The North Shrewsbury Ice Boat & Yacht Club is the longest standing active iceboat club in the world that has its own club house. Organized in 1880 and renowned throughout the world, people come from all over just to see the living history displayed through memorabilia and photos.
Iceboating can be traced to the mid 1600’s in Holland where boats were used for work purposes during the freezing months of the winter. Complete soft water boats were supported on a cross beam of wood amid ships and a rudder was extended to the ice. The cross beam and rudder had a medal blade on the bottom which made contact with the ice and enabled it to slide. Power was provided by sails. Transportation was easy as long as the wind was blowing. Pleasure sailing also took place.
This tradition came to America along with the Dutch settlers into the Hudson River Valley of New Amsterdam in the 1700’s and was primarily a means for merchants to survive during the harsh winters. Iceboating then spread to the Red Bank, N. J. area and also westward through Ohio into Wisconsin and Michigan then up to Canada
Sometime around 1768, the first iceboat plans were drawn up and published in Chapman’s Architectura Navalis Mercatoria. The plans were the same as the Holland boats. The first iceboat or yacht that was built in the United States was built by plans drawn up by H.P. Ashley approximately 1790. The boat was built by Oliver Booth at Poughkeepsie, N.Y. on the Hudson River.
This boat was built as a rectangle box out of wood with a runner of steel attached to each corner with a tiller in the middle of the rear of the box. The sailor sat in side the box with his crew. A mast with a sail boom and gaff rig was placed in the box. The boat sailed well on the Hudson River.
This design was improved upon in 1856 as the desire for speed pushed sailors to experiment with different things. One of these was to improve the main hull from a box to a skeleton type with a cockpit in the rear. This made it appear to be like a cross bow or kite frame. It was lighter and stronger and with less wind resistance. These iceboats were large and built of the finest wood available from the local woodlands. The sport of racing was the direct result of this improvement.
This type of boat was built in our Red Bank area around the 1860’s when iceboating had started on the Navesink River. It was a crude sailing vessel but served its purpose. It started as a lateen rig sail which is just a triangle and then later went to the boom and gaff rig, also a triangle sail with a jib.
The iceboat designs of the late 1880’s were the most beautiful of all. Money was no object to the extreme wealthy industrialists of New York. The sport truly was in its prime at that time around the turn of the century. The speeds were up and more improvements came as a result of many designers coming from soft water America’s Cup racing. These big boats often sailed down the Hudson River against the Empire State Line steam engines that were the fastest machines at the time. The iceboats won the race and became the fastest form of transportation. They also raced these boats against the Red Bank iceboats in the Challenge Pennant Races of America, drawing large amounts of spectators. Large ice carnivals were also held during this time by the club and continued into the early 1900’s.
The scene on the river was just like out of the Currier and Ives classic times. Skaters and iceboats surrounded by people dressed in the period cloths all with a back drop of the classis side-wheeler ferry boats at the docks at the Marine Park and brass cars in the club house grounds.
During the 1880’s the mast was moved from over the runner plank (cross beam) to in front of the runner plank and performance increased. This made the boat drive better to windward but off the wind the boat would often spin out (flicker) badly and throw the sailor off and into harms way. This lead to the development of the idea of switching the steering runner to the front and making the boat a front steerer. This switch occurred in Red Bank approximately 1906 but did not catch on and was abandoned until the 1930’s when the western boats were designed as front steerers.
This was the way to go from here on out for speed and performance. I may explain this switch was thought of first on our North Shrewsbury River with a boat named the Typhoon by a sailor from our club by the name of Miltenberger. Also a major improvement to the runners was made by improving the type of steel used and how affixed to the wood stocks.
Also the more modern Marconi rig sail was first put on an iceboat called the Pick-up from our club, which proved successful. This is a much taller mast rig that was being used on America’s Cup boats. It revolutionized the A Class stern steerers as they could point into the wind better than the boom and gaff rigged boats. Approximately six of these big boats were made during the 30’s and raced.
The front steering took one danger away but replaced it with another. That being the aspect of capsizing over end to end allowing the craft to fall on to the sailor or slamming him into the ice. Not too good either way which usually resulted in injuries.
However, what it did do was to make iceboats more affordable, lighter and more transportable hence allowing the sport to become larger and more worldwide. Iceboating is truly a sport that is participated in around the globe especially above the 14th parallel in the U. S. and above the 15th parallel in Europe. This northern area across the globe was considered the belt of iceboating.
The area in the U.S., especially Wisconsin and Michigan, were prime sites to iceboat. Also Canada had great iceboating. Red Bank, N.J. was one of the best in the East and the site of many championship races at the turn of the century well into the 1930’s. It is still an active site and well respected for its location, club house and race course. Racing still goes on today every year with great competition from other clubs.
Those countries in Europe that are located in that belt are Northern France, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Denmark, Poland, Russia, Norway, Finland, Sweden and Northern Japan. International competition is held every year; this competition is with the class of iceboat called the DN. This boat is the smallest and most competitive and easiest to transport. They will be described in a later section in text.
