Reserve your virtual seat and join us for a Zoom session with Henry Bossett, Dan Clapp, and Pat Heppert on the journey of the Skeeter class — how it morphed into the speed demon we know today as the fastest iceboat class in the world. We’ll also explore how the Skeeter class is evolving. Join the conversation and bring your questions.
So, please register for the presentation, mark your calendar, grab a cold one, and let’s get ready to talk iceboats, Skeeters, and the need for speed. It’s like a virtual hangout at the iceboat shop. See you there!
What To Know
Date: Wednesday, December 13, 2023
Time: 6:30 PM CT / 7:30 PM ET
We will send out the link to the Zoom presentation on December 13. Please register to receive the link.
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. 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: Henry Bossett
Screen shot from USA: ICE YACHTING ON FROZEN RIVERS IN ILLINOIS (1949) British Pathe. Harry Melges sails a 4-runner Skeeter.
Previous: Iceboat Tech That Never Caught On
Early ISA 1941 – 1942 Video
Watch the 1949 Newsreel here
Iceboat researcher Henry Bossett has unearthed yet another interesting discovery: a 1949 newsreel chronicling the International Skeeter Association regatta held on Fox Lake in Illinois. This vintage footage, accompanied by newspaper clippings, documents the presence of a four-runner iceboat helmed by Harry Melges, who happens to be Buddy’s father and a member of the Skeeter Iceboat Club. Observe that the fourth runner was positioned at the stern, deviating from the standard practice seen in other configurations where two runners were typically placed at the front. Adding her own memories to this historical account is Jane Wiswell Pegel, a high school student at the time.
Jane Pegel remembers:
I think the 4-runner boat belonged to Bob Ferris. I was in high school. My first iceboat race was at the Fox Lake ISA. I was first at the windward mark in the ladies’ division in a 20 foot Mead (skeeter.) But I did not know how to sail downwind and ended up second in ladies overall. It snowed for the drive home.
Ben Lampert’s 4-Runner Skeeter Plan
Illustration from Wings On The Ice
Ban Lampert’s 4 Runner Skeeter from the Carl Bernard Scrapbook Collection
Here’s another intriguing discovery shared by Henry Bossett. At the dawn of the age of composites, Popular Mechanics suggested creating iceboat hulls from repurposed jettisoned plastic Naval fuel tank shells.
UPDATE: Here’s a note from someone who actually tried this.
After seeing your last post about discarded fiberglass fuel tanks, I thought I would send you two pictures of attempt by two knuckleheads putting together five pieces of the discarded Navy tanks for soft water version of our boat, later to be converted for use on the ice. The plan was by two seniors in high school to launch our dream boat in Northbrook IL. To then travel down the Mississippi to New Orleans and on return, to add runner plank, mast, runners and sail for our great venture in to ice sailing. Alas, we only made our river trip as far as Wheeling, IL before our spring trip became the second version of the Titanic! All former plans canceled.
Nite 433 & 72
The concept of bow-steering iceboats is much older than I had imagined, which makes sense because iceboaters have a long tradition of trying different technologies
“Can you imagine sailing on a pond and not a drop of water to be seen?”
Henry Bossett discovered an 1897 illustration and an 1850 Boston newspaper article while gathering material for our online Cape Cod Maritime Museum presentation, proving that sailors were familiar with front-runner steering in the 19th century. (Museum presentation, Sunday, April 30, 1:30 CT / 2:30 ET. Register here.)
The big boat in the illustration filled with passengers reminds me of the BERZERKER (a stern-steerer) last seen on Maumee Bay in Toledo. The BERZERKER was Frankenstiened together by the Toledo Ice Yacht Club as a one-weekend party boat. BERZERKER gave many people their first iceboat ride on Lake Erie during that Winter Carnival weekend in 2007.