BRICK – Watching a small sailboat moving at speeds up to 40 mph seems surreal, unless the boat is sailing on ice, which has been happening in Kettle Creek for the first time in years.
A group of hearty ice sailors have been sailing their ice boats in the tributary of Barnegat Bay in the area surrounding Shore Acres Yacht Club (SAYC) during recent cold days, taking advantage of ice that is up to eight inches thick.
The group includes award-winning sailors who mostly sail during the summer Barnegat Bay Yacht Racing Association matches, including Will Demand, who sails E Scows for Metedeconk Yacht Club. Demand checked the ice for thickness by drilling holes in about 20 different spots and creating a safe zone with markers.
“The ice has to be five inches or thicker. I’ve been iceboating for 26 years, so you can tell if the ice is thick enough just by looking at it,” Demand said as he took a break between runs.
“I put two buoys out in spots I don’t trust, where there are drain holes from when it rained and the ice is only two inches thick.”
Most iceboats are home-built, created out of sitka spruce because of its straight grain and strength, Demand explained. There are plans available for an “infinite” number of classes of boats, he added.
Brendan Hogan, 29, is the new commodore at SAYC, and he has been waiting to sail his iceboat that he bought two years ago, used, for $1,500.
“We’ve been using the boats in Lavallette, but it’s my first time here,” Hogan said. “I set up a course on the ice just to be safe, but we’re not racing. It’s awesome, it’s shockingly fast and really quiet. The acceleration blows you away.”
Dr. Philip Angelo, who is the new vice-commodore at SAYC, said it was his first time in an iceboat. “It’s thrilling beyond your imagination, and you’re sitting so close to the ice, it’s right under your butt,” he said.
“My biggest thought was, how am I going to stop?” he said, since these ice boats had no brakes. Dr. Angelo said the boats stopped pretty quickly when he let out the sail and headed into the wind.
He said that earlier in the day, someone had called Brick police to report that “juveniles were on the ice.” Two police officers came and once they saw that adults were ice sailing and had the proper equipment. “They told us to be safe and have fun.”
Most of the ice sailors were wearing wet suits or dry suits under their winter clothes, and the boats were equipped with bear claws, which are like ice picks to aid someone who has fallen through the ice. More advanced ice sailors wear helmets.
Brian Harris races Sanderlings and Lasers during the summer, but said he enjoyed the three rides he took on the iceboat.
“I was going very fast, probably close to 30 mph, and it was exhilarating, but scary at first,” he said. “I have a wetsuit on under my jeans, so I’m toasty.”