This is a slightly updated version of the story that appeared in the Elk Rapids News. (Click on a photo to see a larger version.)
There are hardy souls who live for the sound of blades skimming ice, the rush of frigid wind in the face, the bone-rattling judder of a wooden box tearing across the lake at 60 miles an hour. They are the ice boaters, hardwater sailors who will drop everything to load their winter yachts and drive a couple of hours whenever the word goes out – “Good ice!”
Last Saturday a group of these merry fanatics gathered at the Bill Good Day Park in Torch Lake. They were checking out the terrain, deciding whether there would be enough space for a regatta, taking a few lazy recreational swoops. Winter people bond quickly, and a reporter trundling across the ice in her Yak-Trax was welcomed to the party.
Richard Wollam, Vice Commodore of the Grand Traverse Ice Yacht Club, was glad to talk about the sport. While it’s clear that high-speed thrills are the attraction, he claims ice boaters are pretty safety-conscious. “We never go out on the ice alone,” Wollam said. “We take cellphones and radios. We wear helmets and ice jackets and carry ice picks.”
That being said, what they do after strapping on helmet and ice picks is to lie on their backs in those little wooden boxes and fly across the ice at up to five times the speed of the wind, maneuvering their craft using the same principles that apply in conventional sailing. The helpful how-to stories on their website include Rescue throw bags, Holes in ice, Broken screw extraction, and Quick and dirty claws.
Wollam introduced Julie Richards with that highest of accolades, “She’s a good sailor.” Richards is part of a small but growing contingent of women in ice boating, and has been racing in international competition for about eight years. A slender bundle of energy, all flashing eyes and big grin, she just loves this stuff. She’s modest about her accomplishments, but Wollam says she’s the best woman racing at the international bronze level. (He doesn’t mention his own third-place finish in last year’s North American Silver Fleet races.)
Richards likes ice boating on Torch Lake. The ice is good, parking and access are convenient at the Day Park, and a nice warm café with clean bathrooms is just a short hike away at Sonny’s Torch Lake Market. “More women would get into this sport except for the potty problem,” she laughs. Richards knows a lot about ice boating history and recommends some good websites.
If the weather cooperates, the ice boats will be back in Antrim County this weekend, either on Torch Lake or Elk Lake, for the annual Fun Regatta. If the thought of broken screw extraction and quick and dirty claws doesn’t scare you, you can learn more at the Grand Traverse Ice Yacht Club website.