Ice Yachting Is a Rush Beyond Belief

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Paddle boarding may not be happening right now in the frozen north, but when the lakes and rivers are iced over, ice yachting, or ice boating, is an amazing way to get out and enjoy the thrill of sailing. The sport’s not new—it’s been around since the 1800s. In fact, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum has a picture of FDR himself out on the ice in an ice yacht.

Ice boats can travel at speeds up to five times the actual wind speed, with smaller class boats reaching 50-60 mph. Top-of-the-line Class A Skeeters (which can cost $60,000!) can fly along at over 100 mph. That must be why they are referred to as the “Formula One” class of ice boats.

If you can hit a frozen lake on a clear day after a rain, the frozen surface will be smooth as glass, and sailing across it will be as close to flying as you can get without leaving the ground.

Ice Boat Design

Ice boats are essentially a hull with a perpendicular plank underneath, which has a runner attached to each end. There is a third runner under the front of the hull, and a sail. It’s a simple design, but there is still a lot of room for modification.

If you look into ice yachting, you’ll see “DN” ice boats and championships listed. DN is the name of one of the six classes of boats. DN originally stood for “Detroit News,” and this is the most common type of ice yacht, and one of the more affordable. IT has a single, 60 square foot sail and weighs about a hundred pounds.

Stern steerers are the other end of the spectrum. They are much bigger, with 300 to over 600 square feet of sail area (and more than one sail), and are most like the original bigger yachts that the sport started out with.

The Skeeter is an open development class, with a maximum 75-square-foot sail area being its only restriction. This is where the big money is spent, and the big competitions are won, but it’s also where the major innovations to the sport happen.

There are several other classes, including Ice Optimist, which is a youth trainer. By the way, there are no brakes on these things; you stop by turning into the wind—or dragging your ice-cleat-clad boots on the ice.

Where to Try It Out

You can see a wide variety of the kind of boats used in the sport, and some expert sailing, at the Wisconsin Stern Steerers Association’s annual regatta in Madison.

If you get out to New York, the Hudson River Ice Yacht Club is a long-established resource, and has been known to offer free rides to newcomers.

To find more places, just do a Google search for the area you will be in during the winter, and chances are there will be a club or association that can hook you up.

What You Need to Know

Ice yachting is an amazing thrill, but like all adventure sports, it has its risks. You should always start out with a guide, or at least an experienced ice boater. Ice is never guaranteed to be safe, and especially with changing climate conditions and the resultant later freezing and warmer weather, it can be unpredictable. Boating clubs and associations post ice conditions, which should always be checked before heading out.

Self-rescue for falling in freezing water is different than any other situation. “Cold shock response” causes gasping and hyperventilating for one to three minutes. During that time, you must remain calm and keep your head above water, focusing on getting your breath under control, not getting out of the water. Kind of counter-intuitive when you are freezing!

To climb out of the water, it’s best to get back to where you fell in because you know that ice is solid. You won’t be able to pull yourself up like you would on the side of a pool, so you have to kick your feet to get horizontal at the water surface and then kick while you pull with your arms to slide up over the ice. Clearly, you always want someone with you who is trained in ice emergencies so you have the right kind of help in case you need it.

A Sport With International Appeal

Ice boating isn’t something that you can do a lot of unless you are willing to travel. The conditions have to be right, and since that includes thick ice, not much snow, and no hard drifts, the season is limited. In Wisconsin, ice boaters may only have two to four weekends a year when they can get out locally, or a dozen if they can do some travelling.

On the other hand, for those who can travel afar, ice yachting is enjoyed all across the northern US, Canada, Europe and Russia. If speed is your thing, you’ve got to give it a shot!

Have you ever had the chance to go ice yachting? Tell us what it was like!

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Stephan Aarstol is an American internet entrepreneur and author of the book The Five Hour Workday, which is based on Tower Paddle Boards' invention of the 5-hour workday in 2015 that would eventually spread the idea to over 10 million people worldwide. Since founding Tower in 2010, it has gone on to become one of America's fastest growing companies and Mark Cuban's best investment in the history of Shark Tank. Tower has diversified into a direct to consumer electric bike company called Tower Electric Bikes, a beachfront event venue called Tower Beach Club, and, where consumers can shop all the world's finest direct to consumer brands from one easy place.