The First Ice Boat

The oldest photograph in the Mecox Ice Yacht Club’s collection, at top, dates from 1859. It shows two Skeeter-class A boats, which were steered from the stern and sailed with a jib. Capt. Jeter Rose and Lemuel D. Halsey are at the helms on Mecox Bay. Lemuel’s great-great-grandson Tom Halsey of Water Mill is the club’s historian.

The year was 1837. Daniel Hildreth III of Water Mill, who was born in 1800, kept a meticulous diary that included accounts of the weather, what was happening on the farms, and summaries of what was going on in general. In the excerpt below, you will see that his spelling was, well, old-fashioned. (We added punctuation.)

“Jan 1837 11th and 12th very plesant. We had a grate fox hunt the 17th. Charles Howell and I finished our ice boat, the first that was ever built in Southampton and we had a sail to the beach and up the Hay Ground Bay. She works like a charm. The wind blew a gale and we went part of the time a mile to the minit. The wether had been sevear for a long time and the ise sum too feet thick in places. Charles Howell, Sylvanus White and I.D. Hildreth went on the boat. Jan. 22ed we had the first snow storm.”

From that time until our own, ice boating has been the winter sport of choice by a select group of hardy souls, many of whom, like Daniel Hildreth, have been, and are, farmers with time to spare in winter, and all of whom with the spunck it takes to skipper the fastest naturally powered vehicle on earth

Everett Halsey’s A boat, Penguin, is in the center.The above photograph and the two following were taken in the late 1930s or early ’40s.
Tom Halsey and his son, Adam, are seen in 1983 with a “learner” boat.
The DN, named for the Detroit News, where they were first built in a hobby shop, overtook A boats in popularity in the 1970s. Front steerers and only 12 feet long, they are light enough and fast enough to hit 55 to 65 miles per hour in winds of 12 to 15 knots.