A Screaming Comes Across The Ice

It takes a brave heart, a keen interest in cryogenics, and a thick coating of neoprene to climb into an iceboat and fly across a frozen lake at upwards of 60 miles per hour. But hey, hard-water sailors don't mind. What else would they do with all their free time?

Feb 1, 2000
Outside Magazine
By the fourth day, after enduring this prolonged Arctic blast, any spectators who have stuck around are either beginning to show the early stages of hypothermic dementia or were born that way, in which case it doesn't really matter. I myself have been singing private hymns of praise all day to the humanitarian genius who invented hot packs for feet and hands, but after hours on the ice my fingers and toes, not to mention my nose, feel like icicles. At least that's the way I imagine they feel, since I can't feel them.

Up to this point in the championship the Gold fleet has only raced twice and the sailors are anxious. The racer under the most pressure is Ron Sherry, the defending champion. An intense guy with reddish-brown hair and a beard, he looks alternately pained and distracted whenever I try to interview him, and several times he simply walks away. He manages to win the day's first race—the third for the whole regatta—but still trails Mishal Burczynski, the young Polish phenom, in overall scoring. In the fourth race, Sherry loses by 150 yards to the Swede Tomas Lindgren, the 1999 European champ, but his second-place finish is still good enough to put him into a tie for first with Burczynski, who finished fifth.

By the early afternoon, the wind has risen to about 13 mph, which allows for high speeds but also magnifies mistakes. On the second downwind lap of the fifth race, Sherry leads Lindgren by only a couple of boat lengths. Erik Ryan starts doing the play-by-play for anyone within earshot. "Ron's got to jibe just right or he's cooked," he announces. "Wait... Wait... Wait... OK, now!"

Sherry jibes that very second. Lindgren waits another few moments before jibing—a serious mistake. Sherry lengthens his lead and extends it farther on the third and last lap. As he whizzes by the finish line, he jerks on his mainsheet like a crazy man. Not only does he get another win—he can throw out his eighth-place finish in the regatta's first race, putting his scored finishes at 2-1-2-1.

With the sun going down and the mercury following, IDNIYRA decrees that the sixth race will be the last. All 49 members of the Gold fleet arrange their boats along the starting line, half of them pointed left of the marker, half pointed right. Sherry crouches alongside his boat. When the flag drops, he sprints, pushes his boat into clear air, hops in, and yanks the mainsheet tight. He darts into the lead, but another Swede dogs him closely for the first lap. On the second lap, Sherry begins pulling away, and by the start of the third it's clear that no one can catch him. At the finish he's ahead by at least 500 yards, and he pumps his fist in triumph. He has demolished the competition, with a total of just seven points over five races. No one has even come close to this consistency: Sherry's nearest rival, Bernd Zeiger, has 16 points; Burczynski has 17, followed by a gaggle of Swedes.

Erik Ryan, packing his gear into a milk crate, exhales loudly. "Oh, boy, I can feel a party coming on," he says, looking a little alarmed. Apparently, Swamp Rat decorum calls for more than the occasional ice shower and Ryan's been delegated to help everyone chill. "I've got to get liquor," he declares. "For the car, for the hotel, for everywhere."  

Steve Kemper lives and writes in Connecticut.

More at Outside

Elsewhere on the Web

Not Now

Open a World of Adventure

Our Dispatch email delivers the stories you can’t afford to miss.

Thank you!