Nite Nationals: A look at the world of hardwater yachting

Published on March 20th, 2014

The Nite is a relatively new one-design iceboat, and since the first class nationals in 1975, the likes of Bill Allen, Buddy Melges, Jim Gluek, Andy Burdick, and Harry Melges have held the crown. However, there have also been 10 years during that span when there was no regatta due to poor conditions.

A field of eighteen Nites arrived at Green Lake, Wisconsin for the 2014 Nite National Championship Regatta on March 15-16. Don Sanford, International Nite Class Association Commodore, provides this event report…

Green Lake is one of the biggest lakes in Wisconsin – about 7 miles long, a mile-plus wide, and certainly the deepest. Local sailor Joe Norton reminded us not to drop anything important because 210 feet was a long way to the bottom. Of course, it would first have to get through two solid feet of ice.

This was a beautiful sheet of ice, enough for our course and the Northwest Ice Yachting Association (NIYA) a couple of miles away. Cars, trucks and SUV’s of all shapes and sizes would drive back and forth across the lake just like the famous Ice Road Truckers of TV fame.

For the first day of racing, a course was set in a wide open sheet of ice, about three miles away from the pits. All we needed was some wind. Around 11:30am, when it failed to show up, skippers parked their boats, unrigged their mainsheets and piled aboard pick-up trucks, trailers and Jim’s Gator for the three-mile ride back to the pits where members of the Green Lake Ice Yacht Club (GLICY) prepared a great lunch for us and the NIYA sailors.

Back out on the ice at 2:00pm, we held our annual meeting, soaked up the sun, posed for some fleet photos and waited for the wind which never showed up. Luckily we had a fleet of support vehicles for the tow back to the pits.

Later that night, the wind did eventually fill in, and a few sailors climbed aboard the GLIYC’s big sternsteerer for a moonlight cruise down the lake for a late-night cocktail at the Heidel House. Even though the moon slipped behind some clouds, sailors and boats made the 14-mile round trip without incident.

A 10-12 knot northeast breeze greeted the fleet on Sunday, coming right down the lake to produce a great big course. Everyone was psyched and ready to go when the flag was dropped for the first race around 9:30am, and by noon the fleet had completed five races (the max for any one day of the regatta).

Scott Brown, who traveled to the regatta from the frozen (really frozen and really snowy) northland of Lake Minnetonka, Minnesota, posted a string of four first-place finishes to take the title. He’s been a perennial contender at Nationals for many years, but this was the first time Scott left for home with the Nite (first place) punchbowl in his truck.

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Editor’s note: While softwater sailing requires sufficient wind, hardwater sailing needs both wind and quality ice. Getting both at the same time, when an event is scheduled, is easier said than done. Also, safety issues are more glaring for the hardwater crowd.

Here is the Disclaimer provided by the International Nite Class Association…

A vast majority of the time, one can participate in ice boating and enjoy a reasonable and acceptable safety margin.

We must remind you that ice boats are very fast and the ice is very hard. Ice can be thick and quite thin in other places, sometimes just a few feet apart. Under the ice is water which can be very cold and is often very deep. The Right-of-way rules are written to help prevent accidents. Using common sense about when and where to sail works most of the time. However, accidents causing damage to equipment, injury or even death may still occur.

The International Nite Class Association cannot guarantee your safety when sailing, whether you follow these guidelines and the Right-of- Way rules or not. YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOURSELF!! No one, including The International Nite Class Association, can guarantee your safety when on the ice. You are responsible for yourself. The safety advice given on this page CANNOT guarantee your safety in all instances. Be smart, never sail alone.

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