What’s An Iceboat?


Ice boating or hardwater sailing as the sport is known, had its origins in the Netherlands during the eighteenth century. Goods were transported over the ice on boats fitted with sled runners. What began as work soon turned to play as iceboats sailed upwards of 100 mph, prior to the advent of the automobile and airplane.

By the mid 1800’s, the sport was firmly established in the United States, where it became popular with affluent sailors (among them the Rockefellers) who could afford to captain great ice-going yachts with 1,000 foot sails. During this period ice boating flourished on the Hudson and Delaware rivers as well as the Shrewsbury and Navesink Rivers near Red Bank, NJ.

ice·boat \-,bõt\ n 1: a skeleton boat or frame of runners propelled on ice usually by sails

The North Shrewsbury Iceboat Club was formed in 1880 and is one of the oldest clubs still in existence in the U.S. The club maintains its original clubhouse in Red Bank where even a visitor can get a hot cup of coffee or soup. The second floor is covered wall to wall with photos of regattas, ice yachts and the people who sailed them down through the years. The club’s safety committee determines when the ice is ready and maintains its own six-wheel amphibious rescue vehicle. An “ice line” enables ice-boaters to telephone for information on Regattas and conditions in Red Bank as well as Lake Hopatcong and Budd Lake, which is usually the first to freeze in New Jersey. At one point last year, Red Bank had the best ice in the northeast and sailors trailered and cartopped boats from as far away as Vermont and Ohio.

There are six different iceboat regattas in the tri-state area, which take place on a tentative rotation schedule. In a regatta or race, the upwind leg is first. The boats are set on a 45-degree angle, across a starting line that is perpendicular to the wind. Skippers each raise their hand when ready; the committee then counts down and throws the checkered flag. Shortly thereafter, the location where the skipper’s hand was raised becomes history! Any skipper not wearing a helmet is disqualified and removed from the race. Race rules are similar to the “rules of the road” with some minor adaptations.

Iceboats are classified on the basis of adherence to the specifications of “one design” or by the amount of sail area. Antique wooden ice yachts are typically “stern steers”, thirty to forty feet long with gaff rigged sails over 250 square feet. The fastest boats are called A-skeeters. These are one design, hold one person and carry 75 square feet of sail. Some have airplane-like flaps to damper down the wing when heeling and jet-like cockpit canopies. The Yankee class is next, a two-seater, one design boat. The DN (Detroit News) is the most popular one design boat in the U.S. and Europe. It has an opened cockpit and 60 square feet of sail area. I guess news travels quickly in Detroit. The DN’s can sail at speeds of over 60 mph!

In addition to organized clubs at Budd Lake and Lake Hopatcong, the New England Ice Yacht Association has chapters in six New England states. Like the Shrewsbury club, they have an ice “hotline” (can this be?), scheduled events, tune-up and learn to race clinics, as well as a newsletter for a membership fee at $10. Anyone can call the hotline at 617-767-2922 for a recorded message regarding current conditions and events. N.E.I.Y.A. sponsors the Spring Frolic at Lake Winnipesaukee, NH. Each year in March (one of three weekends). Skippers (in groups) sail a 25 mile distance from Wolfesboro to Center Harbor and back to receive the club’s “Hard Way” award. In addition, there are races and day sailing.


article: Bob Lipman