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WATCH: Ice boats race on Lake Pepin

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A racer returns to the launching area at Roschen Park in Lake City on Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 8
Forty-six boats raced in two divisions at the 2019 Western Regional Championships of the International DN Ice Yacht Racing Association. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia3 / 8
Three ice boats race during cloudy conditions at the Western Regional Championships on Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019. Steve Gardiner / Rivertown Multimedia4 / 8
Smooth ice and no snow made for fast conditions during the Western Regional Championships of ice boat sailing held Jan. 5-6, 2019, in Lake City. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia5 / 8
A DN class ice boat sits on Lake Pepin near Roschen Park in Lake City on Jan. 5, 2019. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia6 / 8
Ice boats race three laps to complete a one-mile course set on the ice in the middle of Lake Pepin near Lake City on Jan. 5, 2019. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia7 / 8
Trailers used to haul ice boats are spread across the ice at Roschen Park in Lake City on Jan. 5, 2019. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia8 / 8

The International DN Ice Yacht Racing Association held its Western Regional Championships on Lake Pepin on Jan. 5-6 with 46 boats competing in two divisions.

"They set tentative dates, and we check on Thursday nights to see if the event will take place or not," said Rhea Nicholas from Detroit.

The Western Regional Championships were slated for last weekend, and according to the IDNYRA website, the location would be the "Best ice in the Western Region (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, or Iowa)."

Experienced club members scout out possible sites, and sail on the ice to make sure there is enough good ice to set up a race course and host a competition.

"They go out and inspect the ice before the races," said Nicholas, "They determine how thick the ice is, and they look for cracks and grooves which could be dangerous for the boats."

Members of the club visited Lake City on Wednesday to check the ice and liked what they saw, so on Thursday, the event was announced.

"It's On!" IDNYRA secretary Deb Whitehorse posted on the website. "The Western Regional Championships are confirmed for this weekend, Jan. 5-6 on Lake Pepin in Lake City, Minnesota."

At Lake City, each race was one mile with racers making three laps around the course, according to Nicholas, with nine races scheduled for the weekend.

In the starting area, racers stand by their boats and at the start, they run alongside, much like a bobsled start, until they gain speed. Then they jump in the boat and lay on their backs, moving the sail to take advantage of the wind direction.

These boats, called DN class, are 12 feet long, 8 feet wide, and have a 16-foot mast. They weight 46 pounds, according to the IDNIYRA website. They have three runners, one in front and two on the sides, which look like large blades on hockey skates.

Nicholas, the only woman competing in last weekend's races, learned to race ice boats two years ago with Loretta Rehe, an accomplished racer whose brother, Ron Sherry, is a North American, European, and world champion. Sherry was racing this weekend in Lake City.

"There are some world class people out there today," Nicholas said. "Some of the boats are going 50 mph. Some of the best guys can go four times the speed of the wind. They really know how to work it."

Regarding the speed, the Minnesota Ice Sailing Association, on its website, explained "Iceboating is an inherently dangerous sport. These little things travel at freeway speeds, on a surface as fickle as ice."

The Lake Pepin race was divided into two categories based on racer ability. The Gold Fleet had 24 boats and was won by Sherry. The Silver Fleet had 22 boats.

Racers launched their boats from Roschen Park in Lake City. Throughout the weekend, the ice in front of the boat ramp was covered with boat trailers, boat parts, tools, and clothing.

Still wearing her helmet, goggles, and spiked shoes, Nicholas used a socket wrench to remove bolts and disassemble her ice boat, so she could load it in her trailer and drive to Chicago Sunday evening.

"We travel around to different lakes for races and end up seeing the same people," Nicholas said. "This is really lots of fun."

Steve Gardiner

Steve Gardiner taught high school English and journalism for 38 years in Montana and Wyoming.  He started working at the Republican Eagle in May 2018.  He focuses on features and outdoor stories.  

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