A front steering boat design was called a beau-skeeter at first. It outraced the stern steerers with a fraction of the sail that was used on the big boats. Thus the old adage of bigger and heavier was faster this now became smaller and lighter was faster, easier to build, store, transport and own. This boat was built in William Bay, Wisconsin by Walter Beauvois. It was 13 feet long, 9 foot wide, and carried 75 sq. ft. of sail, and was the fastest class at that time and still is at some 30 ft. in length today. This lead to the fastest of the iceboats called the skeeter that is raced today.
In the middle 30’s, the Palmer Boat Company introduced the first factory made iceboat that was 18 ft. long by 12 ft. wide. A second builder was Ted Mead in 1938 and his boat could seat two people. This boat was also called a skeeter. One sailor sat in front of the other.
The Yankee class was also designed that was of the same dimensions but was a boat that sat both sailors side by side. It was a one design boat with a lot of rules as the skeeter itself had only one rule that was the sail area would only be a minimum of 75 sq. ft. The Yankee also carried that sail area but due to its weight was slower. It was first introduced in the East by Ray Ruge of the Hudson River Club. Also Homer Sieder of Maryland was a great designer in the East.
The DN class that was mentioned above was designed in a newspaper contest by the Detroit News in 1937 by their staff as a way to increase sales, and to stimulate interest in the sport of iceboating. The boat was 12 ft. long by 8 ft. wide and carried 60 sq. ft. of sail and could only carry one sailor at approximately 60 mph. It was an instant success and could be built by anyone who had the plans. Thousands and thousands were made and sailed to make it the most popular boat of all time. It is sailed all over the world. Great competition and performance was afforded the sailor who was brave enough to sail it. The boat had rules on design but over time modern refinement and technology had made it the best buy for the money.
The Renegade Iceboat was designed in 1947 and carried 67 sq. ft. of sail, had many design features of the skeeter, and was a powerful racing boat. The boat was made out of wood and was very compact and light. Most of the wood was Sitka Spruce used in aircraft production.
In 1965 the class boat, Arrow, was designed. It was a two seat boat side by side made of fiberglass, was very strong and could by sailed in heavy air and needed no maintenance. It incorporated an aluminum mast and carried approximately 65 sq. ft. of sail. It is very competitive and fast.
Other boats designed after this boat were very close to that design. They include the Viking, Nite and the Renagade. There are several areas of interest throughout the U. S. The Renagade was the biggest out West in the Wisconsin, Michigan area. Many other smaller designs also came in the 80’s which include the skimmer and the J-14, J-18 boats that are still trying to catch on. All these boats had a spring board out the bow to elongate the base and make it a smoother rise and handle better.
Iceboating is neither solely an amateur sport not sailed professionally nor a collegiate sport. It has been thought to be some day considered for the Olympics. It almost became one in the last games that were in Japan. As with this sport three things need to be available. Clear ice no snow cover, cold temperature and wind. This is hard to come by in a short time close to the games. If it were to be an Olympic game it would by sailed with the DNs.
One boat the has had an impact on lifesaving and had evolved to a race boat is the Great South Bay Scooter of Long Island, New York. This boat is truly a boat with no fuselage or skeleton type body. The boat was made out of wood and carried 80 sq. ft. of sail. It was approximately 20 feet long. It can actually float when the ice breaks. These boats have a steel runner band (3) under the boat that makes it slide on the ice and the sailors usually two of them stand on the deck. The hold onto the mast and shift their weight from side to side to steer it along with the sail on the boom going from side to side. They used these boats for rescue of fisherman with the lifesaving service. Very unique and exciting to see race. This boat was designed in the 1930’s.
Fundamentals of design as follows to make it easier to see classes.
Stern steerers class “A” Class broken down to 3 subclasses. Sail rig sloop, boom and gaff, lateen and Marconi were types used over the years. The breakdown of classes were as follows:
Class 1 – 600 sq. ft. of sail area and over – 50 ft. long. Possibly 1000 sq. ft. of sail.
Class 2 – 450 sq. ft. of sail – 40 ft. long.
Class 3 (3rd class) – 350 sq. ft. of sail – most popular – 30 ft. long.
Class X – 250-350 sq. ft. of sail – 28 ft. long.
Class B – 200-250 sq. ft. of sail – 26 ft. long.
Class C – 175 sq. ft. of sail – 22 ft. long – large number of these boats were made.
Class D – 125 sq. ft. of sail – 16 ft. long.
Class E or Mosquito class – under 125 sq. ft. of sail – 12 ft. long.
Front steerers are as follows:
Skeeter broken down into sub classes
A class 75 sq. ft. of sail – the unlimited and fastest class no rules except sail area aerodynamic fuselages cockpits covered, jet canopies – made of wood or fiberglass and composites. All technology advancements for speed. Front cockpit and rear cockpit speeds as high as 100 mph possible.
B class – Yankee boat two seater side by side. Slower boat always sailed with only one sailor in competition
C class skeeter. Small fuselage but light. Can be very competitive but less desirable than other two skeeters.
E skeeter all the smaller boats such as the Renegade, Nite, and Viking
Arrow is also in this category
DN is top flight boat with most numbers word wide.
