Editor's Note: This article was by Raymond A. Ruge and originally published in the January 1943 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.
Let us now turn our attention to the hull, to see how to give our rig the best possible vehicle. Speaking in the broadest of generalities, the ideal hull would be strong enough to take all the stresses that may come to bear on it; light enough to be easily handled and yet not so light as to sacrifice momentum; easily and surely steered; comfortable enough to allow the driver to devote his attention to driving and none to hanging on, and shod with the fastest and most maneuverable runners for the conditions prevailing.
The principal hull member, running fore and aft, is variously called ‘‘keelson,” ‘‘backbone,” ‘‘body,” or ‘‘fuselage,” depending on its design and the word most common in local usage. Its functions are many; in fact, it is the boat. The rig drives it, and the runner plank and runners carry it. It must carry the crew with reasonable safety and comfort; it must contain the control elements — steering gear and sheet blocks. Finally, it must carry the mast step (except in the case of the lateen rig). The mast step is subject to terrific stresses which may easily be underestimated.
The backbone of the bow-steerer is fundamentally a simple beam, supported at its two extremities. This beam carries two loads — the weight and sailing pressure of the rig, at the mast step; and the weight of the crew, close to the rear point of support (runner plank). The mast load is highly variable, reaching a maximum whenever a strong puff strikes the sails. Since the mast step in a bow-steerer is usually located almost at the mid-point of the span between supports, the backbone must be carefully designed to take all the mast pressure without danger of failure. The weight of the crew is carried so close to the runner plank that it hardly stresses the backbone, and it is safe to assume that a backbone strong enough to withstand mast pressures will carry the crew without extra strengthening.
The single-stick backbone has been almost entirely abandoned by bow-steerer designers, and has been supplanted by the ‘‘box” or "fuselage" backbone. This consists of two side pieces, on edge, meeting at bow and stern, and spread apart enough to permit the crew to ride between them. They are spaced and braced by transverse bulkheads of plywood, and a plywood deck and bottom. This construction is rigid and non-twisting, a great improvement over the crazily twisting solid backbones which often used to toss the crew overboard. In addition, it affords the driver a safe, sitting-up position which increases his comfort and efficiency. Resistance to bending in such a structure comes from every element in it, for it is “welded” into a unit by waterproof glue at every joint. Nevertheless, the side pieces contribute practically all the resistance or ‘‘stiffness,’’ with some help from the crowned plywood deck. The deck would contribute far more than it does if the openings for the cockpits were not taken out of it but, after all, the skipper has some rights!
A good many fuselage boats are now equipped with windshields, exactly like those mounted on open airplane fuselages. It is significant, however, that not one championship winner in the Eastern Association and, to the best of my knowledge, in the Northwestern Association either, has carried a windshield. The answer is not that these boats are manned by supermen, who sail gaily on, oblivious of the biting wind in their faces. It is simply a matter of preference; the best skippers seem unanimous in believing that a windshield prevents them from ‘‘feeling” the wind properly. Goggles or face masks are often worn when the temperature is too low and freezing of noses seems to threaten. They are discarded the moment they can be spared in favor of the unimpaired chance to feel the wind.
In hull streamlining, the tiniest bit helps. It is better to paint the name of the boat on the side rails than to mount two projecting mahogany name boards! It is just this sort of ‘“ridiculous” extreme in streamlining which makes that unaccountable difference in speed, especially to windward.
And so we come to the steering gear. Here, again, tradition has hindered design tremendously. Because sail boats — even big ones — are steered with a tiller, ice boats were rigged the same way. No sail boat answers her helm as fast as the poorest ice boat; a sudden small jerk of the helm will probably not alter the course of the boat at all. In an ice boat, this can be fatal. The sharp steering runner provides absolutely instantaneous answering of the slightest twitch of the helm, and at a speed commonly ranging from 25 to 60 miles an hour. Imagine trying to steer your automobile at 25 to 60 miles per hour with a direct-connected tiller! You wouldn’t dare try it. And what have the automobile designers provided, to give safe, sure control of a fast vehicle? A neat, foolproof, worm-geared outfit, ideal for your ice boat. No need to get a gear from a big, heavy car; those used on Model “A” Fords of the early ’30’s are perfect for the purpose. Rig the gear so that it turns an arm or sheave connected by airplane cable to a similar one on the rudder post.
