Ice Boating

Photograph courtesy Community Archives of Belleville and Hastings County

Bay of Quinte – Circa 1900

Ice boating has been popular on the Bay of Quinte since the late nineteenth century. The shallow bay waters and the cold winters provided the ideal conditions for the sport.

The ice boat construction was simple. Cast iron blades or “skates” were attached to wooden frames, which were fitted with sails. Many boats were built in the backyards, barns and garages by the people who sailed them. When the bay froze over, the boats were hauled out of their storage sheds and the lake became a winter playground for sub-zero sailors.

As the sport developed, so did its competitiveness. The Bay of Quinte became an international hub for ice boat racing. Ambitious sailors who were keen to gain an edge turned to professional boat builders for more sophisticated craft. Speed was of the essence.

The razor-sharp blades of the ice boats ran on a tiny bead of water which formed between the ice and the blades, resulting in a total lack of drag – the force that holds back ordinary boats. The combination of the drag-free blades and the flat sails swept the boats across the ice at “five or six times the speed of the wind.”

The speed could be dangerous. In the winter of 1890 one ice boater hit a pressure ridge which sent his craft airborne, resulting in a devastating crash.

The bay still attracts ice boat enthusiasts looking for an adrenalin rush and a gust of wind to accelerate them across the ice.


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