Smitten and Frostbitten

Published on January 7th, 2020

Sailing World editor Dave Reed, returning to his winter sailing roots, is reminded that it’s not the boat you sail that matters, but rather the experience.


I knew someone would eventually give me the business. Lo and behold, it turned out to be my former Senior Editor, Stuart Streuli. After I texted him a picture of a printout of Newport Yacht Club’s “Frostbite Results 1/1/20,” he fired back a series of questions: “Did you demote yourself to Turnabouts? You won every race? Shouldn’t you retire?”

Yes, Stu, I’m racing Turnabouts, the pudgy flat-bottoms tubs I’d learned to sail in as kid. And, yes, I did win every race. Retire? No way, man. I’ve never felt younger than I did that first crisp and sunny afternoon of the Newport Yacht Club Frostbite Season.

As to winning every race, well, there’s more to the story, which I’ll get to momentarily.

There are two winter racing options in Newport. Laser Fleet 413 plays in the south end of the harbor. The usual suspects are rabid and extremely good. Most have expertly tuned and rigged boats with carbon top sections and fresh sails. Strong hiking legs and a good handle on the rules are required to do well of course.

I’ve sailed with Fleet 413 on off for the past 20 years, Stu and I were even fleet captains for a while. I maybe won a race or two over the years, but today my boat, 157957, is no longer adequate, barely competitive and leaky. My one blown-out race sail would be better served as a drop cloth.

My memories of Fleet 413 are a mix of thrilling surfs down icy waves and the burn of my fingertips to point of real and lasting damage. Don’t get me wrong: It was always fun, even when I finished last or tumble-weeded around the jibe mark of the triangle racecourse. But the wet, bone-chilling cold made a liar out of me: I kept telling myself it’s what I had to do to keep sharp whatever declining dinghy skills I had.

Every once in a while, especially those days with a raw northwesterly, I’d look longingly to opposite side of the harbor and admire the cruisy Turnabouts doing their thing in the lee of Newport Yacht Club, up where the harbor is flat and protected from the full bite the arctic gradient. I’d often wonder why I was torturing my body and mind. For what gain other than a full-body hangover and some terrible results. – Full report

Editor’s note: This story reminded us of a report we published in 2019 titled, It’s about the Beer, not the Boat, which refers to the short-sighted chest-pounding that occurs in the “mine is better than yours” debate.

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