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Shivering their timbers
Graham M. Hall
February 17, 1975
Frostbite sailors, a steadily increasing tribe, take an occasional wintry bath, but they outrace the hibernators when summer arrives
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February 17, 1975

Shivering Their Timbers

Frostbite sailors, a steadily increasing tribe, take an occasional wintry bath, but they outrace the hibernators when summer arrives

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"Sailing challenges you in many ways, with lots of variables: what makes a boat go fast, the tactics and strategy, the athletic aspect. It's fresh air and exercise, too. You know, it's hard to get good exercise, and that's a nice byproduct of frostbiting."

What turns Smalley on about frostbiting is what turns him on about sailing. When winter weather comes and a cold northwesterly stabs off the Westchester shore in dark spreading surface patterns under an ice-blue sky, it is just another season in the sailing year.

The saying goes that there are two kinds of racing sailors: those who frostbite and those who don't. Where it exists, those who don't are generally not in the top ranks of summer sailing. Those who do find their summer talents sharpened by the multiple starts and short courses of the winter sport. Fanaticism, like practice, makes perfect.

But there are actually three classes of sailors: those who race only in summer, those who race summer and winter, and a growing new class—those who race only in winter. This last group is growing as the cost and time involved in successfully campaigning a boat during the summer increase.

In general the winter boats are smaller, cheaper and last longer, and the racing requires little or no travel and only one day a weekend at a nearby club. Clubs have offered invitational winter memberships for a fraction of the going annual dues. From October to May such a member can have full use of the club and its facilities while enjoying topflight competition and the valuable practice of frostbite sailing.

Come the thaw, Smalley doesn't sail at all. "What with the family, frostbiting is really the only competitive sailing that I can do," he says. "I would prefer to sail in the summer, but my wife Trix doesn't like to travel, and I don't blame her. Someday I'll go back to summer sailing, but I don't know what class of boat I would choose. I thoroughly enjoy frostbiting. Seven starts in something like two hours is great racing, and I like the competition."

Trix Smalley crews for her husband. She is petite, agile and willing. Together Trix and Dave just make the 300-pound-minimum crew weight. But like many wives and girl friends, Trix is not as enthusiastic as Dave about frostbiting. "Let's put it this way," she says. "I'd rather be out there with him than sitting at home. And at least they give us crews free cocoa—that proves we're colder. The skippers have to pay for it. If you go over, it's plenty cold. Not while you're in the water, which is often warmer than the air, but when they pull you out.

"I've only gone over once with Dave. My 'float-coat' kept me dry and mostly above water. He tipped over once with a girl he was courting before we got married. The boom caught on a shroud of another boat before the race and started pulling his boat over. He was facing the other boat, saw what was happening, and stepped into it. The girl swore he stepped on her shoulder as she went down with his boat."

Many women crew—they are usually lighter than men, and thus do not overload their craft—but there are only a few women skippers. These are enthusiastic and good.

Frostbiting has fostered an explosion in collegiate sailing; it is an active sport today in more than 200 colleges and universities across North America. The college sailing season, from September to November and again from March to graduation time in May or June, adjoins the frostbite season and is very similar in style. Ten-to-14-foot boats are used, with a multiple-race format that is characteristic of winter sailing as opposed to the single-long-race style of the summer. Women have participated in collegiate sailing in most areas since it began, for sailing is one of the few sports in which there has been little discrimination. To attract still more women to collegiate racing, a women's league has been established.

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