The Oz of Green Lake
Published on February 28th, 2023
There may be no other genre of sailing that attracts more passion than iceboating. No regatta too far, no community more supportive, no season too short. Here’s a story from Four Lakes Ice Yacht Club Commodore Daniel Hearn:
I read recently that a documentary about Buddy Melges will soon be released called MELGES: The Wizard of Zenda. If there’s a sequel, it should be called “The Oz of Green Lake.” It would tell the story of another living legend from the sailing world, Joe Norton.
What Joe lacks in height, he makes up for with personality and generosity. Joe was a fixture in DN racing for decades, and finished up his active racing career in the Nite Class. I was fortunate enough to purchase his Nite when he decided to hang it up. It was a nameless boat at the time, so I jumped on the opportunity to name her JoJoe.
The wood components Joe made for the boat are works of art. He’s a guy who knows his way around a wood shop. He’s made a living restoring, building, and maintaining some of the most beautiful Chris Craft style boats that I have ever seen.
He insists the only way to varnish one of these beauties is in the nude. “You see, clothing is a magnet for dust”, he claims, “and the last thing you want is dust gathering on your wood.” I think he was pulling my chain, but I’m not really sure.
Although his racing days are over, Joe continues to give back to the sport in multiple ways. This season already, Joe has served as the PRO for the Nite Nationals and assisted Pat Heppert at the DN Worlds/North Americans.
I paid a recent visit to Joe in Green Lake. One of my off-season projects will be building a couple Nite masts, so I figured there was no one better to consult with than The Oz of Green Lake. He sent me back to Madison, WI with all sorts of goodies, along with some of the carnage from his own Nite mast exploration. Sharing one’s failures can save another aspiring builder boatloads of time!
But Joe also sent me back with something else. Something that is uniquely Joe. He doesn’t even know what to call the device, so I’m going to call it a “Nortometer”. Functionally, the device measures changing wind angles.
When setting a course, PROs are hawkishly watching for the mean direction, so that starting lines and marks can be set for fair racing. Artistically, calling this thing a “device” seems kind of insulting. Joe constructs his Nortometers out of salvaged Chris Craft decks.
The contrasting wood stripes provide a beautiful indication of a square race track when the yarn is flowing in parallel. If the yarn is at an angle, then it’s time to wait for the wind to settle in, or consider moving the course. When not set-up for racing duties, the Nortometer cleverly stores its uprights in pockets underneath, where a true artist, and all around great guy has inscribed his name and date on the gift.
Joe has already donated Nortometers to the Green Lake Club, Skeeter Iceboat Club, Four Lakes Ice Yacht Club, Nite Class, International DN Ice Yacht Racing Association, Minnesota Ice Sailors and the International Skeeter Association.
If any other club or judge could use a Nortometer of their own–close your eyes, click your heels, and say, “there’s no place like home.” Alternatively, you could email Joe at email@example.com.