Seeing an iceboat fly across the ice at more than 40 miles per hour is usually met with excited and amazed curiosity from bystanders: “Wow, how does that work?” they ask. “I’d love to experience that, but I don’t know how to sail” or most commonly, it’s, “Dang that’s cool, but I know I’ll never experience it.”
I grew up racing sailboats in the Midwest and competed on both coasts of the United States. However, from an early age, I knew I wanted to live and raise my family on a Midwestern lake: Weatherby Lake in Missouri is perfect mid-America, where I could raise my family surrounded by similar people, who would be my friends for life.
I accomplished my first goal when I married my wife, Lyn, in 1985. I found a house on Weatherby, knocking off goal No. 2. I was contemplating goal No. 3, having kids, when I stumbled upon a garage sale in the neighborhood. Bingo!I had always wanted an iceboat, and there sat an old, dust-covered light-blue DN needing repairs. Michael and Jan Gunn, who had purchased it used from Weatherby residents who built several in the 1960s, were excited to pass it on, as long as they made sure I knew what I was getting into. You know, the dangers and all.
I brought home the boat, stripped it down, made repairs and painted it white, knowing I could choose an appropriate color scheme and name later. Ice-boat season was upon us, and iceboating at Weatherby is very inconsistent. Competitors wait for thick ice, wind and no snow. We can go through a season without a single opportunity to race, so it’s paramount our boats are ready, day or night, workday or weekend. “The wind waits for no man,” my good friend Augie Grasis would always say.
During summer, we race and beat up on each other in other craft. But as soon as winter arrives, iceboating is the premier social event, with all different types of iceboats: homemades, DNs and Nites, usually surrounded by miscellaneous activities like ice bocce, ice golf, ice skating, ice camp-outs, ice fishing and even ice horseshoes.
In 1988, my white boat had its thrilling maiden voyage, and I was a welcome newcomer to the club. It left me wanting to share the experience with others. As luck would have it, some nonsailing friends, Faye and Dave Southard, from Knoxville, Tennessee, were considering a visit the following weekend.
I’d just finished another moonlit ice-boat run with Augie, and called Dave. “You’ve got to get here and try this!”
He agreed under one condition: “Don’t tell anyone it’s my first time.” True to my word, I didn’t tell anyone, but proudly cut and applied the name in black vinyl across the boat, 1st Time Dave.
Dave was a sport that day, grinning ear to ear, run after run, among our ice-born neighbors. After a successful day, I asked him to autograph the hull. He did so proudly, sparking an amazing tradition that would live on for more than 25 years. Even my wife, who once considered it “a barbaric sport,” wanted her name on the boat after Dave’s experience. She made her maiden voyage and signed 1st Time Dave. By the time our sons Seth and Blake were old enough to sail and sign, there were at least 50 signatures already. When newbies see the signature-covered boat, fears subside.
Sailing an iceboat is easy. Because it goes so fast, the wind is always on the nose. The instructions are simple: Sail between two spots (reach, reach), pull in the sheet to go fast, let it out to slow down. To stop, drag your feet and release the sail.The signatures, now in the hundreds, reflect countless 1st Time Dave stories: “I fell in the water” wrote Adam Stulman at age 8. Elderly Floyd Adams, a retired sailor, once took off down a cove, scaring all of us. Bob Mulhall forgot the feet-down stopping technique. Ron Knop wished we’d pulled the racing marks before the freeze. Eventually, the Seth and Blake years — filled with their friends sailing 1st Time Dave — put wear on the aging pine boat, while adding to its legacy. It became a challenge to repair and retain as many signatures with comments as possible.
I only wish a “permanent” marker were actually permanent. Our beloved DN is now mostly retired. We’ve had several iceboats, including the two-seater Nite, but 1st Time Dave was the one with a line, wanting to sail and sign. Most everyone in our community of 800 families has their own 1st Time Dave story, but whenever Dave Southard visits, he’s a folk hero. He’s the original 1st Time Dave.