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Ice Boats Race Like the Wind

Who says you have to stay inside your home when it is cold outside?

There’s an unusual sport practiced in the northern United States, and the season only starts when winds start blowing and the temperature drops below zero degrees Celsius.

The sport is called ice boating.

Clement Chua, who comes from a much warmer climate, is learning all about ice boating. He is an exchange student from Singapore and attends the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Chua signed up for an ice boating class because he wanted to do something he could not do at home. “Ice boating is a most unique class,” he says.

One experienced ice boater calls the sport “ephemeral.” In other words, the conditions for ice boating do not happen very often. And when the conditions are right, they are not right for very long.

“You can go weeks in the winter when you can’t go ice boating,” says 81-year-old Lloyd Roberts.

Roberts has been ice boating for 40 years. He says dedicated ice boaters make the sport a major event in their lives, just after funerals and weddings.

The capital of ice boating in the United States is now the northeastern state of Maine. It once was New Jersey. But the capital moved north because Maine has warmer winters than before, and New Jersey’s winters are sometimes too warm for good ice to form.

Maine gets cold enough in the winter that lakes and ponds will freeze, but it is no longer so cold that the ponds are covered with snow.

Chua says he does a lot of windsurfing back home in Singapore, a place where water sports are popular. The sport of ice boating also uses wind to power a small vessel. But that is where the similarities end.

Ice boats are like small sailboats, but they have sharp blades designed for skimming over the ice. The boats catch the wind and move fast on clear, smooth ice.

Roberts says there are only about six good ice boating days each winter.

Jim Thieler is a serious ice boater.

He says there is always a concern about getting wet, because sometimes the ice is not strong enough to support the weight of both the boat and the boater.

“They say there’s two kinds of ice boaters: those that have gone swimming, and those who are going to. Me, personally, yeah, I’ve gotten wet up to my thighs before.”

That is why ice boaters always go out in groups, and wear special equipment.

You need to wear shoes with metal cleats to avoid slipping on the ice. You also need warm clothing, because sometimes the wind will stop blowing, and boaters can stay in the cold for long periods before they make it back to land. They also carry ice picks, so they can pull themselves out of the water in case the ice breaks.

The ice boaters say it is easy to get started in the sport. But the costs for new gear and new boats add up fast.

The cost may just be the price people have to pay when faced with the other option: spending the long winter indoors.

I’m Dan Friedell.

Arash Arabasadi wrote this story for Dan Friedell adapted it for Learning English with reporting from the Portland Press Herald. George Grow was the editor.

Would you want to try ice boating someday? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page.


Words in This Story

dedicated – adj. having very strong support for or loyalty to a person, group, cause, etc.

cleat – n. a piece of rubber, wood, or metal that is fastened to the bottom of a shoe or boot to prevent slipping — usually plural

ephemeral – adj. lasting a very short time

gear – n. supplies, tools, or clothes needed for a special purpose

pond – n. an area of water that is surrounded by land and that is smaller than a lake

practice – v. to do (something) regularly or constantly as an ordinary part of your life

skim – v. to move quickly or lightly along, above, or near the surface of something

windsurfv. to ride along the surface of the water while standing on a long, narrow board that has a sail attached

bladen. the sharp metal piece on the bottom of an ice skate

optionn. a choice of possibility