A Hotter World May Deliver an Finish to Ice Crusing


Growing up in Bellevue, Ohio, just south of Lake Erie, Brian Kaiser heard stories about locals who went ice sailing, gliding their boats across the frozen Great Lakes during winter’s most frigid months. In January he got a chance to learn more about this obscure sport at the North American championship, in which DN iceboats—a class of vessels conceived in the U.S. that feature a minimal hull and a perpendicular crosspiece with attached skates, or “runners”—raced across Black Lake, in Michigan. He donned crampons to tread the eight-inch-thick ice and taped a hand warmer to his camera after it began to freeze amid the zero-degree conditions. “This sport is a labor of love,” Kaiser says. “The weather is incredibly fickle, and some have to travel hundreds of miles in the dead of winter to get to the lake.” Ice sailing requires two key elements: strong winds to help propel the 12-foot boat, and a lake surface solid enough to support its 150-pound weight, plus the pilot. While this year’s competition went off without a hitch, ice sailing’s long-term future is uncertain. Climate change is causing milder winters in the region and has drastically decreased the lakes’ ice cover. While shooting these photos, Kaiser was as interested in spotlighting this unique pastime as he was sharing what may eventually be lost to the environmental crisis.

An iceboat racer pushes off at the start of a race during the 2021 IDNYIRA Nationals.

(Brian Kaiser)

Pushing off at the start of the championship race, organized by the International DN Ice Yacht Racing Association.

An iceboat racer demonstrates the utility of his mothguard. During collisions, the rudder can get pushed into the racer's mouth.

(Brian Kaiser)

On a practice day at Michigan’s White Lake, a racer demonstrates how the mouth guard can protect against an errant rudder.

Iceboat racers round the turn near the windward mark at the 2021 IDNYIRA Nationals.

(Brian Kaiser)

Rounding the turn near the halfway point.

An iceboat racer wearing a protective facemask and bodysuit.

(Brian Kaiser)

An iceboat racer wearing a protective face mask and bodysuit.

An iceboat racer puts on his helmet between runs.

(Brian Kaiser)

Helmets are required for participation.

An official indicates the wind direction while coordinating with other officials to set the starting line.

(Brian Kaiser)

An official indicating the wind direction.

An instrument measures the wind direction at the starting line before a race during the INDIYRA 2021 U.S. Nationals.

(Brian Kaiser)

An anemometer, used to gauge wind force.

An Iceboat racer stretches before a race at the 2021 IDNYIRA Nationals.

(Brian Kaiser)

Stretching before the event.

A small motorized sled was used to ferry people and gear from the race site back to the dock on shore.

(Brian Kaiser)

A motorized sled used to ferry people and gear.

An iceboat racer secures a runner to the plank.

(Brian Kaiser)

A ­competitor securing a runner to a boat.

A flag and a yellow rope indicate the starting and finishing line at the 2021 IDNYIRA Nationals.

(Brian Kaiser)

A flag and yellow rope mark the starting and finish lines.

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