Suiting up for Sunday

It’s not church, but it doesn’t hurt to pray


It’s Sunday and time for George Shuster, Chris Lee, Stuart Malone, Dennis Demers and at least a half dozen more people to get out their suits.

The suits aren’t easy to put on or to maneuver in. It takes stretching, pulling and zippers to don a dry suit and an equal amount of effort to shed one. But a dry suit is vital apparel for those who brave the conditions to engage in a sport they love: frostbiting. They’re wearing their Sunday best.

There’s more to the church parallel than Sunday and suits.

Sailors are known to think of sailing as a religious experience.

They are close to nature, at the mercy of weather conditions and dependent on their skill and their vessel.  They are given the wind, the temperament of the sea, snow or rain and the tide. Yet, they have their boats, which in the case of Sunday frostbite sailing at Edgewood Yacht Club are Sunfish.

The boats are made of fiberglass. They have a single mast with a lateen triangular sail, centerboard that enables it to tack upwind and a rudder for steering off the transom.  The boats are unsinkable, but that doesn’t mean they don’t capsize.

That happens and that’s why sailors wear dry suits and why the yacht club has a chase boat in the event a skipper needs assistance.

Sailing a Sunfish looks to be pretty simple.

After all there aren’t a plethora of moving parts. That may be so, but racing Sunfish with Sunday devotees of the EGYC Frozen Few is another matter. Little things, such as the positioning of one’s body weight, paying close attention to the angle of the wind that can mean a lift or a “header” and sail trim can mean the difference of leading or following the fleet.

There’s more to consider.

The rules play into the outcome. Boats on a starboard tack, with the wind coming off the starboard or right side of the vessel have rights over those on the opposite or port tack.  Vessels that foul another or hit a rounding mark are required to do a penalty turn. There’s also the start to consider that can determine the outcome of a race. A boat ahead of the rest of the fleet has clearer air and hence sails faster than the others. Yet, boats over the starting line early must return and restart, which often puts them in the back of the fleet.

Sunfish race committee chair Stuart Malone, often the only person on the committee boat, sends the boats off on the first of a half dozen races about 11 a.m. No races are started after 1 p.m.

A 20/20 rule is applied to conditions. If winds are over 20 knots or the temperature below 20 degrees, racing is canceled.

Sailors start showing up an hour early to rig their boats, pull on
their wet suits and check out the conditions and the competition.
Competitors — men and women — range in age from 15 to their sixties. Also, the club welcomes nonmembers and provides loaners to those who want to give it a try. The seasonal fee is $100.

The photos accompanying this story were taken on Dec. 5, a relatively light air Sunday.

Last Sunday, however, offered dramatically different conditions with some gusts over 20 knots. A lot of boats capsized. Two of the nine boats racing turned back.

It’s Sundays like those when sailors are thankful for their attire…and probably do considerably more praying than in church. (Text and photos by John Howell)