Gearing Up for Winter Sailing

Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 11:43PM - Comments: (6)

PS Editor Darrell Nicholson chills in the EP 6.5 Ocean Racing Dry Suit from Mustang during testing in Marquette, MI. Water temperatures on Lake Superior were a balmy 46 degrees.

During my admittedly few winters above the frost-belt, I have only fond memories of the last few days of the season. And I’ve always admired those who didn’t let the tilt of the Earth dictate the way they arranged their days.

This month, Practical Sailor contributor Drew Frye reviews measures to take if you plan to extend your sailing through the winter. It is something Frye himself has done for more than a decade on Chesapeake Bay, where winters, though hardly brutal, still drive many boaters away from the water.

Practical Sailor readers who have been with us for a few years are familiar with Frye’s work, much of which is carried out from the deck of his PDQ 32 catamaran.  The boat, as far as I know, has not spent a full winter out of the water since Frye bought it.

The depth and variety of cold-weather-related PS tests that Frye has carried out over the past few years have made him our unofficial “ambassador of chill.” His reporting on winter goes well beyond the normal scope of season-themed articles. Most recently, he brought his testing experience to bear on bubblers and other devices that keep marina slips ice-free through to spring. The report hints at Frye’s other passion: ice climbing.

Frye’s climbing habit routinely makes its way into Practical Sailor’s pages. His past research into fiber lifeline chafe and elasticity in deck cordage drew directly from his own experience with climbing ropes. And Frye, of course, was the brains behind our comprehensive reports on coolants and anti-freeze, and how improper their use can actually promote water-tank contamination.

A related pursuit that occupies Frye is the endless search for ways to reduce onboard weight. As the owner of a catamaran, he recognizes that for many sailors, every equipment upgrade presents an irresistible opportunity to shave extra pounds. His report on using high-tech fibers instead of metal shackles is an example of his work in this area.

The inspiration for this month’s article on winter prep, however, had little to do with an interest in ice or saving weight—it was the simple desire to sail year round.

One of the finer pleasures of winter sailing is the solitude it affords. As Frye wrote when he first pitched the story, “It has always seemed a shame to me that the great majority of boats in the country are only used in the summer. Even on the middle-section of Chesapeake Bay, where the water freezes only a few weeks of the year, I have the waters virtually to myself on some of the nicest days.”

Comments (6)

For keeping hands warm, second to more clothes or better clothes. As Mark pointed out, when you get even the slightest chill, blood retreats from the extremities. The corollary is that if slightly over dressed, your body sheds heat through the hands. As a result, construction workers that need to work bare handed generally overdress compared to everyone else; it keeps their hands warm. Put on a hat; I often wear a fleece hat over a power stretch balacava. The hat stays on better, more insulation and no air leaks around the neck. Ski googles in place of sun glasses help.

Gloves should not be very tight and take several dry pairs. Finally, learn to do things without removing your gloves. Change things on the boat as needed. Do you think ice climbers take their gloves off to tie knots? I assure you, from experience, they do not need to.

Posted by: Drew Frye | January 8, 2018 11:47 AM    Report this comment

I enjoy sailing through all but the worst of winter but when the ice starts forming I call it quits till the bay is clear and the water is soft....boat works better that way...Good article!

Posted by: SeaCod | January 7, 2018 7:01 PM    Report this comment

In answer to Kathryn, depending on the temperature and conditions, I recommend Gill Helmsman gloves, skin diver neoprene gloves, or a combination of gloves. For the coldest days, I wear a three-layer combination. I wear half-finger wool gloves under a wool mitten under a waterproof deerskin outer mitten. I bought the combination from Cabelas. If that is not enough, I slip a Hot Hands chemical hand warmer pack between my outer and inner mitten. That has kept my hands warm in 6-hour days out on the water in air temperatures as low as 2degree F, without windchill factored in.

Kathryn, your cold hands could be a result of not having sufficient insulation in other areas of your body. Your body gives low priority to blood flow to your hands and feet in cold conditions. I agree with Lokota about the effectiveness of the Mustang Anti-Exposure Work Suit. I have worn it in 25 years of cold weather sailing or fishing on the Great Lakes, the Atlantic, and the Gulf of Mexico. Other cold weather sailing gear I recommend includes heavy wool socks under a pair of Sperry SeaRacer boots. If I am fishing in cold weather I wear my Sorel boots with the Sorel liner and heavy wool socks. If my feet get cold, I slip a chemical heat pack into my boots.

In cold weather, I wear a winter weight Patagonia base layer as well as a Patagonia balaclava. I also recommend the Outdoor Research Frostline Hat. It is waterproof, windproof, warm, and has a short snap-brim.

I agree with Nicholson's article and with blueberry's comment on the joys of cold weather sailing. I think it can be fun and safe if one takes the time and money to dress appropriately. My last sail this season was on Thanksgiving Day on Lake Erie.

Posted by: mark2 | January 5, 2018 11:36 AM    Report this comment

I love sailing in the Winter when things are very stormy and rough. I first experienced the Winter sail with my Father when I was a child. He would pick me up from school and we would head to the Marina. Empty, cold it felt so daring and exciting. My Mother and sister never wanted to come--and if they did--they stayed in the cabin the whole time. I loved the wind, rain, and the big swells--it was amazing. The boat would surge forward and up--then suddenly drop about 8 feet? Blow and blow-- had a similar experience in Ireland many years later-sailing to the Aran Islands. I was the only person on the boat besides the Captain--who probably thought me insane. Four layers of clothing--including a new Aran knit sweater-- I was in Heaven. Nothing else like it all of the World-like going back in time and feeling the same joy and exhilaration as those other sailors long passed.

Posted by: blueberry 17 | January 5, 2018 4:08 AM    Report this comment

So...how do you keep your hands warm?? I really want to know; I can dress warmly and waterproof, including my feet, but nothing keeps my hands warm enough to be useful for long. Would love to hear how people do this!

Posted by: kathryn@garnetts.net | January 4, 2018 8:49 PM    Report this comment

Absolutely! I sailed all winter long in the beautiful Chesapeake many years ago. It was awesome. I wore a Mustang exposure suit while singlehanding my 27-foot sloop. Wonderful memories. As stated, you just about have the Bay to yourself.

Posted by: Lakota44 | January 4, 2018 9:46 AM    Report this comment

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