You might think my boat shoes didn’t have much to do with Miami Vice. You would be wrong.
Imagine a world where an actress got a job without five kilos of silicon slapped on her sternum. I know, ludicrous, isn’t it? But also imagine a world where smoking, not just being smokin’… was ultra-cool. Imagine loose, deconstructed linen jackets with a buggy lining worn to drive a red VW Golf down the Route d’Or to the Med, still ranking as one of my utterly coolest escapades. A world where Rayban Wayfarers weren’t just the only shades in town, they were compulsory, back when Persol was a washing powder. A world where the coolest guys didn’t wear socks. And they definitely wore deck shoes.
So you had a choice. Sperry, the original, from 1935 Long Island Sound, or Sebago, the post-war baby-boomer born in 1946 a barely-decent interval after Johnny came marching home, from the shores of Lake Sebago in Maine. And you couldn’t afford either, back then. I couldn’t, anyway.
The story goes that Paul Sperry slipped on deck and took a header off the side of his boat. Or if you prefer, he saw his dog running on ice and had a good look at its paws to see why it didn’t slip. You pays your money and takes your fable, according to your inclination. What he didn’t do, obviously, was walk anywhere there was wet mud, or weed, or seemingly on any boatyard slipway with any tide. It’s just struck me in a real DUR! moment that no, he didn’t, because Lake Sebago being in inland lake doesn’t actually have tides. Just like the lake at Camp Menominee didn’t have tides. And while both companies sponsor things like transatlantic races and the Americas Cup, neither of those pass-times involve much carrying a rubber dinghy down a 45-degree ramp covered with river weed to row out to your boat. The point is, Sperry or Sebago, cool or cooler, while they’re great on a wet deck, those W-cut rubber soles are absolutely fricken lethal on a wet slipway. With a capital L.
Before I got a boat again I’d have said who cares? Certainly back in the ’80s, when to be young was if not very heaven then a pretty close second, when I was on summer camp in the land of a thousand lakes and ten million mosquitos, with free daily access to canoes and sailboats and a pontoon and a lake, and not quite as frequent access to cheerleaders with and without pom-poms, I’d have killed for a pair of Docksiders. Or Topsiders. I wouldn’t have cared which.
Last year, to mark well, getting old, probably, I bought some Sebagos in a sale. Not leather. Red. Neoprene, for sailing. They’re incredibly comfortable, but also incredibly fragile and the toe on the right one is currently delaminating after I got it stuck under a board on the boat. Something you might think a deck shoe should be able to deal with. So I bought another pair, but not Docksiders.
Campsiders are much the same but with a cleated sole. And camp because (waves hands too much, shrieking No silly, not that kind of camp! Oh, you are a one!) I don’t know. Because you’re supposed to wear them around camp I guess, (see how it comes back unprompted, Nancy-Jean?) instead of the tacky red nylon trainers I lived in back then when I wasn’t wearing Dutch paratroopers’ high-top boots, an incredibly comfortable thing you never see these days.
Slip them on and just like Meatloaf, I remember every little thing as if it happened only yesterday, parking by the lake and oh, you get the drift. And they’re sweet memories.
So when I bought modern deckshoes yesterday, having slipped just once too often, if felt like betrayal. They aren’t leather, for a start. They have a massively cleated Vibram sole. They’re quick drying. Non-slip. Non-marking. Italian. Even more ludicrously expensive than the most expensive Sebago. They actually (whisper who dares…) support your feet, something moccasins of any kind never do, in my experience.
By any rational measurement they’re about two hundred times better at being deck shoes for real-life boating involving slipways, weed, mud, boatyards and boats. I fell on that darned slip last year and didn’t rightly know what happened for a second or two. At my age, at any age really, I don’t really want that level of brain impairment, now or ever. But they don’t look right. Don Johnson would never, ever have worn a pair of Lizards. Not back then, anyway.