Ice boats are powered only by the wind against the sail producing lift just as any softwater sail boat. This is the same lift produced by an airplane wing however is in the horizontal direction rather than vertical lift of the aircraft wing. The boat rests on three steel runners which unlike a skate are ground to a sharp point where the runner meets the ice. This sharp edge actually melts a minute area beneath the blade which creates a small near frictionless water surface on the ice. This melting action accounts for the great speeds obtainable by an ice boat which are easily several times the speed of the wind depending on the boat and ice conditions. Once the boat starts moving the apparent wind moves forward very quickly and remains there even when going down wind. An ice boat is capable of accelerating very quickly doubling or tripling its speed in only a few boat lengths. This great speed and acceleration combined with the fact that the iceboat sits just inches above the rock hard ice makes for a wild exhilarating ride experience. Modern, state-of-the-art iceboats travel well over one hundred miles per hour with the speed record, although unable to be reliably verified is somewhere around the one hundred fifty mark... that ought to get your adrenaline pumping!
The modern design has the steering runner in the front of a narrow streamlined hull resting on a runner plank. There are several current boat designs with some variation which cruise the local hard water. The smallest is a factory produced metal tube framed 9' Skimmer 45. The brave sailor sits in a canvas sling under 45 sq. feet of sail. The most popular type is the International DN. These are generally home built wood boats 12' long with an 8' runner plank under 60 sq. ft. of sail on a 16' mast. The all up weight is 140 lbs. and is easily car topable. There are approximately 5,000 sailing world wide with about 1,000 members in the International DN Ice Yacht Association.
The Arrow was developed in 1965 and commercially manufactured with a fiberglass hull, aluminum spars and 80 sq. ft. of sail. The fastest design is that with the hull extended forward by the addition of a flexible board on which the steering runner is located.
There are a number of variations of this spring board design categorized here as Skeeters. The Skeeter represents the state of the art in top speed and expense. The top boats are 30' long with a 24' mast and 19' runner plank weighing in at about 450 lbs.These boats can cost as much as $30,000.
The local fleet sailing on Presque Isle Bay, Erie, Pa. is comprised of approximately 60 boats of various designs with actual participation in the last club regatta at 43. The fleet is comprised of 25 DN'S, 10 Arrows, 5 Skeeters, 9 Stern steerers , 2 Skimmers plus other assorted varieties. Any winter weekend with good ice will produce a large number of boaters crusing and some informal group racing. Of course, any time there are two boats in reasonable proximity of each other, a race will instantly materialize!
Ice boating began back in the mid 1600's by necessity when an enterprising boater rigged some skates attached to a plank to his softwater boat to get his meat to the market on the frozen canals and harbors of Amsterdam. This simple iceboat was no doubt steered by adding a blade to the rear rudder. The design of craft improved and the concept moved to North America along with the Dutch settlers who landed along the Hudson River in the late 1700's. Worldwide, iceboating remained the fastest mode of transportation until the airplane was invented in 1903. Boat designs evolved from these stern steering boats to today's highly engineered front steering models made of light weight composites and synthetics. There is photo evidence of early iceboating in Erie, in the late 1800's and racing in the 1890's with Hudson River stern steer type boats. Two notable circa 1900 boats in the fleet are SNIPE built in 1900 for Annie Strong and ZERO built in 1938. Among the others there are several beautiful newly constructed boats of this design owned by David Bierig, Bob Arlet, Dave Forsman and Chris Bloomstine.
Conditions & Contacts
For local boat and fleet information or ice conditions contact: