Editor's note: The following text is from the February 1937 issue of "The Open Road for Boys" magazine. The language, spelling and grammar of the article reflects the time period when it was written.
With cramped fingers, Tim Grayson shifted the tiller of the Snow Queen a fraction of an inch. Instantly the iceboat responded, veering across the hard black ice toward Lighthouse Point. Tim allowed himself one backward glance. Raleigh Bryan in the Penguin was close behind, with one leg of the race still to go.
As the two ice yachts neared the southern side of the lighthouse, Tim prepared to make an extra tack to avoid a line of soft ice behind a small red marker. For a moment he was tempted not to go about. It was so cold that day that he didn’t see how there could be any soft ice left. The red marker had nothing to do with the race course; it was just a danger warning, Tim knew, and the extra tack would cost several seconds of precious time. But Tim’s conscience won, and in another minute he put his rudder hard alee to make the tack. When he came back on his original course he found the Penguin twenty yards ahead of him. Raleigh Bryan hadn't bothered about the red marker!
In spite of the cold, little drops of sweat ran down Tim’s back as he shifted his position in the stern of the boat. He knew that his safety tack had cost him the race; but, as he saw it, there was nothing else to do. It wasn’t the risk to himself that had influenced Tim. He could swim in any water, and from the crowd on shore watching the race, many friends would have rushed instantly to haul him out. It was the Snow Queen that would have suffered had they gone through. Staved-in framework, warped rudder, ruined varnish —all threatened an iceboat that broke through the surface, and the Snow Queen belonged to Greg, Tim’s older brother.
With all the skill at his command, Tim fought to regain the distance lost, but the Penguin held most of her lead. Tim realized that his last chance to win had vanished; and with this race went the opportunity to pilot the Snow Queen in the Navesink Yacht Club Regatta. Greg had told him he could sail in the Navesink contest if he took first place in one of the Shrewsbury (NJ) skeeter races. And this was the last race of the season.
In another minute Raleigh had cut expertly across the line amid cheers from the crowd. “Nice work, Raleigh!” Tim shouted across the icy basin.
Raleigh smiled his slow, confident smile. “You all would have trimmed me if you hadn’t been so scary about gettin’ your feet wet,” he drawled, as he led the way into the boat house,
Tim never forgot the next half hour. Slowly came the amazing realization that the majority of the crowd thought him a coward. He found himself floundering in the knowledge of their contempt. “What’s the matter, Tim? Afraid of a cold bath?” Red Harris blurted out. “You'd have won that race if you hadn’t been such a, sissy about that soft-ice marker.”
Tim’s mouth was still open when he heard Greg beside him. “There’s no use explaining,” Greg said quietly. “People either understand or they don’t. Everybody doesn’t feel the same way about a boat.”
Tim looked up at his brother gratefully. At least Greg knew that he hadn’t been afraid of getting wet. “What I didn’t like,” Greg went on, “was the way you made the tack and then your attempts to shift your weight on the last leg.” In his slow, deliberate voice Greg analyzed every inch of the race until Tim fully understood his mistakes.
Next day came a sudden thaw. Tim decided that it would be warm enough to work on the Snow Queen out of doors. Greg had suggested a few adjustments in the rigging, and his brother was anxious to carry them out. The thought of meeting people at the boat house so soon after losing the race was unpleasant, but Tim was glad to have something that forced him to get the ordeal over with.
The boat house belonged to the township of Shrewsbury and served as a clubhouse for anyone interested in sailing. Usually a crowd collected early, but today the only person in sight was Red Harris.
“Hello,” said Red. “Going out?”
Tim shook his head. “Nope. Just got some repairs to make.”
“This thaw may weaken the ice a bit, but even so I guess you'd be safe,” Red remarked significantly. “Raleigh’s out sailing.”
He was just about to ask Red to help him carry in the Snow Queen when Red pointed to the spot where the Navesink River joined the Shrewsbury. “Look at that bird go!” he said, “Doesn’t care a whoop what he does!”
Tim looked and could hardly believe his eyes. Raleigh Bryan’s Penguin was tearing ahead toward the place where the fishing lights had been.
“It isn’t safe!” Tim gasped. “They were fishing through the ice up there last night, and it won't be properly frozen over.”
“Don’t worry, Grandma,” Red’s voice was sarcastic. “Raleigh can take care of himself. He’ll probably jibe.”
Tim watched the Penguin skudding along before the wind and a frown came between his eyes. “Listen, Raleigh hasn’t been up north very long and I’ll bet he’s never seen ice like that before. He probably doesn’t know how dangerous it is.”
Red laughed and for a minute Tim hesitated. If he went after Raleigh, and the newcomer realized all the time what he was doing, he would be thought more of a mollycoddle than ever. But if he held back and Raleigh did not recognize the circles of thin ice, what then?
As the Penguin kept straight on for the spotted ice, Tim grabbed a boat hook and flung it on board the Snow Queen. “You can laugh all you like,” he shouted back at Red Harris. “I’m going to stand by.”
Hardly had his little boat got under way when the bow of the Penguin faltered in one of the thinly covered holes. In another instant came the sound of ripping ice and wood. The Penguin’s mast crumpled; her sail flapped and fell; half of her frame disappeared under water.
Tim now could see Raleigh’s terrified face just above the water. He was fighting wildly against the current, handicapped by a tangle of rope and canvas.
Working fast, Tim drew as near to the Penguin as he dared and spun her head into the wind. With a rattle of gear and rigging he dropped his sail.
The Snow Queen still coasted forward and Tim frantically used one leg and the boat hook to check her speed. When she finally slithered to a standstill he was within thirty feet of Raleigh and the black pool of open water. Hurriedly casting off the painter, Tim threw one end of it to within a few inches of Raleigh’s shoulder. “Grab it!” he shouted, but Raleigh shook his head desperately.
