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Racing Into Winter’s Chill

Frostbite sailors find best sailing of the year

William Battle’s Flying Horses, left, rounds the windward mark ahead of the Cal 25 fleet in the Annapolis Yacht Club’s Frostbite Races.

Just as most sailors have hauled out their boats for the winter, the racing season is heating up for the most intrepid.
    The Frostbite Races, sponsored by Annapolis Yacht Club, kicked off the 2014-’15 winter sailing season Nov. 8 with a bang — actually an air horn. Some 98 sailboats entered the Sunday afternoon race, held just off the U.S. Naval Academy seawall. With crews of three to five people each, at least 400 sailors were out on the Severn River for the inaugural Frostbite.

Best Views of Annapolis Yacht Club Frostbite Races
Be along the Naval Academy seawall prior to the beginning of the start sequence at 1pm on Sundays.
    The starting line will be at the Triton Light on the Severn River or the Harford Light on Spa Creek, depending on wind direction. Look for the race committee’s flags and dozens of sailboats jockeying for position.
    The finish line is opposite the Annapolis Yacht Club, on the north side of the Spa Creek Bridge, with the first sailboats finishing about 2pm.

    “It’s the biggest turnout we’ve ever had,” said Bobby Frey, principal race officer for the AYC event. “We’re right up there at the top nationally in participation.”
    The Frostbites are really eight races within a race, with one-design competitions pitting boats of the same size, design and Performance Rating Handicap Formula. The eight classes race in staggered five-minute starts, from largest to smallest, starting with 40-foot or longer boats down to the Harbor 20 class.
    Races continue Sundays through December, culminating in the Hangover Bowl regatta January 1. Then the Frostbites take a short midwinter break before resuming February through late March. They are rarely called for weather, unless high winds or ice create conditions too risky. For safety, crews must remain in the cockpit and not use spinnakers or other tactics requiring them to be out on deck.
    Wind permitting, two races are held, racing up and down the Severn around buoys, with a warm-up break in between races for beer and chili dogs at the yacht club.
    “I just like the whole setup of it,” said Richard Hinds, skipper of the J105 Breakaway. “You have a short race, come in for lunch, and go right back out again. And Frostbite sailors don’t take things quite so seriously as they do the rest of the year.”
    Along with the chill, winter also brings great sailing conditions. Dependably brisk winds are often lacking during the drifting doldrums of July and August on the Bay.
    “For me, it’s the best sailing of the year,” said skipper Joe Krolak, wearing shorts in defiance of the 50-degree chill last Sunday. “It’s just you and the sailors out there. Without the kite [spinnaker] and other things to distract us, we can really focus on boat speed and tactics.”
    The Annapolis Yacht Club Frostbite series is the largest of several Bay area winter racing events, including the frostbite races held by Herrington Harbour, the Severn Sailing Association and the tiny Optimist dinghy and Laser class races (wetsuits required) off the Eastport Yacht Club.