Nutty but Nice... Laser Frostbite Action

I recently contacted a handful of Laser sailors who frostbite race regularly. Wow—they really are having more fun than  most of us in winter! Here are the full interviews and some snowy sailing pictures by Tammy Journigan... Make sure to read to the bottom to see all the great pics--this woman froze to document these awesome sailors!


How long have you been frostbiting? Guessing about 5 years.  It seems like just yesterday.

What do you wear? Drysuit with  fleece under, or wetsuit with foulies over.  Neoprene gloves and a good hat.  You know you want them.  They make spring and fall sailing so much more comfortable!!

Funny story: Oh where to begin...  Calling starboard on the AYC boats on the occasion in big breeze where our reach mark was their turning mark.  Leaving my driveway a mess of snow and ice to go to the club to shovel snow and ice just there so we could get our boats out and sail.  Laughing at somebody's death roll or other misfortune and missing the puff that wipes you out.  Rounding the windward mark and not being able to see the leeward mark through the snow squalls a week or so ago.

Why? Because its there.  GREAT PEOPLE!!!  Because the doctor said my rebuilt shoulder could take it... kinda. Because where else can you find 20-30 other people as crazy as we are.  Because adults, juniors, men, women, boys, girls, young and old, standard rigs and radials… they are all there. Because it warms my heart to see sails with the word "TIP" at the tip.  Because its OD and that makes for great racing. Because its SSA and that makes for great RC work. Because ice on a beard is almost as much fun as ice coated decks, which is almost as much fun as ice coated lines that will not ease at a windward mark. 

GREAT PEOPLE!!!  Because the beverages taste so good when racing is done.  Because there is absolutely nothing like the boat humming along at 10 plus knots on a broad reach in 20 knots of breeze, sticking its nose into a wave and vaporizing the spray right into your face... good morning!!  GREAT PEOPLE!!! 

Because when its 30F and the water temperatures is not much higher, and its blowing more than 20 knots and you are headed to the leeward mark fighting for the last bit of speed to get or break an inside overlap and the boat is on the verge of a death-roll, nothing, but nothing on earth matters for the next minute, except surviving the gybe and mark rounding!  GREAT PEOPLE!!! Other: Our fleet captain is a great guy. He always brings beer. On ice??!!


How long have you been frostbiting? Probably since about 1979 back in Chicago, but not consistently until 1983,when I  moved to Washington DC and did Laser frostbite over there until I moved to Annapolis, the folks I met that winter over in DC are still some of my closet sailing friends..!  In the late 80’s the Snipe fleet at SSA used to frostbite in a team race format, with “sponsors” like Marmadukes & Buck distributing…  Buck used to sponsor us with a case or so of LeBatts and Maramadukes would feed us chili after racing..!  Great fun, I probably still have one of the “sponsor” main sails floating around my house.

What do you wear? Anything that might surprise the lay person?  Underwear, definitely underwear…  

What’s the craziest or funniest or scariest frostbite experience you’ve had?  Craziest, I think was 3 winters ago, it was blowing 20-25+ out of the NW and Gavin, Eric & I decided that despite no racing for the day we wound go sailing.  After blasting about the harbor and capsizing many times, I called it a day.  But getting into the basin at SSA was quite hard, so I  just flipped the boat right outside of the basin, let it turtle and drifted into the floating dock..!  It was only a bit hard righting it and getting back on the dock..!!   oh…and there was the time Jon  & I were frostbiting the Snipe in 1989 and as we were sailing out of the river we encountered an iceburg…we decided to head in then..!

And the big question for those of us who hibernate in winter…. WHY?? It’s the best time of year to sail, you mostly have the harbor to yourself, racing is quick but intense and in 2 hours youre beat and ready for a beer or 6..!

And anything else you’d like to add? I look forward to frostbiting every year because it brings a lot of good sailors together who usually don’t race against each other.  The Laser is wonderful boat and because the competition is good, if you have a good day….you did well..!  The added bonus is hanging around after racing, having a beer or rum and BS’ng about the day..!  Beats the heck outta watching football..!!   [caption id="attachment_8084" align="alignright" width="420"]

Dorian Haldeman, SSA Laser Radial fleet capt

DORIAN HALDEMAN—SSA Laser Radial fleet captain

I have been Frostbiting since 2007 - so this is my 7th year.

I generally wear a wicking base layer, fleece layer and then a drysuit, insulated waterproof or neoprene gloves, wool socks and dinghy boots, fleece hat and neck gaiter, and of course my lifejacket:)

The scariest experience was probably the time I capsized my boat seven times in a row (I think, I may have lost count...). It was a really cold and windy day in March. I think the wind was probably 15-25kts gusting to 30.  Every time I brought the boat up it would capsize again on my head and turtle. 

