By JOHN HOWELL By all indicators, Sunday offered near perfect conditions for frostbiting. The wind at 10 knots was out of the northeast. There were wavelets, no white caps. It was 35 degrees. Lines wouldn't be stiffened by ice and even better, while
By all indicators, Sunday offered near perfect conditions for frostbiting. The wind at 10 knots was out of the northeast. There were wavelets, no white caps. It was 35 degrees. Lines wouldn’t be stiffened by ice and even better, while there had been forecasts of rain or possible flurries, the gray clouds overhead retained their cargo.
The Frozen Few, who race Sunfish Sunday morning from Edgewood Yacht Club, know better than to believe nothing can go wrong. A chase boat follows Stuart Malone and the committee boat, a pontoon craft designed for leisurely cruising with cushioned seats and open deck, out to the course. A tattered orange flag flies from the port bow. It serves as one end of the line. The pin, the other end, is an orange float at anchor about 90 feet away.
Ian Cozzens was at the helm of the chase boat. The radio buckled to his life vest crackled. It’s Stuart. He’s looking for Ian to drop the windward mark. Ian heads into the wind directly toward the Save The Bay offices at Fields Point. Stuart is on the radio. Ian is in position. A window sash weight with a thin line attached to another orange float is lowered over the side. The line feeds out, but the weight doesn’t hit bottom. An unusually high tide has flooded the Providence River. Another float with a longer line is deployed. However, two more marks are required and neither of those lines is long enough. Already this was not a usual Sunday regatta.
The Frozen Few started racing the first Sunday in November and apart from the pandemic pause have been on the water every Sunday says Edgewood Yacht Club Commodore George Shuster Jr. He said anywhere from six to 15 sailors compete and that ages range from 14 to 64 years old.
Shuster was on the water Sunday as was East Greenwich Yacht Club Commodore Kevin Coughlin.
With the marks set on Sunday, Stuart was ready to blow the whistle and start the sequence for the first race.
Ian’s radio came to life.
“Boat over,” Stuart announced calmly. He’s been through the drill.
Ian spotted it. He gave the boat power, the bow lifting.
The Frozen Few come prepared to capsize. They wear dry suits, rubber gloves and hoods pulled tight around their faces. Rich Glucksman, who is in the drink, reaches for the centerboard that juts like a white fin from the overturned Sunfish. He pulls down on the board, aiming to apply enough weight to right the boat. The mast and sail should come to the surface, but they don’t.
“Maybe it’s stuck in the mud,” suggests Stuart. That doesn’t seem possible with such a high tide.
Kicking, Glucksman maneuvers the bow of the Sunfish into the wind and the outgoing tide. Finally the rig from beneath breaks the surface, and suddenly the boat is upright. The sailor is still in the water. He must slither aboard without capsizing the boat.
Stuart advises Ian to standby. While prepared for the cold such exertion can be exhausting leaving the body prone to hypothermia.
“Are you all right?” Ian asks. The Glucksman looks up from bailing. He assures he’s OK.
Stuart starts the race. He shouts “all clear” as the nine boats head for the windward mark. Midway to the float, the wind starts to die. The three wind turbines at Fields Point cease turning. The fleet is barely moving. The tide and what little wind there is separates the fleet from those that have made the mark and those that haven’t. Everything goes into slow motion. It looks like Stuart may have to call it a day after one race. What is usually a 15-minute race drags on to almost a half hour.
Stuart gives it some time and the wind picks back up from a more easterly direction.
Ian adjusts the starting line and the windward mark. With the wind races are faster and the boats more tightly bunched.
Then comes the call, “boat over.”
It’s a different sailor. He rights his vessel quickly. Ian pulls alongside.
“Are you OK?” The sailor says he is, but he doesn’t look it.
“I’m heading in,” he announces. Ian follows to make certain he gets there safely.
As he heads back to the course, Stuart is on the radio again.
“Susan O’Hara has lost her rudder.”
The boat in distress is obvious. It is being blown backward.
Susan isn’t perturbed. She looks to be in control although without a rudder that’s difficult.
“Pin came out,” she explains. She grabs the gunnels of the chase boat and her bow line is held fast to a cleat.
Susan, whose entire family are members of the Pawtuxet Rangers, took up frostbiting two years ago.
“There’s nothing better than being out on the water and the fresh air.”
After a pause, she adds, “and getting back to a warm house, a hot drink … and then a nap.”
She’s not alone.
After the sixth and final race, everyone heads for the docks. There was little banter and no one lingered. The Frozen Few know the best part of frostbiting.