2015-02-19 / Front Page

In Boat Racing, Turnabout Is Fair Play

By James Merolla


Veteran sailors compete on fair weather Sundays with the Newport Yacht Club's frostbite Turnabout group. (Photos by Bill Shea) Veteran sailors compete on fair weather Sundays with the Newport Yacht Club's frostbite Turnabout group. (Photos by Bill Shea) Perfect vision is 20/20. So is the perfect sailing philosophy for winter races.

If the wind exceeds 20 knots and the temperature dips below 20 degrees, the Newport Yacht Club’s Turnabout group of a dozen boats doesn’t sail.

The Turnabouts have several other names – N10s, the former Turnatubs, and the Frostbite Sailing Team.

“They kind of look like rowboats with the mast way forward, catboat like, and are not high performance boats. They are slow. But they only race against each other, so it doesn’t really matter,”said Roy Guay, official Frostbite scorekeeper.

For decades, they have started racing on Jan. 1, continuing every Sunday until mid-April, give or take an Arctic blast of wind or Easter.

“We do have a 20-20 rule that restricts when we race,” said Guay. But no hardier bunch of sailors ever took on the elements; this is an experienced group of men and women dueling one-on-one, after years of learning their sport on local waters.

Unlike the formal Laser fleet contests out of Fort Adams, that are set up like traditional regattas, where racers use their own boats, and stay out on the race course for the duration of a day, the Turnabout N10 group out of the Newport

Yacht Club is a competitive, yet simpler alternative.

Using Newport Yacht Club boats allows members and nonmembers alike the opportunity to engage in a competitive sailing program without having to purchase or lease a boat. Frostbite rates are reasonable and they provide discounts for non-member Newport residents.

“Most of us race in and around Newport during the spring, summer, and fall; many were on college sailing teams. Several race competitively on the national and international levels,” said Frostbite Chair Winkle Kelley. “We are different from the Laser fleet, not inferior to it. There is no way that a beginning sailor could participate in our group.”


Sundays with the Newport Yacht Club's frostbite Turnabout group. (Photo by Bill Shea) Sundays with the Newport Yacht Club's frostbite Turnabout group. (Photo by Bill Shea) Guay raced for 16 years, Kelley even longer. “Charlie Shoemaker raced for about 40 years. Nick Pasyanos has been racing longer than I have,” said the scorekeeper.

“We take turns providing food which the competitors enjoy between and after races,” added Kelley. “We’re much more relaxed, like rowboats that sail. We don’t plan to flip over, but if anybody does flip, we go get them and give them the Turtle Award.”

Such mishaps are limited.

Despite that weekly possibility, the Turnabouts have some very competitive races.

According to Guay, the group has records going back to 1987, but one of their awards, the Founders Cup – Past First Place Finishers, – was established in 1953. Racing ads that go back to the 1950s are featured on their website.

Through the years, N10s have evolved in material composition, if not speed.

“When I started racing, boats were wooden, with fiberglass over the hulls, and aluminum masts,” Guay described. “The earlier Turnabouts had wooden masts.”

Though the group has those dozen boats, more than 30 people typically register to race each Sunday. Guay said it works this way:

.The people who show up are divided into two classes: A and B, A being the better N10 sailors.

.They use the Cox-Sprague scoring system for ranking all sailors. Each week a sailor can be placed into either category based on previous results.

.While one class races, the other may warm up inside. While Class A races, it is typical that Class B will help to run the race, and vice versa.

“Some of the sailors wear dry suits like those in the Laser fleet. However, we do not normally fall into the water, so warm underwear and foul weather coat and pants are needed,” he continued. “Keeping hands and feet warm can be tough.”

Personal flotation devices are required. “We have a ‘crash boat’ that does the start and follows the fleet around. If someone does fall into the water, the race is canceled,” said Guay. “The crash boat will rescue the person right away. They are in the water for maybe one minute. We are called Frostbite, but that’s not the goal.”

For more information, go to newportyachtclub.org/Racing/ Frostbite.

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