Cold winter just right for iceboating tradition in South Okanagan

Jeff Wendell Clark manoevering his iceboat on Vaseux Lake.

OLIVER - A colder than normal winter in the Okanagan may be reason to throw another log on the fire and avoid going outdoors, but weather is proving ideal for iceboating enthusists.

Jeff Wendell Clark and Guy Wilson are enjoying their best season in recent memory as they slide swiftly and effortlessly across the frozen surface of Vaseux Lake, north of Oliver, on their iceboats.

“It’s a family tradition,” Clark says, “our parents were iceboating on the lake in the 1960s.”

Guy Wilson prepares to launch.
Guy Wilson prepares to launch.

The two men can be seen on the lake frequently this year, as cold weather conditions have created ideal conditions for the sport.

“Vaseux Lake is ideal because of its low elevation, lack of snow and shallow depth... the lake has frozen over and stayed that way,” Clark says. “Up at Nickel Plate Lake or Chute Lake there’s three feet of snow.

"With the narrowing of the valley here, there’s almost always some wind.”

Clark says piloting an iceboat is a lot like driving a race car.

“You can slide out, do doughnuts, power dips. You can tip them. I’ve been through lots of accidents, gone through holes in the ice. I took a shroud to the face last year, cut my lip, and I’ve bashed my elbows from falling on the ice, but that’s about it,” Clark says.

Wilson says bruises are the most common injury.

It's been a great winter so far for Jeff Wendel Clark and Guy Wilson. The two iceboating enthusiasts are enjoying winter conditions that are ideal for their sport this year.
It's been a great winter so far for Jeff Wendel Clark and Guy Wilson. The two iceboating enthusiasts are enjoying winter conditions that are ideal for their sport this year.

“The biggest problem is when you run out of ice, or into open water. Sometimes there will be a big hole in the middle of the ice, for no reason,” he says.

Wilson had the misfortune to run into one a few years ago.

“I was really lucky to grab the cable by the side and eventually pull the boat out of the water,” he says.

"My car was parked only a couple of hundred metres from where I went in, but I was already shaking involuntarily by the time I got to the car.  If it had happened on the other side of the lake, it could have been touch and go,” he says.

Guy Wilson, left, and Jeff Wendell Clark on Vaseux Lake.
Guy Wilson, left, and Jeff Wendell Clark on Vaseux Lake.

Clark says there is a narrow window for the iceboating season in the Okanagan.

“Sometimes we get a month, sometimes two months if we’re lucky. Last year we had a week,” he says.

The men’s boats are in the DN class, a boat design that originated when, in 1937,  a Detroit newspaper sponsored a contest to design the best iceboat.

“This is the design that won,” he says.

The boats are made of plywood and are rigged with a 75 square foot sail.

A pristine winter day on Vaseux Lake.
A pristine winter day on Vaseux Lake.

“The speed record for the DN-type boat is 127 miles per hour, but the record for iceboating comes from skeeter class boats, which are made of composites and are rigged with a 100 square foot sail,” Clark says, adding some hardware for iceboats can be sourced, “but the wooden parts are plywood, and you have to build them yourself.”

Back in the ‘60s, Clark says up to 10 iceboaters could be found crisscrossing Vaseux Lake, but that number has since diminished to three.

“There’s just three of us left. Myself, Guy and my brother. My dad’s friends are all gone now, and we ended up buying their boats,” Clark says.

A regatta was held on the lake back in the early days that attracted iceboaters from all over North America and Scandinavia.

“Maybe someday we’ll hold another. It’s still a popular sport in many parts of the world, Norway, Iceland, Finland, and the northern U.S. and Ontario,” Clark says.

Clark and Wilson have reached top speeds of 83 and 79.5 kilometres per hour respectively in the past. Earlier this week, while iceboating in light winds they easily reached 50 km/h.

“The power of the wind is something to behold. When it grabs that sail, it just takes you,” Wilson says.

Credit: YouTube

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