Author Archive

The decision process of marginal conditions sailing… (Part 1 of 2)

(Part 1 of 2)
Sailing in elements that press your abilities…

Broken tiller in hand… split mast, wood chips and a sore knee… Ebben Whitehair is still thumbs up after a hard tumble.

“To Go…. or not to Go…”

In the world of ice boating we are often faced with the decision ‘to go, or not to go”. If one were to simply look out their breakfast room window and make the call for the day I think nobody would ever make it to the ice. So by nature most of us just kit up and run with the thought ‘maybe this will work out somehow?’, and more often than not we have great days of sailing. But what about those marginal decisions you have to make AFTER you arrive on site? Thin ice? Too much wind? Skills of others we are sailing with? If EVERYBODY else is going then why not me? These seemingly simple decisions can have dire consequences. Here is how I go about making those decisions when it comes to my extreme sporting adventures:

1) Conditions – using your personal experiences what are YOU seeing exactly? Take the time to look at all the signs you can i.e.. wind types, variable ice thickness, ice surfaces, cracks, open leads, holes, bob houses, tip ups, personal fitness, fatigue etc. From there I seek out a few of my more experienced mentors to gather what is on THEIR minds at that moment and to see what things I have overlooked. Generally I pick up a lot of local details and items of heightened concern. Chances are somebody on scene has been playing there for days and has all the insider info – like the stuff that could hurt you. This is where taking the time to arrive early pays off. Take all of these details and multiply them together with the end thought being: can I handle all of these concerns if thrown at me at once? Be honest with yourself and consider the simplicity of deciding “maybe i’ll sit this one out”.

2) Mates – exactly who will be out there with you? As a group (big or small) if things go bad do you have a balance of skills to unjam a crises? Are you able to trust/work with everybody in the pod? Are you truly independent as a group and do you have the resources to self extricate if need be? do you have the hardware to approach the day safely or summon help if required? Does everyone have the capacity to evaluate their own skills needed to participate? If you have less experienced participants in your group who insist on ‘giving it a go’ do you have the experience to cover their needs? These items may seem trivial in the pits, but if you land in a hostile environment they become essential elements. If the feeling persists that you are in over your head…. well, you just might be. Consider again to take a rain check.

3) Overall plan – Who is the key person who knows of your sporting plans today should something go terribly wrong? If your group succumbs to a catastrophic event what is the fallback plan? Make sure you have somebody keeping an eye on you. Someone that is not only reliable, but currently in communication and timely in character and able to initiate a rescue group if events run foul.

4) Is your kit up to the task – when was the last time you had your gear apart for inspection? Are you confident it will be able to handle the conditions including an extra margin for safety? Normal wear and tear only accumulates. The off season is a great time to tear into your entire kit – I assure you, it is not as pristine as you last remember – the damage incurred from heavy weather on your boats hardware can be shocking. A simple repair at home beats one in the field any day! And lastly, Is your clothing sufficient for a wet walk home in the worst conditions you might face? Evaluate everything, fix what you can early, and have spares on hand when possible.

Of course there are many more considerations to be made before any extreme adventures are undertaken but these are a few basic thoughts I try to entertain prior to stepping into a harness or on any boat. There is a common saying in my mountain flying circle which says: “it’s better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air, than in the air wishing you were on the ground”. When you find yourself too deep in the breeze it can be a terrifying experience. Understand that the decision to go, or not to go, is ultimately yours to make. Trust your gut feeling and keep in mind that by sailing with good mates, dependable gear and a solid plan, then, when you find yourself over your abilities a 180 turn is all thats needed to return home safely.

Stay tuned for part 2 – “6 miles under bare poles – arriving back home after a great day on the ice?!”

Sundowner over Vermont

VC Jay Whitehair

“Fast Females in DN Ice Yachts” – an inspiring interview on

Karen Binder at speed. Photo Courtesy: Gretchen Dorian 2021

Due to the humble nature of the NEIYA’s Secretary treasurer Karen Binder I had to stumble into this great Zoom interview on by good fortune. Check out the link below to hear how Karen and her growing troupe of fast female pilots have been gaining speed over the years and are now running the marks in the exclusive DN Gold Fleet. As always host Mike Madge throws a handful of great questions, this time to Karen and Julie Richards (2014 Central Regional Champion) and they spill the beans on what it takes to get their ships moving….. FAST. Common to both of them was their appreciation that we as a group are very welcoming to new comers and that picking up the pace into racing is a function of group support, commitment, and practice, as much as facing the inevitable fears of speed that we all encounter. If you are interested in learning what it takes to jumpstart your racing program, this interview will help you get to the line in style, with a smile.

