Sailing Continues All Winter Long - Ice Boating on Stern Steerers

Sailing Continues All Winter Long - Ice Boating on Stern Steerers

The previous ice boat articles described boats that have the steering blade up front, and the cross-plank behind the driver.  Stern Steerers flip all of this around, with the cross-plank in front of the driver and the boat steers from the back end of the boat.

The big boats are where ice boating all began. Other than the fact that these modern yachts fly a jib and steer from the stern, they bear only a resemblance to past giants of the ice.  Modern hardware and improvements in aerodynamic rigs have allowed today's stern steerer to easily outclass and out-speed its ancestors. You also get to enjoy these with your friend or spouse, there's room for two.

Stern Steerer "Sweet Dreams" on White Bear Lake, MN

It is highly recommended that stern steerers are not boats for beginners or novices.  Setting up and steering takes years of sailing any of the other smaller ice boats (DN's, Arrow's, etc.) to develop the 6th sense of ice boating.

The main reason is, that Stern Steerers are very sensitive to steering and the boat spins out easily.  While this may sound like fun, doing so in heavy traffic at high speeds would be akin to spinning a car in circles in the middle of a fast paced rush hour traffic on a highway.  It is simply dangerous to do.

Country Woman, Stern Steerer spins out at the 5:28 mark on White Bear Lake, MN

Stern steerers also are prone to "flickering" or spinning out as they jibe, often throwing out their passengers for a long ride on the ice. Stern steerers require thicker ice than other classes because of their heavier weight.

There are four classes of Stern Steerers:
Class A, the sail area is over 251 square feet (unlimited).
Class B, the sail area is 176 to 250 square feet.
Class C, the sail area is 126 to 175 square feet.
Class D, the sail area is 76 to 125 square feet.

In the Madison, WI region, most big boats are of the C class.  The immense A class and B class boats still survive and are experiencing a revival. Tradition-oriented skippers and crews maintain an active class organization.

The Wisconsin Stern Steerers Association organize a spectacular regatta and cup races annually. Read more about the WSSA and the efforts of those who are restoring these historical ice yachts.

D-Class Stern Steerer, Wind 10-13, Top Speed 50.2 MPH, Average Speed 35.8 mph.  Doesn't this sound more like the speeds of one $100,000,000 2013 America's Cup boat?

Stern Steerer Racing Start

A-Class Stern Steerer Finish

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.

Using Ice Picks to Quickly Get Out of the Water

Where would you start? Where would you see if this is for you? Where would you find a decent Stern Steerer to buy for yourself?

  • On a Friday, call this phone number 608.204.9876 and get a pre-recorded message where the Ice Boaters are meeting up that weekend to go sailing and drive there. Go out on the ice, and strike up a conversation. Explain that you would like to give sailing on an iceboat a try, many will loan your their boat on the spot. Ask how you can get some help buying your own boat.
  • A quick check around the internet found used boat asking prices from $3,000 to $6,500 if you feel your skills have you ready for these sensitive boats.
  • Thanks for the input from Deb Whitehorse and Jane Pegel who put together much of the information for this article.

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