First light reveals the clear skies that were predicted. I spent the weekend tuning up the little iceboat, gathering up the pieces that were scattered since its last incarnation as a dirt boat. Grinding the runners, and fussing for that perfect alignment. It's been mostly below freezing for the last week and a half, nighttime temps in the sub 20s. Might just be enough to make the shallow lakes usable.
The boat's on the trailer, hooked up and ready to roll. Brilliant blue above, all vegetation flocked with bright white hoar frost from the successive nights of freezing fog. It's an hour and a quarter drive southwest across the Palouse wheatfields and channeled scablands, to Sprague Lake. I've never yet caught early season ice, it usually snows soon after it forms, and I've had to wait for the spring thaws to get this machine running. But here's a chance! I'm trying hard to keep my expectations low, I'm just going to check on the ice, I tell myself. Just a morning tour in the countryside.
Just beyond Reardan I drive out of this precious sunshine, back into the fog bank that fills these river valleys and coulees on these early winter morns. Not good though, the fog will fend off the 6 to 8 mph winds the weather service is promising me. The flag hangs limply in the Edwall city park as I motor through. That's ok, it's easier to stick to my scouting plan if the wind's not pleading with me.
The lake slides into view, whoa, there's open water at the northeast end. Ok, well it's shallower at the SE end. At the put in, the ice appears to be about 3" thick. And GLASS! With these amazing 2" tall hoar frost 'Christmas trees' that have formed off any tiny imperfection on the ice surface. I don the spiked ice boots, and I'm off to survey the landscape. The crystal clear ice reveals it's thickness with every crack, and I search out any surface distortions in my proposed sailing route. I spook a coyote off the island, and off to the southeast I perceive a blurry(or furry) post sticking up a foot and a half out of the ice, this new ice. Bears investigation. I get within 50' and it launches skyward, a magestic horned owl. Good that I travelled this way, another 200 yards further is open water, the size of a swimming pool. Must be a spring.
I return to my circumnavigation, and a ten minutes later I spot another open spot, similar in size, just off the island, with geese frollicking merrily. Still 3 to 4 inches of ice beneath me, both holes out of my path and easy to spot. At the end of a couple of hours, I've completed my survey, and I'm comfortable with the ice. Now I just need wind!
And here's where the addiction rears it's ugly head. It's still foggy, but I think I see it thinning, and there, over there, the sun's breaking through, illuminating that hillside. There's a little breeze, 2.9 to 5.2 mph, according to my very precise annemometer..... 5 to 6 might work. I think it's building....... Might as well rig the boat, as long as I'm here..... By the time it's ready there might be enough..... Well at least all the parts are here. She goes together quickly, and I push her off the shore towards open ice. Ahhh, she glides nicely! Such a silky feeling. A tiny puff, I push, jump in, and sheet in. And trundle along smoothly, albeit slowly, until she eventually eases to a stop. Hop out, dance about a little(tunes, yes tunes, always), waiting for the next puff. I repeat this behaviour a few times, and finally decide to just lounge in the cockpit til the next attempt. Amazing, 25 degrees, and I'm dressed so well that I can take a little snooze here atop this frozen lake. That's a comfortable boat!
A few more attempts, and I decide to pack it up. A bit of a skunk if sailing was the goal, but a fine day acclimating to this new season. The boat is ready, the ice is here(almost), I just need some wind before it snows!
Dave Farmer of Tum Tum, WA.