Just Add Water

Sailing the Icy Seas

Frostbite sailors won't let the cold keep them off the water


If asked to name some winter sports that people from southern New England are fond of, most people would mention skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing or sledding. But how many of you out there would add sailing to that list? It may come as a surprise, but sailing is just as much of a winter sport as any of the more traditional ones – especially to a certain crew.

People who sail during the winter are known as frostbiters. They are also known as kooky, batty, deranged and a bit loony. The name of the group itself implies that there is a possibility of getting frostbite. Who in their right mind willingly participates in such an activity? Almost no one does, which is exactly why frostbite sailors are viewed by most as odd. It’s okay, they don’t mind. The idea is simple: to continue sailing during the winter months against all better judgment and common sense. The goal is to make it back to the dock with the same amount of fingers and toes you started the day with, which is much easier said than done. With average water temperatures during the winter months being around 37 degrees Fahrenheit, there is no better name for this sport.

For those of you not familiar with frostbiting you may be thinking, What’s the big deal? They probably use the biggest boats possible where the threat of getting wet isn’t even on their minds. Well that’s where you are dead wrong. In fact, it is just the opposite. Setting sail in Lasers, Sunfish, and even dinghies, you’d almost think it was a competition to see who can find the boat that can get them the closest to the freezing water.

We are not just talking about a few rogue people here either. There are entire organizations all over the area dedicated to this crazy hobby, some with rich histories. Getting together every weekend for races, these people don’t just enjoy sailing, they live it – it’s in their blood. They aren’t going to be like most and let the calendar decide when sailing season begins and ends. With them, it’s always time to hoist the sails. Bundled up from head to toe, there is very little that will stop them from venturing out, even on the coldest days that Mother Nature serves up.

Whether it was on a dare from one friend to another or a lazy sailor who just didn’t feel like winterizing his boat one year, the initial day that frostbite sailing became a real sport may not be known. One thing is for certain though, it is not going anywhere. Attracting more brave participants each year – from beginners to old salts – there is a spot for everyone. Within this particular social gathering it does not seem to matter if you finish last every single race; the fact that you are out there is all that matters and will get you a nod from even the most seasoned pro.