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Ice Boating on Lake Minnetonka

March 23, 2017

The Excelsior-Lake Minnetonka Historical Society not only preserves historical artifacts, its volunteers and supporters contribute greatly to an understanding of Lake Minnetonka’s colorful past, and how it continues to inform and enrich our present lives. The following article written by ELMHS member, Terry Bolin, paints a fascinating picture of an early and sometimes perilous Lake Minnetonka sport that remains not for the faint of heart.

Ice Boating on Lake Minnetonka

By Terry Bolin

If the conditions are right on Lake Minnetonka you might see what looks like sailboats flying across the ice at speeds you didn’t know could be achieved by anything without a motor — that’s ice boating or as some call it, ice yachting. One of the thrills that has always been associated with summers on Lake Minnetonka is racing with the power of the wind. So it’s no surprise that ice boating followed suit in the winter months.

The sport of ice boating in America was born on the Hudson River in 1869 when John A. Roosevelt (uncle of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt) built “Icicle.” “Icicle” was nearly 67’ long with about 1000 square feet of sail. It wasn’t until the 1880s that ice boating came to Lake Minnetonka. History tells us that the first ice boat race on Lake Minnetonka was held in 1886. Ten-year old Ward Burton sailed “Blizzard,” a boat owned by T. B. Janney, in that race. When he didn’t win he was quoted as saying: “Will Ray, a farmer at Point Lookout, licked the tar out of us.”

On September 23, 1899 the Minnetonka Ice Yacht Club (MIYC) was incorporated. Theodore Wetmore of New York, “Father of Ice Yachting in the West” and owner of “North Star,” the fastest ice boat on Lake Minnetonka, became the club’s first commodore. The MIYC, also known as Wetmore House, was located on Tahtu (Bug) Island in St. Louis Bay. A racing club that started as a group of 15 avid yachtsmen grew rapidly. Within 2 years MIYC had 167 members and 17 boats.

Many of these magnificent ice boats were owned by wealthy sportsmen who demanded the very finest in fittings and riggings. The boats themselves were of fairly simple construction: body/cockpit, rudder and sail. A running start or a shove by the crew was required to get the boat moving. Depending on size, one or more crew members crouched in the cockpit as the boat skated across the ice. These boats achieved speeds rivaling the fastest trains. The larger the sail area, the faster the boat.

This story is continued in the ELMHS newsletter >

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Last modified: March 23, 2017

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