Iceboat racing. An Olympic-class challenge for hardy do-it-yourselfers

SKIMMING across the ice on a frozen lake at up to 50 m.p.h. Frigid, 15-degree air snapping through the sail and across your face. It's a sport known as iceboating, and the people who do it love it.

More than 80 sailors from seven countries came with their 12-foot boats to frozen Lake St. Clair, near Detroit, for the 1987 world championship DN-class iceboat races.

Contestants ranged from 13 years old to several times that number and included parents and offspring, as well as husband-and-wife pairs.

``It's fast and fun. If I ever gave up any sailing at all, I'd give up summer sailing just because it's so much fun to be going so fast in winter,'' says previous world champion Henry Bossett, a sailmaker from New Jersey.

``It's exhilarating. There's no other sailing where you just accelerate like a rocket ship,'' says Rosemary Hamill, one of several women contestants. ``You get your sheet in, and you blast off. This is one of the few sports where women compete equally with men.''

``I think that iceboating is unique in world-class sports,'' says self-proclaimed ``duffer'' and contestant Don Abrams.

``You don't have to start when you're young and go through years and years of training. If you've placed in regional events, you can sail in the world cups. You can go to Europe. You're in an Olympic-class sport, but you're just a person. That's a difference from all the other world-level sports.''

This was the 50th anniversary of the DN-class competition. The DN stands for Detroit News - after the newspaper. The first boats were built in the paper's hobby shop, according to DN specifications set to encourage home workshop boat building. The cost of building one is about $1,500.

The world championship races alternate each year between the United States and Europe. Participants this year came from Sweden, West Germany, Poland, Holland, Austria, Canada, and the US.

Mike O'Brien from New Jersey, this year's winner, began iceboating at nine. Mr. Bossett, the New Jersey sailmaker, took second this year. Stan Macur, from Poland, finished third. This was his fifth visit to the US for iceboat championships.

``What you learn when you travel anywhere is that people are wonderful,'' says Bossett. He has traveled to Germany, Holland, and Poland for past races.

``It doesn't matter what we read in the paper about Poland or Russia. It's nice to find out that the people in the countryside or in the cities, like myself, are just there having fun, themselves - raising families, and in general, harboring no resentment against Americans or any other nationality.''

``You have these people from overseas,'' adds Don Abrams, ``who come from varied and different cultures. There's a sort of universality to the human spirit when you're all together. Government philosophies sort of disappear. The technicalities of the sport sort of supersede any political or personal levels of consideration, and it's really nice.''

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