The following article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on February 13, 2003.
Sale Creek Marina races honor Shackleton
Jan. 25 was a bitterly cold day. So frigid, in fact, that ice as much as an inch thick had to be smashed so the Shackleton Series of sailboat races could proceed as scheduled out of Sale Creek Marina.
That was little compared to the icy obstacles faced by the namesake for the eight October-to-March races, British explorer Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton.
Shackleton (1874-1922) led three expeditions to the Antarctic during the early part of the 20th Century. He came within 111 miles of reaching the South Pole, the closest anyone had come to it at the time.
Later beaten in his quest to be the first to the Pole, he followed that up by trying to cross the frozen continent.
He is best recalled by historians for his spirit in leading the Endurance expedition. He and his men survived for 10 months on ice floes and a barren, uninhabited island after their ship was crushed by ice in the Weddell Sea.
Having read a book on Shackleton’s life, David Hoover of Harrison thought of memorializing the explorer through a series of winter sailboat races. Hoover regularly sails out of Sale Creek, so he presented his idea to marina owner Andre Rijsdijk and employee Eric Almlie, and it became reality.
"Since the wind typically blows harder in the winter here, I asked, ‘Why do we have to have this in the summer? Why not winter?" said Hoover, who works with at-risk youths in a YMCA program in Lookout Valley.
At first, acquiring crew to help out the sailboat captains wasn’t a problem. But when the temperatures began to dip, most of the help stayed away. As a result, many of the races have been one-handed events.
"We had crew when we started, but all the captains have now been labeled insane," Hoover said with a laugh. "It’s pretty much down to eight captains and eight boats, but we’ve had a lot of fun with it."
"We’ve had some protests, but no mutiny," Almlie said.
Race dates remaining are Saturday and March 1. The series began Oct. 19.
"The more boats we have in a race, the more points we get," Almlie said. "We even award a point when the temperature is on the low side, just to encourage participation. It’s not only about racing, it’s all about taking the elements given us in a race."
Tim Chambers has won five of the first six races.
He began sailing in 1972 at the age of 14 in Savannah. He moved to Chattanooga about a year ago with a new job, checked the Internet for sailboat marinas and brought in his J-29 boat, dubbed "Maniac."
His father sailed, he said, and his wife, Lynn, has been a big help as crew.
"She doesn’t make all the races, but previous to this year she’s pretty much drawn the line at 55 degrees," Chambers said. "I’ve gotten her to sail in the 20s this time."
The Chambers stay overnight on their boat 10-15 times a year.
Climactic conditions have varied during the series.
"One day there was low wind, and only three boats out of the nine finished," Almlie said. "The first place boat took six hours and 35 minutes to finish. The one that came in third finished about an hour later. So they really wanted those points."
That third place sailor was Rodger Ling, director of technology support services for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. It was dark when he finished.
"I had a little GPS (global positioning system) with me or else I might have had trouble," he said.
On Jan. 25, he used an ax to chop a path through what he estimated to be an inch of ice. Facing the elements was nothing new to him, however. Rarely a month passes that Ling, his wife, and their 3 year old daughter don’t go sailing.
"I have a ski boat, too, which we take out maybe one time during the summer," he said. "Serious sailing is sort of a strange term. Sailing is one of the most relaxing things I know to do. Driving around in a power boat is like driving your car. On a sailboat, you don’t have to be going anywhere. You’re just relaxing.
"The other sport I do is hang gliding. You likewise depend upon the wind with it. But I would characterize it as just the opposite of sailing when it comes to relaxation.
"Sailing is maybe similar to golf. You can’t fully master it, but you can get better at it. You always have room for improvement in sailboat racing."
Of the Shackleton Series, Ling said, "We’re not going to the South Pole with it, but you’re out there with people and you sort of make a commitment. You’re going to be out there no matter what. It seems the colder it gets, the more boats are showing up. Not crew, though, just captains."
He has taken a number of photos of the sailing series for his Web site – www.stationr.org – which is linked to www.salecreekmarina.com.
Ling grew up in Huntsville, Ala., and Waveland, Miss., where he began sailing in a small boat on the Gulf coast at the age of 18. He bought the 25-foot Hunter he owns five years ago.
Hoover earned Mountain Climbing American Guides Association certification after climbing for five years. Almlie grew up in Minnesota, while Rijsdijk is a native of Holland. Those two have watched ice sailboats zipping along at up to 120 mph.
Rijsdijk, who became owner of Sale Creek Marina in 1980, grew up sailing and ice skating in his native land.
"I sailed all over the country for 12 or 13 years and I never even had a motor, the wind was so strong," he said. "When it was time to take the boat out of the water for the winter, we would ice skate in the fields, going over railroad tracks and jumping fences, traveling great distances."
The skaters insulated against the cold, fierce wind by stuffing newspaper between their legs and their pants fabric, he said.
Winter sailing in Tennessee is calm by comparison.