Watauga Lake Sailing Club prepares for Frostbite Race

Fifteen boats take to the ice-cold water, the spray chilling their hands to the bone. Despite every warning Mother Nature can dish out, these adventurers are not afraid of frostbite or any other cold weather danger. After all, what is a little chill going to do to stop a good-hearted race across the lake?

The Watauga Lake Sailing Club has been a part of the Carter County community for almost 40 years, and founding member Clarke Lewis said events like the Frostbite Race are part of the club’s very identity.

“We started in 1979,” Lewis said. “A group of us had not raced our boats in a while because of the winter, so we decided to race that day.”

What started out as racing on a whim turned into a community gathering that has defined the scope of the club itself. The group started with about 15 members in 1979; now it has grown to at least 80 members at the end of this year.

The race itself, a New Year’s Day tradition for the club, begins at the Lakeshore Resort. Racers will go around the large island in the middle of the lake and then sail back to the docks.

He said roughly 15 boats will be in the water that day. Due to the difference in skill and performance of the sailors and their boats, participants will have a staggered start, the order of which the club will determine in a skipper’s meeting at noon that day. The race itself will begin at 2 p.m.

Lewis said races like this foster camaraderie and friendly competition among its members.

“It fosters camaraderie between the racers and the rest of the club,” he said.

Lewis said the club hosts at least a dozen races a year, and though not every club member has a boat at the lake or even participates in the races, he said the competitions are vital to the club’s identity.

“Racing seems to hold the club together,” Lewis said.

Competing in the freezing lake waters is not the only way this group of sailors gets together, however. The club also partners with the VA to take veterans on the waters, letting them ride and even pilot the boats for the past few years. The club also hosts classes for younger kids to learn how to sail.

Lewis said the club is passionate about their hobby.

“Some members even live on their boats here,” he said.

Those interested in watching the races should go to 2285 US-321 in Hampton. Those interested in joining the club can contact Lewis at 423-538-4643 or at acral@chartertn.net. Member’s dues are $40 a year with a new member’s fee of $10.

“We would like to see the club grow,” Lewis said.

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