Before you stride up the gangplank and hoist anchor on your next nautical excursion, make sure your steamer trunk includes all the essentials for a comfortable and leisurely trip. Here are some useful items to consider:
DRY AND WARM
The Gulf of St. Lawrence is not the Gulf of Mexico. It can be gloriously sunny and warm, but it can also be miserably rainy, fog bound and chilly. Should you encounter this less-amiable version of maritime weather, you’ll be glad you packed the Patagonia Rain Shadow ($179) and the Arcteryx Atom LT ($225). The Rain Shadow (right) is a breathable waterproof shell that will keep you dry in the nastiest conditions. Made of light but tough nylon that incorporates Patagonia’s patented H2No waterproofing technology, this jacket is a minimalist masterpiece. Its zippers have no storm flaps, but instead are embedded within a sort of rubberized coating that provides a water- and wind-proof seal when the zipper is up. The Arcteryx Atom LT, meanwhile, is an extra-lightweight, highly packable polyester-fibre insulated jacket with stretchy fabric sides and handwarmer pockets. It comes in two models (with or without a hood) that provide instant warmth in moderately cool conditions. Layering it with the Rain Shadow creates a form-fitting, warm and damp-free combination.
IN THE BAG
One year my globetrotting father returned home from a trip to Australia with all his stuff packed in a simple leather pouch the size of a mailbag. It had a thin leather shoulder strap, but no pockets, and when I slung it over my shoulder with any size load I found it incredibly uncomfortable. But Dad loved it. He liked to travel light, and his “Australian bag” forced him to pack only essentials. The Tilley Intrepid Bag ($225) by Tilley Endurables (famed for its indestructible floating hats) bears only a passing resemblance to Dad’s beloved carry-all, but I can see it engendering the same sort of devotion among its owners. Handcrafted from vegetable-tanned Italian leather and tough-as-nails canvas, this is a workhorse made the old way. No plastic or nylon here: the top hand-carry strap, adjustable shoulder strap and flap closures are all leather with metal buckles. The main bag with a rectangular flat bottom is roomy enough to hold a 13-inch laptop, camera and/or binoculars, snacks, guidebooks and a rolledup windbreaker; a smaller inside section has room for wallets or sunglasses. There’s a flat zippered pocket on the flap and a fourth, snap-shut one on the outside. That’s it. The only modern touches are a couple of Velcro strips that keep the main flap shut when it’s not buckled down. On a cruise, the Intrepid is ideal for on-deck wandering or exploring on land during stopovers. http://www.tilley.com/
UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL
From a ship’s deck, many of the most worthwhile sights — surfacing whales or dolphins, puffin colonies on cliffs or walruses basking on rocks — are typically too far away to see well with the naked eye. A decent pair of binoculars will solve that. But choose wisely. If you expect to have them slung around your neck all day, choose a lighter pair that won’t be a pain in the neck. There are plenty of perfectly serviceable mini-binocs on the market that will fill the bill. But you’ll get a superior viewing experience by stepping up to something more substantial, such as the Celestron Nature Binocular ($199). This is a series of rugged, fog-proof and waterproof binoculars that offer superb coated-glass optics and aren’t too heavy or bulky. Thanks to the arrangement of the interior prisms, the rubberized aluminum barrels are straight, and (to me, anyway) provide a firmer, more comfortable grip than traditional zigzag-shaped binoculars. I have an 8 x 42 pair — which means they provide eight times magnification using 42-millimetre objective, or front, lenses — that serve up a 112-metre-wide field of view from a distance of 900 metres. The focusing action is smooth, but not particularly fast. Most important, however, is that the image you get when looking through them is wonderfully clear and sharp, with no discernable blur around the edges. The Nature Binoculars also come with a nifty black nylon carry-case and a lifetime warranty. Highly recommended. http://www.celestron.com/
KEEP IT DOWN
For some sailors, even the gentlest rocking of a ship will induce seasickness, a dreaded malady that will spoil a cruise vacation as surely as lost luggage. When I phoned my pharmacist for a cure, he had one word for me: Gravol. It’s available over the counter at drugstores everywhere. Buy some.
To avoid being branded a landlubber, you’ve got to know your nautical lingo. For starters, “head” means “washroom.” To learn more handy words, pick up a guide such as Captain Bucko’s Nauti-Words Handbook: Fascinating Facts about the Origin of Hundreds of Nautical Terms and Everyday Expressions, by Roger Paul Huff ($16.95).
Once you’ve finished dining with the captain, it’s time to retire to your cabin berth, perhaps to read. But what if the cabin light is no good for reading in bed? Enter the Beam N Read (about $20), an inelegant but remarkably bright LED book light you can hang around your neck or lay flat on your chest to illuminate the pages. It works much better than book lights that clip onto the book itself. http://www.readinglight.com/