Originally named, "Eugene," the ice yacht Vixen was built in 1886 in what is now Chelsea and was the first successful lateen-rigged ice boat. The new rigging style allowed for even greater speed. Purchased by John A. Roosevelt (FDR's uncle) and renamed Vixen, she can still be seen plying the Hudson whenever it gets cold enough to freeze.
John A. Roosevelt, who lived at Springwood, just down the river from his sister Sarah Roosevelt's home (now the Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site), owned a number of ice boats, including the Icicle, on display at the Hudson River Maritime Museum. John A. Roosevelt founded the Hudson River Ice Yacht Club in 1885, breaking away from the older Poughkeepsie Ice Yacht Club (founded in 1861) over a dispute about race results. John A. Roosevelt served as the club's first Commodore and his nephew Franklin served as Vice-Commodore for a time.
This brief video of Vixen sailing c. 2010 gives a first-hand look at what sailing the old stern-steerers is like.
By the 1920s, the Hudson River Ice Yacht Club had fallen into disuse. The old wooden stern-steerers like the Vixen began to be overshadowed in popularity by more modern, streamlined ice boats that looked more like rockets with sails than the old-fashioned kind. Innovations in speed and technology, centered around the Great Lakes in the Midwest, made the old wooden boats obsolete. The knowledge that many of the old stern-steerers, tucked away in garages and barns, were in danger of disappearing. But in 1964, a group led by Cornwall resident and ice boating enthusiast Ray Ruge revived the HRIYC and began rescuing and restoring these old boats.
The Hudson River Ice Yacht Club is still around today, although they get to sail a lot less frequently than they used to, thanks to climate change. You can read more about the formation of the club, and ice yachting on the Hudson River in general, in this article, "Two Centuries of Ice Yachting on the Hudson" by Brian Reid, published in the 2007 issue of the Pilot Log.
You can learn more about ice boating and see John A. Roosevelt's Icicle as well as the smaller ice boat Knickerbocker on display at the Hudson River Maritime Museum. The museum also holds the Ray Ruge Collection, including many photographs, articles, and correspondence related to the Hudson River Ice Yacht Club, its stern-steerers, and its members.
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This blog is written by Hudson River Maritime Museum staff, volunteers and guest contributors.
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