From the Bay, From the Bay to the Blue Ridge

What Cool People Do

What Cool People Do

by Molly Winans

From the Publisher: It is time for our annual Frost Bite Sailing column. Molly penned this column 10 years ago and it has held up for the entire decade.

According to the NOAA website’s Thomas Point Light Station, the air temperature is 41 degrees Fahrenheit. The Bay, 42.6 degrees. It’s blowing 12 knots out of the northwest and gusting up to 14 knots. The sky is clear and expected to remain so. Would you like to go sailing right now on a one-man, 14-foot sailboat? Two dozen Laser sailors from Annapolis say “yes.”

The most obvious first two questions would be, “Why?” and, “Are you crazy?” We tend to ask those questions of anyone at the extremes of a sport. This is not professional sailing here. We’re talking about recreational, Sunday afternoon sailing. Whether we—meaning the non-dinghy-frostbite-racing majority—are racing sailors or cruisers, who prefer “reasonable” weather, we shouldn’t just dismiss these hardcore frostbite sailors as crazy. They have something to teach us.

There have been best-selling books on how to be happy; here’s the free, one-page cliff notes version for sailors.

Do things you love, and you will make friends who share your passion. “I frostbite because the fleet is so gung-ho about it,” says Dorian Haldeman, Severn SA’s former Laser fleet captain and regular competitor. Charlie Pugh says, “We love to sail. We love to race. I think most of us agree that a day racing Lasers on the water will beat a day in the office no matter how bad the weather gets.” “The camaraderie is amazing,” says Ashley Love. “Of course, there is a lot of camaraderie,” adds Bob Tan.

Funny how many times these one-man dinghy racers mention camaraderie. What drives these sailors from a racing perspective are the power and learning experience of relying on their own skills and wits to steer, trim, and navigate their own boats effectively around a race course. That the friends will be there on the docks and race course is the underlying force that propels them to the sailing club in the cold.

Do something that takes you out of your comfort zone, and you may be surprised by how much fun it is. Gavin O’Hare says, “We feel tougher than the average bear when we suit up and brave the elements—classic adrenaline junkie culture.” As a first-year frostbiter, Love agrees, “Everyone’s out there toughing it, and I love being a part of the stories that get told when everyone’s sharing their ‘This day was so cold’ stories. Weather shouldn’t get in the way of doing something you love.”

An on-and-off frostbite racer for 20 years, Peter Young admits that not only does he not like sailing in the cold, but that he’s also not an “adept” Laser sailor. He does it because he doesn’t have the luxury to travel to southern winter regattas as many of his competitors do, yet he wants to stay on his game and be competitive come summer championship season. He relates his most memorable frostbite racing experience: “One afternoon three years ago, it was snowing quite hard on the water. The snowflakes were huge, visibility was down to about 100 feet at times, and you had to clear three or four inches of snow off the deck after every race. I was smiling the whole time.”

Wear what frostbite racers wear when it’s freezing, and you will be a warm, happy sailor in spring. Of course, a Gortex dry suit would be sweltering in 50 or 60 degrees and would limit maneuverability, but the other layers frostbite dinghy racers wear bode well in many sailing situations. Gortex socks and strap-on hats. A balaclava, which is a close-fitting hood covering the head, face, and neck, made out of light, high-tech fabric. Wicking base layers and fleece mid-layers. Neoprene hiking pants/shorts, socks, or dinghy boots. (Haldeman recommends wearing dinghy boots a size larger than your shoe size so as not to cut off circulation while wearing thick socks.)

Most of the sailors interviewed prefer ski gloves, thermal garden gloves (found at True Value Hardware for less than $10), or Altas Lobster Gloves (worn by lobstermen) to sailing gloves. The recycling award goes to O’Hare, who dons wool socks, covered with plastic grocery bags inside neoprene booties.

Don’t be afraid to just be your cool self. Hal Whitacre says, “I love winter sailing. The harbor is free of boats, and it feels so cool to be out sailing when most folks are in watching football. The thought of capsizing keeps me paying attention. Almost sliding off the ice-covered deck keeps you on your toes, too. I did that about three times last week, laughing the whole time! …I sailed a few times in Chicago in their Laser frostbite series. You think it’s cold here…”

This article first appeared in the February 2010 issue of SpinSheet Magazine. Winans is the editor of the popular SpinSheet and power boat magazine Prop Talk based in Eastport, Maryland.

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