There is one bad practice in bow-steering design which has caused some mean spills. This is the inboard tiller, entirely inside the cockpit, running up between the driver’s legs. The fact that such a set-up prevents sufficient turning of the rudder is adequately attested by the battered cockpit rails of every boat so rigged — mute evidence of the skipper’s desire to turn the rudder more than he could. It is a highly dangerous arrangement, because it prevents the quick turn to windward or to leeward which is the best way to “set her down” in a sudden hike. Many a boat so rigged has come to grief upside down; more than anything else, the limited throw of the tiller was directly responsible.
In the days of old, before waterproof glue and lamination, the runner plank was often the most difficult part of the boat to obtain. Great pains were taken by the old-timers to cut just the right tree, to have the sawing done just so, to encourage natural warping and obtain a crown in the plank. Basswood, spruce and yellow poplar were used in various localities, and I have seen planks of ash, over 20’ long, and a full 6” by 16” at the center, along the Hudson River. Those were the days of tremendous boats, tremendous weight, and — tremendous inefficiency. Granted that these colossal old boats must have been awe inspiring, to say the least, their speed, except in a half-gale, was nothing to brag about. Here and there along the river one or two of them still appear when there is ice and, though it is a thrill to sit in the cockpit and see all that oak and iron out in front of you, it is no joke to have to push one of them through a six-inch snowdrift. Good planks, capable of carrying these boats and their tremendous spreads of canvas, were almost literally jewels of great price.
The modern plank is far different. Almost invariably laminated, it consists of two or more boards — again Sitka spruce is tops — glued together and given the desired curvature before the glue sets. Once the glue has set, the crown is there for keeps. Proper length of plank is vital to the success of the boat, as it has much to do with both stability and speed. Greater length of runner-plank gives: (1) Greater resiliency and spring for the same cross section; (2) a “stiffer’’ boat, less apt to hike; (3) a less favorable hiking-angle, making a bow-steerer stand on her nose or a stern-steerer rear over backward in a hike.
The final qualification for our ideal hull was that it should be “shod with the fastest and most maneuverable runners possible.” Materials used run from the tried and true cast iron shoe with oak tops to shoes of T-iron, angle iron, stainless steel and even bronze alloys. Cast iron, though prone to nick and hard to sharpen, still takes the finest polish and, in my experience, makes the fastest runner of all.
All runners are mounted on single through bolts, permitting up-and-down rocking as they pass over bumps. The proper position of this bolt in the length of the runner has a great deal to do with performance, and many runners are provided with two or more bolt holes, for use on various types of ice surface. The working principle is this: A riding bolt abaft (behind) the center of the runner will put more blade ahead of the weight, and hence will provide a longer lever arm for lifting that weight over each little bump. On smooth, hard ice (the kind we dream about and rarely see), this advantage may not be needed.
Runners deserve good care. Their edges should be protected from nicking by canvas bags or wooden scabbards when not in use, and they should be removed from the boat, thoroughly cleaned, dried and the edges wiped down with oil whenever the boat is laid up for more than overnight. Remember to use light machine oil and to wipe it off before using the runners again. Heavy oil, when cold, is just so much sticky jelly; many a sluggish performance on snowy ice has resulted from the skipper’s neglect of this one point. Contrary to popular belief, runners treated and used with reasonable care require little sharpening during a season. Naturally, letting them accumulate rust, dragging them up on stony beaches and sailing them over stones and pieces of wire is going to make work at the filing bench — but don’t blame the runners! Filing runners is an art but, in brief, the basic “don’ts’’ are these:
Don’t file across the blade; always run the file with the runner.
Don’t work with a bad file or a bad vice. Use a good, steady vice or, preferably, a set of blocks with notches for the runner tops at such an angle that the blade faces will lie exactly horizontal.
Don’t file one side down more than the other; keep them even, to keep the edge on center.
Don’t use too coarse a file, and don’t fail to knock the filings out of it after every stroke.
Don’t be afraid to work; runner-filing is tough. Don’t expect the same care in a hired job as in one you do yourself.
The runner tops require little or no special care, beyond varnish or paint to keep the weather out. The stud bolts that hold the runner shoes to the tops should be taken up every fall, to offset any shrinkage of the wooden tops which may have occurred during the summer.
And so we have worked out a modern ice boat, from rig to hull to runners. She is about as fast and sensitive a machine as the average man can build for himself and, like anything fast and sensitive, she can be handled or mishandled with equal ease. THE END
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