Jay Whitehair
NEIYA Vice Commodore

Don’t let complacency ruin your day….

The pilot of the DN that recently broke through in this photo was wearing a dry suit, used picks, and had informed others of his sail route. Because of this incident I again re evaluated the way I sail.

NEIYA cruisers and racers – please browse this excellent link about cold water immersion:

In all my years of emergency rescue work the link above is perhaps the most concise and clearly written explanation of cold water shock that i have ever seen. Written specifically for sport enthusiasts its contents are short and to the point. We all talk about the importance of ice claws, the benefits of dry suits, never sailing alone etc. But how often do we step out on the plate and take chances that later could cost us (or our want-to-be-rescuers) our lives? Have you had a few close calls and now are becoming complacent? I am sending this out and asking all of you to re evaluate the way you approach the associated risks of hard water sailing.

Every season I try to remind myself what it really means to fall through the ice. Some of you may recall my version of the “ice bucket challenge” where I pass around an ice filled water bucket and ask friends to hold their hand deep in it for one minute and then see what is left for dexterity after only 60 seconds have passed (spoiler: very little is left to work with). I hope every one of you will explore the contents this link opens up and from there reach out further and look at the way you, your friends, and others around you approach the ice.

Sail fast, safe, and whenever you can!

VC Jay Whitehair

Sunapee Ice Sailing – the good, the bad, & the ugly!

Although completely snow covered on arrival this morning lake Sunapee showed herself in fine form today. Some uncommonly brave new sailors inhaled their first ice chips at speed and a light gaggle of cold blooded veterans got a handful of mother natures rowdiest winds coming down from the northwest. I overheard one sailor say they measured a gust of over 40mph and I heard others say they were ringing the bell at 40-50mph at speed…. and that is on 3/4” of hardening snow base! Crazy. I’ll forever recall the 80’ snow contrails blazing up from Kate Marones runners as she looked so calm at the tiller. An amazing day.

First, the good news…. nobody got hurt. We did have a couple of cartwheelers and a bit of hardware was pushed beyond its limit but we all made it back to the pits with pre Covid type ear to ear smiles. The bad news is that toward early afternoon it became inherently unsafe. More like vicious. Survival mode for those without storm sails. So in light of higher winds forecasted for tomorrow (gusts high 40’s) I can’t say in good faith it is wise to sail at all. We were not able to race today as it was way too sketchy and tomorrow will be worse. I for one don’t want to break my boat so I will not be there.

Stay tuned to this NEIYA homepage. Word has it new ice is forming on the big lakes and the forecast looks to be settling nicely after tomorrow.
Elbows in!

Contact me if you lost a single black rubber ice gripper.

VC Jay Whitehair

(Limited) Volunteer Ramp Clean-up at Quaboag Pond – Sat 10/10

NEIYA is having a low profile boat ramp clean up this Saturday (10/10) at Quaboag pond. Two commercial divers will be under the surface between the hours of 11am – 1pm grabbing garbage off the bottom in the area of, and surrounding the boat ramp. If there are a few members close by who would like to assist that would be helpful. Shore side tasks involve draining trash, sorting and loading etc, as well as walking the waters edge and parking lot area to pick up any other debris. The ramp and parking lot will remain open and we will be working in the periphery of all local traffic. If you come to help please bring a workers reflective vest, gloves, proper Covid face covering, and if you plan to be within 10’ of the water you must wear a life jacket. NEIYA or ice boat clothing and identifiers are of course the fashion of the day. Trash bags and one pickup truck will be supplied. We will be observing proper social distancing. 3-5 helpers is all we need so if you can commit please contact me and we will limit at 5.

If you have a favorite popular sailing site that may need a little NEIYA support and you would like to give back to that community for all the good times had, contact me to get it on a future ramp clean up date!

Vice Commodore Jay Whitehair
text or call: 802.291.0989

An icy burgee, and a cold one… (a poem, of course!)

We love the ice, rough or nice, here or way out there!
(see poem below)

A friend just sent this photo to me and it immediately reminded me of our beloved sailing friend Larry Hardman’s ice poetry. Many knew him as the hand-stand-in-a-DN guy. It made me think how much I miss his goofy company and it made me thankful for the new sailor friends I have made in the NEIYA. I sure am looking forward to the ice again. I’m thinking of the cold, thinking of friends, thinking ice!

