Ice boating is not a sport that I have ever participated in, but with all the cold weather we have had recently I thought I would investigate and see what ice boating is all about.
Ice boating or hard water sailing as the sport is known, had its origins in the Netherlands during the eighteenth century.
(Above) The Insanity, a needle-nosed, 28-foot ice boat called a Skeeter, on Lake Winnebago in Oshkosh, Wi.
By the mid 1800’s, the sport was firmly established in the United States, where it became popular with affluent sailors (among them the Rockefellers) who could afford to captain great ice-going yachts with 1,000-foot sails. During this period ice boating flourished on the Hudson and Delaware rivers as well as the Shrewsbury and Navesink Rivers near Red Bank, NJ.
Ice boats require lakes, big lakes. The lakes must be frozen. Five inches of ice is good, 20 inches is better. The ice can’t have any snow on it, since ice boats can’t go in snow. It has to be cold out for ice boating, but not too cold. Eight degrees is the recommended minimum. Because ice boats have sails, it must also be windy, but not too windy. Twenty-five miles per hour (25 mph) is the maximum.
Each year, ice boat racers set dates for races on lakes in the ice boat belt, from Montana to Maine. And, each year, races get postponed or relocated to other lakes, sometimes thousands of miles away.
There is even a Yacht Club dedicated to ice boating, the North Shrewsbury Ice Boat & Yacht Club, in Red Bank, New Jersey. The club was founded in 1880 on the Navasink River, a saltwater estuary. Ice boating was once so big in Red Bank that the town seal has an ice boat on it.
For every hour of sailing, ice boaters figure they spend about 200 hours working on their boats. Nobody builds them commercially. Many ice boat hulls are carbon fiber with runners made of surgical steel.
Skeeters, shown above, are ice-boating’s Ferraris. Skeeters hit 85 mph with winds in the high teens and break 100 mph in gusts, though no one has clocked that officially. An attempt to do so fell apart three years ago at Canyon Ferry Reservoir in Montana when the wind went dead for three days straight.