Sailing Continues All Winter Long - Ice Boating on DN's

Sailing Continues All Winter Long - Ice Boating on DN's

The DN (named after the Detroit News competition to design an affordable ice boat) are steered by the front middle blade, with two fixed blades on a perpendicular plank behind the single driver. It is the most popular of all ice boat classes.  Everyone recommends that this is the best ice boat to start with. The hull is 12′ long with the perpendicular plank 8′ wide, and the mast 16′ high with 60 sq. ft. of sail.

Most DNs are steered by a tiller connected to the front runner, a few are steered by foot pedals, so both hands are free to trim the sail.

Quick Example of a Winter DN Gathering

While many tow their ice boats on trailers (in the open, or in closed boxes), they also can be put on a car top carrier and hung from the wall or ceiling in your garage for storage.  Where do people park their cars and trailers at ice boat gatherings?  On the ice, of course (unless conditions are marginal).

There doesn’t appear to be any licensing of ice boats, except for an over the road trailer.

Many say that sailing season isn’t over in the fall, they say it is just beginning!  Ice boating is really fast and dynamic, imagine lying on your back on a plank 12″ above the ice covered lake on three ice skate blades and one sail flying along at 40-60MPH.  And everything in your peripheral vision is a blur.

Avid DN’er Mark Kiefer said that, “Ice boating is to Sailing what Crack Cocaine is to Drugs.  The acceleration in a high speed peel-off around the weather mark is a pretty damn intense rush, secreted adrenaline coursing veins at levels seldom seen by humans since maybe the last sabre-tooth cat encounter 10 or 12 thousand years ago.  

Unlike most other events, which are location specific, Ice Boat Racing is condition specific, following the freeze looking for and finding that Wonder-Ice, similar I imagine, to pre-Columbian  buffalo hunting tribes, if the buffalo start to move overnight,  the tribe must pack up the teepee and go with them.  Moving a World or Continental Championship 500 miles overnight while underway, say Races 1 and 2 in Michigan and 3,4,5 and 6 in New York or Southern Illinois is of little effect on fleet size.”

DNs on Green Bay, WI

If you saw any of the recent 2013 America’s Cup, the key to speed was the reduced drag sailing on those foils.  Ice boaters figured this out long ago, and has the minimum drag of sailing on 3 blades.  Do you have the need for speed?  Do you want to sail as fast, or faster, than America’s Cup boats at .00003 the price, well within anyone’s price range?

Past DN World’s Champion Jeff Kent at 80MPH?

If you have a yearning to sail, and are subject to sea-sickness, here is where you’ll have a blast and never have any motion of the sea.

Ice boats don’t break the piggy bank, but is a nomadic life. Good ice is what is required to sail. Good ice with snow on it doesn’t work. Chunky ice that is real rough doesn’t work (commonly freezing with a big wind at the time).  Smooth ice with no snow is what is searched for.

So where do you go for smooth ice?  Conditions change weekly, even daily.  There is a common phone number that sailors from the different lakes around the region call into either Thursday or Friday during the winter to give Ice Reports. The lake with the best ice (thick enough – duh!) and wind reports and ice condition for the weekend is picked as the place to meet up that weekend. That Lake will be put on the same phone recorder, and all sailors call into that number to learn where they are driving to Saturday morning (608.204.9876). They then calculate how many hours they need to drive to get there and set their alarm clock as early as needed to make it.

A few years ago, the DN World’s Championship was planned in the Midwest, and people were flying in from around the world to compete. The Midwest was having one of its warm winters and there wasn’t any ice.  At the last moment, the Championship was shifted to New York. Can you imagine flying in from Poland to the Midwest to have to turn around and hustle back to New York?  I hope so, because that is the attitude that is needed to ice boat.

One ice boater suggested their cost of fuel over ten years exceeds their cost of their boat and upkeep. If you’re a regimented type individual, ice boating probably isn’t for you.  Flexibility is required.

