Patience Required at 1998 DN North Americans

The 1998 DN North Americans Championship required serious patience. Button Bay, Vermont held good ice but Saturday 2/14 was too windy and too cold. After waiting all morning and most of the afternoon on Sunday a couple of races got off. Sunday was one of those pristine late winter days with cold air but a strong sun. Winds were light but ice conditions were very good.

The fleet was divided up into a 34 boat Silver and 50 boat Gold fleet. The top six from the first Silver fleet race advanced to the Gold fleet. A total of five races were sailed on Sunday and nine more on Monday. A total of seven races for each fleet were completed. The Gold fleet winner was Greg Smith from Michigan. Bob Schumacher, Shelburne, took 24th out of the 50 boats. Other locals couldn’t make Monday’s racing so didn’t fair well. Complete Results.

Jeff Hill (pictured at right), Jack Millbank, Peter Hill, John Millbank, Paul Gervais, John Harlow and Don Brush were some of the locals that participated in the event that brought racers from as far away as Montana.There were other notables though, Ben Hall of Hall rigging and the Gougeon brothers. Some may know Andre Baby – soft water racer of Ptarmigan.

The course on Sunday had the starting area nearly in Westport. Quite a hike from Button Bay. The windward mark was ENE with only a few small obstacles dotting the course. Winds were light and shifty enough for the leaders to actually lap the back liers.

Monday’s wind was out of the south and light, less then 10 knots.

Ice boat racing is a sport that truly requires the right conditions. Not only must ice be thick enough. It has to be reasonably smooth and not covered with snow. Then you need wind, and not too much wind. Wind over twenty knots starts to get dangerous with boats flipping over and starting to break up. Needless to say ice boaters are nomadic. They have to be ready to travel to race regularly.

Iceboat Racing

by Dale Hyerstay, 2/18/98

Most local sailboat racers are nautical home-bodies – they do their racing only on Lake Champlain. After all, it is not easy to get a 5,000 -15,000 lb. boat and 5 to 8 crew to another place just for a race or two. True, some smaller boats can be trailered to regattas, but only a handful of racers do that. But there is one group of dedicated sailors who are truly the gypsies of the sailing world. They are the iceboaters.

Water is water. It may be salty or fresh, cold or warm, calm or stormy, but as long as it is not frozen, it is still just water, and if it is deep enough, and you have wind, you can race in it. It is not so simple for the iceboater. Ice can be too rough, too soft, too thin, too covered with snow, and if the ice is okay, the air temperature may be too frigid. Hence, iceboaters must be nomads. They seek the appropriate conditions, wherever that may take them. One week it may be Wisconsin, the next Ontario, or Michigan, or Nova Scotia, or who knows where. The telephone is a critical piece of equipment for these dedicated icefolks. It is not unusual for them to find out on a Thursday or Friday that a weekend race scheduled for Maine has been changed to Detroit, or Wisconsin, or wherever. So after their phones are hung up and the sandwiches are made, their cars are loaded, and off they go for long overnight drives to the next race.

The third weekend in March was one of those times. On Friday, March 13, over 90 competitors from 15 states and 2 provinces arrived at Button Bay State Park along with their boats and gear for four days of racing. Special racing. For this was the North American DN Championships, the most important regatta for these vagabonds of the hard water. It was originally scheduled to be held in Quebec, perhaps somewhere in the Montreal area or wherever the conditions were right. But, alas, they weren’t right anywhere there, and you know what that meant. Racers elsewhere checked out their own local conditions. Our Vermont DN racers checked out Lake Champlain. Once the decision was made, the phone calls went out, and to Button Bay they all came. The local hosts were Don Brush and Jeff Hill from Charlotte, Jack Milbank and Bob Schumacher from Shelburne, Paul Gervais from Colchester, and John Harlow from Milton.

The DN is the most popular iceboat in the world. In the late 1930s the Detroit News sponsored a contest for the design of a small, inexpensive, easily transportable, single-person craft. The winning design was named after the newspaper.

What is the allure of iceboat racing? The answer is simple: Speed. The DN weighs only 80-90 lbs. The hull of the boat is a narrow box-shaped section about 10 ft. long, just wide and deep enough to hold the racer, who reclines to reduce windage. The rear part of the hull is supported laterally on a slightly arched cross-member. At each end of the
cross-member is a steel runner about two feet long and about a quarter inch thick. A third runner is attached to the narrow front end of the hull and is used for steering. A single mast supports the fabric sail, which is shaped fairly flat for speed, like the wing of an F-16. With its light weight and low surface friction, the DN can attain speeds of 25 – 30 mph in light wind. In moderate wind this little demon can reach speeds in the low 50s.

Because of its speed, the DN needs a lot of room to race, hence the attraction of Lake Champlain. For these North American Championships, the races were run on a wide area of smooth clear ice between Button Bay on the Vermont shore and Barber Point on the NY shore.

But all was not simple, even here. On Friday it rained, and several spots of open water resulted. On Saturday the rains had stopped, the lake was again frozen smooth, but the wind was too high for these wispy craft. Sunday was gorgeously sunny, the ice was superb, but the wind in the morning was too light. By noon the breeze picked up and by sunset the fleet was able to get in three races. That doesn’t sound like many, but remember there were 90 boats out there. Finally, on Monday there was good wind all day and the group got in seven more races, enough to satisfy these determined competitors and to establish bragging rights for another week. As the sun set on Monday, the parking lot at Button Bay was emptying as 90 vehicles and their crew headed back to their scattered states and provinces, there to await the next phone call for the next race…wherever the ice is right.

Dale D. Hyerstay
1775 Dorset St.
Charlotte VT 05445