The magazine of material culture

Adieu to the Ice Yacht?

Ice Yachting by Jonah Rosenburg


Images by Jonah Rosenberg | Text by Laura Palmer

As the calendar year marches towards winter but the weather forecast stalls eerily in the summer, a disorientation sets in. There is no doubt some gratitude for the mild days but also a sense of wistfulness for what we are missing and what will be lost to future generations in the absence of a proper winter. Most vulnerable are those past times that are already fashions of the past. Ice yachting is one such endangered sport, making its current iterations all the more enchanting.

It's hard to believe now, but just over a hundred years ago, sailing a boat-like vessel over ice was the fastest way to travel over sea, land, or air. Under the right conditions, a wooden ice yacht could reach unprecedented speeds of over one-hundred miles-an-hour.

An Ice Yachter by Jonah Rosenburg

While the term yachting may connote blue-blood, elite leisure, ice yachting originated as a more egalitarian way to enjoy the short days of winter on the lakes of Eastern Europe. By the late 18th-Century, it was hugely popular in North America, specifically the Hudson Valley with Poughkeepsie, NY serving as its unofficial headquarters.  

Traditionally akin to wooden sailboats with cast-iron of wood rails, contemporary ice yachts are more likely to be made of fiberglass with steel blades (wood frames are still common and cherished). Though they were originally larger, modern vessels resemble a kite-shaped frame to support one or two passengers, one mainsail, and jib. The resulting vessel is impeccably elegant, yet requires specific conditions in which to set sail: at least four inches of ice, bitter-cold, and the all important wind.

Ice Yachting, Atlas Magazine, Hudson Valley Ice Yachting Club

This holy trifecta of conditions is increasingly rare. In the last decade, dedicated ice-yachters have experienced consecutive winters that have not offered the ability to take to the ice. Still, the singular thrill of navigating the bitter winds at nearly a hundred miles-an-hour just over a foot off the ice keeps the sport's congregation evangelical in their devotion.

Founded in 1869 by an uncle of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Hudson Valley Ice Yachting Club (HBIYC) is one of America's longest running and most prestigious ice yachting organizations. Although their opportunities may be increasingly infrequent, it’s not hard to see why it's a major affair when they do. Ice yachting marries the exacting precision of old world craftsmanship with the thrill of death-defying speed, a rare juxtaposition. It's also a supreme exercise in delayed-gratification; even after waiting all year for just the right conditions, transporting and assembling these delicate ice gliders can take hours upon hours. All the more reason that it's something of an antidote to our immediate-gratification mindset.

Photographer Jonah Rosenberg was fortunate enough to catch up with the Hudson Valley Ice Yachting Club in 2013 and he was generous enough to let us share them here. We'll be keeping a much keener eye on the ice this winter.

Ice Yachting, Atlas Magazine, Hudson Valley Ice Yachting Club

Ice Yachting, Atlas Magazine, Hudson Valley Ice Yachting Club

Ice Yachting, Atlas Magazine, Hudson Valley Ice Yachting Club