Warm temperatures could take frigid bite out of Frostbite Race

Photo by John Bryant
Sailboats bask in the sunshine at Lakeshore Marina. One of the biggest events of the winter season will be held Saturday when the Watauga Lake Sailing Club hosts its annual Frostbite Race on Watauga Lake, shortly after noon. Approximately 25 sailboats are expected to participate in the New Year’s Day event; however, around 100 sailboats stay docked at the marina the year-round.

  Members of the Watauga Lake Sailing Club don't put their boats away for the winter; they keep on sailing regardless of the weather. On Saturday, Jan. 1, they will host the Sixth Annual Frostbite Race.
  Wearing gloves, hats, and warm jackets, the sailors usually are on the lake early New Year's Day, preparing for the friendly competition which covers three and one-half to four miles. The race usually begins around 12:30 p.m. and often features a staggered start with the slower boats getting a head start. Lakeshore Marina is the starting point.
  Although winter is not a traditional sailing time, many of the Watauga Lake Sailing Club members suggest it actually is one of the nicest seasons to take to the open water. "Sometimes, you'll have a light dry snow that hits the sails and bounces off. It's quite a show. You'll feel like you're in the North Sea," Paul Del Rio told a North Carolina sports writer.
  Del Rio, a past commodore of the club, and his wife, Ethereal, are owners of the Lady Ethereal Rose, which can be seen on Watauga Lake all seasons.
  Von Luther, an employee of Lakeshore Marina, said some 100 sailboats generally are at the marina year-round. "We probably have 75 in the water this morning (Wednesday)," he said.
  "Those serious about sailboating don't mind the weather. We probably have 10 or 15 owners out here just about every day," Luther said.
  According to club members, nobody cares who wins or loses the Frostbite Race. It's a fun race opposed to a competition.
  The Watauga Lake Sailing Club, which has over 100 members on its roster, was established 20 years ago to connect people interested in sailing Watauga Lake. It has a schedule filled with interesting sailing events, from races to sail-in movies in which the sails acts as a huge movie screen.
  Many of the members are from Florida or have lived on the east coast or other places close to the water.
  In addition to the Frostbite Race, the club has a spring and fall racing series.
  "Generally, 25 or more sailboats will show up for the New Year's Day race, but with warmer weather forecast for Saturday, there could be more," Luther said.
  Jeff Arnfield, who moved from Michigan to East Tennessee in 1981, says he has been out on the lake about 120 times in the past 13 months. Arnfield says he doesn't mind the winter cold. "If you dress in layers, keep your wits and don't fall off the boat, sailing is quite a fun thing to do."
  Arnfield, who also enjoys kayaking and has been a boating enthusiast all his life, said he finds sailboating relaxing. "It can also be a little boring, but when you're able to get in tune with the boat and the wind, it is poetry in motion," he said.
  "Different people look for different things in sailboating. For some, it is a social expression. You are out on the water with other people who enjoy the water, and that is fun. For some, it's physical; for others, it's mental. It's a very satisfying sport. There's nothing quite like it when you're out there on the water, and it's just you, the wind, the water and sailing," Arnfield said.
  Following a skippers meeting at noon Saturday to iron out the final details, Arnfield said the race would begin. The sailboats will follow a course to Watauga Point and back -- about three miles. However, Arnfield noted that with sailboats, "that three miles usually translates into three and one-half to four miles."
  The Frostbite Race -- it's a refreshing new view of sailing that will have spectators on the pier craving hot toddies rather than tonics.