Photo: ClarkSail

ClarkSail reporter Willy Clark recently got his first shot at iceboating when he followed the New England Ice Yachting Association to Squam Lake, New Hampshire for the 2013 Doc Fellows regatta. After a day spent watch the runners go by one thing is clear – it takes a special type to be an iceboater. Below are some of Willy’s thoughts on the matter.

I have seen iceboats race a number of times before, but I never really thought much about it until my cousin and close sailing buddy Oliver Moore got hooked into the NEIYA a few winters back. I knew that they were absurdly fast, and I obviously thought they were extremely cool and exciting. However I must admit that I never really thought much about iceboating. This is the way it is for a lot of “soft water” sailors; they are aware of iceboating and that it’s very special in its own way. But that is about the extent of it, and after a day spent in and around the things I think I can explain why – it isn’t really like sailing.

After a few scratch races Oliver gave me the chance to take his DN for a spin. It was a new experience in every sense of the word. The first thing that jumped out to me as odd was that you can’t see the puffs coming. Ice doesn’t ripple the way that water does, so you have no warning of the puff. It’s just there all at once and you had better react fast. This makes it an even more intuitive sport than “conventional” sailing already is. You can’t see what is happening. Even your tell tails aren’t all that helpful. You just have to feel it.

The other thing that really got to me is that you can just stop. When you go for a sail even when you let out your sails and are just waiting around luffing you are still sailing. You don’t stop sailing until you are back on land. Ice boating isn’t like that. You can just get out whenever you want. If the wind gets to high or too low once can simply take the sail down and walk home, and the idea of doing that really gets in your head. Going for a sail in an ice boat really isn’t like spending an afternoon sailing. Yes that is the activity, but the fact that you can just stop for 15 minutes in the middle makes it very very different. It’s a hard thing to wrap ones head around.

During my brief spin in the DN I got hit by two very large puffs. The wind was extremely spotty that day at Squam Lake, with 15 knot gusts oscillating up to 45 degrees. The first one hit me and the boat took off so fast that I simply had to wuss out. I dropped the sheet and headed up until I felt under control again. However when I felt the second one hit I knew I had to put the bow down and see what it could do, so I gripped the sheet, held the tiller rock steady, and just hung on for 30 seconds of pure terror. It was very clear, after my heart had descended out of my throat, why people get into this – the speed is something else. Nothing can really compare to it. However it wasn’t just the speed that was different, the whole experience was totally unrelated to anything I had done in my whole life of sailing.

In the end iceboating is really more like surfing than sailing. That is the mentality that these guys seem to come at it with. Surfers get a call that the waves are good at a beach three hours away and they drop everything and are off. That’s the way it is with iceboaters. The regatta was supposed to be in Vermont but the ice is good in Green Bay? They’re off to Green Bay. That’s how it works. It is a water sport unlike any other. You just kind of go with it. The added variable of ice on top of wind makes it a difficult thing to organize, but that is just part of iceboating. You do it for the love of the sport and the love of the speed. It’s different and that’s all there is to it. Everything about it is individual. It’s not like the sailing you are used to.