Adirondack Adrenaline - Ice Yachting on Lake Champlain

You’ve just sprinted about 10 yards, jumped onto the plank, and shouted: “Sheet in!” In a matter of seconds, you’re cruising across the ice at upwards of 60 mph with nothing but the sound of the wind in your sails. Are you up for it?

Ice yachting has appealed to adventuresome Adirondackers for many years. The sport migrated north from the Hudson Valley in the 1860s and caught on in the long stretches of Lake Champlain. While its popularity has waned, there’s still a strong core of dedicated hard-water sailors in the region.

Ice Yachts Race Along the Hudson River

In the 1850s, ice yachting clubs were popular on the Hudson River. These thrill-seekers raced each other and also tried to outpace the trains that ran along the shoreline. These were the fastest vehicles on earth at the time. Even in a modest breeze, they could reach speeds of 75mph.

The Hudson River Ice Yacht Club was founded in 1885, breaking away from the older Poughkeepsie Ice Yacht Club (founded in 1861) over a dispute about race results. The club lists 52 ice yachts in its 1908 roster, including Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Hawk.

Lake Champlain soon became a prime destination for ice yacht enthusiasts. The many bays on this long lake freeze successively. This means if one bay gets too much snow, in a few days another sheet of ice will form a little further north creating perfect conditions for ice sailors. Good ice conditions combined with the strong winds powering the boats and sweeping snow off the ice makes Lake Champlain an ice yachter’s dream.

How to Test the Waters

According to ice yachting enthusiasts, attending a regatta to see if this sport is really for you and then joining your local club is the best strategy (Check out the Hudson River Ice Yacht Club). Not only can you tap into the years of experience seasoned sailors are happy to share, but it’s safer. Keep in mind that you’re sliding across the ice at high speed with no brakes. The International DN Ice Yacht Racing Association stresses that club racing is much safer than solo cruising and recommends racing with a club for a few seasons to learn the ropes.

Before you head out for your first ice yacht experience, it’s common sense that you’ll need to dress warmly to fight the cold. For safety, a snowmobile helmet, ski goggles as well as boots with studded soles are standard equipment. The studded boots are important because ice yachts get underway almost like a bobsled — you’ll need traction for the quick sprint to keep from falling on the ice.

Choosing the Right Ice Yacht

If you get hooked on ice yachting, the most popular iceboat to own is the DN. It’s a single-seater made of wood. The yacht is T-shaped with a long horizontal plank at the back and there are two runners on either side of the plank and one on the bow that allows it to skim across the ice. In the right conditions, DNs can top 60 mph.

The DN is relatively inexpensive, simple to rig, and performs well in competitive sailing regattas. One big advantage is the DN’s compact size. Sails are only 60 square feet,12-foot hulls weigh around 36 pounds, and masts are 16 feet long.

Portability is key because ice yachting means being able to travel to where the conditions are ideal. It’s common for regattas to be scheduled with multiple potential locations and last-minute decisions are made based on which lake has the best ice and wind. Sometimes this means traveling a significant distance.

After a year or two sailing DNs, you can consider moving on to a Scooter, a Skeeter, or even build an ice yacht. Feedback from your fellow club members can help you decide whether to build or buy your next boat.

No matter how adventurous you are, the Adirondacks offer something exciting for everyone. Our team at Adirondack Mt. Land can help you find the perfect Adirondack property to fit your lifestyle and enhance your enjoyment of this beautiful region. Contact us today so we can start a conversation about making the mountains your home.

Fun Fact: While the historic details are a little foggy, the National Park Service reports that founding father Robert Livingston tried to blow up a British warship frozen in Lake Champlain with an incendiary-loaded ice boat during the revolutionary war.