Feb 16, 2021

Commodore of the Hard Water


Daniel Hearn

It’s a celebration of the ice.

If you’ve never been out in the middle of a lake as a frozen sheet of ice and experienced what it sounds like and what it looks like, it’s something worth doing. The ice is an active beast. You can see and hear it changing while you’re out there. For example, if the ice has no snow on it, you have a great big black surface that’s frozen. When the sun goes up in the sky, it’s heating that black surface, which causes things to change. So there will be times when you’re standing on the ice and you’ll hear what sounds like an explosion. It’s the ice that’s cracking and moving. It can startle you for sure.

You can be out on ice that’s twelve inches thick, but there will be an active seam. You have these huge plates that are completely frozen, but you’ll have a gap of a couple inches that has opened up because these sheets are moving around and they may refreeze the next night. When it starts to break up, the massive ice sheets get blown by the wind and they are so powerful, they will crush anything on the shore and pick up huge boulders and push things around. The awesome power of ice is just hard to understand unless you’re an ice sailor, and you see what it can do. It’s beautiful out there. This last weekend we were out in the middle of the ice surrounded by bald eagles flying.

It’s more common for the ice to have cracks in it than to not have them. Before a regatta is called “on,” we have sailors go and scout the ice. Drill holes, make notes of hazards, whether they’re working cracks in the ice or rough areas, a log or something frozen in the ice. We inspect it carefully and mark hazards with flags and cones, and run the race in an area where hazards don’t come into play. But everyone has to understand that ice is never 100% safe. You have to be aware and treat it with appropriate caution at all times.

I’m the Western Region Rear Commodore.

It’s a volunteer position and you generally serve a term of three years, sitting on the national ice boat committee, and being responsible for organizing the regional championship event.

I always wanted to sail. I was a windsurfer for a decade before I started with catamarans and then ice boats. Probably at the top of the list is the adrenaline factor. It’s an amazing feeling and experience to be traveling at the speeds that we are able to travel without any type of engine. I also enjoy the building. The process, the craftsmanship. The analytics of trying to figure out better ways to set my boat up to perform better. It’s what keeps you coming back.

When I first got into the sport, I was all jacked up to be ice sailing, but it’s fickle. Very weather contingent. You’ve got to have ice and you want it to be reasonably smooth. You can’t have too much snow on it. You can’t have open cracks on it. You have to have wind. You have to have the time off of work. All of the stuff has to line up at one time for it to happen. And the conditions are constantly changing. You think you may be traveling to one location for a regatta and that gets snowed out the night before and you’re traveling to a completely different location. You’re forced to learn patience. That makes it all the sweeter when you get those opportunities where it’s just magical.

You stand outside of your boat on the start line.

You line up next to each other in your different starting spots and the starter will provide a warning and then raise a flag and drop the flag to start the race. Then all of the skippers will run, pushing their boats and running as fast they can until the boat wants to go faster than they can run, and at that point they slip into the boat and trend in tighter, continue to build speed, and then everyone is racing to reach the top mark. Normally a race is three laps. You’re in a cold environment. You’re in wind. The boat is going very fast.

In ice sailing and ice boat racing, it really is about keeping the boat wound up at maximum speed all the time. In summer sailing, you will sometimes focus on trying to sail the shortest course and accept a slower speed. That is generally not the case in ice sailing. You’re less concerned about distance and most concerned about speed. You do not want to let the boat slow down.

As told to Jason Schwartzman, True Senior Editor

Daniel Hearn

Ice Sailor
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