Iceboat adventure late winter 2015
The phone rang Sunday, “Hey, Swift they are sailing up at Lake Sebago on Monday (March 23rd.)” Outside, the wind was howling and shaking the house. I said,” I am not so sure about that.” He said, “Come on, it I’ll be great. Let’s go.” I wavered and waffled and finely said OK!
We left early in the morning and stacked the two iceboats up on the truck with all of the stuff that goes with them. The sails, planks, skates, tool boxes, and masts. We did an inventory and went: check, check, check. We did the same for our outerwear: boots, helmets, goggles, mittens, warm clothes: check, check, check. And we set off.
It was a beautiful morning that promised to be a great day of spring ice sailing. The crazy wind of the night had abated a bit and the flags were merely snapping, not actually visibly shredding. We headed up through Hillsboro, Hopkinton and Concord. Then we crested the Chichester Hill as the sun was at a low morning angle lighting the amazing shaker style barns with a soft glow. It’s the same hill I have mentioned in an earlier post about Katie’s Kitchen. One thing that I always wondered about is cupolas. How come all of these barns seemed to have them? As we rode along, I mused out loud. Tom, a man of deep practical knowledge of most things immediately piped up. “They are there so the barns don’t burn up. He said it vents the hay.” Of course, I just had spent more time thinking about the way they looked rather than the way they worked. It also seems to me that there are a lot of cupolas that are over the hill in the maintenance department. It was a simple question that opened my eyes to the way things work (and look) around here.
Anyway, we rolled on thinking about cupolas getting nearer to Sebago. We rolled through Alton, Wolfeboro, Ossipee, Freedom, and then into Maine — Cornish, and then Naples and the west side of Sebago. Driving a long distance to go sailing is always a crapshoot. In doing so, you are looking for better ice than what is local. It is also to seek the company of other sailors. We wondered
the ice would be like as we drove closer and who would be there. The anticipation became more feverish as we got closer. We passed by Our Lady of Sebago chapel and knew we were almost there. Maybe we should have paid respect to her? As Nason’s Beach and Campground came into view we saw about 20 Iceboats set up with their noses pointed toward the shore and sails lightly flapping. It was an off shore breeze from the west. Out on the wide part of lake there were a number of sails moving quickly across the ice. Tom let out a loud low guttural “ahhh,” which is his all-purpose exclamation of satisfaction, excitement, alarm, etc. The ice was rough, not a perfect plate, but definitely sailable.
We drove on the ice like we were driving onto a parking lot, confident that the truck wouldn’t fall through. There were plenty of other cars parked there already. We unbent our bodies from the truck and got to un-racking the boats to set them up.
Here is where I ran into a little trouble. The excitement and anticipation of sailing super-fast sometimes gets me going a little careless when I am putting the iceboat together. I have developed some shortcuts and use tools to make things easier. For instance, there are some 9/16ths inch nuts which you have to attach the plank and skates with. It used to be I used an open ended wrench and laboriously turned the nuts in the freezing cold. Now, I use an impact wrench like you hear at the stock car races. It says a metallic “DatDatDat.” Problem is, if you are not careful you can strip the threads on the soft bolts pretty easily. This is exactly what I did. “Oh crap!” My immediate instinct was to go around, like a mooch, and ask if anyone had this specialized part: a plank stud. Without it, there would be no sailing.
Time out, let me explain about iceboating. The people and the contraptions that they come to the ice to sail with are an endless distraction. The variety is always entertaining.
Out on the part search, I got into at least 5 conversations about other people’s cool boats. We marveled at the day. And compared notes on where we had come from had come from and the long drives that we had made. All of them were enthusiastic iceboating strangers. But, none had the part I was looking for. Then I looked at the guy’s truck who was parked next to me. On the bumper there was a metal effigy.
I saw the man near the truck and said distractedly, “love your bumper, man
He shot back, “Yea, cool, I am a blacksmith.” Slowly, it dawned on me in talking to this guy, that this part could be made at a local metal shop. After I got from this guy that he lived up in the northeast kingdom and he taught metalwork and had a gallery and he invited me to come and see his place… I said bye. I whipped out my google machine and typed in “metal shop.” Lo and behold, there was one 8 miles away with 4 and ½ stars. I hit: navigate to. Tom was all set up and eager to get out sailing. As I drove off the ice, he was headed out to race. I had mostly given up on the notion of sailing this day. I figured I would just embrace getting my boat fixed. While Tom would get his sailing fix.