Just thought I’d share one of Larry’s many poems – only as accurate as I have in memory!

Ice Watch

When Old King Cold’s reach is bold,

Down from his frozen lair,
It’s then we sleep in covers deep
and shiver upon the stair.

It’s then some curse in their northern berth
In Earthship’s stinging air,
When some dream of spring, when songbirds sing,
and the land is sweet and fair.

But not us guys with goggled eyes
And helmets on our hair!
We like the ice, rough or nice,
Here, or way out there.

We like wool socks, us iceboat jocks,
We like the land that’s bare.
We like a gale, a straining sail,
No matter when or where.

For us the summer is a bummer.
The spring is just a bore.
And, about all we get from the fall
Is thinking what’s in store!

When the timber’s in the ‘ol wood bin,
And felt is on the door,
It’s a lot funner to sharpen a runner
Than any other chore.

The temperature’s seven? To us, that’s heaven!
We wish for seven below.
We disdain thermometer gain,
And we despise the snow.

Sleek as an otter, that frozen hard water.
In glee we watch it grow.
The pond it skims, the lake it rims
We take a step and Oh!

We hear it crack! We all jump back! and we’ll all wait a day or so.

Then two knuckles deep, and back on we’ll creep,
And RACING we will go!

Its a new season and it’s time to get ready!

While reefing out some seems on this vintage rowing shell and prepping it for varnish I couldn’t help but notice that #3947 was in my field of view and seemed to be calling me away from my promised boat work to others. It’s way too hot here in my shop and the thought of an icey wind is keeping me going for the moment. If you look closely you can see the pink foam board which will hopefully be shaped into a new tiller and glassed up in a nice streamlined shape that will not only tuck neatly between my legs at speed but also will allow me a better push and punch and the drop of the flag. This is the year I am actually getting an early start on my ice boat projects. I promised myself to switch over to an entire new plank line-up system and to get all my runners dialed in early. A big project…. so exciting to think about.

Finally, after a few shop minutes here, a few minutes there, the hull I bought on a whim at the fall trade/banquet (two years ago) is cleaned up, re epoxied, painted and ready to go for a loaner. My daughter has expressed interest in it as well (hooray!) so if you spot the trailer and the boat is inside feel free to ask about setting it up and getting a few pointers. NEIYA is about the most welcoming group for new sailing enthusiasts young and old and there is always plenty of advice for new sailors. If you spot this COVID escape rocket ship on the ice and have never sailed, don’t have a boat, or just want to give it a whirl please do just that. Simply ask for the keys.

Another swap meet/annual buffet purchased-on-a-whim barn find that will hopefully see the ice this winter is this two seat 40’s era Mead skeeter. Some of you may recall loading the old ship wreck onto my truck roof and thinking it would definitely NOT still be up there when I got home…. but it was! And it is beautiful now! As many of you know I have much more enthusiasm for ice boating than I do banking abilities and with the help of others in the NEIYA I was able to acquire the hardware I needed, a set of runners, and an updated mast/sail combo that should raise some ice chips for those behind us! If you spot Chilly Willy on the ice (formerly know as “Scat!”), a ride is yours for the asking. I rebuilt it specifically to give others their first rides.

I am so excited about the upcoming swap meet this fall. I hope my wife will allow me to go again?!? She seems worried what might come home on the roof next… : )

I look forward to seeing you all there!

Jay Whitehair
Vice Commodore NEIYA
Norwich, VT

Three cheers to New England’s youngest hard-water sailors of 2019-2020!

Every year brings change to all of us in the ice boating world. For me, I noticed that some of my happiest moments out on the ice this season came when I spotted new sailors. One thing that I noticed right off was that each and every one of them were smiling ear to ear. I well recall my first experiences on the ice under sail, lots of minor mechanical fails, a couple of bumps and bruises, and then of course the first feeling of rush…. wow! now how do I slow this thing down!! Ice sailing is always such a thrill. It does not matter what class you sail, whether you build your own boat, or have just purchased the oldest or newest boat in the fleet. It does not matter your skill level, beginner or sledgehammer racer…. it’s all about the smiles, the fun, being out and about in the fresh air, and of course the great company!

