Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Wisconsin Bucket List: Ice Boating

I climbed into an iceboat for the first time more than 30 years ago. As a winter sport, it suited me perfectly - plenty of speed, but relative safety (thanks to protective gear and an incredibly skilled helmsman) - and throughout my years in Madison we ventured out onto Lake Mendota as often as the weather and ice would allow.

For those of you unfamiliar with ice boating (or more formally, ice yachting), a quick 411... Ice yachting is the sport of sailing and racing iceboats. An iceboat looks and operates like a sailboat, but with a trio of blades or runners positioned in a triangle like the three wheels of a tricycle and designed to traverse ice rather than cruise through water. Just like sailboats, iceboats depend on wind: more wind translates to faster sailing, both in water and on ice. The difference is that on the ice, boats experience less friction and less resistance and travel in a more pure direction (primarily just forward, rather than forward along with up and down and side to side) than they do in water. On a windy day, iceboats can travel up to 60 or 70 MPH.
She's a beauty, isn't she?
Because of those speeds, clothing to protect from the elements as well as safety gear - helmets, goggles, and ice picks - are mandatory. Ice picks, or the "picks of life" as I regularly call them, are worn around the neck and would allow someone to pull themselves back onto the ice should they end up in the water. I have never ended up in the water, but my dad and a friend of his have come close when the boat hit a dining room table-sized hole in the ice.

The iceboat - which belongs to my dad's best friend, Chuck - usually "goes in" in January, which means the four Ferri always miss out on the opportunity to ride during our holiday visits. This year, however, an early freeze meant the iceboat went in a few weeks earlier than usual and my boys finally got to cross ice boating off their Wisconsin Bucket List.
Tom and Chuck
Chuck and Will
Iceboats only work on hard ice, meaning the ice must be solid and smooth without any slush on top. The best ice forms when the temperature drops quickly and stays far below freezing for an extended period of time; this usually happens in January, but this year it happened in December.

The wind didn't exactly cooperate - steady wind makes for the best rides, and on that day it came only in gusts - but both Tom and Will had the opportunity to ride with Chuck behind the wheel. My dad estimated that Will's ride went the fastest at 30 or 35 MPH, which Will proclaimed "terrifying". (I would agree with Will's description; those speeds feel incredibly fast when you're hunkered down in the iceboat's tiny body with the bitter wind whipping you in the face.) Both he and Tom had a blast though, and I'm so grateful to my dad and Chuck for making sure my boys could have this unique and cool experience.

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