Frostbite Racing Begins

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Annapolis Yacht Club hosts annual frostbite racing every Sunday from mid-November until mid-December.  Annapolis frostbiting is exhilarating, challenging, fun and unlike most other kinds of racing “discipline” in Annapolis.  Few other racing events (except for J World Annapolis Thursday Night Racing) put such a huge premium on starting, boat to boat tactics and local knowledge.

Why is frostbite racing so different?  Short courses, crowded heavily end favored start lines, obstructions, a very healthy mix of reaching and upwind/downwind, limited passing lanes and funky geographic influenced wind patterns make for racing that is unlike anything else taking place in Annapolis throughout the year.  It is FANTASTIC!

Quite often the “neighborhood” that you will be battling in is quickly determined by your start.  Frostbite start lines are fixed, and while the line that is used is roughly determined by the direction of the wind – little effort is made to make the line square to the wind.  What this means is that often one end of the line is heavily  favored over the other and significant gains can be made over the teams by being at the favored end of the line.  Of course with many boats battling (19 in the J/80 class alone) and the line being relatively short – winning the favored end is a high risk high reward endeavor.

After the start another challenge that tends to keep the fleet close together is the simple fact that the harbor geography and courses limit the amount of lateral separation that can take place.  This results in the fleet staying close together, limiting passing opportunities and compressing the dirty air of the leaders on any boats that started behind.  Further, in the harbor there are often clear areas of significant strategic advantage (more wind, less current, etc.) that create a patchwork of advantaged areas.  They are often fairly obvious and “sneaking” into an advantage is challenging.

None of this is to say that boat speed and boat handling are any less of a premium than they are when racing in more open water events.  They are always front and center and cornerstone to winning.  In fact, due to the fact that safety concerns prohibit the use of spinnakers, eking out tenths of a knot of boat speed on every leg of the course is the only hope of creating the space needed to win.  The teams that concentrate on having the right rig tune and sail trim will find speed when others who are just enjoying a Sunday on the water.  No control on the boat should be considered “set it and forget it” and keeping the sheets out of the cleats are good ways to make the boat go faster.

Passing boats on the frostbite race course often happens at marks and obstructions -rather than in the open course.  The speed differences between the boats are small – therefore big changes in position often happen only when boats are required to maneuver.  Knowing the rules and understanding when to pounce can make a big difference in your finish score.  By example, last week’s start was in the river with the first mark placed near the Naval Academy/450 bridge.  The wind was slightly left of the river’s axis, which meant the left hand side of the line was heavily favored.  Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on your position) the Naval Academy sea wall limits how far to the left boats can sail and presents an obstruction (see racing rules 19 and 20) that must be managed.  This past weekend there were boats that managed the wall well and to their advantage and boats that did not.  The winner of the start often quickly found themselves back in the pack due to boats that either outplayed them along the obstruction or in some cases broke the racing rules.  Having a strategy for managing the many obstructions on the race course is crucial to success during frostbites.  Knowing the rules will allow you to use them as a shield in defense of your strategy.

Frostbite racing is the most fun you can have on a sailboat on a cold winter’s day.  It is a unique and challenging racing experience that is unlike any other.  You can follow the results here.


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