As the 2019-2020 season winds down its a great time to think about the new sailors of next year. Who can I share this game with? What kids can I invite into to the fold and how can we get them up and running for first ice of next season. I hope to see some new young faces out there and I pledge to finally get this loaner DN out on the plate for anybody to try when we cross paths…. I hope you will connect with me and bring some young folks out too!

I’d like to recognize Rosemary Pope (seen here with her father David) for being among the youngest pilots in New England this season! I know she had other family members on the ice too but she went whizzing by so fast I couldn’t get many details!

Also spotted out on the ice were the Atkins family with some notably young skippers – hopefully next year we can grab a photo or two?

On the deck of the pink boat is a well familiar face to many at this point – that’s Bella Langley! Her program has been supported by her father Brian who many know as an extraordinary builder of many fine ice boats. We hope you’ll see them both on the ice again next season and if you have questions about getting started they are wonderful connections to make!

For the sailor kids I missed in this post get ready for next season… and if you see my camera out for goodness sake slow down so I can take a snap or two and collect some details!

Here’s to the new sailors of 2020-2021

Jay Whitehair
Vice Commodore – New England Ice Yacht Association

Sunapee Ice Watchman…

The Ice Watchman

Ice Watchman on Lake Sunapee….

When it came to spotting lake Sunapee flashing over early this winter we got the jump on the local crowds. Through his living room window (the kind we iceboaters dream of) high on the southwest shoreline, NEIYA member Dr. Mark Friedman, was able to monitor the early freeze and it was through his communications we were the first to set blades on this seasons glorious sheet of perfect black ice. Unfortunately mother nature had plans of her own to limit the days of sailing but Mark was able to stretch the miles via skates and hand-sail to enjoy much of the lake with his two bladed friends. But WAIT!?!…

Somehow, somewhere, since then, the DN bug entered his system. Note the attached photo where his skate-sail was left in the barn and he is now ripping by the camera balanced like a true sailor gentleman. Can you recognize the hull?

NEIYA would like to give a big shout-out to Dr Friedman for being among the newest iceboaters in the Sunapee fold, for keeping a fresh and vigilant eye on a legendary NH iceboating lake and for his early reporting of green light sailing status. May we be lucky enough to enjoy many more years of Sunapee scouting! Thanks Mark!

If you are able to report sailable conditions anywhere in New England please help us all by sending current info to NEIYA’s ice report at:

Bonus Fact: The beautiful hull seen in the photo is none other than “Yellow Ice”. A lightning bolt of sorts assembled in the secret basement laboratory of Steve Duhamel – Northwind Iceboats.

Sail New England!

Jay Whitehair


Black-Ice Friday Is Here!

Coming to a Lake Near You Soon


What is Black-Ice Friday you ask?

The holiday is here!
Never mind the doorbuster super sales or the crowd trampling media events. We New England iceboat jocks know the value of a full vacation day! Consider this: Maine’s late iceboating legend Larry Hardman would blissfully don his fireball orange helmet and goggles for the season by epoxy stapling his helmet chin-strap tight under his chin while reciting his latest iceboat poetry. Another legend, Warner St Clair was known to visit his arch neighborhood DN competitors, gaining eager post-holiday access with a friendly knock and an entry-level gift, just so he could place his bootleg over a prized box of runners and release the #20 grit black beauty sandblasting sand down his leg from the carefully crafted hole in his pocket – such a clever competitor he was! Or, consider our cherished living local legend Lloyd Roberts… who on black-ice Friday is known to sit knee-deep in his rusty lawn chair in the ice-crusted waters of the Damariscotta public beach, under an umbrella, in his underwear, pontificating such things as the elastic modulus co-efficiencies of splintered Sitka spruce sliding along a perfect ice surface. The value of his all-inclusive hard-water daydreaming has yet to be fully appreciated. Get the idea? Make your plans NOW.

Take advantage of this all-important holiday… gather your buddies to safely check your local ice and forward your ice alerts to the NEIYA ice report (Contact me, John or Karen for details). Mark December 14th on the calendar to meet with your chillest friends by attending the 2019 annual tune-up clinic. Order a 50’ throw rope/bag, ice awls, two space blankets, a 6’ x 6’ poly tarp, and a couple of instant hand warmers to build the survival-assist kit we spoke of at the annual swap meet. If there is interest we can make a group purchase contack John ( Make those last-minute trades/orders for the parts you needed last season.

The season is here…. and for many of us, it officially begins on Black-Ice Friday!!

See you on the ice!

Jay Whitehair
Norwich, VT
Vice Commodore NEIYA