I had my first sail on an ice boat yesterday. It has not been a good winter for the sport. Too much snow and too much variation in temperature. The fans of the sport said they had only been out about two or three days all winter. Yesterday was a beautiful day with a bright sun but only a light wind and five boats were assembled on the ice at Keefe’s Lake about 30 km east of Charlottetown. It’s not a big lake – although it is the largest in PEI – but it’s fresh water freezes earlier than the bays and rivers. The boats were all of the International DN Class, a group designed and publicized by the Detroit News prior to the Second World War. The DN is the most popular class in the world and fleets exist wherever there are frozen lakes and rivers. With 12 foot bodies and 8 foot cross beams the ease of transportation and assembly is a contributing factor to the class’s success. In P.E.I. there are perhaps a dozen craft and a number of PEI pilots are members of the Nova Ice Yacht Club and compete in Nova Scotia events.
Saturday was not a day for competition. The strong sun was beginning to melt the top layer of ice and the sharp blades frequently broke through the soft crust. Most of the sailing consisted of trying to weave to catch the scattered areas of still-hard ice. After turning down several offers I finally gave in to curiosity and took the helm of one of the front-steered boats. As in water-based sailing, as soon as I took control the wind dropped. I did manage to get up and down the lake a couple of times – enough to understand that this could be a real blast if one had the patience to master the necessary skills. There is a whole different experience – different sounds, different feel and different tactics. Still, until global warming is complete the reality is that in this area winter still lasts almost half the year and ice boating can be a good relief. It’s not sailing but it’s not bad. Click on any of the images below to see the slide show.