Racing with the Snapper Inn Frostbite Fleet requires ice water in your veins, and a love of sailing in all kinds of weather — and that includes the occasional blizzard.
“The fact that it’s blowing pretty hard and snowing — that makes it more fun,” says Jim Ryan, 65, of Greenport, the fleet captain of the Oakdale-based winter sailboat racing club.
“In the summertime we share the water with everybody — in the wintertime we own it.”
SAILING INTO THE NEW YEAR
Ryan, an insurance agent, was among 14 club members — two in each of seven sailboats — racing in the annual New Year’s Day Regatta on the Connetquot River. The sailors arrived around noon, moving their JY 15 sailboats from the Snapper Inn’s lawn to the nearby riverbank for shove-off.
It’s an easier-than-usual launch for the frostbiters, whose season runs through Long Island’s coldest months.
“Sometimes we have to break through the ice to get to the open water,” Robert Barrett, 59, of Bohemia, a woodworker, says as he readies his sailboat to race with teammate Fred Liesegang, 60, a machinist from Brookhaven.
This afternoon’s weather, however, has neither bite nor frost. The relatively balmy 48-degree air temperature is considered mild enough by frostbiting standards that Dan Desmond, 32 of Bayport, is wearing shorts.
“I only do it [wear shorts] when it’s nice out like this,” says Desmond, who is crewing a sailboat for his skipper brother, Tom Desmond, 36, of East Patchogue.
ANYONE CAN SAIL
Ryan founded the Snapper Inn Frostbite Fleet 25 years ago, and has seen it grow from four sailboats to the current 25. Race days draw an average of 15 sailboats, he says.
The club welcomes spectators, who can watch the races from the dock behind the Snapper Inn. If you yearn to sail, you can volunteer to crew on one of the boats, although you should bring a wet suit and life preserver.
“Guys show up all the time with no crew,” Ryan says.
If you want to be the skipper, you need your own JY 15 sailboat. The 15-foot, 300-pound sloop-rigged dinghies are prized for their simplicity and maneuverability, Ryan says. They cost about $7,000 new, and as little as $800 used. For comfort while sailing, many sailors wear a dry suit, special gear Ryan says costs about $500.
On most days, there’s time for about a half-dozen 10-minute races. Members on the committee boat, a 25-foot Steiger Chesapeake with a pilot house, start and score the race.
“We keep daily scores and season scores, and we have awards and a barbecue at the end of the season,” Ryan says.
While spills are rare, occasionally the sailboats flip, sending their crew into the Connetquot. An inflatable dinghy “chase” boat comes to the rescue, picking up the man or woman overboard.
But the stretch of the Connetquot River where races are held is shallow, and the JY 15s are “unsinkable,” Ryan says. “You can turn this boat over and sit on top,” he says.
THEIR SAILING FIX
Why go sailing in winter, when you could just as well stay home on a Sunday afternoon and watch the big game?
“It’s really fun,” says Maura King, 20, of Bayport, a cadet at SUNY Maritime College. King, who joined the other club members for an awards ceremony at a local tavern, says she sails year-round to keep in shape and to hone her sailing skills for a possible U.S. Coast Guard officer career.
Dan Desmond also sails year-round, even if winter weather can dampen the fun. Says Desmond: “It’s definitely more fun in the summer, but we have to get our sailing fix.”