Frostbite Rescue 911: Lessons learned

Published on January 23rd, 2020

Sailing World editor Dave Reed has an ignominious debut in his Frostbite A-Fleet and finds there are two simple lessons to be learned.


There’s one bit of advice I’ve never sees in any sail-tuning guide: “One’s leech tension is directly proportional to one’s stress level.” You know what I’m talking about, right? Well, I do.

My first appearance in Newport YC’s Frostbite A Fleet isn’t going so well. The one guy I want (or need?) to be ahead of is way out in front, gobbling up all the clean air. Yes, that’s Mr. Ritt, the nine-time fleet champion. I’m scrapping for moldy morsels; my blood pressure is spiking. I grunt and curse myself, aloud and under my breath. I pull the mainsheet even tighter, as if that last tug is going to magically boost me back into the hunt. But, it does the opposite.

I’m too busy looking for a way off my little Alcatraz that I don’t see my leech is stalled. The red ribbon up high is hanging limp behind the sail. I sure feel slow, and I am because I’ve blindly tacked into a gaping, windless hole. Bea Grimmitt, who only seconds ago was a few feet to leeward, is now one hundred feet ahead. I can’t even make out the tail on her piggly-wiggly wool hat.

“Relax, man. Relax,” I think to myself with big exhale. I lean my torso inboard, ease the sheet, and get the clear, frigid water flowing past my metal centerboard again. But it’s too late. The damage is done. My fifth position in this race is solid. I’ve done it to myself.

It happens back at the start, when Ritt nails the pin and shoots out to the left side, tacks and crosses the fleet on his way to his first runaway win of the season. He knew the pin would be favored and said as much during the morning skippers’ meeting, when he told everyone the race committee would favor the pin—to keep us from smashing into the race committee barge.

Anticipating a pile up at the pin, I start at the opposite end. The weather mark is barely 500 feet upwind, so my strategy, which seemed to work on the first day, is to keep my options open off the start, to not get pinned on the left. Where I start, though, is where I round the weather mark, fifth or so.

With a sharp turn downwind, I grab the inside lane from Grimmitt and barely beat her to the leeward mark, but as I jibe in a big gust, the tiller slips right through my grippy gloves. – Full story.

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