1922 Madison Winter Carnival on Lake Monona. Photo courtesy Marv Luck.

The 1922 photo above is difficult to write about because there is so much history captured at that moment. Pictures like this can send one down a never-ending rabbit hole of history. It’s tough to stick to one topic when there are so many presented in this photo, such as Madison’s history, the history of each boat and skipper, and the differences between the Hudson River and Madison styles of Stern-Steerer. For this post, I’ll try to stick to the subject of DORLA.

A 4LIYC Facebook member in Madison recently asked about the Stern-Steerer DORLA because her family had a connection to the boat. Marv Luck of Oshkosh, who knows the big ships’ history better than anyone, noticed the request and handed me a couple of 8 x 10 photos of DORLA last weekend at the Puckaway Nite and Renegade regatta.

DORLA was owned initially by Henry Meyer of Pewaukee, WI. I’m not sure who built DORLA, but I would guess John Buckstaff of Oshkosh, WI. (Marv can correct me if I’m wrong.) The Meyer family was heavily involved in ice sailing in the first half of the 20th century, and Henry served as Secretary and Treasurer of the Northwest for several years.

The newspaper reports about the 1922 Madison Winter Carnival don’t mention DORLA, but that’s undoubtedly her in the photo because the picture came from the Meyer family. The Capital Times reported on February 3, 1922, “…to make the ice boat races a feature of the Carnival, the Four Lakes Ice Yacht Club has received acceptances of a challenge from the Ice Yacht Clubs at Pewaukee, Oconomowoc and Oshkosh. Several Hudson River types of ice boats will be in the fleet of boats from Pewaukee and Oconomowoc. Suitable trophies consisting of cups and pennants will be awarded the three winning boats: in three different classes.”

Henry Meyer and DORLA won three Class A Stern-Steerer titles in the Northwest Regatta in 1928, 1930, and 1931 and the Hearst Trophy in 1931 and 1932. I have found no mention of DORLA until 1947.

In 1947, DORLA appeared again in a Wisconsin State Journal report about the Northwest. She had become part of the Four Lakes Ice Yacht Club Stern-Steerer fleet and was owned by O. T. Havey and sailed by Phil Oetking. In 1948, the same newspaper reported that Havey’s boat had placed second in the Northwest regatta under a new name ELECTRA. Of course, Havey gained fame as the man who commissioned the MARY B Class A Stern Steerer. In 1956, the boat was called DORLA again with a new owner, 4LIYC member Johnny Adams.

DORLA might have ended up with the same fate as so many old Stern-Steerers, quietly decaying in a barn until put on a burn pile by people who had no idea of her regatta titles and rich history.

Meade Gougeon’s Essential “Evolution of Modern Sailboat Design”

“Others quickly picked up the bow-steering design, and a few large bow-steerers were built…A Class B boat (250 square feet of sail) was built by Starke Meyer of Milwaukee and he ran away from everything else on the lakes”. Photo from the Carl Bernard Scrapbook Collection.

While researching last week’s Throw Back Thursday Gar Wood regatta post, I discovered a book that wasn’t on my radar or in my library, Meade Gougeon’s “Evolution of Modern Sailboat Design” written with co-author Ty Knoy. The stern-steerer iceboat on the cover hinted this was not a typical book about soft water sailboats with an obligatory paragraph about iceboats. Meade masterfully combined the story of iceboat design, mechanics, and history as he explained why some boats are faster than others. If you collect books about iceboating, this is an essential volume and available on Amazon.

Meade’s Bigger Picture Thinking:

  • “Many of the refinements in sails and rigging that have been developed since World War I originated on iceboats.”
  • “The first bow-steerer of any importance was built in 1931 by the Joy brothers, sailmakers in Milwaukee.” …”the Joy brothers and Walter Beauvais (of Williams Bay, WI) who came up with the machine (BEAU SKEETER) that retired the big boats forever…It went on the ice in Lake Geneva in 1933 and was an instant success.”
  • Iceboaters were quick to take up the idea’s of Dr. Manfred Curry, a German sailor who came up with the idea of planing full length battens to curve into an airfoil. (An idea banned in most soft-water racing classes at the time of the book’s publication.) Iceboaters in the 1930s were using revolutionary ideas like rotating masts, wing masts, and full length battens while soft-water classes were outlawing advancements. The few softwater classes that allowed rotating masts (in 1976) were Midwestern scows, from the same part of the world where a good many iceboaters are also scow sailors in the summer.
  • The aviator, Charles Lindbergh, (who spent a semester here the university in Madison and motored around Lake Mendota on an ice sled) “is said to have had a hand in the design of a very advanced rig” that was put on the Class A stern-steerer, DEUCE II, which was owned by Lindbergh’s cousin, Joseph Lodge of Detroit.

“On DEUCE II, with the help of Lindbergh, Lodge installed a rotating wing mast, believed to be the first ever used…DEUCE II was a hard luck boat, plagued by rigging failures, as Lodge challenged for the Stuart Cup and the Hearst International trophies in the 1930s.” Photo from the Carl Bernard Scrapbook Collection.

“Most of the troubles [from DEUCE II] were ironed out in DEUCE III, a remodeled version of DEUCE II, and in 1938, Lodge won both trophies to become champion of the world for Class A.” Photo from the Carl Bernard Scrapbook Collection.