Tuesday, December 27, 2011

December 2011 Ice Sailing

If it can't be a new toy, have it be primo conditions to play with one you've already got! Perseverance pays! This high pressure ridge has been parked over the Pacific NW for 3 weeks now, bringing ice building temps, overcast skies, no precipitation, lots of freezing fog, and ZERO wind. Which is hard on an iceboat junkie, to have the shallow lakes frozen, free of snow, and no opportunity to pull the trigger. This early ice season is often short to non existent, killed by anything more than a couple of inches of snow, often for months, until the spring melt/refreeze cycle again offers up clear ice. 

The National Weather Service promises that a weak low pressure system will show up Christmas day to nudge the ridge eastward. After a fine family breakfast, and furious present opening on the part of the grand kids, a quick check with NWS proclaims that it's begun. Now this form of sailing is another wind sport requiring repeated leaps of faith. I leave home in deep fog and dead calm, solely on the promise that there'll be breeze when I get to the lake in an hour and a half. I'm desperately watching flags and roadside weeds as I cross the rolling wheatlands, for any sign of the element that I need. As I approach the lake it starts to sprinkle, but I break into a monster grin. I can see the the trailing edge of the cloud bank, and it's blowin'! As I finish rigging, the sun busts free, and I bask in the first sunshine in three plus weeks! 

I launch into 15 plus, gusting over 20, enough to overpower the boat with the big 5 meter sail on. A bit of a handful for my season opener.  I scream around close to put in, to get dialed in on ice I know, and then slowly expand my range as I get comfortable with the power. I walked this playground two weeks ago, when it had just gotten thick enough, and it's been below 32 since then, but ice is worthy of deep respect, with pressure ridges that form and heal, and springs that can thin the ice depth, it's an ever changing surface.  But careful inspection reveals a solid surface, and I start to let her run free. The wind has moderated some, so now I'm working on building speed. With so little friction, this machine feeds on apparent wind.  There's this great little dance to power her up after a tack, sheet out to increase the sail's draft, bear away to gain speed, the boat accelerates, allowing the main to be sheeted in as I head up. Bear away again for another burst of acceleration, and a corresponding carve back to windward as the main comes in some more. Repeat until the boom's just leeward of my helmet, the main's as flat as my protesting sheet hand will tolerate, and the speed is exhilarating!  Done properly, it's a graceful wiggle, yielding yet another big smirk. 

A similar maneuver cranks her up after a jibe, sheet out to get the boom up over my helmet, head up for power, carve down, sheet in, head up for more, and bear away again till fully turned on. Then straighten her out right there on the edge of that pressure, and hold on! 40 knots of boat speed in 15 knots of breeze with the big sail. It only increases as the wind speeds rise and the sails get smaller (less aerodynamic drag, the limiting factor for top end speed). 

The days are mighty short this time of year, and sadly the sun finally finds the horizon, and with that, the wind drops. I head for the launch with every intention of shutting her down. But as she glides to a halt, the pressure builds again, and I can't quit! I know! The warning signs are very clear! I last another 10 minutes till the rapidly dropping temperature and fading light send me in. I pack up by headlamp, and make the drive home with a monster smile, and deep gratitude to the big man for the beautifully tailored gift. 

Dave Farmer of Tum Tum, WA.

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