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Ice Boating: On the Fringe

"Rounding that windward mark and cracking off an inch, you feel like you get shot out of a cannon."

July 8, 2014
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Soft-water sailors have their own challenges, whether it’s no wind or too much wind. Either way, the only recourse is to loiter onshore and wait. For hard-water sailors, however, when conditions fail, the hunt for good ice begins. So it was for the most committed DN sailors at the class’s North American championship in January, who proved once more that there’s no highway too long or snowdrift too deep to stop them from getting their premier regatta underway. With a series of unfortunate snowfalls, the regatta relocated from central Illinois to Montreal, which was also a bust. From north of the border it then moved to the New York shoreline of Lake Champlain.

“There can be a lot of driving,” says organizer Julie Jankowski, “but there’s a reason people travel across the country and even from Europe for a few 15-minute races.”

To enable competitors to schedule time off and plan travel, DN class bylaws require the regatta held over a predetermined week each year, from Sunday to Saturday. “The hope is we can finish up earlier in the week,” says Jankowski, “but some years we can’t even get a race in. We might spend the whole time looking for the right conditions.”

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Come race week, DN sailors prepare for what can often be a week long road trip—iceboat in tow—to a usually unknown locale. “If you want to understand why such a poor ratio of sailing time to effort is worth it, think America’s Cup,” says Chicago sailor Bill Mintz. “Rounding that windward mark and cracking off an inch, you feel like you get shot out of a cannon.”

The eight-foot craft is about 20 percent faster than an AC72, only costs a couple hundred dollars, and requires just one crew.

When the North Americans commenced, competitors gathered at Senachwine Lake, in central Illinois, and prayed for the ideal plate of glassy black ice. What looked like a promising venue the week before turned into a two-mile snowdrift by race day.

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So the circus was off and packing to the secondary location: Montreal. “It wasn’t bad for me,” says Mintz. “Driving from Chicago was only a couple hours, but up to Montreal was 15. After they called off Illinois, I stayed with friends in Cleveland to wait for the go-ahead or to start heading somewhere else.”

“When we couldn’t sail in Illinois, most of my staff and even our PRO weren’t willing to make the longer trek,” says Jankowski, “but Bob Schumacher stepped up and sacrificed his own racing to run the series on Lake Champlain.”

Schumacher, a 35-year DN veteran and a Vermont resident, saved the day by playing PRO for the regatta. “The class is always really good at making it happen, especially the guys who have been around for a while,” says Schumacher. “This year it was a long drive to end up 40 miles from my house.”

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This article first appeared as “Ice Chasers” in the May/June 2014 issue of Sailing World.

Ice Boat Regatta 2014
DN sailors endured two venue changes and hundreds of miles of driving to reach Plattsburg, N.Y., for their North American championship. Joanne Kennedy
DN Ice Boat Regatta 2014
Joanne Kennedy
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