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Setting Sail on a Different Pair of Blades

To Greg McCormick, racing means gearing up for a weekend on the ice.

February 3, 2012
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Sailing World

Iceboating960

Greg McCormick races his Renegade on Wisconsin’s Lake Monona. MJ Carpenter

“When you get your first ride, you’re addicted,” says Greg McCormick, commodore of Four Lakes Ice Yacht Club in Madison, Wisc. McCormick’s father, Bill, introduced him to iceboating as a teenager, and he hasn’t stopped since. The fifth-generation iceboater plans to share the sport with his daughters, too.

Like many iceboaters, McCormick’s love of sailing began on “soft water.” But these days you’ll only find him on the frozen kind. He’s not simply biding his time on the ice until warm weather returns; he prefers it.

Four Lakes is one of the premiere iceboating clubs in the country, with a rich history that reaches back even before its incorporation in 1921. The club has a specific set of racing rules governing the competition, but McCormick admits that “rubbing is racing.” Yet despite the spirited nature of the competition, he says, “It doesn’t get too contentious out there.”

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According to McCormick, the atmosphere at an iceboating event is less formal than at a traditional regatta. You show up with your iceboat; the conditions are harsh; you suit up and go. “It’s pedal to the medal the whole way,” he says. “The racing is fast, and you need to make quick decisions.”

At times, it’s a lot like NASCAR. “After a race, a guy will run up and yell at another guy,” says McCormick. “A lot of the time, that’s how issues are solved. Sailors just talk to each other and work it out. There’s not much protesting.”

There’s a great deal of camaraderie in the group. It’s not just about the racing; the realities of iceboating tend to forge lasting friendships. “You can do a lot of waiting around [for good breeze], so there’s a lot of socializing,” says McCormick. “Iceboating is as much about building your boat as it is about sailing it. People display their hard work and new paint jobs. It’s an occasion to discuss and admire other people’s shop work.”

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Iceboating is also a solitary sport, says McCormick. Once he’s in his boat—he sails in the Renegade class—he’s on his own. “You’re really in the moment,” he says. “You’re the pilot, drifting and pioneering to new parts of the ice.”

The high speeds can be addicting. “There’s an adrenaline junkie trait in iceboaters,” says McCormick. “Experiences out there can feel larger than they actually are at that speed, lending themselves to tall tales.

“There really is something memorable about every time you go out,” he continues. “The sunset at the end of a day of sailing has an aura, a calmness. There’s something about the winter light on the ice. It creates a magical atmosphere.”

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