I eventually got too tired to keep righting the boat and I got rescued by a sailor on the safety boat.  They pulled me in the boat and the rescue sailor jumped in and righted the boat and sailed it to shore for me. That was probably 6 years ago and luckily my sailing skills have improved a lot since then!

The craziest was probably the time we broke though the ice in the basin to go sailing. The high that day was probably about 25 and it was quite breezy (10-15kt I think). I felt like my toes and fingers were frozen. My deck was covered in ice and all the control lines were frozen. Then we had to maneuver back through ice (that had refrozen while we were sailing) to get the boats in.  It was the most miserable day of frostbiting I had ever experienced.  My new rule is if the basin is frozen, I do not go sailing!!

Sailing in the winter is amazing. There is no powerboat traffic so we can sail close to shore. We get to sail against people who regularly sail other in other fleets and only race Lasers in the winter.  It is by far the most competitive racing we do all year!  Our skills get to continue to improve because we stay in practice. My Laser sailing improved exponentially when I started Frostbiting.  And other people do outdoor activities in the winter like skiing and snowboarding, why not sailing? There is always a fire place and hot rum toddies to warm us up after sailing.

The SSA Laser Frostbiters are a great group of people to sail with and I look forward to seeing them every week.  We spend hours after racing chatting and discussing what happened on the racecourse.  We all volunteer our time on race committee to make the series happen.  The winner writes a report so that everyone can benefit from their knowledge and get better.  It has definitely made me a better sailor

STEVE COFER—SSA Laser fleet captain

One of the great things this season has been the turnout of junior sailors.  We have about five junior sailors that have joined us this year.  This is good for a number of reasons. These are kids that are far braver than most of their contemporaries, they are gaining great experience in challenging conditions and they are giving the rest of the radial fleet great competition. I have been racing in the Frostbite Series for about ten years. It really is some of the best sailing on the Bay. 

We often get the big wind that is lacking in the summer, the power boats have left and it is far better than watching the Redskins lose. Actually, some winter afternoons are so beautiful on the water, with the incredible background of the city of Annapolis and the Naval Academy, most of us wouldn’t want to be any place else. The competition is top notch and challenging. 

 A few years ago, after a particularly deep snowfall, sailors gathered on Saturday to dig out the boats and clear a place to launch the boats on Sunday.  We also had to use the Parker 23 to break up the ice in the basin so that the boats could get out.  You’ll notice I didn’t say clear the ice.  We had to sail through the mini ice bergs to get out and to get back in after racing.  That would probably be classified as the craziest day, though the weekend after last when it rained, snowed, sleeted and hailed might come in a close second.


How long have you been frostbiting? - 14 years.

What’s the craziest or funniest or scariest frostbite experience you’ve had?- Chipping ice off the deck of the boat, wondering what the heck I was doing going sailing?!?

And the big question for those of us who hibernate in winter…. WHY??- Stay sharp for racing in the spring, improve skills, social interaction with like minded sailors, sailing is fun exercise and is a mental time out from the world.  I do not snow board often enough to get that fix.

And anything else you’d like to add.- It gives you motivation to stay in shape through the year, stay on track with working out and it really is a lot of fun.  One less activity to regret you didn't do before you die.

What the heck do you wear? Air and water temp under 40,  with heavy wind and/or precipitation: - Rash guard underwear and shirt- Silk long underwear- Long sleeve tech shirt- Neoprene hiking shorts- Fleece long underwear- Heavy fleece sweater *- Tech socks, heavy- Drysuit- Old salopettes to protect drysuit- Neoprene sailing boots, heavy- PFD, kayaking variety for mobility- Spray smock, 1-2 sizes larger than normal, go over PFD- Neoprene sailing gloves- Winter hat with full brim and jaw strap *- Ski goggles with strap *- Balaclava *


How long:  Second year in Lasers. Since the early 1970’s in Solings.

Wear:  Drysuit, pile unisuit underneath, cold-weather running gear under that. Normal fingerless sailing gloves. Cut back on coffee consumption due to drysuit.

Funny:  A week ago Sunday, it snowed, then sleeted while we were racing. It was only possible for one person to pull their Laser ½ way up the ramp before slipping ass-over-teakettle. Then somebody would come to help and oopsie themselves. A riot to see half a dozen adults sliding on their backsides and giggling as the boats gently slipped back into the river.

Why: Purest racing one will find. Start, tack tack tack, round the mark, gybe gybe, round the mark, finish; do it all again in less than 10 minutes. Clean wind, no interference from powerboats or other sailboats. Excellent comeraderie. Fleet leaders generously share info with newcomers.