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Ice Boating an ancient sport in a modern world

John L. Russell - December 3rd, 2012  

The docks have been pulled from the lakes, and the boats are covered and stored for the winter.

It’s time to go sailing. Iceboating, to be more precise. Sailing on frozen surfaces is believed to have its roots in Northern Europe, where goods and people moved around the region on frozen rivers and canals, using simple sails and handmade boats.

The Dutch and others brought iceboating to the Hudson River valley and other places along the East Coast, where miles of frozen rivers made for great sailing during the winter months. Freight and people were commonly moved up and down the Hudson River in huge, slooped-rigged boats.

Ranging in length from 30 - 50 feet, the stern-steering boats are still raced today by the Northwest Ice Yacht Association, having recently celebrated its 100th anniversary.

MICHIGAN’S ROLE

The ancient sport of sailing on frozen lakes and rivers is alive and well in our state, which has a long and involved history in the sport. Innovations developed in Michigan have enhanced and improved iceboating.

During the winter of 1936-1937, in the hobby shop at the Detroit News, boat builder Archie Arroll, along with Norm Jarrait and Joe Lodge, designed an ice boat they called the Blue Streak 60.

Designed to be small enough to build in a garage, and easy enough to be built by anyone, the 12-foot hull design became known as the DN 60, for Detroit News and the 60-square-foot sail.

It is now the largest one-design boat class in the world, with over 8,000 registered boats around the world.

Founded in Michigan, and incorporated in 1962, the International Ice Yacht Racing Association has seen its membership grow to over 2,000 sailors in Europe and North America, and holds its World Championship regatta each year, alternating between Europe and North America to a site with the best sailing conditions. Regional regattas lead up to the races, which can attract up to 100 boats. European and North American championship regattas are also held yearly.

Kalamazoo, Muskegon, Bay City, Traverse City and Detroit all have active ice boating clubs, who travel and sail wherever the ice conditions allow. The Gull Lake club near Kalamazoo has been active for over 100 years.

Several Michigan sailors have won North American and World Championships.

RULES & REGS

Iceboating rules are strict for safe racing and enjoyable sailing.

Iceboaters wear helmets, carry floatation devices early and late winter, and exercise caution while sailing and racing. Safety is part of all sailing events. Ice picks and whistles are also carried by many sailors.

Most clubs have ice checkers, who travel to frozen lakes and check the ice for thickness, open water areas, cracks and heaves, and other factors. Once suitable ice is found, the word goes out on the internet and through club contacts, and sailors appear, sometimes in large numbers if snow has closed their favorite sailing sites.

Black ice, which has no snow and has frozen to a state of clear perfection, is preferred but found mostly during the early season.

An ice thickness of five inches or more is preferred for safety.

Ice with snow cover becomes sailable after a thaw, then hard re-freezing, which is found mostly in mid- to late winter.

Conditions are always checked and confirmed before wide-spread sailing on any lake, as safety is of the utmost importance, with large run-off areas made available for racing, as the iceboat has no brakes and must run off forward speed.

The Grand Traverse Ice Yacht Club in Traverse City is known throughout the state, the region, the country and the world for it’s world-class hospitality and its ability to hold major racing events on short notice. The club’s members and officers work tirelessly to maintain safe and enjoyable sailing at easily-accessible sites.

The club was founded over 20 years ago by area sailors who were interested in extending the season, and others who were into the sport and knew an organized group would be fun and informative. The club meets monthly from October to May to build, sail, and race iceboats.

The weekends are fun social gatherings, and anyone visiting a site where the boats are set up will find someone willing to show off their craft.

Meeting monthly on the first Tuesday at 7 pm at the Grand Traverse Yacht Club near Traverse City, the club offers instruction, building techniques, safety seminars, and weekend racing and cruising, and in the past has hosted regional regattas, North American championships, and recently hosted a World Championship on Torch Lake, where over a dozen countries vied for the title of North American Champion as well as World Champion.

The club has a hotline that is updated as conditions change, 231-922-3836 or can be reached by email at GTIYC.org@gmail.com or on their website at gtiyc.org.

 
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