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Who sails in the cold?
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Joined: 02 May 2000
Posts: 982
Location: Jersey Shore

PostPosted: Wed Jan 02, 2019 12:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Cold water sailing can be done reasonably safely as long as you’re prepared for the conditions. However, most of what’s been said in the previous posts is not exclusive to “cold” weather sailing. Regardless of the time of year, you should always dress for the conditions and plan for extended immersion. You can go hypothermic in 80 degree water if you spend enough time in it unprotected.

Always dress for the conditions, file a “flight plan” with someone on shore, sail somewhere that the wind has an onshore component to it, don’t sail out farther than you’re willing to swim back, and avoid sailing alone whenever possible.

Those rules are not just for the winter months - they apply year round.

To the original question, only you can determine what your temperature limit is. A lot depends on your own body’s cold tolerance, the type of gear you have, and how much you want to sail. There is no question that winter sailing can be considerably less comfortable than summer sailing. Wearing heavy wetsuits reduces mobility and increases the rate of fatigue. Using gloves will tire your hands and forearms, taking them off will make your fingers start to go numb. Blasts of ice cold spray will shoot up your legs and flush down into your boots. It’s all part of the game.

All you can do is gear up and give it a go. Your body will tell you very quickly where the limit is.

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Joined: 12 Dec 1999
Posts: 20167

PostPosted: Wed Jan 02, 2019 12:55 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Unless ego interferes. We've had to rescue many guys who sailed in board shorts when most people were still in steamers and booties. Things break, each immersion pushes us further down the slippery slope to hypothermia, and some common sense warmup efforts once rescued can do more harm than good.
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Joined: 30 Dec 2009
Posts: 2487

PostPosted: Thu Jan 03, 2019 3:58 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I've detailed before how one of our local board surfing 'gang' in the 1970's, when we were all still learning the ropes of winter cold surfing, and what was possible, latched on to a silly and dangerous obsession in refusing to wear a hood during a freezing Arctic type session (snow squalls and such) because he claimed it upset his balance.

After about half an hour in the water we noticed he was in trouble and acting erratically. He had to be dragged in and rushed up the beach into a camper van, and rushed off fro medical attention.

I clearly recognised his condition because I'd suffered the same fate in 1973, when I'd been plucked out of a surf break in the nick of time. Going unconscious and convinced it was all over -what a waste was my only thought at that moment. I don't remember any time frame and my next recollection was of briefly coming to on a hospital table, with doctors and nurses pounding me about. I heard a nurse at my feet saying 'look at the colour of this, it's dead,' before i instinctively blurted out 'this end's not'. cue laughter before I groand from the effort and fell back into a kind of trance!

It's usually in the earlier learning process of any potentially dangerous sport that mistakes are made. The surfer who refused to wear a hood took a grain of truth about restricting balance while ignoring the somewhat more obvious point of the cold far outweighing that minor inconvenience. )Ditto claiming that thicker wetsuits layouring will impede action, while ignoring possible hypothermic effects.)

The upshot of experience is that one CAN, in full recognition of what is being done, windsurf alone in any wind direction and conditions (within your own limits) if fully protected against possible need to swim back in if things break. And yes, I have done so in very cold winter conditions. Lost a board with rig seperation, and had to leave rig and swim back in which took over an hour, during which time my full surfing protection gear kept me comfortable and safe, for as long as it took.

THAT (full protection for the conditions you choose to enter) is the single most important issue!!
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Joined: 24 Jun 2008
Posts: 2290
Location: Connecticut, USA

PostPosted: Thu Jan 03, 2019 4:47 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Back when I was 1/2 the man I am now, I regularly sailed year-round in Massachusetts using a two-piece neoprene drysuit called the Ronny Rollover, with no other insulation except for a hat, Glacier Gloves and cheap wetsuit boots. The coldest session was with air temps in the low 20s, water in the low thirties and wind out of the NW around 25.

At least the sun was out, and that made all the difference since each time a cloud rolled across I felt like I was in a blast freezer. Salt water ice formed on the sail and I stopped every few minutes to bash it off. It's pretty interesting to discover how a coating of ice destroy the sail's lift.

A few years later I sailed during the winter using a Bare neoprene drysuit. The sensation of greater discomfort was palpable. I then purchased a Bare Polar Heat and enjoyed years of cold water-air conditions. The Bare was a hybrid consisting of a 6mm pant sewn to a 4mm farmer john top and welded at the waist to a "bag" top with latex seals. That Bare also included a fleece shirt that fit perfectly inside the top. I'd never felt so warm while dodging winter stakes.

Others feel that the new bag-style suits are even better because you can wear as much as you want underneath. Maybe the gain in leg flexibility is worth the expense of a new-style suit? Not for me, at least any longer as my winter windsurfing is now limited to beaches where palm trees are in sight!

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