Monday, 26 September 2011

Unboxing: West Winds Ventile Antarctic Smock

Here's one I've wanted for a while, but always sucked a lemon at the price, at the Midland Game Fair I saw one on the remainder rail of an army surplace stall, it was reduced, but not enough, so I tried it on then repositioned it on the rack so I'd be able to tell if anyone else had taken it down.

The Midland finishes at 4pm on the sunday, so as the paying punters were trooping out. I thought I'd do the other kind of 'Trying It On' and made a bee line for the stall. I was defiantly the last person to so as now they had no prospects or customers they were packing up. I asked the owner bluntly "are you interested in selling this before you go home?" as he took a breath to answer I gave him the other barrel "What would you really take for it?". After some face pulling and sharp intakes of breath we began the good natured haggling - he claims to be able to sell it for more online - I point out that it's less hassle to reduce the cost of sale and sell it to me. We reach a figure where honor is served on both sides. I now have a Ventile smock.

So what's so special about this Ventile stuff? Like so much of the UK's history, our tale starts during the dark days of WWII.  As a way of guarding the arctic convoys that brought food to the UK aircraft were launched from the decks of merchant ships using catapults. Sadly once their work was done there was no space for them to land on the decks. When the pilots ran out of fuel they simply 'ditched' their Hurricanes into the freezing waters of the North Atlantic and swam for it. Understandably the mortality rate was pretty high.

Scientists from the Shirley Institute in Manchester (a northern town with pretentions) developed the cloth known as Ventile as a way of keeping the pilots alive for a few precious moments more, life expectancy in the sea soared from 'no chance mate' to around 20 minutes and many rescues were affected.  80% of the anti-submarine pilots who made a splash landing lived to fly again.

Ventile works by using the finest cotton possible (the top 2% of the worlds crop), woven as tight as possible (30% more cotton per sq yard). Woven so tight in fact that as the first threads make contact with water they swell making the weave tighter still. Ventile isnt technically waterproof, but is near as damn it. It allows vapour to pass through but unlike Goretex and its ilk, its breathability isn't affected by dirt or pressure (ever noticed how the first place water comes through is where your rucksacks straps press against your jacket?). Its also so naturally flame and spark retardent that it's used to make the suits firefighters wear. The reputation Ventile has from its use in arctic exploration comes from its tight weave being almost totally windproof. Quiet too.

Gotta be able to post a better picture than this

West Winds make a whole range of jackets and other clothes from it, but I've always wanted the simple smock - it's a real bushcraft classic. Very little is perfect out of the box, and while the smock is pretty good, I'm thinking of it as a work in progress. The logo(s) have got to go, for some reason there's a strap that goes between your legs with is just plain annoying. The pockets are big enough, but the noisy velcro closures have to go. I'd like it to have a big chest pocket for a pair of binos, but in fairness I'd like my other pockets to have enough cash in them to buy the binos I want, so I guess that's a mod that can wait.

More soon