This web site often posts long shot ice reports that turn out be be top rate sailing days. The follow up, with lovely photos and smiling, windburned faces goes on to browbeat those who didn’t take the long shot for not coming. It seems to be a recurring theme, especially this year with our challenging conditions with numerous winning days.
So it was only a matter of time before the luck ran out and the tables were turned. Iceboating, as a sport, is generally presumed to be about organized competitive events. That’s a basic definition of sport. But what we do has another layer of sport involved, and that is getting to the ice. We use weather forecasts, web cams, local knowledge and networking to play the game. Those are the tools: to win you must get yourself upon a plate of sailable ice with a nice breeze and other boats. If you do that, you win. If not, you loose. That’s sport.
With reports trickling in from PEI and no ice anywhere else it seemed like just another long shot, with the added benefit if travel to a new place and to meet a remote tribe of new iceboaters. They were sailing, after all, so how bad could it be? We got to the launch ramp on Cove Head Bay in time to set up and have a sunset cruise.
When an iceboater gets to a new lake and there’s snow around the edge, the first thing he does is walk out past the snow to have a look at the ice. We met out host there and the three of us walked out to inspect the plate. We walked, and walked, and slowly it began to dawn on us that this was it: the six inches of snow we were trudging through was our plate. We looked at each other and the shock on our faces must have been obvious as our host quickly said that this is no problem, we can sail in this. He told us there was a guy sailing a Nite earlier in the day. We later met that guy, Butch, and he told us he pulled his Nite about a mile through deep snow to find a small strip of thinner snow with big drifts. He sailed back and forth, getting stuck in drifts, getting out and pushing, sailing some more. Four hours of great fun. We, who sail on ice, were dumbfounded. We were in a different world.
We tried short plates, long plates, slush runners and skunners. The plate runner, above, struggled to keep his head above water. In the end the skunners worked best, riding on top of the dense snow, rolling nicely over the hills and into the dales. With just the right amount of wind the boat would go. When it piped up a bit the boat would slide around with no grip on the surface. Then it would lighten up and we’d park, push, repeat. When the wind began to come on strong it was all the poor boat could do to maintain some sort of direction, loading up with all kinds of nasty loads. It was absolute boat abuse and by noon it was obvious that we weren’t made of the same tough stuff as these island boys.
One old time iceboater who showed up for lunch said that this group here on the bay were relatively new to the sport and they just don’t know yet about waiting for wet-out. They’ll sail in anything! But the hospitality was top notch over the top. We were put up in a house by the bay, served a lovely dinner with fascinating conversation, and learned a lot about the Island. Cove Head Bay is famous for its oysters; Peter shucked a couple dozen for lunch. Absolutely world class oysters, nearly worth the trip just for them. He said we were sailing (and pushing) right over the beds.
There were a few thin spots, one near the launch that made for a decent pit area.
We broadened our horizons and took a walk on the beach. The sea ice on the north shore protects the beach from winter storm erosion. That ice extended to the horizon and was dotted with tall piles and long ridges.
The sport of iceboating: did we win? Did we loose? Hard to say, but we met good people in a cool location that is reported to sometimes have grade ten ice tickled with a cool arctic wind. We’ll have to go back to see for ourselves.
Meanwhile, the search continues. Hopes are high, spring ain’t nigh. Lakes in Maine are getting grey.
Lastly, if there was ever a lake that needs to be sailed, it’s called Lake Utopia, just across the border in New Brunswick. Check it out on Goggle maps. With a name like that, how bad could it be?