Editor's note: The following text was originally published in an undated published booklet "Ice Yachting Winter Sailboats Hit More Than 100 m.p..h.. by John A. Carroll with additional information from the "New York Times" article from February 8, 1978. 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.
Ice yachting easily qualifies as the fastest winter sport in the world. Skiing? The ice yacht moves twice as rapidly. Bob-sledding? Nearly 25 m.p.h. faster. And ice yachts, unlike bob-sleds, do not have brakes.
According to Ray Ruge, president of the Eastern Ice Yachting Association, the world ice yacht speed record over a measured course with flying start stands at 144 m.p.h. At Long Branch, N.J., Commodore Elisha Price in Walter Content's "Clarel" set the mark in February 1908, by covering one mile in 25 seconds. The time was clocked by five stop watches. The speed has been exceeded unofficially on several occasions.
"From - Feb 6, 1978 - New York Times: Outdoors: Slipping Silently over the Ice by Fred Ferretti: One of the first lessons taught when you take up the speedy and somewhat dangerous sport of iceboating is to watch out for Christmas trees. Christmas trees mark thin ice or ice that has holes in it, that is rough and heavily pitted or that is overlaid with an invisible layer of water. These hazards can be disastrous to the spruce or fiberglass boats that tear across frozen rivers and lakes, sometimes at speeds of more than 100 miles an hour."
While speed records remain a goal for winter sailors, most American ice yachtmen now center their attention on competitive racing and the annual regattas that have become an important part of the cold weather sports scene.
Keen spectator and participant interest in this old sport are comparatively recent developments. Ice yachting, of necessity, has a limited appeal. There are few sections in the country where cold weather and hard-frozen lakes make the sport practicable. Moreover, the high cost of constructing the large yachts popular at the turn of the century restricted the sport to the very wealthy.
The weather factor has remained fairly constant and ice yachting still is confined to a few choice locations - mainly in the American-Canadian border states and provinces. However, the financial requirement has undergone a radical change. The organization of the International Skeeter Association in 1939 is, to a large degree, responsible for the current boom in the sport. The "Skeeters," which are limited to 75 square feet of sail and cost as little as a few hundred dollars to build, outraced the larger boats in most of last year's major regattas. Approximately 75 per cent of all present ice boat construction follows this design.
There are still large boats on the ice, although initial building expenses and prohibitive transportation costs have held construction to a minimum during the last few years. The two largest yachts currently in active competition are “Deuce”, owned by Clare Jacobs of Detroit and piloted by Joe Snay of the same city, and “Debutante”, owned by the Van Dyke family of Wisconsin and skippered by John Buckstaff of Oshkosh.
Both yachts carry 600 sq. ft. of heavy Wamsutta sail cloth, but the “Deuce” is the longer of the two. The Detroit yacht, which is a thing of picturesque beauty with its huge jib-and-mainsail rig, is 52 feet in length and carries a 52-foot high mast. Its solid, springy runner plank measures 30 feet across.
The Last of the Stern-Steerers: A starting lineup on Lake Winnebago at Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Left to right: “Debutante III”, Oshkosh I.Y.E., “Deuce”, Detroit I.Y.C. and “Flying Dutchman”, Oshkosh I.Y.E. Race won by “Deuce” shod with 8 ft. runners because of soft ice. Ray Ruge Collection, Hudson River Maritime Museum.
To the non-scientist, it seems unbelievable that any craft backed only by a stiff wind, can hit 100 miles an hour or better. The secret is the reduction of surface friction to just a few inches of sharp steel runner slipping across the ice, plus the small air resistance offered by a streamlined fuselage. Once an ice boat gets underway, the friction becomes almost negligible. And the speed is created by a partial vacuum of air currents ahead of the sail which pulls the craft forward until the boat is traveling from three to six times the velocity of the wind.
Little is known of the origin of ice boats, although it has been established that Scandinavians in the Middle Ages were using a workable craft. Chapman's "Architecture Navalis Mercatoria" of 1768 mentions the sport by describing an ice yacht with a converted hull, a cross piece and a runner at each end.
The Poughkeepsie Ice Yacht Club, an organization leaning to men of wealth and leisure, was organized in 1861. Using large, expensive craft, the club members specialized in racing trains along the river banks. The engineer tooted the whistle and passengers cheered, as the yachtsmen accepted the challenge and a contest was on.
At the turn of the 20th century, new and more complete organizations began to take place. In 1912, new sportsmen formed the Northwestern Ice Yachting Association at Oshkosh, Wis., to embrace clubs in 'the Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin region. Sail expanse classifications were drawn up to promote competition. As interest in the sport drew and new boats were built in greater numbers, new classifications were established.
The Northwestern Association now lists the following: Class A, up to 350 square feet of sail; Class B, up to 250; Class C, up to 175; Class D, 125; Class E, 75.
Sailing preparations are underway in the yacht basin at Hamilton, Ont., as enthusiasts ready their boats for the day's activity. Yachtsmen pray for blustery, windy weather to ensure higher racing speeds. The sport, which is aging in new followers every year, attracted an estimated 3,000 participants this winter. Ray Ruge Collection, Hudson River Maritime Museum.
