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Let’s Get Ready to Frostbite!

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By Buttons Padin 

Photo: Doug Reynolds 

Put away the summer shorts...it’s time for long johns, poly clothing, and warm boots. Autumn is upon us and Frostbiters are getting ready to head out on the water for six months of racing on the colder side of the calendar.

When it comes to those involved in our booming frostbiting fleets, one could say that winning a race among a group of highly competitive sailors is the mission; but truly, staying warm that’s the real objective.

Weatherwise, some days are better than others. While most frostbiting days are cold, others are colder. Eyes tear up from the wind, noses run like a faucet, not to mention the popsicle fingers and toes. Look, cold weather racing just isn’t for everyone, but for those brave enough to challenge Jack Frost to a tacking duel, staying warm is the key to success. Staying warm also increases the chances that a first timer makes a return appearance to the course. To help in this mission, we spoke with some veteran skippers, crew, committee members, as well as Google to fill in a few blanks, and has compiled a the following list of tips and tricks to help you survive a frigid harbor. And for those landlubbers who are trading in trimming sheets for ski slopes, feel free to take away some of these helpful tips as well!

Layers, layers, layers

Moisture is bad news. Evaporation is a cooling process, and if you’re wet, the cooling process happens right on your skin. Nowhere in this article will you see an endorsement of anything cotton, which absorbs and traps moisture - a top contributing factor to making you cold; so pack it away with your seersucker and just say goodbye to it until May. For any layers, space is a crucial concept, and finding the balance is the key.

Base Layer

Wicking is the million dollar word. Your first layer (yes, even your undergarments) should be made of material that wicks, meaning that it pulls the moisture away from your skin. The best wicking fabrics are made from polyester and polypropylene, which are made from very fine woven strands of plastic that work to draw moisture away from the skin. If you’re looking for a natural fiber, silk is also a great wicking fabric, but will come with a higher price tag.


This is your insulating layer. Chose something somewhat snug (but not tight) that still allows you to get yourself up to windward comfortably, you don’t want to bulk up like the Staypuff Marshmallow Man to the point where you lose the ability to move your arms. An old wool sweater makes for a great middle layer and is great at trapping a warm-air layer next to the skin. While wool can absorb some moisture, it stays warm even when it’s wet, and it’s also another natural fiber. Fleece can be a good option as well, with different choices of thickness available.

Outer layer

What have we learned so far? Staying dry is the easiest way to stay warm. For the vast majority of frostbiters this means the outer layer is going to be a drysuit...the word dry is right there in the name. If you take some spray over the bow, or wet snow from above, a drysuit is your best chance at keeping your body dry. If you were to flip and had chosen to go out in your regular foulies, it’s almost guaranteed that you’re heading in early, and chances are the chowder won’t be out yet, so weigh the risk accordingly.

There are a few variables when it comes to drysuits. The first: breathable vs. non-breathable. For skippers, and those who may be more prone to perspire, survey says that a breathable suit is the better option, especially in the fall and spring when temperatures can be higher than the dead of winter. As a crew, you’re less likely to work up a sweat and the difference between the two is less important. The second: the seal, neoprene vs. latex. Neoprene is less prone to ripping and perhaps more comfortable, but latex provides a better seal which is the entire point of the bubble-suit in the first place.


Thermo-what-nesis?! Thermogenesis is the process of heat production in organisms. Humans can experience dietary induced thermogenesis, during which our bodies produce heat by metabolizing certain foods that take longer to digest. So...eat to stay warm!

Chose foods high in healthy fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. Nutrient packed oats are a great source of whole grains and fiber, which, in addition to improving your cholesterol, keep you feeling full and warm.

We’re all familiar with the urban legend about bananas on boats, but how about eating one while you’re still on shore? Bananas have a lot of vitamin B and magnesium, which help your glands function properly and regulate body temperature. Bananas can also boost your mood, so, have a banana, because a cranky sailor is nobody’s friend.


Water helps regulate your internal temperature. Dehydration causes your core temperature to drop, which may lead to hypothermia, and that’s a bad thing.

Try a thermos full of hot ginger tea. Ginger, known to be good for digestive health, can stimulate thermogenesis. It’s also a diaphoretic, which means it will help your body warm from the inside out. And if you need a boost to get rig-ready, caffeine packed coffee boosts your metabolism and increase body temperature.

Alcohol before racing is a bad idea for many reasons. As it relates to body heat, alcohol lowers your body’s core temperature, so though you may feel warm at first, it will be hard to stay warm over time. Alcohol also impairs your ability to shiver which is the body’s way of boosting body temp. Race warm...that hot toddy will be waiting for ya!


And now, a word from veteran long-time Frostbite PRO: When it comes to staying warm, hand warmers are a must-have. As a member of the RC, you can go through four to six every race day depending on your job. As PRO, my hands need to be free to hold a hand-held compass and talk to the support boats on the VHF radio. Instead of gloves, I tie a sports muffler around my waist similar to what professional quarterbacks wear to keep their hands warm. Not only does the internal fabric keep my hands warm, but as an added bonus 2-3 hand-warmers inside does the trick.


Yes, you still need sunscreen in winter. The ozone layer acts as Earth’s sunshield, absorbing harmful UV rays and is actually thinnest in winter. The freezing temperatures and vicious winds leave your skin dry and agitated, giving UV rays to have a better shot at your skin. So, lotion up!

Regardless of what boat you’re frostbite sailing, staying warm will help make the day more fun...even if you don’t end up on the podium.

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