Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Growing a Frostbiting Fleet on Long Island Sound


“Just remember, when it’s snowing you can see the wind shifts.”

That’s the motto of a group of sailors that race in the Long Island Sound every Sunday from October through April off the Riverside Yacht Club docks in Riverside, Conn. The group sails in the renowned Dyer Dinghy, a 10-foot, single sailboat that is easy to learn but difficult to master.

Known as the Riverside Dyer Dinghy Association (RDDA), the group believes that the winter months on Long Island Sound offer some of the most spectacular sailing and exciting one-design racing. The weather conditions vary from balmy breezes and warm water in October to shoveling snow out of the boats in February. They sail in wind that can be anywhere from zero to 20 knots and the diverse group of both men and women range in age from mid-teens to late-60s. But it’s because of the organization’s enthusiasm that it’s grown to become a leader, with one the largest, if not the largest frostbiting fleets in the country.

Will Morrison, the RDDA Fleet Co-Captain, attributes this to not just a great antidote to cabin fever, but Dyer frostbiting appeals to those with limited time as well as consistent communication with members.

“We have a launch meeting at the beginning of the season to go through the upcoming schedule, SI’s, dock assignments, race committee obligations, chartering or sharing a boat, and the waiver,” he says. “Non-Riverside Yacht Club members are given limited access to the Club and we also make an effort to arrange for a boat share if a charter is not available. Weekly emails are sent that summarizes the Sunday racing experience and include racing tips from the top finishers.”

The group also cultivates an environment of helping racers new to the program with the quirks of the Dyer, while there’s also a focus on safety with racers wearing dry suits and ample chase boats that are made available.

In the 2013/2014 season, RDDA added 10 boats to their fleet achieving a new record with a total of 79 participants in the series. This means crowded start lines of sometimes 50+ boats, but it also means that the growing fleet has created camaraderie amongst sailors with a revival in one-design racing, and that there is a demand for Dyer Dinghies once again.

The Dyers are single handed so there is no searching for crew. The boats are dry sailed from the Club docks in a racing “arena” immediately off the shore. The boats are easy to set up in just 15 minutes and the races are short, typically 20 minutes with six races per day, with the teenagers consistently challenging the more experienced members of the fleet for the lead.

RDDA Fleet Co-Captain Dana O'Brien says that one of the primary factors involved in sustaining the fleet is the boat itself. Dyers not only have tremendous longevity, but they are also simple with just a few strings to pull and freeze. Additionally, Dyers are highly regulated, relatively dry, and easy to store in the off-season.

“Dyers are inexpensive to buy or charter and have an extremely low maintenance cost of just $20-$50 per year,” he said. “We have been successful in arranging shares for newcomers of a boat that is underutilized and they are all basically very equal. Dyers can be handled well by anyone ages 15-75 and we use a ballast to equalize the total of boat and skipper weight across the fleet.”
The RDDA fleet includes vintage boats from the 1960’s that have been lovingly maintained as well as brand new boats.

Further innovations over the years have been made by the fleet in pursuit of reasonable cost and fun one-design racing. Custom blades were designed to enhance stability and performance and the fleet purchases new sails in one large fleet purchase every four or five years. This means that every fleet member has an identical sail with an identical age. 

The RDDA wants to encourage participation at all levels, so special clinics are hosted by professional sailing instructors of Riverside Yacht Club as well as private sessions. It not only helps newer racers with basic boat handling tactics and rules, but also advances experienced skippers through detailed critiques. The group feels as though these factors open up interest in Team and Match Racing from the basic fleet racing. Participation awards are given at an awards dinner and RDDA hosts lunches throughout the year.

Membership in the RDDA is open to all, with the assistance of sponsorship by a member of Riverside Yacht Club. The success of the RDDA program has attracted sailors from a growing area that extends well beyond the town lines of Riverside and can be attributed to the creative innovations of its members and the ability to create a model of one-design sailing that appeals to many different levels of sailors.

Learn more about the Riverside Dyer Dinghy Association Frostbiting Fleet.

by Kara DiCamillo

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