Patterning itself after the Northwestern, a group of eastern ice yachting enthusiasts met in 1937 at the Larchmont (N.Y.) Yacht Club to form the Eastern Ice Yachting Association. There are, however, a few differences in classification. The eastern body calls the up-to-250 square-foot group Class X, instead of Class B, and the newer organization lists an up-to-200 square-foot sail area as Class B, a type not recognized by the Northwestern.
In addition to the standard classifications, the Scooter and the D.N. 60 (Detroit News, 60 square feet of canvas) attract considerable attention. The Scooter, a remarkable amphibian which sails serenely on ice or in water, is the pride and joy of the South Bay Scooter Club, a member of the Eastern Association.
It is believed that Coast Guardsmen, tired of long winter walks across ice for supplies, developed the first Scooter. They put runners on the bottom of one of their flat-bottomed sailboats and it worked. The boat has no rudder for water sailing and no movable runner for steering on ice. Direction is controlled only by shifting weight and sail handling.
The D.N. 60 sprang from that Detroit newspaper's hobby shop, as an economical boys' sailing craft. It has turned out to be another case of the parents playing with their kids' electric trains. Adults love them. Their surprising speed and easy construction resulted in the building of almost 100 in the Detroit area alone. And the News now sponsors annual competitions on Lake St. Clair for their popular “baby.”
The skeleton of an ice yacht is T-shaped, with the fuselage forming the long part, and a cross-piece or "runner plank" the horizontal. There are three runners or skates. The ones at each end of the runner plank are fixed. The steering runner, at the end of the fuselage, is moveable.
Originally, all yachts were stern steerers. The runner plank was forward, the steering skate in the rear, behind the yachtsman's seat. Stern steerers have one pleasant advantage: boats using this design do not capsize easily.
But the winter sailors wanted speed, and in the 1920's the Meyer brothers of Wisconsin began experimenting with bow-steering. Boats with bow-steering have the runner plank crossing the rear seat. The steering runner is at the front end of the fuselage. The bow steerer is faster - much faster. And sufficient pressure is kept on the steering runner to afford traction and maneuverability. But to counteract these advantages, the bow steerer spills more readily.
Championship regattas of both the Northwestern and Eastern Associations are run in three-heat series to determine the champion of each class. The Northwestern winds up with a Free-for-All in which all classes are eligible. The Eastern concludes with an Open Championship limited to class titlists.
With the present pre-eminence of the Skeeter, the International Skeeter Association Championship Regatta now is widely regarded as the "World Series" of the sport. The I.S.A. runs a five-heat series, weather permitting. The international character of the organization stems from the fact that it has member clubs in both the United States and Canada. Winners are determined on a point basis.
Ice yachting's man of the year for 1947 probably was Jim Kimberly of Chicago, formerly of Neenah, Wis. Kimberly, who took his first ice boat ride at the age of five, won last year's International Skeeter Association title and the Northwestern Free-for-All. The 40-year-old executive is seeking additional titles this season in his 22-foot Skeeter, “Flying Phantom III”, one of several boats he owns.
In racing, all boats are staggered at the starting line to give each entry unbroken wind. Lots are drawn for post positions and the order is reversed in successive heats. Races begin from a standing position, and here the yachtsman discovers the importance of a good pair of legs. At the crack of the gun he must take off like a sprinter for 25 to 50 feet, pushing his yacht to get "way" on her.
Once underway, he needs all his skill to keep the boat moving. Inept handling stops the boat and the runners take a freezing grip on the ice. Then, out steps the yachtsman to give another starting push. This, of course, means a tremendous loss of face for the winter sailor.
The sport is dangerous and thrilling. The most exciting moments come at the turning markers around which racers try to cut as sharply as possible. When one yacht overtakes another at this point, the leader is required to leave "stake room" (sufficient space) for the overtaking yacht to pass between him and the marker.
Sometimes the cry is not heard, or a racer figures he has left sufficient room. Then the spectator sees two strong-willed ice yachtsmen tacking toward the stake at 90 miles an hour on sheer ice with no brakes to soften any possible collision. To make matters worse from the yachtsmen's point of view, the slightest touch of craft to marker means automatic disqualification from the race.
Even pleasure cruising has its hazards. Good natural ice surfaces of sufficient size are rare. And these are subject to pressure ridges, weak ice and stretches of open water caused by currents and thaws.
A quick plunge into icy water in the middle of winter with the nearest helping hand miles distant, is a sobering consideration for any frost-bitten sailor.
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.
While the Skeeter pilots crow about their superiority over the larger boats, they frankly admit that the speed record probably will remain in the hands of Class A men. Speed runs are made over a straight measured course, under ideal wind and ice conditions and from a flying start. It is under the varying conditions of ice and wind in competitive racing - where maneuverability is at a premium - that the big boats are left behind. THE END
Editor's Note: A future History Blog will discuss the Hell Divers.
This blog is written by Hudson River Maritime Museum staff, volunteers and guest contributors.
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