Another pilgrimage eastward, in search of solid water. To Canyon Ferry, east of the continental divide, iceboating Mecca of the West. John with his World Championship mini, and I with the Fed 5, both dirtboats decked out with runners for the season. We travel four hours from Lakeside, MT, back down the ramp the early afternoon sunshine, and rig in still air. As we finish, the predicted 6 to 10 shows up and we’re off! The ice is four to six inches thick, with stippling of consolidated snow. This big water venue is known for its hazards, and we could see open water on the north end of the reservoir as we drove in. So we cruise about fairly close to the launch, take a break or two, and sail contentedly til the light fails. The trip is already a success!
Glenn has graciously offered us his newly minted “Clubhouse”, five minutes away. We unwind in glorious warmth, feed ourselves, and crash ridiculously early so we can get up and do it again.
It’s Saturday morning and the local boaters and skaters show around 10. No wind yet, so we strap on the skates, and Dave gives us the lowdown on known hazards, which we mark with flags in hopes of staying on top of the ice. We give ourselves some boundaries, some safe real estate, and as we skate back the blessed breeze starts to wind up. The glee level starts to ramp up, and rigging commences vigorously. Within fifteen minutes we’ve got a fleet scurrying about, mostly DNs, some Nites, a Manta, and us. All fairly evenly matched, a blast to run with similar machines!
We can run down the shoreline a ways and get into smoother ice. Nice ice, hard ice, fast! Not a huge amount of breeze, maybe 10, but with this surface the boats are getting into the thirties, always exhilarating, particularly with sunshine and temps in the forties! The locals are soon satisfied, and they wander off. But John and I rarely see these conditions, and we blissfully sail into another grand Montana sunset.
The prediction for Sunday is big! A front is approaching, wind fifteen to twenty, gusting to forty, with precip likely. By ten we’re at the boats, and it’s on! We rig the little sails, and we’re off! No significant cloud cover, a few squalls pass through occasionally spitting snow or rain, but it’s mostly sun and rapidly rising temps. I’m in heaven! The locals show again, rig, and scream around with us a while, but these conditions are brutal, with the gusts hitting hard, easily ten to fifteen knots over the mean wind speed, which is in the high teens. A bit much for those without the ability to shorten sail, so attrition sets in.
Although it’s less than relaxing, I revel in this kind of sailing, the challenge of maintaining control in out of control conditions, while attempting to squeeze out as much speed as I dare. Load the boat up too much and the rear end breaks free. Violently, I learn! One puff hits ferociously while already travelling over fifty, and slams the boat into a 540 degree spin, nearly capsizing, then decelerating slowly, backwards, while I try to catch my breath! John’s right behind me, and gets a front row seat.
I rig down another sail size and head out for more. It’s late afternoon now, and the warmth and breeze are sending sheets of water across the surface in hypnotizing patterns, giving John and I the eerie sensation that we’re moving, even as we stand next to our boats. The wind and water are burnishing the surface, with it getting faster and faster. It often looks like a mirror, which is spectacular, but also disguises any hazards, and it’s now impossible to tell ice from open water. So as the day winds down, we reign in our acreage, staying closer to home to stay on safer ice. Finally I pack it in, and John uses up the last of the light to rack up a few more miles. Both of us logged nearly 40 miles apiece, and registered top speeds around 60 mph. A most excellent day!
Glenn and John’s daughter, Sarah, spend the night with us, and the wind rages though the wee hours. We’re back on the ice by eight the next morning for a little father daughter time at the tiller in Glenn’s Nite. It dropped below freezing overnight, and the surface is once again hard and fast. The now eased breeze, and low angle lighting make for a memorable morning for them both. The boats are loaded, and we’re back on the pavement by eleven, smiling all the way home. Watch it here. Thanks Canyon Ferry, you delivered once more!