Coming from Singapore, Clement Chua had never seen an iceboat. He made the most of his introduction at Sabattus Pond when members of the Chickawaukie Ice Boat Club taught him and other students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology how to sail such a vessel.

The visiting students were treated to smooth ice and fair winds. They were lucky. At the heart of this fringe sport is the task of finding the ice and the right conditions.

“It’s a very ephemeral sport. You can go weeks in the winter when you can’t go iceboating,” said Lloyd Roberts, 81, an iceboater of 40 years. “The thing about iceboating, if you are going to do it and if you are going to get any done, you have to move it up the priority list, at least right there with family funerals and weddings.”

In Maine the sport’s tribe say their beloved pastime is at the mercy of Mother Nature. Iceboats are like small Sunfish sailboats that typically look like a luge with blades on the bottom, and a mast and sails overhead. They require smooth, solid ice clear of snow to allow the blades to skate, but also wind to pull the vessel using the sails. If one or the other is missing, iceboaters can’t sail.

Bill Buchholz, the Chickawaukie club president and a Camden boat builder, was teaching the iceboat building class at MIT two weeks ago, when he brought eight students, including four exchange students from Singapore, to Sabattus Pond to the east of Lewiston in the hopes of finding good ice after a club member reported some.

They were in luck. And Chua, a student at Singapore University of Technology and Design, now will get to go back to his motherland – where there is never any ice – and brag about the unusual sport he learned in Maine.


“I do a lot of wind surfing at home. This was different. It’s very fast. I didn’t expect that. It’s very, very fast,” Chua said. “I signed up for this at MIT because I wanted to do something I can’t do back in Singapore. Iceboating is a most unique class.”

That certainly could be said in Maine. A century ago New Jersey was the epicenter of iceboating on the East Coast. Back then Maine was a poor state for iceboating because too often too much snow covered the ice. But Roberts said in the past 30 years warming winters have made Maine more of an iceboat venue. The melt-and-freeze weather pattern that has become more common here now makes for excellent iceboating in Maine.

Now he said sailors from Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts come here to sail their iceboats.

But it’s still a wild goose chase finding perfect ice and the right wind.

“The sport requires a high frustration tolerance,” Roberts said. “It’s a peculiar sport. You stand around and talk a lot waiting for the wind. The theory is any time spent iceboating – whether looking for ice or working in your workshop – that’s all iceboating. It still counts. You fill in the gaps while you wait for the ice and wind.”

Most avid Maine iceboaters average about a half-dozen sailing days each winter, Roberts said.


Buchholz, 60, the MIT instructor and an iceboater for 25 years, is the exception. He averages as many as 30 days, traveling as far as Barnegat Bay in New Jersey, Lake Champlain in New York, or Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire’s largest lake.

He even goes to Quebec in search of ice.

“There is great sailing up there. Just across the border from Jackman, just four hours away,” Buchholz said.

The Camden boat builder said when the Chickawaukie club’s website was created in 2006, that made things easier. The club, named for its home lake in Rockport, has been around since the ’60s. But with the advent of the website, suddenly members could relay news of good ice in real time.

“I would say the average, motivated iceboater is someone who is retired or self-employed,” said Bill Bunting, a Whitefield farmer and iceboater since 1992. “Those iceboaters, when they hear there’s ice, they go do it because they’re afraid if they don’t take advantage of it, there might not be ice tomorrow.”

Roberts, a retired pathologist, is always looking for good ice. He even has developed a research technique. He ice skates.


“I’ve never gone swimming in my skates,” Roberts boasts.

He does wears a red flotation jacket and carries a coupe of pick axes, just in case.

Other iceboaters are experts in identifying hard ice.

Some even enjoy the hunt.

As one iceboater explained in his “Ode to a Thermometer” in a post on the club’s website in 2012:

“Oh little box on the eastern wall, day and night, you rise and fall, controls our actions, controls our minds, controls the fun an iceman finds …

“And yet you haven’t the final word, many is the time your truth I’ve heard, and venturing out I’ve spurned my plight, and there in long-shadowed light,

“The ice had heeled ice below, some mystery had it cooled, so I donned the gear and raised the sail, gave a push, waived a hail.”


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