Editor's Note: The following is a verbatim transcription of a chapter from Spalding's Winter Sports by James A. Cruikshank, published in 1917 and part of the Ray Ruge Collection at the Hudson River Maritime Museum. Many thanks to volunteer Adam Kaplan for transcribing this booklet.
After a trial of all the sports of all the year, from running foamy rapids in your own canoe to sailing over the earth on the wings of an airplane, the honest critic will award the palm to Ice Boating for its unrivaled excitement, its unapproached speed and its glorious intoxication. No man ever believed that he had been nipped by the frost while he was making his first trip in an ice yacht; his fast beating heart was pumping too much red blood through his delighted body to permit any such thing!
Ninety miles an hour is credibly reported as the occasional speed of the ice yacht. The greatest authority on the subject is of the opinion that no real limit can be set for the speed of the craft, since ideal conditions of wind and weather and ice, and ideal construction of the craft for utilizing these conditions have never been combined and probably never will be. It is known beyond the shadow of a doubt, however, that the ice yacht can and does sail faster than the wind which is blowing at the time, strange as this statement may appear to the uninformed. For the absolute beauty of motion, with least sensation of striving after speed, with smallest appreciable evidence of friction, and almost utter absence of that noise which is the general accompaniment of all fast traveling, the ice yacht is absolutely unique and unsurpassed. An initiation trip of a few miles will furnish sensations so novel and so fascinating as to be incomparable with any other sport the winter lover has tested; he will be a hardened and blasé soul if then and there he does not vow further acquaintance with the thrilling pastime.
The ice yacht is a development of the ice boat, which was a square box set on steel runners and propelled by a sail. It may be said that for purposes of easy definition the only differences now existing between an ice boat and an ice yacht are differences of cost; like the “pole” of the country boy angler and the “rod” of the city angler, both the ice boat and the ice yacht have the same uses and furnish the same sport. If the craft is simple and perhaps home-made it will probably be an ice boat; if it is made by professionals, with due reference to the “center of effort” in the placing of sails, has red velvet cushions and that sort of thing, you are privileged to call it an ice yacht. Either one will give all the sport any reasonable man is entitled to in this wicked world.
Ice yachts cost between $500 and $5,000, although there is said to be at least one which cost over this latter figure. Ice boats cost from $5 up, depending largely upon who does the work of making them. Along the lower reaches of the Hudson River there are any number of successful ice boats which cost less than $25 apiece, and they furnish magnificent sport. Any small boy with a knack for mechanical work can make himself an ice boat that will serve every purpose and teach him the rudiments of steering and managing the craft; and he will find many surprises in learning the new sport, even though he may be a clever small boat sailor on water.
The handsomest and finest ice yachts in the world are found along the Hudson River in New York State, near the city of Poughkeepsie. There are also many fine ice yachts used on the Shrewsbury River in New Jersey, on Orange Lake, Newburgh, N.Y., on Lakes George and Champlain, and a very considerable interest in the sport among the winter-loving sportsmen of the northwestern United States, especially Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota. With that daring characteristic of the western folks, the ice yachts of the Northwest seem to be planned more with reference to general use under all conditions of smooth, rough or snowy ice than some of the more highly perfected eastern craft which are seldom used unless conditions are perfect. Thus the westerner gets a much larger amount of sport out of the season than the easterner; fourteen days of good sport is all that some of the eastern yacht enthusiasts expect during a full season.
While there are several interesting designs of ice yachts in general use among the experts of the sport, and any number of “freak” designs, some of which have demonstrated their ability to walk away with handsome prizes, there has come to be comparative uniformity as to the general lines of construction. And from these lines it would be best for the ice yacht builder not to deviate too much, although minor constructive details still leave considerable room for experiment and originality.
The generally accepted design of the fastest and best ice yachts is that of a cross, in which the center timber, also sometimes called the backbone or the hull, running fore and aft, is crossed, just a little forward of half its length, by the runner plank. A successful western design consists of two center timbers spread apart several feet in the center of the craft and joined at the forward end, or bowsprit, and at the extreme stern, where the rudder is located, The best material for the backbone or center timber is either basswood or butternut. Oak is generally used for the runner plank; clear spruce for the mast and spars. The cockpit or seat is merely a place for the steersman and guests to half lie or half sit, and is generally provided with a combing and rails. Cushions of hair, cork, moss, or hay are provided. All running gear, except the main sheet rope, is of plow steel rope or flexible wire. Sails are of cross-cut pattern used in racing water yachts.
The most important items of the ice yacht, after the frame, are the runners and the rudder. Here great care should be exercised to get the right thing. Certain fixed standards of material, design and hang are almost universal. The runners and the rudder, which are almost identical in shape, are of V-shaped castings; the very best grade of cast iron seems to be the most preferred. The fact that, after a few weeks of sailing, these runners have to be sharpened, and that the friction and heat developed in their use gives them a dense hardening which it takes considerable filing to penetrate, warrants the use of runner material not too hard at the start. Tool steel, Norway iron, phosphor bronze and even brass have been used; the best results seem to come from good quality castings. There is difference of opinion whether there should be rock to the runner or considerable flat area, but the consensus of opinion favors a slight rock to the runners and less to the rudder. Between the rudder and the bottom of the cockpit a large rubber block is inserted to take some of the jar and vibration. The runners are permanently fastened to the runner plank, allowing play up and down, while the rudder is set in a rudder post which has a Y at the lower end, allowing the rudder vertical motion. The tiller should be a long iron bar wrapped with cord, lest some thoughtless guest, with perspired hand, comes to grief. Cockpit rails should be similarly wrapped.
