Winter Warmth

18 Mar

Photo courtesy of Mark Royce

Hiatus: noun, a pause or gap in a sequence, series or process.

That word pretty much sums up the offseason for sailors. If you’re in Florida, read no further. If you’re south of the Chesapeake or on the West Coast you may be lucky enough to keep your boat in the water or know friends who do. For Northerners, once the boat’s on the hard, in the backyard or the barn or wherever it spends the winter months, then you must find a way to fill the long months till launch day. For a few hardy souls in the Midwest and Northeast, it’s iceboat time. For others, it’ll be ski season, for many more it’ll be interminable weeks hiding indoors from the biting cold. What to do?

Of course, you could always take some inspiration from Mark Roye’s story in SAIL magazine and just go sailing anyway, assuming you have access to a boat. All around the northern half of the country, clubs run frostbite series for sailing addicts. Much rarer are those who brave sub-freezing temperatures in cruising boats. However, I believe Roye when he waxes eloquent about the rewards of winter sailing. When I lived in England we often sailed over the winter months. Rip-snorting easterlies with snow flurries were more common than not and I recall on a few occasions being showered with icicles coming off frozen sheets and sails while tacking. The apres-sail, though, was great, and I have fond memories of evenings spent in snug saloons over a game of cards with a heater roaring, oil lamps glowing and a good bottle of Scotch on the saloon table.

Early one March I offered to help deliver a new Najad from Sweden to England and awoke on the first morning, before we’d even left the marina, to find the harbor frozen over. The diesel heater stopped working the night we departed, and to compound our misery, during a frigid beat down the Danish coast we found the large portlights leaked like sieves. The factory dispatched a couple of workers to remove and re-bed them en route, which meant we traversed the Kiel Canal with a frosty wind blowing through the saloon. The week climaxed with a North Sea gale halfway between Germany and England, in the course of which the switch box for the electric headsail furler shorted out mid-reef. I spent half an hour on my belly on the foredeck hand-cranking the genoa in, periodically being dunked in icy water while the sail shredded itself noisily somewhere above and the sheets tried to beat me to death.

You may be surprised to hear that my enthusiasm for winter cruising waned considerably after that experience. I had to admit I did not possess the requisite gnarliness to make a convincing polar explorer. Fair-weather sailing is much more my style, though I love to read about the high-latitude exploits of those who are tougher than me. So roll on, ye redoubtable winter sailors, and let us know what you get up to in these cold months. I do enjoy a bit of fireside reading to tide me over my hiatus. 

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