Ice yachting glides into area view

If there are perks to the record-breaking cold weather lingering over the Northeast this winter, the return of ice boats to the Hudson River is surely one of them.

Boats from the Hudson River Ice Yachting Club (HRIYC) have been setting up since mid-January, and are currently back in action on the ice.

Founded in 1885 by Commodore John Aspinwall Roosevelt, HRIYC was brought back to life in the 1960s by local architect Ray Ruge.

Ruge took up the cause of preserving and restoring the ice yachts, which are commonly called ice boats, recognizing their significance as historical artifacts, and fine examples of the art of wooden ship building.

Area residents interested in catching a ride on one of the club’s beautiful, rare ice boats, which launch mainly from Tivoli Bays, need to be ready and willing to go at a moment’s notice, though.

Bob Wills, of Rhinecliff and a long-time HRIYC member, said, “Over the years, many people have asked me to contact them when we’re taking the boats out. What often happens, though, is they’ll say, ‘Oh, I can’t go now. I have to run errands.’ They don’t understand. If you don’t get out there today, it may not be possible to do it tomorrow.”

The ice yacht Vixen on the river. Elizabeth Bryant / The Observer
The ice yacht Vixen on the river. Elizabeth Bryant / The Observer

Because specific conditions of ice and wind are required for successful sailing, the entire ice boating season is often limited to fewer than 10 days. According to Wills, “Ice boating is a very fickle sport. Snow, as slippery as it seems, exerts so much friction on our runners, it makes sailing impossible.”

This means the recent round of snowstorms hitting the Hudson Valley might just bring an end to further sailing this season. Or, it could do just the opposite.

“All this snow may push the existing ice sheet down into the water, saturate the snow, and make more ice for us,” said Wills, which would mean the sailing period could extend to the end of February.

Coping with the capriciousness of Mother Nature isn’t only a matter of waiting for ideal sailing conditions. Safety is also a serious concern, as any change in the ice can create potentially life-threatening situations.

HRIYC member John Sperr, from Red Hook, said that no matter how cold the temperature is, “ice can never be assumed to be completely safe. We like to see six inches thick on Tivoli Bay, and 10-12 inches on the Hudson River before we put boats on it.”

He advised anyone interested in checking out the boats to dress very warmly.

“Triple layers everywhere–socks, pants, sweaters, and a pair of water-resistant, insulated boots,” he said, adding, “safety cleats on your boots are very useful” for walking on the ice.

Depending on the state of the ice, the boats may be seen at a range of points along the eastern shore of the Hudson, from Rhinecliff to Cheviot, just south of Germantown.

For the Tivoli Bays launches, Wills recommended using the public access from the Barrytown College/Unification Theological Seminary parking lot in Barrytown. He said visitors are welcome to the campus, and advised following Father’s Trail, part of the Hudson Valley Greenway Project, down to the bay.

Information about where and when ice boats are likely to sail can be found at

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