The water is frozen but the passion is red hot.
Ice boating in Red Bank, N.J. inspires high emotion and dedication among its devotees.
“I mean, you think about the ice, you talk about the ice, you project what’s going to happen with the ice,” said ice boater Jeff Smith, after a day out on the frozen field. “For every five ice boaters there are seven opinions as to what’s going to happen.”
The ice boat itself looks much the same as any other sailboat. It has a mast and sails, but instead of water, the rig is propped up on runners with metal blades attached, allowing the boat to physically skate on the ice.
Smith is the commodore of the North Shrewsbury Ice Boat and Yacht Club. It's a two story, cabin-meets-locker-room-meets-garage that sits on the banks of the Navesink River.
It is the oldest of its kind in the United States and the longest standing active ice boat club in the world, operating since 1880. Here, the dedication to the ice is unparalleled.
“We need cold weather, no snow, and we need a little bit of wind -- not a lot of wind but a little bit -- and so the conditions have to be just perfect," said boater Jim Hadley.
For the club, the ice is everything: the lifeblood, body and soul, and the only support.
“I think the Eskimos have about a thousand words for snow. We have three words for ice. Good, bad, or melted,” Smith said.
This frigid winter, while the rest of us complain, has been best in many years on the Navesink. The ice has had time to build up, leaving some areas with as much as 14 inches, enough to get the larger boats out.
Still, according to the boaters, it's all luck.
“It snows this week and then it rains - then we’re good again. If it snows and it doesn’t rain, then we are jammed up,” said Hadley, who won the day's races when NBC New York was there.
“Sometimes you go a whole year without any sailing because the conditions aren’t right,” added Rick Lawrence.
On this day the good conditions -- a morning's worth of hard, slick ice -- didn’t last long.
Think of it like a passionate love affair: the good ones are always fleeting.
This day’s love affair with the ice was no different. Forty-degree temperatures combined with the bright sunshine took their toll – the ice was getting soft in a hurry.
It can be so fleeting, according to some, that boaters could go 10 years without any ice on certain rivers. Still they keep coming back.
"This is the nicest way to pass away winter, than sitting at home watching the internet and saying I wish I was in Florida," said lifelong ice boater John Gannon. "I tell people all the time if you want to go to Florida, go to Florida. Don’t rain on my parade."
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