Smooth sailing

September 1, 2007

Christopher R. Croasdale, MD, heads for the lake when conditions are right for ice boating, a sport he learned from his ophthalmologist father while growing up in Michigan. The two compete in regattas.

Key Points

Dr. Croasdale, a cornea specialist with Dean Health Systems in Madison, WI, grew up on Gull Lake in Michigan. He learned ice boating from his father, Raymond Croasdale, MD, a retired ophthalmologist.

Because ice boating requires a frozen lake with a fairly smooth surface and a good breeze, the sport is limited by geography and weather. The "ice belt" (where it's cold enough to freeze lakes but not so cold that the snow never melts off the lake during the winter) includes a region in North America from Minnesota east to Maine and from Ontario south to northern Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.

The boat

"The DN is the largest class of ice boats," Dr. Croasdale said. "It's more affordable than the larger boats and is more portable. You can take it apart and put it on the car all by yourself.

"In a sailboat, the friction of water against the boat is the factor that limits speed. Most monohull sailboats don't go more than 5 to 6 mph downwind," Dr. Croasdale said. "The only surface drag on an ice boat is the edge of the runners. They're long, thin, and sharp and, therefore, create minimal resistance."

When a DN ice boat goes downwind, it accelerates and can reach speeds of 60 to 65 mph.

"You almost never let the sail out," Dr. Croasdale said. "Wind resistance is what ultimately slows you down."

The sailor lies on his or her back about 4 inches above the ice-feet first, head cocked to see-similar to operating a luge. The ice boat operator steers with a tiller and holds the rope to trim the sail in one hand.

Oh, and there are no brakes. The operator steers into the wind to stop.

The races

Dr. Croasdale said he was 10 years old when he first sailed, learning with his sisters from his father. He was part of the Gull Lake Ice Yacht Club in Michigan until he left for college. He has participated in local, regional, and national regattas and world championships in this relatively small sport.

World championships alternate each year between Europe and the United States and usually feature about 150 competitors in the DN class. Dr. Croasdale entered his first world championship at age 17.

He didn't have much chance to sail during medical school and his residency. But in 1993, when conditions weren't right in Montréal, the designated host city, the world championships came to Lake Geneva, WI. Dr. Croasdale was in his first year of residency at the University of Wisconsin and was able to get some vacation time and race in the world championships again.