AP NEWS

You can race ice boats on frozen Lake Erie

January 31, 2019

You can race ice boats on frozen Lake Erie

TOLEDO, Ohio – On an ice boat, you can speed across the expanse of Lake Erie at 60, 70 mph.

“Winter is the best sailing,” said Les Lashaway, a Toledoan who grew up ice boating, like his father and grandfather before him. “You have to take advantage of that when you can.”

Lashaway, 65, is commodore of the Toledo Ice Yacht Club, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year and hosting Winterfest this weekend.

Ice boating, or ice yachting, dates to the 17th century in Europe. In 1790, the first American ice boat appeared on the Hudson River. And in Ohio, Lashaway says, men began racing ice boats on Lake Erie in the late 1800s.

An ice boat may look like a sail boat. And many ice boaters also sail. You can jibe and tack an iceboat, to change direction. And in racing, you go around a mark, as you do in sailing. But the boats themselves are totally different.

Iceboats are more like an airplane on its side, with a thick, taut sail you only let out if you’re going around a corner, Lashaway said.

Rather than a wide hull to sit inside, an ice boat has a slender steel hull and a perpendicular cross piece called a runner plank. The boat has three skates (or runners), one at each end of the plank and at the front of the hull. Older boats have steering in the stern, or rear, of the boat. Newer boats steer from the bow.

The most popular, and one of the smallest, types of ice boats is the DN, named for the Detroit News, which in 1937 sponsored an iceboat building contest. There are DN races throughout the United States and Europe.

“They’re completely awesome little crafts,” Lashaway said. “You can make these things real real fast. They go so fast you never go downwind.”

Ice boating is popular in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Sandusky has an ice yacht club, too.

Iceboats need snow-free, smooth ice – plus plenty of wind to move. RocktheLake is headed to Toledo Friday to try out the sport.

You never know when and where you’ll get perfect ice. So while ice regattas are scheduled for specific dates, they may be pushed back week by week. You may not know the location of a regatta until a few days before.

“Three days before, they start scouting the country for the best ice,” Lashaway said. “You just don’t know. You’re ready to travel. You get your credit card empty and be ready to go.”

Thankfully, ice boats can travel atop your car.

The Toledo Ice Yacht Club – formed when four ice yacht clubs combined in 1919 – meets regularly, though, Friday nights from November through March. When the Maumee Bay is ice over, like it is this year, like this year, about 75 people come out to hear the plans for that weekend’s racing. And nearly 100 people may end up at Lashaway’s house.

He doesn’t mind.

“It’s a very old sport, so there’s a lot of old codgers that have been doing it all their life,” Lashaway said. “You never ever miss a year of ice boating.”

For more Lake Erie news, like RocktheLake on Facebook.

AP RADIO
Update hourly