Adding a chill to thrills of racing

Sailing: An Annapolis photo exhibit has put the local yacht club's annual frostbite winter series in the spotlight.

Anne Arundel

March 22, 2004|By Sarah Lesher | Sarah Lesher,SUN STAFF

Art Libby recalls the wintry day a fellow sailboat racer went overboard into frigid Annapolis harbor.

Libby's companion was jibing -- turning away from the wind -- which caused the mainsail to shift sides abruptly, and the man didn't let go of the line attached to the sail.

"He held on, and before I knew it, his upper body was over the side," said Libby, a veteran winter sailer.

Libby's fellow sailer racer was rescued, cold and wet, but unharmed. It was all in a day's outing for the hardy folks who each year take part in the annual Annapolis frostbite racing series, held by Annapolis Yacht Club and Severn Sailing Association.

Last week, an exhibition of racing photos by George Plant --a former frostbite racer -- opened at Chesapeake Photo Gallery in Annapolis, shining a spotlight on a sailing tradition.

Frostbite racing has been part of winter in Annapolis for more than 40 years, said Dan Spadone, a member of the Annapolis Yacht Club race committee.

"There's a short race, we warm up at the club, race again, and come in to brag," he said. "Bragging is most of the fun."

Said Fred Dersch, Annapolis Yacht Club frostbite race coordinator: "It's for people who want to get their sailing fix in winter."

Frostbite racing generally takes place November through March, although most years a few weekends are lost to ice or high winds, Dersch said.

Because rules require that crews remain within the cockpit and sail without the large, racing sails known as spinnakers and because the waters are relatively free of other boats, it's "a little more laid back" than summer racing, said Libby, who has been racing for about 30 years.

"You've got to be tough. It does get chilly out there," Libby said.

But the rules restrain "rock star" behavior, the sailing is easy and the races are short, so it's a good time to take people out who don't know much about racing, Libby said.

Although the racers emphasize safety, participants have seen a few folks go overboard, including the man who was yanked off Libby's boat years ago.

"I let go of the helm and held on to his leg, but he slowly slipped overboard," Libby said. "I ended up with his boot in my hand."

Fortunately, he said, the boat behind them picked the man up.

After racing for 35 years in Annapolis and elsewhere -- in frostbite season and in summer -- Plant stopped several years ago to photograph the races from every possible platform, including yacht clubs, docks, buildings, power boats and committee boats.

"You know when you're close enough if people are staring at you and yelling a bit," Plant said. "You have to know where to be at any time to not be in the way. As a [former] racer I know where to go without interfering."

He started taking photos at age 10 when his mother gave him a camera. He shot pictures for many years while working in North America and overseas in environmental engineering and development. His formal training is from Corcoran College of Art & Design in Washington.

It's an interesting experience shooting pictures from the cockpit, said Plant, whose monthly photo feature "Eye on the Bay" is published in Annapolis' SpinSheet magazine.

"It's really great to be on someone's boat and be invisible," Plant said.

The Chesapeake Photo Gallery is at 92 Maryland Ave., Annapolis. Information: 410-268-0050.

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