The Mast-Head: Ready for Ice

We had the sensation of flying through space and that the clumps of icy flakes were stars

This week’s snow notwithstanding, this winter has been a letdown, at least as far as ice goes. For skating the only option has been to pay for time on one of the local rinks. Likewise, the chance that there will be iceboating this year declines every day that we get closer to March.

In the mid-1970s, when my father was given our first iceboat by George Fish, a doctor and family friend with a house overlooking Three Mile Harbor, it seemed that every winter would dependably produce enough ice to sail upon. Mecox Bay was the center of a considerable flotilla of boats, some large two-seaters, most, like our second boat, DNs, so called after the Detroit News, in whose shop the first of the relatively inexpensive, light and nimble craft were built. 

Many of the freshwater ponds were good. Memorably, one glorious season, homeowners in the Georgica Association let us use a landing on Georgica’s west side to get to its beautiful glassy surface. Three Mile Harbor froze as well one year or two. We sailed from Hand’s Creek across to the main navigation channel and back again, passing baymen spearing eels through holes they had cut in the ice. We sailed on Montauk’s Fresh Pond and on Poxabogue, anywhere that had a big enough slab. We don’t get ice like that much anymore.

The iceboat that came from Dr. Fish’s garage was a Mead Glider, a two-seater probably built in the 1930s and repaired and altered over the years. We called it the Bat, for its batwing sail, which had a single batten that ran from the mast out to the leech, or loose, edge. Its hard ware was largely cobbled up from toolbox assortments and not necessarily up to the stresses of sailing over a hard surface. 

One winter day at Fresh Pond, in about 1978, the Bat struck a pressure ridge in the ice, and the mast came down on top of my father and my friend Mike, who, as he tended to do, and still does from time to time, howled in protest.

It was last year or the year before, on a Monday in early March, that we last sailed in the Bat. I had left it at Mecox after the weekend, and my friend Jamey and I met there to take it out for a ride as a light snow began to fall. 

By the time we lifted the sail, the snow was falling in heavier clumps; sailing through it was marvelous, we could not see the edge of the horizon nor tell the difference between ice and sky. More snow came down, and as we rumbled along, we had the sensation of flying through space and that the clumps of icy flakes were stars.

The bat and the DN are stored in the barn behind my mother’s house. As I said, it would surprise me if we sailed this year, but the boats are ready, and so am I.