HAMPTON — While it’s not unusual to see boats out on the water at Watauga Lake, it is a little unheard of to see them leaving the docks in cold winter weather.
Bundled up as though they were going skiing on the slopes, sailors in the Watauga Lake Sailing Club once again braved chilly temperatures and rain to take part in their 13th Annual New Year’s Day Frostbite Race, which began around 2 p.m. at Watauga Lakeshore Marina and Resort.
Ed Lockett, former commodore of the WLSC, decided to take on a different role for this year’s race by documenting with his camera the sailboats going out and coming in from the approximately 3-mile race, as well as helping provide New England clam chowder to the “survivors” of the competition, along with his wife.
As a long-time WLSC member, Lockett said the group recognizes their New Year’s Day race is a little unconventional.
“The atmosphere is exciting. We’re all crazy,” he said. “Anybody that would come sailing in 38-, 39-degree weather on a rainy day on the first of January has to be a little wacky. You can call us wacky sailors.”
But, all the while, Lockett said the members of WLSC are experienced sailors that do keep safety a high priority.
“We’re very dedicated, but we’re very safety minded. We wear life jackets, we have our crew, we ... check our boats out carefully and we do watch the weather and how the winds will be and anticipate by the amount of sail we put up on our boats to be as safe as we can today,” he said.
Having been in the sailing club since 1980, Lockett said he can remember the harsh winter seasons from years past, including last year’s race, which had exceptionally high winds.
“I’ve shoveled snow off of my other sailboat to go out,” he said. “We’ve had snow come down and you couldn’t see the island, hardly, it was snowing so hard on the lake. So, we’re blessed right now even with the cloudy conditions.”
The club has approximately 85 members, ranging from individuals, couples and entire families from Northeast Tennessee, Southwest Virginia and Western North Carolina.
Lockett said around 23-24 sailors participated in Tuesday’s race, and despite not being part of the head count on the sailboats, he came out anyway.
“It’s a challenge to start the new year. We deny our getting old and we want to go out and have fun. That’s why I came up here today,” he said.
Finishing the race in an hour and two minutes and securing first place was a light blue sailboat named “Knot 4 Long,” manned by Skip Greene, James Little and Rob Fannon.
Greene said Tuesday’s race was pretty smooth.
“It went pretty well, really. Sailed about as well as we could sail today in the conditions,” he said. “We had a good crew and ... good weather and good wind. We had probably 5 to 10 knots of wind, just about a perfect day for us.”
Greene said while they were excited to win, chatting with members of the WLSC is always fun.
“We’ve been doing this now for several years and it’s a good time to get the families together and the kids. Of course, we’ll go up and eat in a few minutes and enjoy ourselves up there, but it’s just a good time to socialize with all the members,” he said.
Gayle McPherson, WLSC commodore, said Tuesday’s weather conditions were better than last year’s.
“Last year we had 20-30 mile an hour winds,” she said. “Today the winds probably weren’t as good as people would like, but you can never please a sailor. It’s either too much wind or not enough wind.”
And even knowing the forecast for race day, McPherson said cancelling the race was not a consideration.
“I’m just really happy with the turnout,” she said. “Good day. Great day.”
For more information of the annual Frostbite Race and the Watauga Lake Sailing Club, visit their website at http://wlscjibsheet.wordpress.com.