High heat, satisfying splash

Withering day on the water

Warm wind, sun and a heat index of 107 make for a tough outing for Annapolis Sailing School students

August 09, 2007|By Bradley Olson | Bradley Olson,Sun reporter

Sailing is supposed to be fun.

Linking you with a simpler past, the wind becomes your best friend, making a large sailboat move, at times, as swiftly as the gulls that nest nearby.

Yesterday, as the warm wind bore down like a high-octane heater on students at the Annapolis Sailing School and the sun's rays reflected off the water, the heat index of 107 felt, unbelievably enough, hotter, and the age-old pastime was a little less fun.

Withering is more like it. But it could have been worse.

"It's hot, but I'd rather be here than on land," said Ashlyn Michie, 13, of Severna Park, who hoped a few times that an air conditioner could somehow be fitted to the sailing school's 20-foot boat. She knew it was impossible but wondered if mentioning it might make her feel a little cooler.

At 107, the heat index at the Naval Academy did not reach the sky-high point of 120 in Baltimore or 113 at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport yesterday, and the Severn River and Chesapeake Bay were a refuge for countless sailors, skippers, jet-skiers, kayakers and beachgoers who were more likely than ever to cool down by taking a dip.

Neither of the two other sailors-in-training with Ashlyn jumped into the water, but they were unusually grateful to be doused with water from the huge wake of a giant yacht that went speeding into the bay at nearly 30 knots. That, along with occasional shade or drops of water from an adjusted sail, made the morning more than bearable on the water.

Caroline Neidhold, Ashlyn's cousin, was nearly drenched by the unexpected wave.

"It feels good, but it just smells," said Neidhold, 19, who is visiting from Cincinnati.

The Annapolis Sailing School takes extra precautions on hot days such as yesterday to help young people avoid heat exhaustion. Because teenagers and children can be told only so many times to drink water, the school takes them to a nearby pool to cool down, and then, after more classroom time, lets them run through sprinklers, said Bret Vehslage, the school's assistant marina manager.

"With the wind blowing strong like this, it's harder to convince the adults that they need water," he said. "It's a deceptive heat, and people can feel cool in the shade and won't be as aware that their body's being dehydrated. You have to be very careful on a day like this."

Tuesday felt much worse for the students, said instructor Janel Zarkowsky. Because the wind blew from its normal direction, south toward Annapolis from the Bay Bridge, it was stifled by trees and the heat. But yesterday morning, it blew out from the city, making matters a little easier for Ashlyn and her partners on the water, who mostly sailed around the mouth of the Severn River.

Before they set off about 11 a.m., they began hoisting the sail and "sweating it" - which, in the words of instructor Eric Shea, has nothing to do with the heat or hard work, but getting it extra taut. The sail occasionally whipped back and forth in the wind, spraying mist to complement the sweat and help cool anyone in the vicinity.

As hot as it was, the sun could not stifle the idle chatter of young people.

Ashlyn and Neidhold talked about going tubing Tuesday night to beat the heat as Ashlyn steered toward the bay, quoting her grandmother and making wisecracks about her poor sense of direction. They talked with companion Caroline Ulwach, 15, of University Park, while Shea pointed out a sailboat on the water that had been used in the movie Wedding Crashers.

The boat maxed out intermittently at 5 knots, or nearly 6 mph, as the sailors learned to navigate, steer and pull the sails to fit the ever-changing gusts. It felt cool at times, a bit like a car's air conditioner that was running out of Freon. And when the boat was heeling - leaning over at an angle - it could even be called an escape.

bradley.olson@baltsun.com

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