Winter Doesn’t Stop Ice Boaters From Taking To Wisconsin Lakes

By Wendy Lutzke | January 4, 2016


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DN, Renegade, Nite, Skeeter, Stern Steerer, runner plank, tiller, light air, heavy air. Those words were not part of my regular vocabulary. Then I went ice boating. Ice boating requires many levels of patience. Just as surfers seek out the best waves and skiers love perfect powder, ice boaters crave decent wind and smooth, black, thick ice clear of snow. That’s not always easy to find, especially during snowy winters. So ice boaters always have to be ready to go at a moment’s notice to a sweet ice spot – a location that might be hours away. Once you’re there you have to put your boat together. Nuts, bolts, sheets, stays, blades and sails get twisted, unfurled, and tightened with cold fingers while you’re kneeling or lying on the ice. All of this is done as efficiently as possible so the majority of your time can be spent sailing. The wind could die or become dangerously gusty, so every moment counts. When my friend Jeff, an Iowan with one foot and part of his heart in Wisconsin, invited me to go iceboating with him recently, I didn’t hesitate. We discovered that a spot was clear on Lake Winnebago and hit the road. Jeff owns the DN class of iceboat. It’s a light, slender boat atop a runner plank with blades that look like they are from the ice skates of a giant. You lie on your back, feet first in the hollow cockpit, with your head slightly raised. You have one hand on a tiller to control the movement of your bow and the other on the mainsheet to capture the wind in your sail. Once you’ve positioned your sail to capture the wind you have to be ready to move because you can literally move as fast as the wind across the flat sheet of lake ice. You’re constantly alternating your focus between the condition of the ice ahead of you and the reaction of the sail to the wind. Hitting a hole in the ice can lead to a crash while letting the wind carry you out of control can lift you up and over. Not fun either way. On my second iceboating escapade with Jeff, this time on Green Lake, the folks there welcomed us into their iceboating family without hesitation. That’s just how ice boaters are. Talk centered on equipment, wind speed, and ice condition. Advice runs freely among ice boaters, since safety is a prime concern in this extreme sport. Jeff’s willingness to share his valuable boat with this novice is a true example of ice boating friendship! For me, the lure of iceboating lies in the intensity of being extremely alert and alive. I love the challenge of paying attention with my eyes and responding with my hands. The clean scrape of the blades on ice and the whistling of the wind as the boat picks up speed are invigorating. And it reminds me why I live in Wisconsin – for the adventure of four distinct seasons and new ways to get out and enjoy them with people crazy enough to skitter across the ice on a boat.

Wendy Lutzke

Wendy Lutzke

Wendy Lutzke is the museum educator at the Maritime Museum in Manitowoc.
2018-01-19T17:52:48-06:00Tags: , , , , , , |

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