Here's a sport most of you probably haven't thought about to include in your historical novels. Ice Boating.
The ice-boat is found in almost all parts of the world in which ice exists for part of a year, being employed in some cases for commercial purposes; but the principal us.• to which this curious craft is put is for racing and pleasure-sailing. In its crude form, a framework or platform mounted on skates and rigged with one or two sails, it is found in Northern Europe, in Asia, in Canada, and in that portion of the United States north of Mason and Dixon's line; but in parts of the latter countries only has the modern ice-yacht reached its full development. In Canada, in the Eastern and Western States, and, above all, in the vicinity of New York, it has emerged from its primitive character into a structure that in its way is a perfect example of engineering skill, a combination of strength and lightness that it is hard to improve upon; and in these places, also, the pastime of ice-yachting has come to be recognized as one of the most fascinating of Winter sports.
For those who would see it at its best there is one place above all others to visit: the Hudson River, for a distance of sixty to one hundred miles above New York, where the sport is more firmly established and systematized, and where boats and appliances have reached a higher state of perfection than in any other part of the world. Here are found not only the leading clubs of the country and the fastest boats, but here, in the birthplace and nursery of the sport, where it has grown and flourished for thirty years, nurtured by the icy west winds, are the men who have brought the arts of building and sailing to their present perfection. Sailing of any kind is always a most uncertain sport, dependent entirely on the caprices of the wind ; but ordinary yachting is certainty itself compared with ice-yachting, in which not only the wind but other climatic influences conspire to test the patience and resignation of its devotees. Given a good breeze from any quarter the yachtman cares little for the rest, he can go somewhere and the water is always open to him ; but with ice-yachting it is entirely different. A cold snap may smooth out the chilly waves and make a glorious course of many miles for the ringing runners, but before a breeze comes a dozen accidents may happen. A fall of snow may bury the glassy track, a storm of rain may soften the ice until it is unsafe, and when at last a cold northwest blast makes all solid again, and gives wind for the waiting sails, the slushy surface may be too rough and uneven for the boats. Time and patience are necessary to its full enjoyment; the yachtman must be on the spot, ready, after days of disappointment, to seize a few hours of such great and exhilarating pleasure as shall more than make amends. The low temperature of the Hudson Valley, its comparatively light snowfall, and the occasional thaws and rains, fol-. lowed by cold weather, renewing the glassy surface, with the prevailing westerly winds that sweep across the river and give a good course for the boats, offer more favorable conditions than are found further south, where the ice lasts for a shorter time, or further north, where heavy snows and the absence of rain or thaws keep the ice buried. Besides this, along the entire east bank, for many miles above and below Poughkeepsie, the headquarters of the sport, are many large estates and handsome country places, whose owners have the leisure that is indispensable to a full enjoyment of ice-yacht sailing, and who have within the last thirty years done so much to develop the boats and the sport.
Here are found the leading ice-yacht clubs of the world, as well as the largest, fastest and finest-equipped yachts, whose records for speed stand second only on the list of human constructions to the rifle-bullet and the larger projectiles of modern ordnance. No other vehicles in the whole category possess the speed of the modern ice-yachts, except a few of the fastest express locomotives running under special conditions, and this speed it is which gives the great charm to this curious pastime. Great speed, of itself, is not the attraction of ordinary yachting. A rate of twelve or thirteen miles per hour is unusual in a sailing-yacht, the common limit of time for a race is seven hours for a course of forty miles, or an average of seven miles per hour, and even with steam this is very seldom doubled ; but with the ice-yachts all is vastly different. We come into a n'ew atmosphere, in which the chief charm lies in the attainment of a speed never dreamed of in vessels that float. Here are none of the charms of yachting as commtonly understood, no quiet drifting over Summer seas, no lazy runs under kites and spinnakers, no glorious roll and tumble over green waves, no nights at anchor in snug harbors, where rattling halyards and creaking cables only give emphasis to the brightness and cheer of comfortable cabins. The "yachting," save the name, is another thing when coupled with its hard, cold prefix. The accompaniments that make a life afloat so delightful, that place yachting at the head of all sports, are missing entirely, and in their place one new element only steps in.
Speed, great and unlimited, a velocity hitherto unknown ; to be shot through space at a rate that produces an entirely new sensation, thrilling, exhilarating, fascinating; setting the blood coursing and sharpening the senses to an unknown degree; this is ice-yachting. The paltry twenty knots of the steam-launch or the forty-mile jog of the locomotive, both contaminated by the connection with a bulky, noisy, smoky and greasy medium, are exchanged for a marvelous gliding through space on a frail and airy fabric scarcely more tangible than the carpet of the Arabian necromancers, and accompanied only by the sharp, melodious ring of metal on ice. Account for it as we may, there is always an attraction about rapid motion, whether behind a fast horse, running down a rapid river, or on a modern express train ; speed itself brings pleasure to all but the most timid, and this pleasure is only intensified by the danger which is always in a greater or less degree present. This rapid motion it is which in the ice-yacht compensates for •the absence of the more numerous and varied charms of yacht-sailing. And when the limit of seven hours for forty miles is cut down to one hour for a course of nearly the same distance a new and attractive element comes into play.
To form any idea of the shape and construction of an ice-yacht, it is first necessary to divest one's self of almost every idea associated ordinarily with the word "yacht."
True, the sails and rigging are substantially the same, and the tiller is a most essential feature in both all analogy ends. The favorite simile for a swan or duck, but if we would describe an ic< comparison with any natural object, we must the insinuating musquito, or humble daddy - longlegs, as the nearest resemblance in outline to the stiff and angular construction of straight timbers and wires. The graceful curves, the beautifully rounded outlines, the glossy sides and shining bottom of the sailing-yacht, possess nothing in common with this curious framework of timbers and iron rods, whose sole beauty is from a purely mechanical point of view, as a most scientific example of engineering skill; and the only object in the entire range of naval architecture that bears any resemblance to it is that awkward and homely nondescript, the modern catamaran. The essential parts of an ice-boat consist of a rigidly built framework supported on three or more skates of large size; one, and sometimes two, of these skates being movable at will for steering, a mast with one or more sails, and a platform for the crew or cargo. These features are combined in various ways, according to the locality and the use to which the boat is put. In some places, where sailing is possible only for a short time each year, a temporary boat is fitted up with a triangle of boards or plank, the apex being aft. Under each corner is a runner of plank, shod with iron, shaped like a large skate; the one under the after corner being fitted on a pivot and controlled by a tiller. On this rough framework a mast and sail—usually pressed into service from some sailingboat temporarily out of use—is fitted, and securely staid to the various angles of the frame, the mast being stepped in the centre of the transverse plank, forming the forward side of the structure. Such boats as this are common on the ponds and bays of the south shore of Long Island, and very good sport may be had with them, while their cost is purely nominal; and of this same shape were the first boats on the Hudson. In Holland and other parts of Northern Europe, ice-boats of crude and heavy build are sometimes used for commercial purposes, irrespective of speed; their principles of construction being similar.
The Article goes on and you can read it in full here. The American Magazine ©1874 pick up on page 386.