The racing capital for iceboating is Red Bank, N.J. The town’s logo is the iceboat and it is even placed in decorative bricks in the center of town. In 1880, eight merchants /sailors created the club for racing.
The river really made the town flourish and attracted people to it all vehicles of municipal use carry the logo of the iceboat on them. An ice boat is put on display every holiday season in the park with lights. To bring attention to the river with ice boat season approaching.
Many Third Class Championships have been sailed here as well as Challenge Pennants with other clubs such as Long Branch N.J. on the South Shrewsbury River, as well as the New York Hudson River Club.
The Van Nostrand Challenge Cub, worth more than the America Cup has been won by our Club 3 times since its conception in 1886. This is considered the highest stern steerer prize of all. It has been in our possession its entire life. The race was first sailed in N.Y., then in Red Bank in1978, and again in 2004. Much media coverage is made concerning this race.
Thomas Edison has made early movies of iceboating at our club at the turn of the century and they are in the Smithsonian institute. Movies taken during 1900-1910 depict the area with all its excitement.
Our Club has stood the test of time since 1880. The beautiful Navesink River or as it is called the North Shrewsbury River is the most beautiful river in the U S. It has been the home of much racing both hard and soft water and powerboat racing as well as the recreational boating for the last century celebrating this in 2008 with a display of boats at Marine Park overlooking the race course. One of the boats on display had been one of the biggest and finest boats to sail on the river.
This boat was taken off the ice in the 1920’s and placed outside the club to die. Some of the boat was kept under the club to be preserved just in case we were ever challenged to race another big boat in the Van Nostrand Race. The Boat is called the Rocket and is 50’ feet long 30 ft. wide and a sail area of 900 sq. ft. Its’ weight is about 2500 lbs with a crew of two or three. Two other boats of this size remain intact today. The John Roosevelt boat, the Icicle of the Hudson River and the Jack Frost of the Archibald Rodgers family of the Hudson River Club. The Jack Frost had been restored in 1975 by their club and actively sailed today. The Icicle has been the property of the federal government and on display at the Hyde Park Museum Roosevelt home. Until it was loaned to the Hudson River Club and stored at the Maritime Museum at Kingston, N. Y. on the Hudson River. All three boats should be on the ice in 2009 season. The Icicle is in the custody of the Hudson River Club also and will be sailed in its original state of preservation.
The Rocket is a monster of the mid-way and will be actively raced and displayed for the general public she is a sight to behold. It had to be completely rebuilt by making a new keel main beam and new spars, rigging, sail and still retaining the original runner plank and cockpit. It was a club effort by the members who started the Rocket Foundation to finance the project. This boat brings the total of 3 boats of this type in the East. There are a few more in the west including some more of modern design. Other big races for these boats would be the Stuart Cup in Wisconsin and the Hearst Cup there also. These cups have been in competition since inception 100 years ago.
Races are sailed on a 1 mile to 2 mile course on windward, leeward marks. That is 3 to 5 laps both upwind and down wind Safety rules are in place to sail by. They cover all scenarios of racing as to which boat has the right away and just how to start and finish a race. All races are covered by club personnel to make sure accidents do not occur. Safety gear is used by the sailors which include spiked, bear claws, and helmets. Cold water survival safety courses also given Rescue wheeled craft for rescue are used. Iceboat rules are National Iceboat Association Rules. There are rules for international competition also.
There are Eastern, Western, North American Championships as well as World Championships. These are usually for DNs but also for Skeeters. Club racing makes up the most races and point championships are determined. Pleasure sailing also plays a big part. Approximately 25,000 people enjoy iceboating over an estimated 2000 sites to sail on.
The sport is one of the most exhilarating sports on the planet. It is not for the fool hardy but when you are given a chance to take a ride on a boat you better take it. It will be something you will remember for an entire lifetime.
Visit our Club to be taken back in time to see just what it was like at the turn of the century when times were simpler. Don’t forget. People did not work much in those days during the winter months so they had a lot of time on their hand for relaxation and creativity. Iceboating was an avenue for people to spend time together with a common goal to go fast with the wind.
Many ice boat associations were formed with much help from our club. Most notable was the DN Association. The International Skeeter Association is another as well as the EIYA (Eastern Ice Yacht Association). Our club has been instrumental in the organization of the International DN Association and EIYA.
Our sailors have gone onto be championship caliber sailors at U. S. and International DN championships. We have one sailor, Dan Clapp who has revolutionized the skeeter class with his advanced designs and has set the bar in competition wining an unprecedented 7 world skeeter championships. Other sailors in the DN class have been in the top ranks for a long time.
Our DN sailors have been a force to be reckoned with since the 60’s.
The North Shrewsbury Ice Boat and Yacht Club has been to ice boating a landmark in both design and performance and along with the oldest club house been basically the grand old lady of the sport of iceboating. The impact to the people who have ever participated, or observed this sport has been great. The friendships and memories are never-ending. The romance of the river has been a century in the making and has made iceboating addictive to anyone who comes into contact with it. This North Shrewsbury Ice Boat and Yacht Club must be preserved for future generations.
–Greg Strand (2009)