As boats with engines and drain holes through the bottom of their boats pull out of the water over the winter and stored on land in shipyards to avoid a freeze cracking those engines or hoses, then thawing on a warmer day providing a way for lake water to enter the inside and sink the boat, other sailboats don't have those features and are not bothered by freezing.
They are smaller sailing dinghies commonly sailed with 1, 2 or 3 people. In the fall, winter and spring these "Frostbite Fleets" just keep sailing. Some stop for the colder winter months, others keep sailing every weekend as long as there isn't ice on the harbor surface.
Dinghies use humans for ballast or stability, and do not have steel, lead or cast iron keels to keep them upright. A strong breeze can cause these boat to flip upside down, dumping the sailors into the harbor. The crews can flip the boats upright with ease without outside help. Can you picture it? It is always hilarious for those watching and spectating and character building for those who take a quick dip.
It's not so bad being the sailor dropped in the drink either, it only takes 5 to 30 seconds to upright it with practice and climb back on board. Today many sailors wear a "dry suit," when immersed in water there is no contact with your skin other than your hands, feet and head. All frostbiters have done the polar plunge.
Spectators sitting inside commonly cheer and laugh heartily when someone splashed into the cold water, it is quite amusing to watch. Most of the time to keep a boat from flipping, you simply easy the sheets that trim the sails to let the air out of the sail to keep the boat upright. However, that sheet commonly is wet, commonly it is below freezing temperature. Commonly the sheet freezes, and going through blocks at 90-degrees, suddenly the sheets don't run out (the rope becomes like steel re-bar) and over the boat goes! To combat this, many sailors soak their sheets in salt water pails before going out for a sail - saving themselves from capsize!
Are these people hard-core, die-hards or fanatics? Not really, they just enjoy sailing and can't get enough of it. Sailing all year long continues the journey and joy.
Patrol powerboats are always monitoring the fleet able to grab anyone in trouble and bring them to shore quickly. But remember, most days do not have strong breeze and nobody goes in for a dip.
In some places you need to bring your own boat, other places you can sign up to borrow or rent a club's sailboat (commonly you need club member to sponsor you, but meeting people is easy if you come down a week earlier to show you have the experience, probably the best thing you can do is volunteer to help on a Patrol Boat for a morning or afternoon session).
Renting these boats is cheap, and owning any of these boats won't set you back a lot, most in the low thousands of dollars for a decent used one, and you'll get most of your money back later on when you go to sell it. This is one of those times that yacht clubs do welcome outsiders with open arms, with maybe a waiver to sign, and possibly registering your credit card to cover any food or beverage charges each weekend.
It does look fun, doesn't it?
When and where is frostbite sailing happening?
Chicago Yacht Club
Belmont Station Chicago, IL
Sailing Vanguard 15s, Lasers, 420s, J/70's, and Sonars. In the fall late September through mid-November on Sundays. Vanguard 15's (2 person) and Lasers (1 person), and 420's start at 10 AM. Sonars (3 person), 420's (2 person) and J/70's (2 or 3 person) start at 1:30. The J/70's, Vanguard 15's and Lasers must bring their own boat and are open to anyone. Club owned 420's can be used by non-members but members have priority. Sonars must be skippered by a member but can have non-member crew (membership refers to CYC membership). Fees vary depending on fleet and can be paid by race or deeply discounted for the whole series.
Johnson Slough Yacht Club
Sunfish (1 person) – Bring your own. They have their annual Great Pumpkin Regatta, this year October 29, 2016. Six races, one day, great food, liquid inspiration, lots of mark roundings, and fun. Bring your own boat.
Lake Bluff Yacht Club
Lake Bluff, IL
Sunfish (1 person) – Bring your own. They keep racing into October with special late season series.
Penguins (1-2 person). The weight minimum is 310 pounds (total between crew) and they use water jugs as "make up weights" to even things out. Older Penguins have a minimum of 290 pounds. Bring your own Penguin. Racing is every Sunday in October-November, plus Thanksgiving.
Meet at the Tower Road ramp, just east of I-94 at 12:30pm and racing begins at 1:30pm. Racing ends about 3pm usually getting in 6 to 7 races. They have extra boats to borrow or buy if you would like to stick your toe into frostbiting with this group.
Bayshore Yacht Club
BYOB - Bring Your Own Boat. Late September last race.
Macatawa Bay Yacht Club
Melges 17 (2-3 person) - Bring your own. Through the end of October.
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