>>>Five times faster than the wind

Five times faster than the wind

Adapting to the rigours of the wind. That was the origin of the ice boats, converted as a means of enjoying one of the fastest winter sports that exists.
T
he paintings of Hendrick Avercamp capture the Dutch adapting to the cold and ice in the 17th century. With their lakes, rivers and canals all frozen over, they thought up a way to adapt their boats to the new conditions: no waves, but very slippery surface. They designed blades that were fitted under the hulls of their boats. In this way, they were able to transport people and goods over the frozen waters. Fishermen adopted the system to guarantee food in the cold months of the year. The Dutch emigrants to America took the technique with them to the New World, and so the ice boat was introduced throughout North America.
Regattas have their dangers. The use of a helmet is essential.

Famous ice boat Masters

The first recreational ice boat dates to 1790, although it was 1860 before the sport became popular. It was taken up by the very wealthy in the northern lakes of the USA. John A. Roosevelt, uncle of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was the precursor of The Hudson River Ice Yacht Club.

What was created out of necessity has developed with time into a sport that challenges the wind, our sense of balance, and engineering. In competition, ice boats have reached speeds five times that of the wind. The most powerful class, the A Skeeter, reaches speeds of over 160 kilometres per hour. In The Four Lakes Ice Yacht Club (Madison, USA), they explain that these speeds are possible because of the low friction between the runner blades and the ice, as well as the design of the sail, which acts as a vertical wing. For over 100 years, this Wisconsin club has been constructing ice boats for competitions – and for enjoyment. Every Wednesday of the season, an open day is held to welcome those who want to try out sailing on ice. Special two-seater ice boats are used for the novices.
The DN class of ice boat is the most popular. The initials DN are taken from the newspaper Detroit News that sponsored a competition to design an ice boat. This was in the thirties, when ease of construction and ease of transport were the priorities. With an overall length of 3.6 metres and a sail of 5.6 metres, the DN is capable of travelling at 90 kph. A rod is used to control the three blades (one forward, two aft). The boat does not have brakes, and must be turned into the headwind to slow down. The DN class is the type raced in the International DN Yacht Ice Racing Association Regatta, organised by the Kingston Yacht Club in Canada. 100 boats took part in the last regatta. Along with the Madison Regatta, other popular races in the USA are those held in Great Lakes (New Hampshire), Wisconsin, and Western Lakes. For DN Junior class and children’s Ice-Optimist class, competitions are staged regularly on Lake Baikal in Russia.
Worldwide, some 10,000 DN class ice boats are registered.

Breaking the ice

Not all frozen lakes can be navigated in ice boats. Following a heavy snowfall, navigation has to wait for the snow to melt and then freeze up again. Black ice provides optimum conditions: glassy, soft and snow-free.

From the likes of the Skeeter or DN boats, lighter models have been developed. A simple seat, and instead of a yacht sail, a windsurf sail. These lighter models as well as the kitesurf are now used over frozen waters. With runner blades fitted under the surf or kite board, they reach speeds that would freeze the blood of anyone. At the Ice and Snow Surfing World Championships held at the beginning of the year on Lake Vörtsjärv (Estonia), Felix Kersten reached 93.81 kmh at the kite controls of his kitesurf. At this speed, Avercamp would have been hard pressed to capture the scene on his canvas.
Regatta with Madison City in the background.

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