Wednesday, February 17, 2010


As an aspiring explorer, I have deep respect for the first adventurers of our time. Some of my favorite expeditions involve journeys to the most isolated places on Earth. And nothing rings true to the words ‘unforgiving and inhospitable’ than the Arctic. Expeditions at both poles were remarkable, whether it was the first ship to reach the Arctic Circle, the first man to reach the North Pole, or attempting the longest unsupported arctic trip in history (click here to see the related post).

But what makes travel so difficult in these places? Anyone who’s seen the raw power contained below the 30th parallel feels that everything around you is trying to kill you. Early explorers had ice as their main enemy; early ships only had wooden hulls and were powered by the wind leaving ice breaking to be done by hand. And it was never that simple. When you saw ice on open water you were likely to see it again, whether dressed as wandering ice flows, icebergs, or solid sheets spanning hundreds of miles.

International DN

In an attempt to make the transition from one medium to another easier, the iceboat (also called an ice/bay scooter) was created. Upon completion it could traverse between ice and open water with no changes in its structure required. Yet it was incredibly difficult to control; having no rudder, its course could only be directed by adjusting the main and jib sails. The earliest models ranged between 30-50 feet (9-15 meters) long and were used mainly for transportation of goods.

Did you know?- In 1869 the largest iceboat developed, for racing on the Hudson River in New York, named the Icicle came in at 69 feet (21 meters) long. It’s also recorded that in 1871 the boat beat the Chicago Express train on a run between Poughkeepsie and Ossining. This was not unheard of as early ice yacht clubs would often race trains.

iceboat race

Today, iceboats or ice yachts are primarily seen racing in clubs around the world. Perhaps the most recognizable class of these vessels is the International DN. The name stands for the Detroit News newspaper where the first one was built in 1937. Its design features a narrow, single-person cockpit, three steel blades arranged in a tricycle configuration, and a steeply raked mast. Boats in this class are required to be 12 (3.5 meters) feet long, with an 8 foot (2.5 meter) wide runner plank, a 16 foot (5 meter) mast, and have a sail square area of 60 feet.

Did you know?- With just a smooth ice surface and a steady wind of 12-15 mph, the International DN can reach speeds of up to 55-65 mph!

Those who live by a large body of water, in a seasonal climate, have no reason to pass up the opportunity to glide across the ice in one of these boats. Although they are expensive to buy and even harder to find, the majority are made by average Joes in garages all across the northern continents. By clicking here you can see the most comprehensive, free guide I could find on building your own International DN iceboat on a limited budget.

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