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Ice sailing on the Hudson

Published on February 27th, 2022

If the ice on the Hudson River is smooth and thick and it’s 25 degrees with a steady wind blowing out of the southwest at about 15 mph, John Sperr is a happy camper.

More accurately, he’s a happy sailor, gliding along the river’s frozen surface on one of his two ice boats somewhere between Athens on the west bank and Astor Point at Barrytown on the east bank.

More than two centuries after it was introduced to the Hudson Valley, ice sailing, also known as ice yachting, remains a popular hobby for a dedicated group of enthusiasts who love nothing more than spending frigid winter days zipping around in conditions that keep most people indoors.

“There’s no motors, you’re in the middle of the Hudson River and the boats themselves are just things of beauty. They’re just a joy to look at,” said Sperr, a 72-year-old Red Hook resident who’s the treasurer of the Hudson River Ice Yacht Club.

Being in the middle of that type of Currier and Ives winterscape is also what attracts Brian Reid, of Red Hook, the club’s secretary and unofficial historian who writes about ice sailing and posts photos on his blog, “White Wings and Black Ice.”

Reid, a second-grade grade teacher at a private school in Saugerties, said he was introduced to ice sailing on what he refers to as an “amazing day” in January 1990, when he took his first ride on the river off Rhinecliff.

“I grew up here but it was something I had never seen before,” he said. “I got hooked from then on.”

Sperr has been ice sailing even longer. During a Valentine’s Day ski outing in 1982 he came upon a fleet of antique ice boats off Red Hook. He talked to the sailors, returned the next day to help out, and was smitten from his first sail.

While ice yachting clubs were proliferating in New England and the Great Lakes region, interest in the sport faded in the Hudson Valley as the 20th century wore on. Credit for its revival is given to the late Raymond Ruge of Cornwall, who resurrected the HRIYC in 1964 and started restoring historic ice boats salvaged from old barns in the valley.

Today, most of the 40 or so boats owned by HRIYC’s approximately 65 members are more than a century old, Reid said. – Full story

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