Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Growing up, living at Sandy Pond, for me was a wonderful time in my life. It was like living in a paradise without the tropical weather. I am so glad that my folks decided to live there and raise their family there. There was always something fun to do and I don't believe I knew the definition of "bored" until I got older and moved away from there.

No matter what time of year it was, Lake Ontario would sporadically generate a "3-day blow" - that's when the Lake roared and wind would howl and buffet and bend big trees back and forth for about 3 days on average. The Winter winds would blow in off the Lake over the Pond as an unending, mindless force that could freeze your eyes open.

Any ice on the Lake was hazardous at best but the ice on the Pond would get to 3 feet thick by mid-February. As kids, if the ice was clear of snow, I remember my brother Kip and I and some of our friends ("The Pond Boys") would take our metal-runner sleds out on the ice, sit down, unzip our coats and hold them open as sails, and the wind would wisk us away at an alarming rate. Sometimes we did it on ice skates but I wasn't very good on skates so I usually stuck with my sled. Now that was FUN! I wonder if kids still do that there...?

I was introduced to ice-boating when I was about 12 years old around 1966. My Dad, Ed Kappesser (or "Kap" as everyone called him), had an old friend named Don Dix who lived near Oneida Lake and owned and raced ice boats. (Kap and Don grew up together in the Syracuse area and often visited Sandy Pond for fun when they were teens in the early 30's).

Anyway, if the ice was clear and the wind was right, Dad would call his buddy Don and he and another buddy would tow their ice boats up for a day or sometimes the whole weekend. This was a standing arrangement between the 2 friends for 20 years or so in the '60s and '70s when I lived there. Mr. Dix didn't have the small factory-made ice boats that you may be familiar with. His ice boats were hand-crafted out of mahogany and maple and they were long and wide with huge light-weight sails. I don't remember if he said he built them himself or hired a boat builder.

The principles of ice boating are similar to sail boating except the speeds are much higher and so it could be dangerous if you lost control and let the wind tip you over. The runners on Mr. Dix's magnificent craft were about 2 or 3 ft. long and made of sharpened steel (like skates) and were arranged in a triangular pattern, the front one being the steering runner and the 2 back ones stationary - like a tricycle. Believe it or not, if conditions were right he said you could get them up to 70 or 80 miles per hour. When your were piloting one of these you sat only a few inches off the ice so it seemed like you were going 80 when you were probably only going 40.

If I remember correctly, Mr. Dix had 2 big racers and one smaller trainer and he let us kids sail the trainer. The trainer could probably do 60 MPH on a good day but I was pretty nervous with it and didn't get a lot of practise in so I don't think I ever got it above 40. My older brother, Kip, who is a natural athlete, got her up to top speed in only one afternoon of practice. It was glorious. You could tell you were at the max speed it could do with the wind you had when one of the back runners would lift off the ice a foot or so and you shot down the ice on only 2 runners.

If you went parallel to the direction of the wind then you would eventually match the speed of the wind and when that happened things got peacefully silent and all you could hear was the noise of the runners sliding along the ice. It was like being in a bubble with the landscape whizzing by - what a rush! You could get a lot more speed if you went crossways with the wind of course. An getting back involved a tacking zig-zag pattern as you could expect.

I have told this memory to many people from all over the country for many years since I moved away from the Pond, and I have almost always received a reaction of dis-belief. It's not surprising if you come to realize that there are probably not a lot of locations in the country that have the ice and the strong wind like from the Lake for some real fast ice-boating.

Eventually, after Dad retired and I had joined the Navy, he and brother Kip bought a couple factory-made ice-boats. They were smaller than Mr. Dix's but I understand Dad still had a blast "not acting his age"...

1 comment:

  1. Kewel. Anybody ski behind the ice boats?? BUZZY


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