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There’s nothing more comforting or more useful at sea than a favorite watch cap

2019 February 1

As faithful (and even unfaithful) readers of this column know, I’ve teed off in the past about products that promise to take us sailing. No, not boats, but offerings such as a perfume that vowed to bring back the scent of the sea. I found the idea vaguely appalling, because the parfum de la mer to me includes the aroma of bottom paint being scraped, corroded bronze, salty sails, alcohol stoves and that unmistakable bouquet of my very old foul weather gear.

As a journalist, I get press releases on a daily basis and most soar into the circular file, but one stopped me recently. This is for Sleep Shepherd, a “biofeedback sleep hat” that immediately appealed to my interest in taking a nap anywhere, anytime. 

In fact, She Who Must Be Obeyed once commented on my ability to catch 40 winks at times she thought I might be better occupied cleaning or painting the eaves. I explained that the ability was a leftover from my many years of ocean racing when it was crucial to grab a quick catnap, because who knew at what ungodly hour you might be called upon to switch sails, tuck in a reef or fetch a beer for the skipper. 

But Sleep Shepherd says it is a wearable, all natural sleeping aid that uses a faint audio signal to lull you to sleep and monitors your brain activity to help keep you there. I see two issues right there. First, SWMBO has tinnitus that keeps her awake and as far as monitoring my brain activity in deep sleep, well, let’s not go there.

The Sleep Shepherd, at $149.95, is made of 85% nylon, 15% spandex and has silver sensors, hi-fidelity speakers and a lithium ion battery. You might wonder how this applies to sailing, but it looks exactly like­­—wait for it—my knitted watch cap.

I have had my watch cap for decades. In fact, I’ve had it so long that SWMBO uses the same two-fingered grip to remove it from my duffel bag that she uses when she picks up a dead worm.

My watch cap is knitted from wool, I think, and so long ago they didn’t even think about putting in a label saying it was made in Giveadamistan. Surprisingly enough, my watch cap has remained stretchy over the years, and it still fits my head snugly in spite of not having a full head of hair to hold it in place. 

The Sleep Shepherd, says the press release, creates a reaction that the company founder, a PhD from MIT, calls a “virtual hammock effect” that mimics a sound swaying back and forth. I’m not quite clear on how a sound sways back and forth but, then I don’t have a graduate degree either. My watch cap doesn’t have silver sensors and hi-fi speakers, but when I pull it on, it does several things, not counting reducing SWMBO to hysterical laughter as she calls me her “cute elf.”

First, it keeps my head warm on night watches when the combination of a good sea breeze and dew can be downright chilly. Second, it provides a first level of protection for my noggin against the likes of booms, spinnaker poles and that door into the head that is exactly 1/8-inch too low. Lastly, it blocks out unwanted noise, such as the skipper asking for “two inches in on the genny sheet” or another cold brewski. With years of practice, I have perfected the ability to ignore such outside distractions.

When I climb into my berth at the end of a watch on an ocean race, I do get that virtual hammock effect of something swaying back and forth. I can guarantee you that I go to sleep immediately and I can pull it down over my eyes to block out any light when the night watch comes below to repack the spinnaker.

The Sleep Shepherd claims “it will not prevent you from waking up due to a loud alarm or crying baby.” I don’t think the skipper is “crying” when he shrieks, “All hands on deck the chute just blew,” but perhaps. 

I love my watch cap. It’s my comfort zone in spite of the smells and lint that it’s acquired over the years. It protects me on deck and tucks me in when I’m off watch. If you don’t have one, you can find them for $10 online and every real sailor has one. 

I’m sure that the MIT PhD will find a ready market for the Sleep Shepherd in those deprived souls who have never slept soundly aboard a slightly rolling boat.

Thanks, anyway, but I’ve got my ancient watch cap.