“I can’t!” he gasped. “My feet are caught and I’ve done something to my left arm. The current’s too strong. I tell you, I can’t let go.”
Tim was already overboard, carrying the boat hook in one hand. “I’m coming,” he called reassuringly. But as he spoke the ice creaked threateningly beneath him. Dropping on his stomach, he began inching his way forward.
When he came within a few feet of Raleigh the ice dipped under his weight, letting water ooze out over the surface to drench his chest and legs. Every second he expected the groaning ice would give way and throw him into the driving current. He could hear the rush of the water and could see that it was pushing the Penguin further under the ice. In another minute Raleigh would have to let go of her stern or be dragged under with it.
In spite of wet hands, clumsy with cold, he fastened the painter around the end of the boat hook and thrust it toward Raleigh.
“Stay just as you are,” he ordered, “I think I can get the rope round you. If I come any nearer, I'll break through.”
“R-right,” Raleigh muttered from between blue lips.
Maneuvering carefully with the boat hook, Tim finally looped the rope around Raleigh’s body. Once, as he drew it back, it slipped and started sliding snake-like toward the water. Tim reached for it with the hook and retrieved it just in time.
“All set,” he shouted to Raleigh and began pulling on the rope; but instead of extricating the other pilot, he felt himself being drawn forward toward the open water. Unable to get a grip on the ice with his feet, Tim knew that continued pulling would only send him into the water.
Casting about desperately for a solution of his difficulty, Tim thought of the Snow Queen.
“Hold on,” he yelled, scrambling backward, “I’ll have you out pronto!” But he felt little of the confidence his words implied, for he could see that Raleigh was weakening fast and might be drawn under at any minute.
Furiously Tim worked himself toward the ice boat. Trembling in his haste, he made the painter fast to a cleat at the stern. He knew he would now need every ounce of the skill Greg had tried to teach him.
“Hang on to the rope with your good hand,” he shouted to Raleigh, “and when we begin to move try to kick clear.”
Swiftly he shoved the Snow Queen’s bow in the direction he wanted to go and hoisted her sail. Then, hands grasping the boat, he ran alongside, pushing her forward. As he wind filled her sail, he jumped aboard. Would she start with Raleigh’s weight acting as an anchor? Would the drowning boy be able to kick himself free? Was the painter long enough to give them a chance? Tim looked back breathlessly.
He moved the rudder lightly. “Go to it, Snow Queen!” he said under his breath.
As if the little boat understood, she strained forward and Raleigh came sprawling across the ice like a gigantic fish. Just how he got him on board, Tim was never sure, but somehow he stopped the boat long enough to haul the half-frozen boy beside him.
“How did—” Raleigh began, as Tim shoved him close to the center rail in the middle of the boat.
“Don’t try to talk,” Tim snapped, his whole attention concentrated on getting the boat to shore, “Just hang to that safety rail with your good arm.”
When they reached the basin in front of the boat house Greg was standing on the ice beside Red Harris, a pile of sails in his arms.
“We—we—were just coming after you,” Red sputtered but Greg said nothing. Dropping the sailcloth, he reached a helping hand to Raleigh and half carried him toward the house.
“Hurry up, Tim,” he ordered, “you've got to get on some dry clothes yourself.”
“How about the Queen?” Tim began, but Red hastily interrupted.
“l’ll put her up for you, Timmy,” he said.
Relieved, Tim raced after Greg into the stuffy warmth of the boat house.
In a few minutes Greg had Raleigh dressed in some old dungarees, a torn sweat shirt, and a heavy blanket that he’d found lying about. Around Raleigh’s bruised wrist he had fashioned a temporary bandage. In spite of the heat, Raleigh’s teeth were still chattering; but the color had come back to his lips and his cheeks no longer looked green. As he stuttered and stumbled through his story, Tim realized that it was exactly as he had surmised. Raleigh was practically on top of the newly frozen over fishing holes before he recognized the danger. Once in the water, his feet caught in the ropes and it was impossible for him to do more than keep himself afloat.
“I still don’t see how you got across that ice,” he declared, turning to Tim, “It was the bravest thing I ever have seen!”
“Tim’s never been accustomed to shy from danger,” Greg said dryly, as Red Harris poked his flaming head around the door to tell them that two men from the Navesink Yacht Club had succeeded in pulling the battered Penguin ashore.
In about half an hour, the blood was coursing warmly through Raleigh’s veins and Greg thought it was safe to take him home. When they left him at his door he was still praising Tim’s bravery.
“Well,” said Greg, as they drove off, “I guess that squelches any rumor about your losing yesterday’s race because you were afraid of a ducking. But what pleases me most, Timmy boy, is the way you handled the boat just now. You sailed her like a veteran! If you do anything like as well in the Navesink Yacht Club Race you ought to win it hands down!”
Editor's Note: As mentioned in the 6/30/2023 blog, “Ice Yachting Winter Sailboats Hit More Than 100 m.p.h. by John A. Carroll, The Detroit Ice Yachting Club has fostered one of the more exclusive organizations in the world - the Hell Divers. To be eligible, a yachtsman merely has to take the plunge and survive to tell the story.” It appears that Raleigh became a Hell Diver by his harrowing experience.
To learn more about the fishermen who created the circles on the ice, go to New York Heritage HRMM Commercial Fishermen oral histories here.
"Circles on the Ice" by L. R. Davis and Illustrated by R. B. Pullen; "The Open Road for Boys" magazine February 1937. From the Ray Ruge Collection, Hudson River Maritime Museum.
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