Where do DN’s sail?

Lake Decatur (Decatur), Lake Springfield (Springfield)

Geist Reservoir (Indianapolis)

Lake St. Clair (Detroit), Gull Lake (Richland), Lake Muskegon (Muskegon), Grand Traverse (Traverse City), Green Bay (Menominee), Elk Lake (Elk Rapids), Lake Charlevoix (Charlevoix & Boyne City), Houghton Lake (Houghton), Bear Lake (Village of Bear Lake), Fremont Lake (City of Fremont), Hess Lake (Newaygo), Mona Lake (Norton Shores), Reeds Lake (East Grand Rapids), Spring Lake (Village of Spring Lake), White Lake (White Lake), Cass Lake (Orchard Lake Village), Lake St. Clair (Detroit)

Lake Minnetonka (Wayzata), Lake Pepin (Lake City)

Lake Geneva (Williams Bay), Lake Winnebago (Oshkosh), Pewaukee Lake (Pewaukee), Green Lake (Green Lake), Mendota, Memona (Several Lakes around Madison), Lac Labelle (Oconomowoc), Delavan Lake (Delavan), Lake Como (just a stone’s throw North of Lake Geneva)

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

Additionally, race courses are set up as windward/leewards with better control and safety.  These two directions are the slowest DNs sail, as reaches are extremely fast.  Years of experience provides for better safety.

What will it cost to be an ice boater? Many DNs are home-built and there are a few professional builders, but remain largely the province of hobbyists and enthusiasts building with high quality wood and plywood and more exotic materials such as foam, carbon fiber, fiberglass and epoxy.  A quick check around the internet showed prices of used DNs from $900 – $2,900. A race ready used boat can be found closer to $3,000. A new sail might be about $950.

Get advice from others before buying a DN to be sure you are getting a boat that is up to date. Some might come without runners (blades ~$600), or you may have noticed in the videos those heavily curved masts (either fiberglass or combination of carbon fiber and fiberglass) which replaced aluminum masts starting in 1996.  Boats with Aluminum masts are still around, but just used for pleasure sailing, not group racing.  Getting one that is ready to go will cost you less than trying to upgrade one that needs TLC.

If you want to build your own (all parts are available – rigging, steering, sails, masts, blades, wood, etc.), or have someone build you a new one, you’re on your own to get pricing.  Most will start with an used DN to build your skills on, and when ready to make the next leap to a new boat, you’ll be very familiar with pricing, latest concepts, rigging and other factors by then.

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

  • One way is to show up on November 3, 2013 at the Ice Boat Swap Meet between 9-12 Central Time (note – clocks “fall back” the night before) at Lucky’s Cantina, 220 Elkhorn Road, Williams Bay, WI 262-245-6666.
  • Another Ice Boat Swap meet is November 2, 2013 at Gull Lake Ice Club holding it at Gull Lake Country Club, 9725 West Gull Lake Drive, Richland, MI 49083  from 10am – 3pm EDT.  There will be boats on display, history pieces, lunch and a raffle.  An ice boat parts vendor and a mast builder will be there to help anyone out.
  • Another way to do this is simply show up on a day at the lake that they are ice boating.  Go out on the ice, and strike up a conversation.  Explain that you would like to give a DN a try, many will loan your their boat on the spot.  Ask how you can get some help buying your own boat.

For more details, check out:

Chicago’s Weather Meteorologist Ginger Zee (Now with Good Morning America, ABC in New York) Gives DN Sailing a Try –

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  • Awesome job w/ the ice boating intro.
    Kudos to you.
    Terry E.

  • Sailed for my entire life! Mike Derusha is truly my best friend! soft water unstoppable... hard water the king!!! 6 time world champ renegades! Master!!!! Inspiration! Chris Berger DN master, Marcy Master! Ice Boating makes snowmobiling look like childs play period! Thanks for the blog...

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