How I love iceboating! It is packed with so many variables–both from mother nature and human nature–that a day of iceboating is almost always unique. We talk excitedly, even dim years later, about “that day on X lake”.
I scrutinized the computer’s weather report at 6AM: Wind dropping from 15 Kn to 5 Kn throughout the day. Temps rising from 26 to 40. A classic “spring ice” day. At some unknown point, those two intersecting vectors would leave you absolutely dead on the ice on a lake, in this case, 14 miles long. You would be “slushed out” without the horsepower to push against the immense drag of runners.
I called Bill and tried to negotiate an earlier start, but with others coming from afar, and the lethargies of the end of a work week, I could only gain a half hour, and we settled on 8AM on the ice. I arrived on Darmiscotta in blinding sun and good wind, and found the classic spring ice conditions I associate with this most beautiful of lakes:
firm congealed corn snow with smoother, dark patches.
I blasted around the vast North Broads on slush runners as the others, Paul Delnero, Curtis Rindlaub, Bill Bunting, Lloyd, and Bill Buchholz, quickly set up boats. Curtis arrived with Indigo, which he had just bought from Bill, in an immaculate quanset-style trailer covered with clear corrigated roofing. A work of pure art. Waiting for the others, my impatience was at the boil: Come on Lads! Time is limited! I came back to the pits and switched to plate runners, since the slush runners were gripping poorly on the firm surface, but decided to carry slush runners with me on the long southern exploration.
Sailing with a better grip now, as the minutes stretched to an hour, I debated calling Bill on our new intercom system: I was deciding to be a “bad boy” and explore on my own today: a pretty dumb decision since I knew nothing of this season’s hazards. Being a “bad boy” also leaves your buddies with a day-long worry about your survival. Thoroughly anti-social! But the intercom, mysteriously set on “scramble”, refused to co-operate, and I settled down to enjoy the fantastic–noisy but fast–sailing conditions. The speed on the GPS, as I hardened the sheet to the limit, edged into the mid-40’s. Whoo-Eeee!
At last Bill and Curtis arrived, leaving Bill Bunting and Lloyd behind to match-race, and we carefully worked downwind through the Narrows in the lighter airs that lurk there. Once again in strong winds of the South Broads, as we circled the wagons for a chat, we found that we had mistakenly left Paul behind. “You’re being impolite!” he protested when he arrived. It was a sentiment which has driven me to anger so many times in the past. And just as frequently, I’ve been the one accused. We’re, indeed, a club full of hopeless individualists. Even this season, I remember driving home in stony silence from Great Pond with Bill, even though we are the best of friends, unable to resolve this sticky issue. Today, circled up, Bill emphasized that keeping together would be especially hard as we navigated downwind these 6 miles of twisty narrows. Everyone would be under the gun to keep “wound up” at all costs.
And so we stitched South, in that amazing downwind dance: Boat A mysteriously passing B and C. B then coming on strong for no reason. This was the sailing–the day, the weather, the sun, the impeccable ever-changing almost unknown scenery, the buddies– that frankly I live for in the late season of my life. I simply can’t imagine a full life without it! Finally we reached that last narrows, the place we’ve never been beyond. I pushed my boat backwards to the rotting edge:
By now it was 11 AM. We were far, far from home, and our carriages would soon be pumpkins! Holy smokes. Let’s get out of here. I switched to slush runners and eventually passed Paul and Curtis in the softening ice, as we beat our way north. This could be the ultimate downer: 12 miles of pushing. But in the South Broads we got a welcome spate of renewed wind, and, giving up any foolish idea of exploring Darmiscotta’s other southern arm, we finally sailed the slow 3/4 mile through the Great Narrows. Praises Be! The north Broads, though the ice was seriously softening, was still blasted by Darmiscotta’s famous winds and, giving up lunch in these precious conditions, Curtis and I match-raced through the early afternoon.
How wonderful to accompany Indigo–now with a less-skilled but fast improving pilot–after a two year absence. The boats were throwing up rooster tails of ice as the slush deepened, and we blasted at occasional warp speed, runner beside runner. Keeping speed became ever more difficult, and I often tried sailing with my bow runner in a previous groove. Finally, by 2:30, it was absurd to keep going. What a day. Paul pushed into the pits as we were de-rigging, exhausted from the long grind home and promptly fell asleep in his car.. Being just that much later than us, and with plate runners, the North Broads had not given him much respite from the slog.
Lloyd, Bunting and I left boats on the ice. Whatever lay in store, I was pretty sure it would be titled, Wild Darmiscotta.