Tags: Geneva Lake West
January 28, 2014 | 01:12 PMFONTANA — “It’s loud out on the ice,” Rick Pappas said. “The ice is bumpy, and you have these metal runners going over the bumps. The boat is hollow, so you get all the noise. There are ice chips flying up in the air.”
Pappas and Fontana’s group of iceboaters are a tough breed.
Helmets are a must, not just to divert ice chips from the face, but because the boats have no brakes.
“You can coast a long way on these,” Pappas said. “You can’t tell by sight if the wind shifts. It’s all by feel.”
For summer sailing, when the water is soft, the waves show the direction of the wind.
Not so when the water is hard, or iced over, in the winter.
But just because the water’s hard doesn’t mean the sailing’s done. The group is on the ice as often as possible.
“Most of the guys here are seasonal business owners or retirees,” Pappas said of the group.
“They have to be able to come out to the lake at a moment’s notice if the weather allows it.”
“If there’s too much snow, if there’s too much wind, if there’s not enough wind, there’s no ice boating,” Pappas said. “We’re lucky here on Geneva Lake. More northern lakes freeze early and then get covered with snow. Here, we typically freeze later, and there’s not as much snow that comes after. We can usually sail more days on this lake than other lakes.”
Pappas said during a good year, he sees 25 to 30 days on his iceboat.
The wind chill is a factor, too, and iceboaters are careful to cover up as much skin as possible. Iceboats can reach speeds up to five times the speed of the wind, dropping the ambient air temperature.
Pappas calls apparent wind velocity an unrelenting cycle.
According to Vega Sailing School, apparent wind velocity is calculated with the speed the boat is moving through water, or on ice in this case, and the already present wind speed.
For example, if there is a 10 mph wind on the lake coming from the north, and the boat is moving 10 mph to the north, the apparent wind speed is 20 mph.
For someone on the boat, it feels like the wind blowing by is at 20 mph.
It’s an unrelenting cycle because, as Pappas puts it, the faster the boat goes, the faster the apparent wind speed, causing the boat to accelerate more.
There is a limit, though.
“These boats can probably go about 70 mph,” Pappas said. “Or more than that. It depends on the conditions.”
The boats the Geneva Lake group race weigh about 550 pounds and can hold two people — uncomfortably.
“There’s not a lot of room in there,” Pappas said.
There are different classes of boats, too, and different qualities of craftsmanship.
“The wood on the boats has to be flexible, strong, lightweight and durable to handle ice boating,” Pappas said.
Pappas has spent some time in the icy water, too. He lost his phone in January to water damage after his boat ran into a seam in the ice, putting him and his phone in the icy water.
“I was soaked,” he said. “When I got back into the boat, my pants froze to the seat.”
Iceboaters know to look for seams in the lake, the cracks and peaks in the ice that can cause the boats to tip or the ice to break open.
“They’re usually in the same areas every year,” Pappas said. “Not so with the seam that put me in the water. It was running parallel to the lake shore.”
The seams are caused by different parts of the lake freezing at different times. Pappas said it’s a process like tectonic plate movement.
One sheet of ice slides under another, causing the top ice sheet to peak.
“We can’t get the boat over those, so sometimes we can’t make it across the lake,” Pappas said.