Ice boating has a long history on the Hudson River, and the Hudson was where ice boating may have started in the United States. Although ice sailing on frozen rivers and canals in Europe dates back to the 17th century, it wasn't until the 1790s that we get our first recorded instance of ice boating on the Hudson River, in Poughkeepsie. A simple wooden box on two runners with a third runner at the back for steering, these sail-rigged boxes with skates were a way for ordinary people to have some wintertime fun, and even occasionally acted as transport vessels for people and small goods.
By the mid-19th century, the Hudson River was the center of a huge ice boating (or ice yachting) trend, one that experienced another surge of popularity at the turn of the 20th century.
Unlike the early boxes on runners, these new wooden "boats" were simple and elegant - an enormous wooden keel with a wooden cross piece and runners all around. A small platform at the back was for the skipper and any passengers. During races, sometimes the jib man would stand on the cross pieces.
This video, filmed in 2014, shows a number of historic "stern steerers" as they are called - because you steer the boat at the stern, or back, with the back ice runner serving as a rudder.
Thanks to climate change, the Hudson River doesn't freeze much these days, and when it does it rarely gets thick enough for long enough for ice boating. But that doesn't stop the folks who are keeping the sport alive from trying. You can learn more about the Hudson River Ice Yacht Club by visiting their website.
The Hudson River Maritime Museum has a large collection of ice boating materials, including the stern steerers Icicle and Knickerbocker (Jack Frost shown in the video is the sister boat to the Icicle). Icicle was owned by John E. Roosevelt, Teddy Roosevelt's cousin and Franklin Delano Roosevelt's uncle, and the one who got FDR into ice boating. Both ice boats are on display in the museum's East Gallery.
If you'd like to learn more about the history of ice boating on the Hudson and about the formation of some of its groups, check out this great article from Hudson Valley Magazine: Explore the History of Ice Yachting in the Hudson Valley.
And this winter, if the weather gets cold enough for long enough, take a trip up to Kingston/Rhinecliff or Hudson, NY and see if you can't see folks ice boating off of Astor Point or Tivoli Bay.
This blog is written by Hudson River Maritime Museum staff, volunteers and guest contributors.
Hudson River Maritime Museum
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