Press-Republican

January 23, 2014

Ice yachts find sailable ice on Lake Champlain

By KIM SMITH DEDAM
Press-Republican

CHAZY — An ongoing search for sailable ice has landed a major ice yacht competition on Monty’s Bay.

The Lake Champlain ice in the Town of Chazy has proved perfect for 2014 DN North American Championship races that have migrated east.

First scheduled for Senachwine Lake near Putnam, Ill., for last Saturday, the races were snowed out and relocated to Montreal last Sunday. But snow canceled the Quebec competition as well, and the race was on to find a suitable frozen sheet of lake.

NATIVE SUGGESTED SITE

Louise Racine, originally from Plattsburgh, competes on the winter circuit.

A member of the New England Ice Yacht Association, she was visiting family here and went looking for a frozen cove.

“I was like, geesh, let me see what’s out here,” she told the Press-Republican on Wednesday.

They found “regatta quality” ice in Monty’s Bay, after searching and testing other locations, including Cumberland Bay in Plattsburgh.

“The local businesses and Gilbert Brook Marina are really great, giving us access at the marina and places to park,” Racine said.

TIME TENTATIVE

And so wind and weather is blowing some 50 or 60 ice-yacht sailors into town. Registration is tonight at the Holiday Inn in Plattsburgh. 

The racing committee will establish the course, race rules and the final time for competition contingent on weather.

Racine said they were looking to start the Thursday races between 11 a.m. and noon.

But if frigid cold persists, organizers will move the event’s start to Friday, when air temperatures might improve, Racine said.

WORLD-CLASS RACERS

The competition will field seven races altogether, according to a format set by the International DN Ice Yacht Racing Association, drawing some heavy competition from New England, Midwestern and Canadian ice-yachting athletes.

“The real all-stars — and there are some folks who have gone to the World’s (Ice Yacht Competition) — are here,” Racine said Wednesday.

‘WONDERFUL RUSH’

The event itself is not unlike sailing, only the kite-shaped frames of the vessels are long and narrow, with steel outriggers that steady the boat’s speedy passage.

“Instead of soft water, we sail on hard water,” Racine explained. “We sail them much like a sailboat, only you lay down flat and hold your head up and go about 60 to 70 miles per hour. It is a wonderful adrenaline rush.”

The sailors manage their sails while lying prone on their backs, maneuvering a tiller set between their knees.

Called “yachts,” ice boats weigh about 50 pounds.

The yacht is not unlike a luge sled, Racine said, only longer and guided by a sail.

WHERE TO WATCH

The “DN” defining this particular type of ice boat dates back to boats designed in a competition organized by the Detroit News at the turn of the 20th century, Racine related.

Ice boats generally don’t compete in sub-zero temperatures, which is why changing weather will determine whether the competition goes on Thursday or Friday.

People can watch from the Lake Champlain shoreline along Lake Shore Road in at Gilbert Brook Marina, Racine said.

“You can also come out and stand on the ice and watch. But you have to bundle up.”

Folks from Long Island, Maine, Quebec and Nova Scotia, among other places, are arriving in the North Country for the race. Altogether, about 50 to 60 ice yachts are expected to compete.

‘WICKED’ SPEED

James “T” Thieler, from Newport, R.I., is a commodore with the New England Ice Yacht Association. He has tracked the progress of the race as it moved east in search of good ice.

He is ranked fourth among ice-yachting competitors, Racine said.

In updates online, Thieler said they tested Monty’s Bay in 0-degree Fahrenheit weather and found it “do-able.”

In an open call for racers earlier this week, he said they had no problem “getting wicked up to full speed” on a frozen Lake Champlain.

“If you have a DN, get your tail in gear and come do the regatta! This is a great chance to be involved in a unique one. And to celebrate the 60th birthday of this event!” Thieler posted to competitors.

Email Kim Smith Dedam:kdedam@pressrepublican.com

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ICE REGATTA UPDATES

Official updates on the event are being posted online at ice.idniyra.org/hotline.

And corresponding updates are online at the New England Ice Yacht Association at: theneiya.org.