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When 'winterizing' means going sailing!

by Glenn McCarthy/Sail-World Cruising on 13 Nov 2013
Ice boats lining up .. .
When the weather gets too cold in the northern hemisphere many winterize their boats, others (the lucky ones) head for warmer climes, but there's another category of sailors that just start to get excited as the world ices in - it's the ice boaters. Here we tell of the Renegades of Lake Michigan, and of the people who sail in them.

The Renegade is bit smaller than the more common Skeeter, it's design performed well and commonly can go as fast as a Skeeter. The boat was designed by Elmer Millenbach of Detroit in 1947 at 21' long, 8' wide, and mast 16' tall.

These boats include a springboard. This is a sprit out the bow of the hull that the front runner is attached to. When a gust occurs, the power from the sail transfers downward pressure. For boats without a springboard, commonly the boat will heel over bringing one blade of the runner off the ice to burn off the pressure. While you might presume this makes a boat faster, it actually slows it down. So the springboard absorbs some of that downward pressure keeping all three blades on the ice until that new power can be transferred into forward speed and the springboard eases back up. Just a little cool piece of technology...

Most Renegades are steered by foot pedals, so both hands are free to trim the sail. Others do have a tiller that comes from the front runner.

Ice boat sailor and Sailing Judge Chuck Kotovic of Emerald Yacht-Ship explained that many great liquid water sailors kept their edge during the winter by sailing their ice boats.

As these boats are raced, 'Two racing rules that are different from soft water sailing are:

Upwind boats always have rights over downwind boats regardless of port/starboard.
Downwind, the windward boat has rights over the leeward boat.

These come from mainly safety issues due to the maneuverability and visibility. A full set of the Ice Boat Right of Way Rules are found on the www.iceboat.org website.

Ice Boats have rules about conditions in order to sail, they won't start sailing when the air temperature is 0-10 degrees or lower or when the wind speed is above 25 mph. Think about it, what the heck is the windchill when wind is whistling by you at 70 mph without a windshield?

It's not an expensive sport either. A quick check for pre-owned prices on the internet found boats from $1,000 - $6,500 ready to go and at the upper end $8,000 - $10,500 including lots of spare parts and a matching trailer.

For safety's sake, Ice Boaters wear warm winter clothing that can handle exposure to high wind speeds, goggles, spiked shoes to push off with, helmet (motorcycle type), an inflatable life jacket and 2 ice picks.

What are those last two items for? A few times each winter someone will sail into open holes in ice into the freezing water. You need to be able to pull yourself back up onto firm ice. While tests are performed on ice for thickness, water springs and birds can keep water moving in spots which makes ice thinner in those area. You can't test the thickness of a whole lake.

Fascinated? Well the only disadvantage is that you need a lot of frozen water, and that's hard to come by in Australia and New Zealand. Nevertheless, for more information and more stories - go to the http://www.iceboat.org/renegade/!International_Renegade_Ice_Yacht_Association.

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