With the evenings drawing in, and frost appearing on our windscreens, for most boaty types it’s time to wrap the boat up until the new season arrives. For others the colder weather signals the start of something exciting… as lakes freeze over, there’s a new surface to play on!


A DN Ice Yacht enjoying the freezing conditions.

Sailing on ice: a DN Ice Yacht enjoys the freezing conditions. Photo iStock.

Ice yachting

Icce yachting is a sailing displine in its own right, practiced by many of the Northern European and Scandinavian countries as well as the USA and Canada. It actually dates right back to the 1790s!

Today it is a highly competitive and high speed sport, and things are about to kick off in Finland as the new season starts in November. In fact, for those in Europe, you can even get your up-to-date ice reports from Ice Sailing.


The DN Ice Yacht

The boats used are designed to the DN Ice Yacht rules (DN stands for Detroit News where the first of this type was designed).

At just 3.7m (12ft) long and 53cm wide, with a 2.4m wide runner plank, the design has a narrow single-person cockpit and three steel blades in a tricycle style.

Weighing in at around 45kg and carrying 5.6sq m of sail area, the boats reach astounding speeds. In 10-12mph winds they will reach in excess of 50mph, with up to 65mph in higher winds. It sounds cold, scary and more than slightly crazy, not to mention a little dangerous, with a much harder landing than on water.


Ice yachting champions

The world championships are held alternately between the USA and Europe. The 2015 International DN Ice Yacht World and North American Championships were held in Kingston, Ontario run by Kingston YC. You can see an amazing video of the event below.





Sailing in the ice

If ice yachting seems a bit scary, but you're liking the idea of a visit to frostier climes, how about a dream wintery cruise in a part of the world that does snow and ice best? Former Volvo Ocean Race star Skip Novak has, for many years no, run Antartic expeditions through his company Palagic.

The Pelagic fleet of two expedition sailing vessels is available for expedition charter and logistic support to high latitude destinations in both Hemispheres. Its destinations include Antarctica, Tierra del Fuego and Cape Horn, the Falkland Islands, the island of South Georgia, the South Sandwich Islands, Norway, Spitsbergen, Iceland, Greenland, Labrador and Arctic Canada.


Expeditions, not charters

Make no mistake, these are expeditions, not charters. Skip Novak explains: "Although the Pelagics are charter vessels, we like to think of our voyages in terms of 'expeditioning' rather than 'charter cruising'. The latter might conjure up visions of inactivity, rum and tonic sunsets and subservient behaviour paid to the guests by the professional crew. Instead, our aim is give the crew (our guests) a sense of participation in all facets of operating a small vessel in a remote area. Washing up after meals, is taken in turn. On deck, everyone will be expected to do a bit of steering, sail handling and help with launching and re-embarking the dinghy. No prior experience is needed for any of these activities."

Skip explains: "Both vessels are fully equipped for comfort, with proper bunks and spacious head compartments with hot water showers. We have a library and a good selection of music. In short, it is eminently suitable for expedition sailing in extreme environments. They are not, however, luxury 'yachts'. Our philosophy is simplicity. When you keep a boat mechanically simple, you spend less time with your 'head in the bilge' and have more time to enjoy where you are going."

Skip adds: "Voyaging with Pelagic Expeditions is a true adventure where uncertainty is a key element in defining the quality of your experience. If you are looking for an arranged package, a more guaranteed itinerary and consequently a less intense and personal experience, we would be delighted to refer you to one of the many cruise ship companies that service these areas."


How much does it cost?

Obviously these are major trips, the opportunity to realise the dream of a lifetime, and they will take a bit of saving for. For example, a 28-day trip to South Georgia, including plans to take in some ski-mountaineering and some of the key spots visited by Shackleton, will set you back £24,000. For more details of trips see the Pelagic website.


Icy sailing

Of course not everyone hangs up their kit for the winter, and there are plenty of people who sail right through the colder months. As well as cruising, for the hardier racers there are some chillier events.

The Hamble Winter Series runs up until Christmas and is probably the largest event for bigger boats. Over the winter many inland clubs offer special membership packages for sea-based club sailors who want to race through the whole year, while there are a number of high profile one-off open events such as the Bloody Mary Pursuit Race and John Merricks Tiger Trophy.

Of course winter clothing is vital to ensure you enjoy these events fully, even then the weather can be pretty bitter and frozen sheets and icy bilges are just a few of the highlights. Be warned though, winter sailing is strangely addictive!


Written by: Gael Pawson
Gael Pawson is the editor of Yachts & Yachting Magazine and the founder of Creating Waves. A keen racer, she has sailed all her life, and started writing about the subject whilst studying journalism at university. Dinghies and small keelboats are her first loves, but she has cruised and raced a huge variety of boats in locations across the world.