I pulled up to the small shop and knocked on the guy’s house door. He was eating lunch. “hiya, sorry to bother you at lunch, could you help me out? I have got this piece that the bolt is stripped off from it. ” He looked at it. “No problem.” Ok, I will digress, it is something that the google machine sent me to this guy. It is something else that he was there, nice, and willing to drop what he was doing to make this part for me! We went in his shop and it was filled with at least 50 cool metal projects. I could tell he did work for the really high end lake houses like wrought Iron railings, and cool racks, as well as artistic sculptures. The shop was a cluttered but organized feast for the eyes. I realized that, Santa might call on him from the North Pole if he had some special metal work that he needed done for a toy he was building. Anyway, I gave him the part to replicate and in 15 minutes he made it, perfectly. I said what do I owe you? He said $20, I gave him $40 and said “thank you so much.” How could it have been anymore efficient to get something weird like this fixed? No good answer, I was just lucky. Immediately I picked up the new piece.
Another problem, It had just been red hot about 45 seconds before. Smoke rose from my left thumb and index finger like two smoking guns as I dropped the part on the table. Burned skin? I couldn’t be bothered with it slowing me down. I paused a bit and realized that the hat on my head would be fine to carry the hot part. I found a piece of wood on the floor and cooly nudged it into my hat. The part co tinued to smoke in my hat leaving a burnt hat smell in hisc shop. The welder feller looked at me smiled and rolled his eyes. He said “have fun out there and be careful.” I was off and running.
I looked out and most of the boats were now barely moving. Curiously, amidst the sails that seemed to be stalled out, there were a few boats that were moving fast. I suited up and headed out. As I went I saw some folks that had been out on the big part of the lake. I asked them “is it even worth it?” They said “don’t know, you will have to see for yourself.” On a big lake like Sebago, it is possible to get several miles away from your put in very fast — only to have the wind die. This forces you to have to walk the boat back a long way to the car. Again, I looked up and most sails were stalled out.
I scootered the boat out with one foot and the other knee in the cockpit as there was barely enough wind to make it go over the rough ice. Then, I had to cross a huge pressure ridge. This ran north and south ¼ of a mile out parallel to the shore. There were huge plates of ice pushed up and a big scary puddle that I had carry over to slop through. It was almost no time after getting situated east of the pressure ridge (30 seconds or so) that I felt a good puff across my cheek. The sail ruffled and snapped open and taught. The sail battens set tight. And the boat lurched forward. Acceleration was instant and intense. I shot a line from north to south in long 4 mile tacks. Jibing around and gaining speed and coming about to check it down. The boat flew across the rough ice like the Millennium Falcon close to the surface of the Death Star. The notion of time disappeared. I was easily hitting 60 miles an hour. But the
felt perfectly tuned to the day. The skates were sharp and holding the ice. The mast was correctly raked.
Experiencing this speed, I felt some flecks of ice hit my face like cold little shards of glass. Goggles were an absolutely necessary. Somehow the wind was warm. Strangely with that intense apparent wind across my fingers holding the sheet, I was comfortable for a long time sailing in a sweater and without gloves.
Out of nowhere, Tom appeared in his boat. We sailed in formation together like a pair of World War II fighters. Like Mustangs, out flying with no bogies in sight, just a beautiful afternoon. We swooped around on 2 dimensions on and on cheating the late winter.
Then, I pulled up into the wind and I waved Tom over. I said to Tom “Hey, I think we have used up our luck at these speeds. We are sure to break something or us. Let’s pack it up and call it a day.” He laughed and agreed. We went in and took our boats with leisure and care. Back without incident. Packed for the long haul home.
After a day like this, sometimes I lie in bed at night and think about the calliope of experiences and the distance I have covered and the people I have met. I take a few breaths and its deep sleep — awakening the next day a bit sore. That reminds me that I just had a big day.
But I must add, I forgot to get lunch!