It’s time to kick off the long weekend to celebrate the 4th of July with two of the most patriotic iceboats in America. Hoping we can photograph these two boats together somewhere during the 2023 season. Happy 4th of July!
Read: Oshkosh Ice Boat Club History & 1939 Northwest History by Harry Lund
All-around iceboater Andy Gratton let me borrow a rich archive of iceboat ephemera, photos, and records from Oshkosh, Wisconsin. As anyone who researches history can tell you, the information in libraries like this is filled with rabbit holes that lead you to unforeseen places, always different than what you originally intended.
A report written in 1939 by Harry Lund about the history of the Oshkosh Ice Yacht Club led me to the 1940 Northwest regatta. The regatta was sailed on Geneva Lake in Lake Geneva, WI. It was the first time a Class A Skeeter, Jack Vilas in SUSIE Q, won the ten-lap Northwest “Free For All” race, where the winner is awarded one of the most beautiful trophies in our sport.
The Northwest began in 1913, and the Free For All was the last race of the regatta to compare the speeds of the different classes of stern-steerers. The top two finishers in Class A, B, C, and D stern-steerers were eligible to race for the trophy. 1933 marked the first time the Skeeter class competed in the Northwest, and it only took them seven years to take the Free For All trophy from the stern-steerer class. The Skeeter class has continued their dominance of that race to the present day; Minnesota’s John Dennis is the current titleholder. Thinking about that day in 1940 when Jack Vilas in SUSIE Q became the first bow-steering boat to take home the big cup reminded me of National Sailing Hall of Fame member Jan Gougeon.
Back on Lake Geneva in 1981, Jan gamely lined up his DN with the Class A Skeeters of Four Lakes Ice Yacht Club’s Paul Krueger and Bill Mattison for the ten-lap finale. “It was a scary situation for Bill and me,” Paul recalled. “Jan didn’t realize how fast Bill and I were making the mark. To avoid him, I had to hit the mark, and Bill went to the outside.” From then on, DN sailors who qualified and wanted to compete in the race were allowed to borrow a Class A Skeeter. Jan’s good friend, Ron Sherry, won the 1997 race in a Class A Skeeter he borrowed from 4LIYC’s Bob Kau. (Interesting how Lake Geneva is where Northwest Free-For-All History has been made in 1940, 1981, and 1997!) Ron’s account of that race is a classic story, worthy of another good future post.
Ashwaubenon, WI iceboater Jay Yaeso doubled his racing time and fun by bringing his Class A Skeeter and Stern-Steerer to Menominee, Michigan, on March 5-7, 2021. Jay sums up the weekend in this report. Scroll down below his recap to see a few of Gretchen Dorian’s Skeeter photos.
Skeeter sailing and Stern-Steering haven’t been exactly easy these past two winters. Mother Nature and COVID19 tagged teamed and put a beat down on us. That all ended abruptly the weekend of March 5-7, 2021, when a total of nine Class A Skeeters and eight Stern-Steerers landed at Menomonie, Michigan, courtesy of world-famous Renegade sailor Mike Derusha.
Mike spent countless hours evaluating the local conditions and determined it was green light go for all involved. He nailed it! Perfect landing and ice conditions.
The threat of the Mackinaw icebreaker coming through had us on red alert; however, the Coasties held off their icebreaking efforts the remainder of the weekend.
Day one Friday was all about the Skeeters. Conditions were perfect, a light 5-10 mph southeaster, and we completed four races.
John Dennis (JD) in the U194 and Ken Whitehorse piloting the M197 were the boats to beat. Both displayed blistering speed in this light condition. Most impressive is watching the legend Paul Krueger M165 sail at 81 years young! A true inspiration for any iceboater! Class act! The ice stayed hard all day with full sunshine. Rounding out the Friday fleet was Tom Hyslop V738, Leon Lebeau D888, and Jay Yaeso U311.
Saturday brought out three more Skeeters, Mark Isabell V30, Steve Orlebeke V500, and Alex Peterson V137. The day started with a light northwesterly, and Skeeters and Stern-Steerers shared a racecourse.
The Wisconsin Stern Steerers Association started race one of their championship regatta series. This race was by far the longest iceboat race I have ever experienced. My Stern-Steerer, HAYWIRE, was the only yacht to finish, and what a weird finish it was! She completed the race upwind as a 180-degree wind shift hit on the final leg. It was a grueling race that the Race Committee declared abandoned because of time limit infraction. The incredible wind shift made it easy on the Race Committee because the 180-degree wind shift flip-flopped the course.
The Skeeters sailed downwind and commenced race five of the weekend. Ken Whitehorse was hooked up and won the race. The fresh breeze locked in again from the southeast at 5-10 mph, which made it another great day. U194 and M197 were the boats to beat, with the M165 securing second place in race five and V30 showing much speed in race seven.
The Stern-Steerers plugged away throughout the day and managed to race three more races with the Class A boat MICHIGANDER sailed by Erik and Ritch Sawyer acing every race. Once again, proving a Class A Stern-Steerer is the ultimate ride! HAYWIRE chased the MICHIGANDER, followed up by the remainder of the fleet. Dave Lallier, Mike Kroll, Mark Weiner, Max Runge, Joe Terry and Class D winner Andy Gratton.
