Frigid Frostbiters Sail Newport Harbor
While others hunkered down at home to watch the NFL playoffs, a group of hearty souls braved gusts and swells to race small sailboats in Newport Harbor.
Besides the crazy crab fishermen on "The Most Dangerous Catch," who else would venture out on the bay in winds gusting to 25 knots and temperatures hovering in the mid-30s? The answer is the men and women who make up Newport's Fleet 413.
On Sunday afternoons from early November to mid-April, between 20 and 50 sailors suit up, rig their 14-foot long Lasers, and race them around Newport harbor. The winner earns bragging rights for being the best in the bay...and beyond, as a number of the contestants are former Olympians and others have won International Regattas. It's like coming to play in a neighborhood pick-up baseball game only to find that some of the players are members of the Red Sox.
"When I started four years ago, there were 70 boats on the starting line," said John Graham, a race committee member and Newport native. "Usually in the fall and spring there are 40 to 50 boats and then in the winter there may be fewer."
On a day like Sunday, with choppy waves and blasts of wind, it pays for both the sailor and the boat to be in good shape.
"With the waves like they are today, it's like riding an ATV on the water," Mike Mahoney, of Jamestown, said.
The races are organized by a race committee who set the marks, send the sailors around them in a variety of course configurations, make sure the starts and finishes are tracked and act as umpires if there are any infractions. Along with calling out the numbers as sailors crossed the finish lines, Portsmouth's Steve Kirkpatrick offered advice and encouragement to passersby. In return, as a unanimous show of good sportsmanship, all of the sailors thanked the committee for a job well done.
Twenty sailors ended up completing seven races on Sunday and quite a few ended up at the International Yacht and Athletic Club for a hot slice of pizza and a bracer to wash it down. The results of the races were calculated and Andy Pimental came out on top for the day, just barely besting Peter Shope.
Others were not so fortunate, such as Newport's Stuart Streulli, who was T-boned by Mark Bear and had to retire early with a 6-inch crack in his hull. After a quick visit to the shop, it is likely he'll be back next week.