The nautical world is known for tradition, routine, and discipline.
Yet it is also known for Gilligan hats, bell bottoms, & neckerchiefs.
How does one reconcile these two seemingly very different approaches to life at sea?
My hunch is that it is due to long days, weeks, and months stuck on a ship at sea in the company of men.
In order to make it through safely, tradition, routine, and discipline are vital to keeping the sailors focused while on duty.
But, in order to keep sane when off duty, it seems to me, that playing dress up is every bit as vital. I call this “Seadazzling.”
I find no other way to explain or justify the Gilligan hats, bell bottoms, and neckerchiefs that combine to make up the infamous sailor suit.
It was within this context of function and form within maritime life that a sailor named Paul Sperry conceived and created the first non-slip boat shoe in 1935 – the Sperry Top-Sider. His Top-Sider became the official shoe of the US Navy during WWII.
Forty years later, in the 1980s, it went on to become the official shoe of the world-renowned yachting race, America’s Cup.
The Top-Sider’s marriage of the incredibly practical function of the non-slip sole combined with their Seadazzled styling that included extra bits of leather lacing to nowhere, held in place by decorative portal-like brass rivets embodies both the discipline required and boredom endured of a life at sea.
Mr. Sperry could have stopped at the non-slip sole.
Mr. Sperry could have stopped at the non-slip sole. But I imagine him going below decks to his berth at the end of his long shift swabbing decks.
He ties on his neckerchief and fusses with it for a bit in front of his standard-issue Navy hand-held mirror (I imagine the Navy’s mirrors to be a bit larger than those of the other armed forces so they can provide a better view of the entire ensemble. Not quite a full-length view but much more than one needs for shaving).
Once the neckerchief is at just the right place, he knots it just so, tips his Dixie cup hat at a perfectly jaunty angle and goes to work Seadazzling that first pair of Top-Siders. A few rivets and leather laces later it is complete, and he is pleased.
Tonight, he will sleep well and dream of washing the dog.
That’s how I like to imagine it anyway.
Having spent a few summers aboard a very small sailboat scrambling here and there, loosening this and fastening that at the beck and call of my Dad who sat comfortably immobile and relaxed at the helm playing the role of “Captain” to my Gilligan; I feel that I have at least a yeoman’s grasp of life at sea.
Which brings me to the topic of today’s review, the Sperry Baitfish flip flop.
They are quite literally a flip flop version of the quintessential Sperry Top-Sider boat shoe. So much so that it is as if they took a pair of classic leather Top-Siders and cut them into a pair of flip flops, complete with seadazzled leather lace to nowhere and brass portal-like rivets along the strap.
This is a style that has enjoyed two heydays so far.
The first was in the 1940’s when they became the official US Navy footwear and the second was in the 1980’s.
Alas, today is not their day style-wise. True, they tried a comeback a few years ago but that seems to have fizzled out. But I could see them coming back again in the near future.
They fit my foot nearly perfectly.
There is a bit too much of a gap between foot and strap but just. As a result, toe curl is an issue, but minimally so.
These flip flops are incredibly comfortable.
These flip flops are incredibly comfortable. Wearing them, my feet are every bit as comfortable and cozy as a sailor fast asleep in his hammock below decks dreaming of washing the dog.
Their traction is amazing and excels where most other flip flops fail – on smooth wet hard surfaces such as the deck of a ship.
The wave-like siping employed on the soles is carried over onto the footbed and the result is amazing. These flip flops grip both feet and floor.
I must confess that I embarked on my voyage with the Sperry Baitfish flip flops more than a little cynical.
Their styling as relevant today as a sweater draped over the shoulders, sleeves tied across the chest, as a symbol of status and fashion. While that may be true, to stop at their appearance is to miss the boat.
What these flip flops lack, or lag, in styling is more than made up for in performance.
I can’t wait for summer.