Pat Heppert’s next Class C Skeeter build begins with Acme, where “Quality is our #1 dream.”
The other day I was so inspired by everyone else’s summer iceboat projects that I had to start one of my own. So I went on the internet and ordered up a complete iceboat frame kit from ACME Iceboats Inc. (www.acme-iceboats.com).
When the UPS driver showed up with the big box, excitement quickly turned to disappointment. This doesn’t look anything like what I ordered, so I called customer service to complain. Why are all the frames black, and why did you overcharge my credit card? Customer service said, “This is because your order clearly specified you wanted the INSANITY option” No idea what that means, but it seems like a Dan Clapp reference. When I asked why all the forward frames clearly looked about 10% shorter than the plans, customer service started getting rude and said, “Well, sir, we are fully expecting you to lose some weight before next season.” FAT CHANCE of that happening.
Then I inquired why the aft frames didn’t seem to look anything like the plans. The tail end looks like it is going to be about a foot and a half wide and tapering down to almost no height at the plank. Why in the heck would any self-respecting front-loader possibly be this wide? The discussion went South, and customer service ended the call by saying, “If you are having so much trouble absorbing the simple concept of how to build an iceboat, then you are just going to have to order up our brand new mainsheet assembly and see how it all comes together.” I have no idea what this means, so I just pulled out the credit card and obeyed—no idea what is coming in the next shipment.
It’s always good to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. With the C-Skeeter, I buddied up to Pat Heppert, and so far, he’s still taking my calls and responding to my texts and emails. When I got intrigued with fixed wing boats, inspired by Dan Clapp’s W28, I reached out to Wing Wizard, John Eisenlohr, who lives in Montana. I had the pleasure of meeting John and some of the other Montana Ice/Dirt Cowboys on our last trip to Fort Peck. Before I knew it, my W28 wanna-be with DN parts had morphed into a 18 ft. tapered wing and flap, with 30″ removable top sections. Plus, a largely enclosed 13 foot hull, 6 foot springboard, and a 12 foot wide plank. I think they call this phenomenon, “project creep.” What is it with iceboaters, anyway? In the immortal words of Dan Clapp himself, “it’s not like we’re racing!”
Here’s a shot of my main wing as it sits now. I’ve just installed the leading edge pieces, but have yet to shape. My hinge boxes are also ready to be installed on the appropriate ribs. After that, I’ve got some additional internal reinforcing to do, and it’s on to skinning. John normally installs the leading edge blocks after the skinning, using ropes with tourniquet-type devices. I decided to mount leading edge blocks first, so I could just use clamps. Guess I’ll find out if this makes the skinning more difficult.
New Jersey Dan Clapp is best known for his innovative A-Class front-seater Skeeter designs and dominating the Skeeter class championships for two decades. He won nine International Skeeter Association regattas and seven Northwest titles. In the past years, he realized that the magnitude of effort to campaign the Skeeter became too much and too time-consuming. The lack of travel partners also contributed to his decision to sell his INSANITY, one of the most stunning Skeeters ever seen.
Jim Gervolino nudged Dan into helping him put together a wing mast that could work with various hulls. Here’s his story on the WING.
Several years ago, when Tom Nichols moved from New Jersey to Maine, he had to get rid of the wing he built in the ’80s for his front-seat C-Class Skeeter. I convinced Jim Gervolino to take it.
Jim Gervolino’s C Class Skeeter w Wing
Jim spent that summer rebuilding that wing from its three-element, low aspect ratio shape to a more modern two-element (wing & flap), high aspect ratio shape, similar to those of John Eisenlohr’s wing land sailing boats.
Jim put his wing on a new conventional cockpit C-Class Skeeter boat he built and sailed it three times in 2020.
It worked so well that Jim came to me in the spring and tried to convince me to build a wing so he’d have someone to “play” with. We were standing in my shop beside a wall of photos. I told him I wasn’t interested in building another iceboat, but if we could put a wing on a boat I already had, like, say, “that” one (as I pointed to a picture of an Icebird), then maybe I’d be interested. Jim laughed and said, “You’re not serious, are you?”
We collaborated on the shape of the wing until we agreed on an airfoil. I wanted a taller wing for light wind, but Jim wanted a shorter wing so he wouldn’t be overpowered in heavy air. So, we agreed on making the top three feet (six sq.ft.) removable. It turned out to be the perfect compromise, and it has already proven itself with wind gusting over 25 on our maiden voyage.
Jim proposed that he’d build the wings, and I’d build the hulls. Jim is retired. All summer, he’d keep sending me progress photos and asking, “when are you going to start building the hulls?” By September 2020, I could no longer procrastinate. I used a medical table mold from work to shape the hulls. The design is simple because it doesn’t need to provide for “sheeting” loads like most iceboats since the wings have none.
I may have been a little bit hoodwinked into this whole WING project, and I wasn’t exactly thrilled to be involved at first. These boats are like toys, and I was used to building A-Class Skeeters. It wasn’t until my first ride that I saw the light and couldn’t be happier now. The wing works better than I ever imagined. And, the entire boat, including the wing, fits inside my Yukon XL. No 36-foot long box trailer necessary. My back doesn’t hurt from lugging heavy Skeeter hulls and stepping 28′ masts. My neck doesn’t hurt from laying down and trying to hold my head up like in DN. In fact, except for a bathroom break, there was no reason to stop sailing. It’s like iceboating in your lazy-boy recliner. I sailed for hours, and the next day, miraculously, I got out of bed without an aching body.
Chauncy Griggs Skeeter with wing mast
But, Jim deserves most of the credit. He rebuilt the first wing proving the concept. He researched everything and studied John Eisenlohr’s wing-building videos, of which we used much of the same ideas. And, he kept the project progressing over the summer when most of us were out on the water having fun. Not too many people have the motivation to work on iceboats when it’s 90 degrees outside, even most iceboaters.
We look forward to others using their DN parts and building themselves a wing, and we’d be happy to answer any questions they might have. We talked about a name for this new class (Ice Wings, Hot Wings, Grasshoppers). Probably just calling them “Wings” and adding a number next to the “W” for sail area, like W28 for our 28 square foot wings, is best. If someone makes a bigger wing as Chauncey Griggs did, it’ll be called W75. I wish Chauncey had lived long enough to have seen these. He would’ve been proud, even if it took 30 years for someone to join him. I did get the “handlebar” idea for controlling the wing rotation from one of his boats.
Welcome to Day 2 of Bill Mattison Week at iceboat.org where we revisit the 2001 International Skeeter Association Regatta on Geneva Lake. Josh Adams’ article in SAIL featured interviews and quotes from a who’s who of iceboating at that time. Peter Harken and Buddy Melges were there and though he wasn’t at the regatta, Dan Clapp and his revolutionary Skeeter ATTITUDE were there in spirit. A full page was devoted to Bill’s Skeeter building history and philosophy. Click here to read the article.