It’s a sad day for mariners as I belatedly announce the loss of reliable and trusted friends that have been with me since the beginning of my seafaring life.
In fact, I cannot remember a time when I was ever without them, including my childhood days as a fledgling fisher. I would never have considered walking the back deck of the hawser tugs I worked on without these stalwart partners. They kept my feet warm, dry and protected from all types of hazards. Yes, maybe you guessed it, I am talking about those brown neoprene boots known far and wide as XtraTufs.
As a rule, we have few choices when it comes to workwear that is designed and manufactured specifically for commercial mariners. We mostly get our clothes and gear from what we typically view as crossover industries: construction, logging, mining, agriculture and, mainly, commercial fishing. If you know what to look for you can almost always find something that is appropriate. As far as foul-weather footwear is concerned, XtraTuf boots were the gold standard among fishermen and there was considerable crossover into the merchant marine. You could get them in different heights, with or without steel toes and/or insulation, and in any combination. They even made a low-top version affectionately known as the “Alaskan sneaker” that I was particularly fond of after I moved from the deck to the wheelhouse.
XtraTufs were premium boots at a fair price for their quality, durability and workmanship. I never hesitated to pay the price and, based on my observations through the years, other mariners felt likewise.
But Honeywell bought the XtraTuf brand in 2008 and moved production from Rock Island, Ill., to a Honeywell facility in China in late 2011. Quality, predictably, went into a steep decline. I only found this out recently when I searched in vain for the familiar “Made in the USA” label. Another iconic American product bites the dust.