Frostbiting: Why it's Worth the Pain

Frosbite sailors endure the bitter cold, blizzard conditions, icy decks and frozen lines—here's why racing in the winter is worth it.
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While most sailors around the country are prepping their boats for warmer weather, others are still thawing out as the frostbite sailing season comes to an end.

Undeterred by the bitter cold, blizzard conditions, icy decks and frozen lines, frostbite sailors at the Boston Sailing Center (BSC) spent this past winter perfecting their sailing skills by racing J/24s on Boston Harbor every weekend from November to mid-March.

Although their experience levels varied from beginning racers to international sailing champions, nearly all the sailors said they decided to frostbite in order to perfect their skills in the “off-season,” stay in shape and embrace the small adventure that is sailing in winter.

Avid frostbiter Kevin Browne, for example, said he was hooked after his first season. “I was always curious about sailing, so I took some classes in the summer. Once summer ended, I asked, ‘Now what?’ and suddenly, here I am, frostbiting. It’s a sailing yen for those that live it. Viva la frostbite!”

And Browne isn’t the only one who can’t get enough of winter sailing. This year, the fleet consisted of 18 boats and some 100 people, all racing from 1100 to 1500 every Saturday. Afterward, the crews warmed up with hot chili and cold beer dockside, while the Race Committee held a chalk-talk review using video footage from the day’s races.

Though competition is tough on the water, the frostbite crowd is close-knit back onshore, which is another reason why most of them spend the winter at the BSC.

“I continue frostbiting because of my crew. If I didn’t sail with such a wonderful group of people, sailing in zero-degree weather with snow goggles on would be a lot more miserable,” said Kathryn Carlson, who has frostbited for six years and is now looking forward to sailing in the summer with her crew. “The group of sailors here, they’re what make it worth the pain.”

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