Story & photos by Rick Bannerot
Around the office water cooler, it’s one thing to talk about sailing in Key West Race Week in January on a J/105, but for real sailing creds, nothing beats talking about having just been frostbite sailing in Long Island Sound in the middle of winter, in 15-foot dinghies, in 15 knots of breeze, dodging chunks of floating ice collecting around the anchor line of the leeward mark!
Stamford Yacht Club’s JY15 frostbiting fleet is a mix of private and club-owned boats, with anywhere from three to 15 boats on the starting line every Sunday at noon from October through April (except for February when the club is closed). Club members, who volunteer their time in exchange for a free cup of soup after the racing, staff the Race Committee and the crash boats that ensure all the sailors that left the dock also return to the dock. (The only real question on many Sundays is whether to drink the soup or simply pour it into their sailing boots.)
In the interest of safety, and to reduce the risk of “going clamming” with the top of the mast getting stuck in the black harbor mud, the fleet is required to sail with empty one-gallon milk jugs attached to the main halyard when the temperatures drop.
As Long Island Sound remains relatively warm, sailors have the choice of using wetsuits or drysuits during the autumn portion of the frostbiting season, but come March, all sailors are required to be in drysuits, regardless of air temps or light air conditions. Aside from water cooler bragging rights and free soup, the culmination of the Stamford YC frostbiting season is appropriately enough a trophy adorned with two little glass penguins, the Commodore Jared H. Wilson Frostbiting Trophy.