A shared passion for ice yachting
Published on November 17th, 2023
by Deb Whitehorse
A fascinating thread connects renowned figures, iconic boats, and the ice yachts of the glory years. Here’s a look at the interconnected legacies of Lord Admiral Nelson, Ratsey Sailmakers, Sparkman and Stephens, and iceboaters Drake Sparkman and George Ratsey.
INTREPID, DORADE, COLUMBIA, and SHIVER? Soft water sailors will recognize the first three boats designed by America’s most successful yacht designer, Olin Stephens. Dozens of classes and championship yachts emerged from his partnership with Drake Sparkman and their business, Sparkman and Stephens.
In 1929, Drake Sparkman was a yacht broker who gave Olin Stephens his first break and hired the novice Stephens to design boats. Drake Sparkman was an iceboater.
Henry Bossett shared a 1950 news clipping about the Alcort (Sunfish) Skeeter on Peach Lake in New York. What caught my attention was a mention that Drake Sparkman had donated his stern-steerer SHIVER to the Larchmont Iceboat Club. Of course, Henry’s extensive archives have a file dedicated to Drake Sparkman, and I couldn’t resist taking a closer look.
The rabbit hole revealed an unexpected link between ice sailing, a famous naval battle, and the America’s Cup. A 1935 article reported that sailmaker George Ratsey “with his FROSTBITE, passed everything in sight” while sailing with Drake Sparkman on Peach Lake in New York.
Ratsey’s ancestors were the sail makers of HMS VICTORY, and a piece of sail from the Battle of Trafalgar is on display at the Naval Museum in Portsmouth, England. In 1905, Ratsey & Lapthorn established a loft in New York, and Ratsey sails were famous among America’s Cup boats and the majestic stern-steerers of the east coast.
The December 24 edition of Red Bank Register in New Jersey reported about a yacht with “a new Ratsey Rig. The mainsail will be cut on a more advanced plane, reducing the size of the jib in order to hold the combined sail area size within the limit of 350 square feet of canvas.”
Sparkman & Stephens and Ratsey & Lapthorn had a long connection with the America’s Cup. Ratsey & Lapthorn supplied the sails for the 1958 America’s Cup winning boat, COLUMBIA, designed by Olin Stephens.
Drake Sparkman and George Ratsey’s connection went beyond the design table in their shared passion for ice yachting.
Tip of the helmet to Henry Bossett: