Iceboaters chase ideal conditions to Pepin
LAKE CITY — In the dead of winter, you'd think there would be frozen lakes nearly everywhere, but iceboaters are a picky bunch.
That's why Eben Whitcomb drove for nearly two days from his home in Connecticut to be in Lake City for the 2013 Gold Cup World ice boating championships on Lake Pepin.
"For this one race of the year, we go pretty much wherever we have to go," Whitcomb said while preparing for a practice run Saturday afternoon. "One year, we drove all the way to Thunder Bay."
And if you think that was a long trip, meet Christian and Andreas Seegers, a father-son team of iceboating enthusiasts who traveled from Hamburg, Germany, to be in Lake City during the weekend.
"This country is big enough to always find a good piece of ice," Andreas Seegers said.
Actually, good ice hasn't been easy to find this year, which is why the International DN Ice Yacht Racing Association waited until last Wednesday to select Lake City and Lake Pepin as the site for this year's championships. Sites in Wisconsin and Michigan were also under consideration, but Lake Pepin's combination of hard, fast ice and lack of snow covering the ice helped make the decision.
"The conditions are pretty much ideal from what I've seen," said Kent Baker, of Toledo, Ohio, head of the association. "That's why we picked it out from all of North America."
The announcement of Lake Pepin as the site of the championship races had iceboaters hooking up their trailers and hitting the road. License plates on vehicles parked at Roschen Park in Lake City on Saturday were from Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, New York and Michigan.
The Seegerses, who are both lawyers in Germany, hauled a trailer bearing Illinois plates to Lake City. They store their sailing gear in Chicago, arrive in the U.S. the week of the annual championship race and hit the road for the selected site.
While Christian dug dangerous rocks out of the lake ice near shore, Andreas checked the runners and sails on their two boats.
"My dad grew up on a lake in Niedersachsen, and learned this," Andreas said. "When I was 11 or 12, I got a small DN. Now it's something we do together."
'DN' boats, so named because they were first designed in a 1937 contest sponsored by the Detroit News newspaper, are 12 feet long, 21 inches wide and carry a sail of 60 square feet on a 16-foot mast. In ideal conditions they reach speeds of 60 mph.
And conditions for practice runs Saturday on Lake Pepin were ideal, according to Whitcomb, the racer from Connecticut. "This is optimal," he said. "The ice is clear with a hard surface."
At noon Saturday, under bright sunshine, with a temperature of 15 degrees and a stiff wind blowing, the boaters made test runs, adjusted their gear and kept an eye on the Sunday forecast calling for freezing rain and snow.
"Freezing rain isn't good," Whitcomb said. "It limits your visibility and freezes on your goggles. It's kind of a finicky sport. You need cold and ice, but with that comes snow, which you don't want."
Which is exactly why good ice can be awfully difficult to find.