Editor's Note: This article by Raymond A. Ruge is reproduced from the December 1936 issue of Yachting magazine. The language, spelling and grammar of the article reflects the time period when it was written. For information about current ice boating on the Hudson River go to White Wings and Black Ice here.
In spite of all the progress toward efficiency and speed made in sailing yachts, the ice boat, the fastest non-motorized vehicle known to man, has remained until very recently the slave of convention and tradition. Improvements in materials, sails, runners, rigging and construction details followed one another in steady progression, but in her fundamental design, the ice boat of 1930 was the ice boat of 1870 — and she still retained the devilish habit of spinning. There was no escaping the tendency to depress the bow and lift the stern whenever a hard puff struck the sails. This inevitable result of the action of the forces driving her is familiar to all small boat sailors. In a sail boat, with her rudder buried deep in the water, it is not particularly annoying. But let an ice boat's rudder be lifted the slightest fraction of an inch and it loses its already precarious grip on the glassy surface, and away she goes, in a cloud of ice slivers and a roar of grinding runners, around and around in a double or even triple spin, completely out of control. At a speed of sixty to seventy miles an hour, which is common enough, and with a competitor driving hard only a few feet astern, the possibility of a nasty crack-up is not hard to imagine.
Once the simplicity of this, and the beautiful self-compensating relation of wind pressure to rudder-on-ice pressure, dawns on you, it seems too good to be true. While it is difficult to assign the exact credit for this brilliant solution of the ice boat's one great fault, it is safe to attribute the development and perfection of the bow-steerer to the famous Meyer Brothers, of Wisconsin. They built and raced the renowned Paula series of ice yachts, all champions but all experimental, each one eliminating certain faults found in her predecessor.
Editor’s Note: This article is found in "Time" magazine, Monday, Feb. 08, 1937
As a result, the bow-steerer is now as safe as she is fast, and ice yachting is coming into its own all over the northern part of the country. For the bow-steerer won't spin. Her pilot need not ease her through the puffs — he can hold his sheets and let her go — and the fact that bow-steerers everywhere are consistently defeating older boats of far greater sail area is sufficient proof that she can go.
Convinced by the logic of this analysis of spinning, and of the bow-steerer as the solution, during the fall of 1925 I constructed Icicle. She carried the rig of my 18-foot one-design sail boat - about 190 square feet, in a conventional jib and mainsail. A club was added to the foot of the jib, both to keep it flat and to simplify the jib sheet. By using a club, a single sheet working on a traveler makes the jib practically self-tending, a necessary feature where the main sheet and steering wheel require constant attention.
The rig of almost any small sloop can be used on an ice boat if provision is made for the heavier wind stresses involved. Wintry blasts are heavier, faster and harder-hitting than summer breezes. Sails which have been discarded because they have stretched and lost their precious draft are just the ones to use on your ice boat for, contrary to sail boat practice, the rule here is ”the flatter, the faster.”
Icicle has a fuselage, or body, made of light frames and ribs, covered with unbleached muslin to which was applied airplane "dope™ and aluminum paint. This superstructure serves merely as a shield from the biting wind and is built around the traditional central backbone timber, made of an 18-foot 4" x 6" to which was bolted a 16-foot 4" × 4", over- hanging 6 feet aft. This composite timber rides on edge, with the 4" x6" below and toward the bow. The runner plank crosses under the extreme after end of the 18-foot lower member. The mast is stepped directly on the backbone, passing through a hole in the cloth deck which also admits the main and jib sheets to the cockpit, where they are controlled by jam cleats. The backbone also carries the steering gear and all fastenings for frame guys, so that the cloth super-structure is subjected to no stresses except those caused by wind pressure. This permits a comfortable, protected riding position, automobile steering, and a side-by-side arrangement of the two seats, all of which tend to increase the pleasure and reduce the discomfort of a day's fast sailing.
The runner plank shown embodies the latest improvements in design. First of all, those familiar with past practice will note the unusual length of the plank for the sail area carried. This serves two purposes; it prevents excessive hiking and makes for easy riding, both of which are aids to speed. By using waterproof casein glue, a laminated arched plank, light in weight and springy in action, is easy to make. The second departure from older practice lies in the extra foot of plank projecting beyond the runners. This carries on its underside a smooth, rounded oak sliding block which comes in contact with the ice when the boat hikes very high and allows her to slip sideways and come down right side up rather than capsize.
A good runner plank is essentially a broad, flat wooden spring. A stiff plank means a slower boat. The runner plank is fastened to the backbone by two pieces of 2-1/2" x 2-1/2" angle iron, drilled for bolts through the side rails and plank. A block of rubber under the bearing surfaces will absorb some of the shock when passing over rough ice.
The most vital parts of any ice boat, where the right thing is the only thing, are the runners. There are many types of runners in use, but the oldest is still one of the most satisfactory and may be sometimes acquired in good condition second, third, and even fourth-hand. This type of runner consists of an oak top piece to which is bolted a cast iron or steel shoe, sharpened to a "V" edge. It is in the subtle but all important rocker of the shoe and the correct angle of the ice faces, or the two sides of the "V," that the fast runner differs from the slow one. For an all-purpose runner, which will carry the boat through soft ice and slush as well as over hard, black ice, the faces of the shoe, called "ice faces." should meet at about 90° and be from ½" to ¾" wide.
The rudder is a shorter edition of the main runners but has little rocker. The rudder must be kept sharp for, if it skids, control of the fast-moving craft is, at best, sketchy. After the runners are mounted, oil the inside faces of the chocks, next to the runners. This is one spot that must not be varnished or painted. Graphite is often smeared over these faces to help the runner rock freely. Keep the runner shoes greased to prevent rusting; when leaving the boat for a protracted interval, it is well to remove the runners entirely and keep them at home, along with the sails, where they will be dry and safe from inquisitive skaters.
Allowing $40.00 for new runners, and the same amount for a fair suit of sails, the materials for this boat should total about $120. The yachtsman who has a sail boat with a suitable rig and the usual assortment of odd rigging, turnbuckles, blocks, etc., can cut the necessary outlay down to $75. Clear spruce is the lightest and best material for the spars, runner plank and back-bone; fir is second choice. Fir is easier to get and is cheaper but is apt to be heavy. Runner tops, chocks and knees are of quartered white oak. Plywood 3/8" thick is ideal for deck and bottom of back-bone. A few oak slats passing under the plywood floor from rail to rail will stiffen it sufficiently under the cockpit.
A boat of this type can be transported easily by trailer, and two men can set her up in an hour, provided that this has been already completely done at home before taking the boat to the ice. It is hoped that the success of the adapted sail boat rig may encourage other yachtsmen to build ice boats to carry the rigs of their sail boats. The most active ice boating centers in the East are all within fifty miles of New York and can be reached by car in a couple of hours. I know I can speak for the ice boating fraternity in assuring all of you a most cordial welcome to this king of winter sports.
Editor’s Note: During the fall of 1925, Ray Ruge, at age 17, constructed the Icicle.
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