The craft to which reference has so far been made is of the general Hudson River pattern. No dimensions have been given, but for the further information of the interested reader planning to enter the sport, the following dimensions of a successful ice yacht of this type are here appended. The figures will be useful to those planning smaller craft if the same proportions are observed, although the size, known as the Two Hundred and Fifty Square Foot Area Design, has proven itself especially useful as an all-around fast ice yacht for the largest number of days. Backbone, 30 feet over all, 4 1/2 inches thick, 11 inches wide at runner plank; nose, 3 1/2 inches; heel, 4 3/4 inches; runner plank over all, 16 feet 8 inches; cut of runners, 16 feet; length of cockpit, 7 feet 6 inches; width, 3 feet 7 inches. Mast stepped 9 feet 6 inches aft of backbone tip. The rig is jib and mainsail; dimensions of jib, on stay, 12 feet; leech, 9 feet 9 inches; foot, 7 feet 3 inches; mainsail, hoist, 12 feet; gaff, 10 feet 3 inches; leech, 24 feet; boom, 18 feet. Sail area, 248.60. Such a craft as this can be built for about $200.
The ice yacht sailor will learn many things about sailing which he never learned from handling water craft. The sails are trimmed flat all the time in ice yacht sailing. There is no such thing as “going before the wind” with free sheet, in the manner familiar to water yachtsmen, for the excellent reason that no ice yacht will hold its direction sailing in this fashion, in wind of any considerable speed. The marvelous ease with which the craft is steered will amaze every yachtsman, especially those familiar with the hard helm of the average catboat. Many a beginner at the Ice Yachting game turns his tiller too sharply and finds himself flung off and sailing away over the smooth ice while his craft spins on her center. The ordinary way to stop the craft is to run up into the wind; sometimes the rudder is turned square across the direction after this position is attained, and a quick stop can thus be made, but it is a severe strain on the craft. Ice yachts are “anchored” by heading them into the wind, loosening the jib sheets and turning the rudder crosswise. Frequently passengers or crew are carried on the extreme cuter edges of the runner plank, and the sensation when this runner gradually rises in the air is thrilling indeed. It is not generally regarded as good sailing, however, to have the runners leave the ice much. It is much better and much safer for the amateur at the sport to learn something of the handling of the craft from experienced friends before he ventures abroad alone; there are immense boulders away up on the dry land of the Hudson’s shores which have been the lodging places of some fine new ice yachts that the tyro sailors could not even steer, much less stop.
The most interesting novelty in ice-yachting seen in recent years is the invention of Mr. William H. Stanbrough of Newburgh, N.Y., and consists of a cockpit which can be made to swing from side to side of the yacht, according to the point of sailing, etc. The cockpit rests on the runner plank and on a track, and is provided with wheels which permit it to run easily back and forth. The center of the cockpit is well forward, providing better distribution of weight and, by means of drums and cables, the steering is managed from a tiller post, much as the steering of the sailing canoe is done. The shifting of weight makes it possible to either keep the craft on three runners or to lift the windward runner in the air at will. The device has been tested for several seasons and is enthusiastically praised by those who have adopted it.
The greatest authority on ice yachting in America is the noted sportsman, Mr. Archibald Rogers, of Hyde Park, N.Y., whose interest in the sport is not confined to the handling of his famous ice yachts, among which the “Jack Frost” ranks first, but includes as well scientific researches as to materials for construction of the ice yacht, and whose amateur workshop and ice yacht house is a storehouse of information on the sport. The most successful builder of ice yachts is George Buckhout, Poughkeepsie, N.Y., builder of the famous successes, “Jack Frost,” owned by Mr. Archibald Rogers, and “Icicle,” Mr. John Roosevelt, owner, and many Western ice yachts.
THE GREAT SOUTH BAY “SCOOTER”
Valuable as is the ice yacht as a gift of America to the sport of the world, it is probable that the craft known as the “Scooter,” which originated on the waters of the Great South Bay, Long Island, N.Y., excels it in value, for already this unique inventions been taken up not merely by the sportsmen of the world but by hundreds of others whose requirements for sport and work the odd craft seems exactly to fill. Many lives have already been saved by the “scooter,” and its growing popularity wherever open water, which wholly or partly freezes, is found, indicates that it has an important future. The “scooter” may be properly classed among ice yachts, since it truly sails successfully over ice. But it does much more than this, for it will also sail in water, safely go from ice to open water and back again from open water to ice. There is no craft or machine, so far devised by man, so nearly similar to the amphibious wild duck, and the simplicity of the construction of the craft, as well as its ease handling, renders it more than ordinarily interesting and valuable to seekers after novelties in sport that are worth while.
