wave height, wave period, wind speed, wind gusts, weather and temperature.

Wunderground Marine Forecast: A textual summary of current and forecasted marine weather for the Great Lakes.

National Weather Service Marine Forecasts: Great tool for quickly locating your local NWS marine forecast, regardless of where you are on the Great Lakes.

National Buoy Data Center: Easy access to all the data from Great Lakes buoys including wave height, wind speed and water temperature.

SailFlow: Very powerful tool that integrates wind data with marine forecasts for specific areas within the Great Lakes.

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