Iceboating (and more…) at Buckeye Lake

– Commodore Steve Harris, BLYC Historian
  November, 2019

“For at least six consecutive weeks during the winter of 1919-20, ice on
the Lake afforded wonderful sport although at times an inch or so of
water on its surface made it a bit sloppy…. But, with warming food,
refreshment and a roaring fireplace in the clubhouse, a few discomforts were
as nothing.”

– Kyle Armstrong
The Story of BLYC, 1956

It’s always difficult to watch the end of our summer season and anticipate the cold winter weather ahead. But, activity at BLYC and at the lake does continue throughout the “off-season” months. As has been the case for over 100 years, one activity, in particular, is ice-boating. Sure, we don’t always get the ideal conditions we would like, but it is a fun activity nonetheless. According to the Farmer’s Almanac, we can expect much colder than normal temperatures this winter — specifically, late January into early February. Perhaps we should start fixing up those ice-boats now and also start planning for other fun activities on the “hard-water” this winter? As we look forward to how we might enjoy this off-season, I thought it may be a good time to update my article from March, 2015.


Iceboat racing is popular in northern areas — way north of here — but not all that common in our area. That has not always been the case. In fact, at one time, it was very popular at BLYC!
The earliest historical reference I can find is in Kyle Armstrong’s Story of Buckeye Lake Yacht Club. He states that the lake, in January 1910, “when frozen over… offered some good, clean, unimpedimented, ice-boating thrills.”

He also reports that in 1912, “Two new ice-boats added to the Club’s fleet had raised its total to six. They were singing all over the Lake’s glassy-hard surface.” Given nearly ideal conditions that winter — over 10 inches of ice — the Club advertised the “First Annual Winter Carnival” planned for Saturday, January 12, 1912. The program included an ice-boat race for the Commodore Lynch Cup, “ordinary” and distance skating races, plain and fancy skating competitions, a baseball game on ice, an “old-fashioned snowball fight,” and an ice hockey competition — all of which were to be followed by a masked Mardi Gras party that evening. Unfortunately, Mother Nature was anything but cooperative. The day before the big event, the lake was blaketed with a heavy layer of wet snow making iceboating and skating nearly impossible. The morning of the event brought sub-zero temperatures. Beginning at daybreak, a large area was plowed to allow for some of the skating events, but there were few areas suitable for sailing. Even if they wanted to try on those few sunbathed areas or the lake that may have been more conducive, there was zero wind! The baseball game and hockey events went on but the frigid environment was inconducive to hold the Mardi Gras celebration. Remember, this was in the early days and in the original clubhouse — much smaller, built over the water, and presumably unheated or at least inadequately so. Such was the first, and probably last, “Annual Winter Carnival.”

In those early days, most iceboats here were “Skeeter Sayre built” — presumably built at Sayre Brothers’ Marina next door to the Club. Zenna once told me that Sayre Brothers used to be the exclusive builder of iceboats in this area. I’m guessing that maybe “Skeeter” was one of the Sayre brothers? But, “Skeeter” also refers to a particular design of ice sailer dating back to the early 20th century…. well, I guess I need to do some more investigation. Those craft were steered from the stern like most “soft-water” boats — unlike the bow-steered iceboats we see today. Iceboating continued in earnest at the Club, as conditions would permit, for many years. I have seen a number of old photos from Past Commodores Lambrecht and Schell showing several DN iceboats lined up for a race. According to Armstrong, in the mid-twentieth century iceboating was a regular part of the Club’s racing program!

Either winters were colder then, or Buckeye Lake yachtsmen were much braver. Our history records are peppered with stories of iceboating at Buckeye Lake in the early days of the Club — including one from Frank H. Miller, long-time BLYC member and P/C of Put-in-Bay Yacht Club and I-LYA, in which he recalls the 1917/18 iceboating season ending “with Sid Allen sailing an iceboat on soft, floating ice with Max [Slaughter] and I sailing alongside in his canoe. Nobody thought to take a picture.”

I’m not sure that our BLYC iceboaters today are that bold. But, from time to time, we are able to get out on the hard water and scream along the nearly frictionless surface for a thrilling ride — followed, of course, by a rest inside the Clubhouse to warm up, share stories, and have a drink or two enjoying the company of our fellow BLYC members. Isn’t that, after all, really the most enjoyable winter activity at our Lake?

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