The “scooter” is an evolution. It is a cross between the round-nosed spoon bottomed ducking boat rigged with sails and the old pioneer ice boat which was nothing more than a square box on iron runners. Some of the best “scooters” now in use on the Great South Bay were built by men who never did a stroke of boat building before. Some were built by boys. Anybody can build one, and the completed craft, sails and all, ought not to cost over $100. They are the safest, the most compact, the easiest stowed, the most durable, and the greatest sports furnishing toys for their cost and size which the winter loving folks of the world have so far been introduced to. Let’s get acquainted with them.
Imagine the bowls of two wooden spoons 15 feet long, with a width, or beam, of 4 to 5 feet. The upper wooden shell, which is the deck of the craft, is curved over from bow to stern and from one side to the other like the back of a turtle. The lower wooden shell is almost a duplicate of the upper one, which makes the craft almost flat bottomed. There is no keel or centerboard or opening of any kind on the bottom. There is a cockpit about 5 feet long and about 2 feet wide, around which runs a heavy combing 3 inches high and very solidly built. The runners of the craft are 20 inches apart, along 10 feet of the bottom, are slightly rocked, 1 inch wide and 1 1/2 inch high. They are of steel or brass, the latter allowing of quick sharpening for races or hard ice.
The mast, set well aft, is about 10 feet in height, and the handiest rig is jib and mainsail, the latter either with boom and gaff or sprit. A small boom for the foot of the jib is customary, and in the handling of this jib is the whole secret of steering and managing the craft. The bowsprit should be large and project about 3 feet beyond the hull. In many “scooters” the bowsprit is made removable so that larger ones may be substituted for changes in weather. The spread of sail in a “scooter” is lateral rather than high, and must be well astern since the canvas of the craft is all that is used to steer her, no rudder of any kind being used. A “scooter” of 10 foot mast will carry a mainsail having an 8 foot gaff and a 15 foot boom, with a leech of about 15 feet. The foot of the jib will be 7 feet and the leech the same, or slightly more.
The material used for the making of the “scooter” is generally pine and oak. Additional items of the equipment consist of a pike pole having sharpened ends and a pair of oars. Steering is done by a combination use of the jib, change in the location of the skipper or crew, and occasionally by the manipulation of the mainsail. By paying out the jib sheet and hauling in on the mainsheet, the “scooter” will come up into the wind like a fin keel water yacht; she will do this even more prettily if the weight of the skipper or crew is moved slightly forward, throwing weight on the forward part of the runners. Like an ice yacht, the “scooter” does not sail well before the wind; one must tack before the wind as well as into it. Two is the customary crew, although three are sometimes carried.
Open water must be dived into exactly straight or an upset will occur. Manipulation of the mainsail and jib is most important at this critical point of sailing. To climb up from the open water onto ice again is easier for the “scooter” than one would believe who has not seen it. The weight of the crew is shifted aft, there is a bit of helping with the sharp crook of the pike pole and off she goes over the smooth ice again.
The headquarters of the “scooter” interest is found in the vicinity of Patchogue, Long Island, N.Y., and the picturesque events run off there every winter draw thousands of New Yorkers. The most noted designer and builder of “scooters” is Henry V. Watkins of Bellport, N.Y., on the Great South Bay, and the patron saint of the quaint new sport is the noted sportsman, raconteur and host, Captain Bill Graham, of The Anchorage, Blue Point, Long Island. The seeker after something novel in winter entertainment is strongly urged to make the acquaintance of the new sport of “Scootering” as practiced here in Great South Bay, where the sport was born.
James A. Cruikshank was an expert on outdoors sports during the first half of the 20th century. Born in Scotland but spending most of his life in New York, he was the editor of The American Angler magazine, Field and Stream, and wrote numerous articles for a wide variety of other magazines and newspapers throughout his career, including the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. He also published at least three books: Spalding’s Winter Sports (1913, 1917), Canoeing and Camping (1915), and Figure Skating for Women (1921, 1922). He also contributed a chapter on artificial lures to The Basses: Freshwater and Marine (1905). In addition to his writing, Cruikshank was involved in public speaking, doing talks on outdoor sports sometimes illustrated by motion pictures. An avid photographer, Cruikshank’s photos often featured in his illustrated lectures, his articles, and his books, as he encouraged readers to take their own cameras out-of-doors. He had a home in the Catskills as well as a home and offices in New York City, and in the 1930s he helped found the Hudson River Yachting Association. At one point, he managed the Rockefeller Center ice skating rink, and another in Rye, NY. His wife Alice was also an avid camper and hiker, and they often traveled together. In 1909, Alice went “viral” in newspapers around the country by being the first person to blaze a trail between Mount Field and Mount Wiley in the White Mountains of New Hampshire (James brought up the rear). James and Alice eventually moved to Drexel, PA and were vacationing in Lake Placid in July of 1957 when James died unexpectedly at the age of 88.
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