RUSSELLS POINT – When you think of sailing at Indian Lake you likely conjure up images of beautiful majestic sailboats with large colorful sails catching the warm summer winds.
That’s only in the warmer months, though. When winter arrives it is a whole different ballgame, folks.
Once Old Man Winter makes his arrival at Russells Point, it becomes all about speed, speed and more speed for one local adventurous group.
What we are talking about here is the little-known world of “ice boating.” And it “does” exist at Indian Lake!
Sailing on ice and reaching speeds of well over 100 mph may sound crazy, but it’s a popular sport and recreational activity enjoyed by many worldwide.
If fact, the Indian Lake Yacht Club right here in Russells Point offers ice boating and even has its own fleet of ice sailing boats.
Local ice boating expert and past commodore of the Indian Lake Yacht Club, Joe Ewing, who has over 40 years of experience ice boating, heads up the local Indian Lake ice boaters group along with Jeff Patten, who has over 30 years of ice boating experience, and Jim Young, who has a whopping 50-plus years.
These three expert ice sailors and Indian Lake Yacht Club members have set the standard for ice boating at Indian Lake and are pioneers in ice boating for this entire region of Ohio.
Ice boating 101
According to Ewing, “ice boating has been around since the 1800’s. Two hundred years ago up in the Hudson Bay, Great Lakes and the northern belt of Canada people had to figure out a way to move across the frozen lakes.”
“Whatever one could rig up and put runners (skates) onto and sail across the ice was what they used. A horse buggy on skates sailing across a lake would not be uncommon back then,” adds Ewing.
“Then in the 1900’s the Detroit News ran a contest for people to design and build their own ice boat in their own garage. This resulted in the DN (Detroit News) class ice boat which is the most popular ice boat still used today and used here at Indian Lake,” maintained Ewing.
“Here at the club we typical use what would be considered ‘DN’ vintage ice boats – which are the standard 12-foot long wooden ice boat with a sail,” added Ewing.
Club member Jim Young uses an 18-foot Super Arrow class ice boat with an extended front runner. Accordingly to fellow club member Jeff Patten, the Super Arrow is considered the Cadillac version of an ice boat. “It takes 3-4 people to move it onto the ice and it is very stable in rough winds,” he said.
“Today many DN-class ice boats are very sophisticated and some are even made of carbon fiber,” said Patten. An ice boat can cost between $200 for a beater, to $60,000 for a “Skeeter” (Formula One) racing class ice boat with speed capabilities of over 140 mph.
But the average ice boater worldwide still uses the standard DN class which gets the job done.
In fact, according to Patten, “For a period of time in the early 1900’s, the standard DN ice boat was the fastest machine of any kind on the planet with top speeds of well over 100 mph at the time.”
According to Joe Ewing, “Speed is what it is all about and most ice boaters reach speeds of 40-50 mph on Indian Lake. “It really all depends on the type of boat, wind speeds and the quality of the ice on that particular day. On Indian Lake an ice boat will typically travel 2-4 times the speed of the current wind, depending on the quality of the ice,” Ewing explained. “This means that on smooth black ice with no snow (the best conditions) and with a current wind speed of 13 mph, your ice boat could travel up to about 52 mph.”
When to ice sail/safety first
Never ice sail alone and always check to make sure the ice is safe. “We have a strict rule here at the club that no one ice sails alone. Two ice boats must go out together,” Patten said. “We also always take all the precautions for determining suitable sailing areas including “drilling” into the ice at multiple locations to determine a safe sailing zone.”
The group always monitors the temperature, ice thickness, surface conditions of the ice and the wind. “Ice boating is hit or miss thing,” adds Ewing. “Some winters we may only have a few days to sail the whole winter.”
Local ice boating connection
This dedicated group of adventurous ice boaters with the Indian Lake Yacht Club headed up by Ewing, Young and Patten faithfully set sail for the ice every winter as weather permits.
Many times it’s with groups of ice boaters, or new members or friends and family giving it a try for the first time. Other avid ice boaters past and present in this Indian Lake ice boaters group include Bill Young, Jim Kuertz, Charlie Wright, John Collier, Bob Collier, Brook Patten and Gabe Patten, who by the way began ice Boating at an the early age of 10.
This winter we have gotten out on the ice a couple times, said Patten. “One of those days Joe (Ewing) and I made it all the way to the campers beach and then back to Lakeview. We had great wind speed and high wind gusts near the beach. Random wind gust can be exhilarating and blast your boat from about zero to 50 mph in mere seconds. It’s great fun,” he declared.
Ewing added, “Some years they may be only one single day where conditions are suitable for ice sailing on Indian Lake, but it’s worth the wait.” Incidentally, Ewing is a also competitive regatta sailor in the summer months and has represented the Indian Lake Yacht Club the past 2 years at the Cherry Blossom regatta in Washington DC. He and his son Cole took first place this last year.
Exhilarating ‘Bucket List’ moments
Catching a breeze and zooming across a plane of frozen ice is what it is all about.
It takes an adventurous soul with a zest for living to sail at high speeds on an ice boat in bitter cold winds.
The best way Ewing can describe it is, “It’s like sledding downhill on ice at 40-50 mph but with the ability to steer. It’s an exhilarating thrill and once you experience the powerful speed of the wind, you’re hooked for life,” he adds.
Patton compares it to riding on a go-cart, “You always feel like you’re going way faster than you are. Going 40 mph on an ice boat actually feels more like your going a 100 mph. If you hit a snow drift you feel like a downhill skier. If a wind gust grabs the sail it makes the ice boat feel like a dragster,” he explained.
Many even compare ice boating to piloting an airplane. Those who like speed love ice boating.
How to get started
“If you can sail a sunfish (small one-person sailboat) then you can sail an ice boat,” adds Patten. With some good instruction, anyone – practically of any age – can do this in no time.”
The best way to get started with ice boating at Indian Lake is to contact an expert sailor and ice boater such as Joe Ewing at the Indian Lake Yacht Club.
Ron Brohm is a regular contributor to this newspaper.