Upon completing the day’s racing, Wisconsin Skeeter Association’s morale Officer Ken Whitehorse presented JD the Bottle Trophy. All participants consumed some of Jameson’s whiskey bottle, which capped off a glorious day of Skeeter and Stern-Steerer racing. Following the Bottle Trophy celebration, the WSA gathered at Jozwiak’s Bar and Grill, home of the delicious and delightful hamburger know as the “Wabash” and killer homemade pizza.
Sunday arrived with light conditions with a forecasted south southeast wind at 10-15 mph. The light air gave the fleet leisure set up time. When the clock read 11 AM, we had 11 mph of wind which kept building all day. The Skeeters finished their series with the final race deciding who won the weekend series. JD prevailed with Kenny on his heels. Great to see newcomers Leon Lebeau and Alex Peterson join the Skeeter fleet! We are all looking forward to racing with these guys!
The WSSA wrapped up their championship with the MICHIGANDER winning race five, and HAYWIRE launched and sailing on two runners most of race six for the final race win. Great to see all the familiar faces with lots of new ones. We now can put the Skeeters and Stern-Steerers away fast and ready for the 21-22 season.
A weekend like this happens with a lot of behind-the-scenes help. Special thanks to Deb Whitehorse for all her support, to WSSA Race Committee Ann Gratton, and Mary Jane and Steve Schalk for tabulating and posting all results. Thank you to Mike Derusha for inviting us all up to Menominee. Thank you to Schoelgels Bayview restaurant for letting us drive through their parking lot and lawn to access this great sheet of ice, and Ken Whitehorse for all his work as WSA morale/trophy officer. Not to forget all competitors, thank you to everyone who showed up put in a tremendous effort to make this a most excellent weekend of sailing. Thanks for the incredible memories!
Jay Yaeso U-311 C-47
As told to the Editor by Ken Whitehorse
The Madison-based Four Lakes Ice Yacht Club Skeeter Fleet of Paul Krueger M165 and Ken Whitehorse M197 relentless search for ice finally paid off this past weekend at Menominee, Michigan, where they enjoyed 3 days of racing and camaraderie.
Earlier in the week, they set up on the west end of Lake Mendota on Tuesday in 40 mph winds and a 20f temperature. They checked ice with the 4LIYC ATV, and Ken sent out the word to the other Skeeter guys that “all systems go, ice looks great” in anticipation of Wednesday racing.
Tom Hyslop V738 arrived Wednesday morning to find the launch quickly disintegrating. The lake ice was still holding, and Ken proposed that they take turns at the wheel in his boat. 4LIYC Commodore Don Anderson arrived with the orange marks and the club’s Nebulous flotation device. The Dane County Lakes Patrol warden visited the landing, and Ken said, “a long talk ensued.”
Rather than trying to sail, Ken and Paul decided to pull off the trailer. Tom Hyslop and son Eric Hyslop assisted with boat disassembly and loading. When Ken hauled the trailer off the lake with his Mule ATV, the 8000# Bulldog trailer jack was damaged and bent. Ken remarked that “seven sets of Skeeter runners in the trailer might have been a bit much.” That afternoon, word came from Iceboat Central U311 Jay Yaeso about ice on Lake Michigan near Oconto, Wisconsin.
Bright and early Thursday morning, Ken went to the Past Champions Iceboat Shop and fired up his blowtorch to heat the trailer-crank cherry-red and fixed the roller wheel. Paul and Ken shoved off for Oconto to rendezvous with Tom Hyslop. Oconto’s ice was tremendous, but ice fishermen blocked access to the lake because the fish were hitting there.
Thankfully, Mike Derusha R188 called Paul and reported that Menominee, Michigan had plenty of ice and told them to “come on up.” The three ice seekers didn’t waste time making the 30-minute drive to Menominee. Mike met them at the landing with a big smile and welcoming arms. They thanked Mike for taking care of the Skeeter fleet. Ken said Mike’s response was, “M fleet helps us; we help you.” Ken texted Jay, informing him to spread the word that Menominee was the place to be. Tom ended the evening by holding up a PBR nightcap and uttered, “we ride tomorrow.”
The conditions at Menominee were perfect for three days of Skeeter racing. The Skeeters are grateful for Eric Hyslop’s help setting up the marks and helping the fleet. Thanks to Mike Derusha for providing trees. JD and Tom were instrumental in setting our racing courses. Thanks to Steve and Mary Jane Schalk in Fontana, WI for tabulating the scores.
The week started with just three Skeeter sailors getting together on Lake Mendota to sail before the ice went terrible. We chased ice, and we were lucky to find it in Menominee, where we experienced a club-racing-like atmosphere. We just happened to have a bunch of trophies to make it more fun. No one is in charge of the Wisconsin Skeeter Association. If there’s ice, the Wisconsin Skeeter Association racers will be there.
Get a close look and listen as Steve Orlebeke V500 and John Dennis U194 sail past Alex Peterson who shared this on Facebook. They were competing in the Wisconsin Skeeter Association Championship sailed on Lake Michigan at Menominee, Michigan, March 5-7, 2021. Alex and Rob Evans, both from Minnesota, are partners in the Class A Skeeter MERLIN. Rob sailed the DN Western Region regatta while Alex sailed the Skeeter. Stand by for more photos and a report from Ken Whitehorse about the 3 day event.