April 24, 2014

Frostbite Sailors Brave the Wind and Cold, “all for the love of sailing”

Snow on boats before launching (Photo courtesy of Bob Leary)

In a bright, bright sun, on a cold, cold day, with the wind gusting well over 20 knots, twenty-five hearty sailors raced last Sunday (Oct. 30) for the better part of an afternoon in Essex Harbor.

These Frostbiters, as they call themselves, didn’t seem to mind conditions such as these. For them the more blustery it is, the better. In fact, when it was learned that ten “frostbiting” sailboats had capsized while sailing this afternoon, it was taken as a point of pride, rather than  a demonstration of what some might consider pure foolishness.

Readying the boats in parking lot

There were four kinds of boats in the afternoon’s competition in the cold.  They were: (1) the graceful, 30 foot Etchells, (2) the JY-15’s, (3) the Ideal 18’s, and (4) the one person, single sail Lasers of 13 feet, 9 inches. Most of the boats that capsized during the afternoon races were Lasers, with a few JY-15’s as well.

Single-handed Lasers round a mark

Once a Laser capsizes there is only one person at hand, who can bring the boat back upright, and that is the one man crew. Regular dunking into the water is the primary reason why Laser skippers wear full-bodied wet suits. The wet suit, however, does not keep a capsized sailor’s head from getting wet, and there is always a bit of water leaking down into the wet suit, after the boat and sailor have gone into the drink.

Crew struggles with capsized boat in water (Photo courtesy of Bob Leary)

A Crash Boat, fully motorized, patrols the Frostbite races, manned by  Frostbite Yacht Club Commodore, Scott Baker. If Baker sees that a capsized Laser sailor is having a difficult time righting his vessel, he has the power to send the boat back to the dock, because of the sailor’s evident fatigue. “If they are having trouble, we send them back in,” Baker says.

On this afternoon the Commodore sent three exhausted Laser skippers back to the dock, because of fatigue. In fact, there was such a concern for capsizing Lasers that the crash boat began following them around their course.

The larger Etchells can suffer a variety of breakdowns, such a broken spinnaker pole or traveler, but they are rarely, if ever, ordered back to dock, because of skipper’s fatigue.

As for Sunday’s sailing competition, the Frostbite sailors spoke with real feeling. “It was an awesome, windy day,” said Toby Doyle, who took first place with his Etchells in the afternoon’s races. “We survived,” he added.

An Etchells close-hauled

Other winning skippers were Mathew Wilson, first place of the JY-15’s; Ed Birch, captain of the winning Ideal 18, who is frequently a winning skipper; and Chris Field, the first place Laser skipper, who had only himself to thank for his victory.

As for the weather conditions, Ed Birch said, “It was nasty out there, with big puffs coming up.” A one point Birch said, “We were getting killed out there.”

An Etchells with full spinnaker

For her part Charlotte Posey, who sails an Ideal 18 with her husband, Dennis Posey, she was shocked when her husband said he wanted to go sailing today. They first had to shovel the snow out of their driveway.

The Ideal 18 requires a crew of two, and Charlotte Posey says that she and her husband “are one of the few couples out there who can sail together.”

After the races a former Commodore of the Frostbiters, Rick Harrison, said simply while sipping some hot soup, “It was a day of survival.”

Frostbnite Commodore Scott Baker eating soup after the race

The ultimate arbiter, whenever there is a dispute, is the club’s   Principal Race Officer, Tom Carse. As for the winds this day he termed them, “Very difficult, very puffy.”

Commodore Baker officially termed the day’s weather conditions as, “challenging but not dangerous.” Do the Frostbiters sometimes sail in  “dangerous conditions?” The Commodore answered, “Yes.”

Of the 25 sailboats boats in the races, there were four Etchells, four JY-15’s, 8 Ideals 18’s, and 9 Lasers. After all the boats were pulled out of the water, and stored until next week’s race, beginning at 1:00 p.m. Sunday, November 6th, in Essex Harbor, the Frostbiters retired to a local yacht club and some hot soup. Sailing a boat is always a matter of moods, it seems. This past Sunday was one of just pure excitement.

Frostbiters' Race Committee Boat