Sunday
Mar022014

Sailing on Ice, Walking on Water

Ice boat with the Kingston-Rhinecliff bridge in the backgroundAn ice boat is a beautiful thing. It glides across the ice on giant ice skates, propelled by a sail. Each boat can hold one, maybe two people, who crouch low, often using feet to direct the rudder. Some are wood, formed and stained over a hundred years ago. Some are sleek and modern. All require ice, thick ice. And wind.  Those two things came together today, March 1, on the Hudson River. It was one of the biggest ice boat events on the river.

From high at Poet’s Walk, just north of the Kingston Rhinecliff Bridge, we could see the boats skidding across the ice. In the not so far distance, an enormous tanker lazily crunched its way south in the open channel. The ice boats stayed away from that channel, zipping carefree north to Barrytown and south toward the bridge. Four or five boats were under sail.

Ice boats with tug and barge in the backgroundWhen we rounded the small promontory to a cove on the Rokeby property I wasn’t prepared for the sight before me: rows of cars and pick up trucks parked on the ice. So that’s how thick it was! People who grew up in this are describe driving across the river in winter. That is no longer possible because a coast guard cutter keeps the channel clear. But also—we don’t have enough cold to make the ice on the river solid enough. (No comment on climate change here. For now.)

People gathered about, preparing their boats for a sail. There must have been forty boats in all, small and large. A friend pointed out the stars in the pack, like the Rocket, built in 1888, which had not be on the ice since 1925. The Shrewsbury Ice Yacht Club had rebuilt this gem.  And if there were forty boats, there were hundreds of people, chatting, eating, drinking, finding old friends and making new ones. I have never seen so many men with beards wearing Carhartts. Every one of them looked like they could fix or repair anything. In the cold.

The RocketI have seen the ice boats but one other time, two years ago. In the quiet shallow waters of the South Tivoli Bay, the water freezes over quickly. It’s the safest place to boat. But on that day not a breath of wind emerged. We all stood around admiring the boats. And the next day the temperatures soared and the boats were plucked from the melting ice. To have enough cold days that the big river is thick enough and smooth enough is a rare treat. Ricky Aldrich, who owns the Rokeby property says he’s never seen ice so thick in all of his years living by the river.

 

It is just now, in March, that I start to miss the Hudson River, the wide expanse of sky over my shoulders as I kayak out to Magdalen or Cruger Islands, or dip into the North Tivoli Bay. I start to dream of long days on the water, exploring reaches to the north, where the river narrows. So I spent today on the river, though not in my kayak. I stood on the ice, then walked out and north, following cracks in the ice, and listening to the ice groan and buckle as the tide came in. At times I laughed a nervous laugh, worried that the ice might crack and drop me into the cold. As a boat sped by, further out on the ice, I heard the swoosh of runners against ice, a sound like an ice skater carving a hard, frosty turn, only amplified. As I continued north, walking on water, I looked out at the vast expanse of ice that covered what I think of as my reach.  

My reach, frozen

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Reader Comments (3)

Wow. Meanwhile in Brooklyn, I was glorying in liquidity and sunshine and throwing half of my winter paddling rules to the winds - like a friend said, what a difference a few degrees of latitude can make!

March 3, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBonnie

Where can you park to go and view the ice boats?

March 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterViolet Batycki

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