Skate Sailing  
By Donald Freix - Fish Creek, Wisconsin - USA

Call me a fool or call this fun, but with a ten by ten foot, 4 mil polytarp, two 10-foot sticks, three bolts, and a couple of nuts and fender washers, you too can accelerate to 12 knots on figure skates if you have a bit of smooth and hard water. Knee pads, elbow pads, and helmet are advised. There's nothing dull around here in winter. Next time you see an old guy, intent, grinning and a moving on down the lake, please excuse him if he doesn't wave back.


The polytarp was given a rough lateen/crab claw shape to maximize the square footage of the piece that I had purchased for about $4. US. I used a felt marker to draw the slightly curved leech shape, made allowances for folding over the poly edges and sewing a loose-fitting poly sleeve for the 1" x 1-1/4" by ten foot long clear spruce sticks. After sewing the sleeves (using a 1966 Kenmore portable zig-zag sewing machine) I used specific poly repair tape to cover the edges of the folds and to cover the stitching for reinforcement. That tape adheres much better than duct tape. With a piece of an old spruce spar (approximately 1 - 1/4" x 2") bolted across the sticks to keep the sail fully open, this piece also serves as the handle and the sheet for controlling the sail. There is no right or wrong way to build this $7.50 US rig. Use what you have at hand and a bit of imagination!


Sharpen your skates. By positioning the sail on the lee side of the body and holding the cross-bar, wind hitting the highest part of the sail will press and gently hold the lower of the two long sticks against your lower leg. You will begin moving and by changing the sail position slightly in any direction you will begin to feel the intuitive moves necessary to go from a reach to pointing into the wind slightly. To tack (and this was done in 25 knot wind gusts with no problem) firmly grab the cross-bar with both hands , one hand near each bolt where it joins the long sticks, and lift it over your head until it is flat (like a large letter "A," with the point facing directly into the wind) and you can easily manage a complete stall to control your speed. To complete the tacking maneuver bring the whole rig right on over your head to the other side of your body as you spin your skates to the new direction on the tack. There you go and you will go! A pair of racing speed skates would give you more speed. At the end of the afternoon, remove one of the bolts from the cross bar and it folds for transport lashed to the roof rack. Wahoooo!

Don Freix

Fish Creek

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