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The Mast-Head: Consigned to History

Wed, 12/07/2022 - 11:28

Early December would usually be when we got the iceboats ready. A letter writer this week recalled a time, not really all that long ago, when Mecox Bay froze solid enough to race on. Not anymore.

In the 1970s, there would be thick ice each winter, thick enough for sailing, first on the freshwater Poxabogue Pond, then perhaps Georgica Pond, Mecox Bay, even Three Mile Harbor. Racers would come from all over Long Island. There was even a trophy named after my father, but if I even knew that, I would have forgotten about it until told about it recently.

Fewer people each year seem to know what iceboating is, thinking it is some kind of cold-water sailing when I bring it up. So I explain, saying, “Picture three ice skates connected to wooden crossbars, one in front, two out to the sides, and a sail up top. You sit in the middle.” I know, it doesn’t really do it justice.

By the 1980s and maybe into the 1990s, there would be ice, but not to the extent there once was. By the 2000s, the ice would be there for a few days, then break up. Now, the old places we sailed scarcely freeze at all. The Water Mill Museum recently mounted an exhibition about the sport, as if to consign it to history, with old photographs and reminiscences from local families. The curators hung an iceboat sail on the outside of the 18th-century mill.

A friend who sailed with us when we were teenagers covets a painting the late Bob Dash did of the iceboat fleet, perhaps at Sagg Pond. Alejandro Saralegui, the director at Dash’s Madoo, told him that the painting was the only one of its sort. My friend does not want to believe that, the same way I don’t want to believe that we will never see ice like that again in our lifetimes.

So instead of getting the pieces of the boats down from the barn rafters and seeing about sharpening the runner blades, this week I am messing with my powerboat and its trailer. The water is cold, but not cold enough, and that’s a downright shame.

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