Starboard Tack / Helen Jankoski: Season ends late for some hardy sailors

Starboard Tack / Helen Jankoski: Season ends late for some hardy sailors


Hardy sailors took advantage of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend to do some sailing.

Frostbiting — the chilly name for winter sailboat racing — took place Nov. 29 at Stonington Harbor Yacht Club (SHYC)and Nov. 30 at Watch Hill Yacht Club (WHYC).

Meanwhile, two SHYC fleets that had been racing since September finished their fall seasons.

Black Friday racing

“Our family looks forward to Black Friday sailing much more than going out shopping,” explained Tori Gimple, of Pawcatuck. She, her husband Matt, daughters Lindsay and Megan, and son Eric all took part Nov. 29 in SHYC’s third annual Black Friday Invitational Regatta on Stonington Harbor.

“Spending time together is the best bargain going,” Tori added.

In all, a dozen sailors made up five teams that had 10 races on five of the club’s Ideal 18 keelboats in a light breeze.

“We had a really nice time,” said Tucker Bragdon, of Stonington, who initiated the event in 2011 as an alternative to Black Friday shopping.

The regatta was won by organizers Chris and Kathy Sinnett, of Ledyard. Eric Irwin, of Mystic, and Brenda Mitchell, of South Kingstown, were second; and Bragdon, Lindsay Gimple and Walter Johnsen Jr., of Stonington, were third.

Bragdon skippered two races then sat out two while Johnsen sailed.

Modeled after the America’s Cup, the match racing pitted two boats, racing head to head, at times so close to the dock that spectators could easily follow the action.

“A mid-regatta lunch break at the club gave everyone a chance to defrost to discuss the races,” said Tori.

SHYC frostbiting

Ideal 18s and single-handed Lasers wrapped up SHYC’s Fall Frostbite Series the weekend before Thanksgiving after racing on 10 of 11 scheduled Saturdays, or sometimes Sundays.

In Lasers, 27 sailors took part, with five of them racing the seven days it took to qualify for awards.

Tim Desmond, of Stonington, placed first, followed closely by Hugh O’Brien, of Mystic, in second and Alexis Michas, of Stonington, third.

Desmond, who owns Education Works toy stores in Waterford and Danbury, Conn., has encouraged a number of new frostbiters, including O’Brien, with whom he sailed as a child.

This fall, Desmond raced his own boat, but rented another Laser from Stonington-based New England Science & Sailing (NESS) to give friends and interested sailors an opportunity to try frostbiting. Some of those, he noted, will be coming back for SHYC’s spring frostbite series.

Desmond’s spare boat will again be available and he noted that NESS, of which he’s a board member, has additional Lasers available for frostbite season rentals.

“Interested sailors can contact NESS,” Desmond said, adding, “The bigger the fleet, the more fun frostbiting is.”

The 14-foot Olympic class sailing dinghies do tend to be tippy.

Asked if he capsized, Desmond replied: “Everybody capsized. Lasers are good for that.” Sailors tend to race more conservatively in spring, when the water is colder.

The fall season saw some 60-degree days, “but by the end we were wearing full wet suits and spray jackets. Some of the guys even wear dry suits,” Desmond explained.

“I’m 25 pounds heavy for a Laser so I wear as little as possible” to compete with the “little guys who go fast downwind.”

The frostbite champ who took a 22-year hiatus from sailing until he returned to the sport four years ago, admitted “I’ve got the bug pretty bad now.” And, he added, “It is gorgeous to sail on Stonington Harbor. It’s a great place to go sailing.”

Irwin, of Mystic, a Navy captain who now is a student at the Naval War College in Newport, was the clear fall series winner on Ideal 18s.

He sailed with Brenda Mitchell and Mary Beth Marshall, of South Kingstown, with Brooke Mastrorio, of Massachusetts occasionally filling in.

“There was awesome competition and it was a lot of fun,” said Irwin, who raced 80 of the 100 days he sailed this year. In June, Irwin headed a U.S. team at the 46th Conseil International du Sport Militaire (CISM) Military World Sailing Championship in Bergen, Norway, in which competition was on Ynglings, 21-foot racing keelboats.

On SHYC Ideals, the second-place fall series skipper was Ted Liston, of Stonington, and George Bernhard, of Pawcatuck, came in third. They were joined by various crew members.

WHYC frostbiting

After being called off last November because of winds that were too strong, Watch Hill Yacht Club’s (WHYC) Post-Thanksgiving Frostbite Regatta last weekend had conditions that were about the opposite.

A dozen teams each raced three times on the club’s 420s in a light breeze on Watch Hill Harbor, with the top six teams going on to finals that saw brothers Hayward and Harrison Gatch, of Avondale, as the event’s champs.

Clayton Barnes, of Watch Hill, was the second-place skipper, while Jonathan Moore, of Pawcatuck, sailed to third place.

Notable for the day were wins by the team of Bruce Avery, of Noank, and Brian Nelson, of Watch Hill, in all three of their preliminary races, as well as the fact that the Schneider family raced three boats, with Mark of Barrington in one and sisters Kristina and Alexandra in two others.

The girls’ dad, Ken Schneider, of Suffield, Conn., was in charge of the event, which attracted a number of spectators to the club.

Helen Jankoski writes a weekly sailing column during sailing season for The Westerly Sun. She lives in Pawcatuck and may be reached at 860-599-3014 or

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