MONMOUTH — With the mainsail raised almost to the peak of the barn roof and the boom lowered to within inches of the well-cushioned basket seats, the classic stern-steerer ice boat filled almost all the space on the second floor of the Monmouth Museum carriage house.
The wood-encased metal runners under the seat and the outrigger-like plank looked incongruous on the rough-hewn boards of the barn’s second story.
The ice boat was designed for gliding across ice when the canvas caught the winter winds, a more silent craft than the snowmobiles rumbling not far away on Cochnewagan Lake on Saturday afternoon.
Built in the late 19th century or early 20th century, the one-ton wooden ice boat — sometimes referred to as an ice yacht — with a 25-foot mast and 28-foot beam was resuscitated earlier this year by a half-dozen determined men associated with the Monmouth Museum.
Gary Buzzell of Greene and Rob Knowles of Bridgton saw the ice boat collapsed and suspended from the roof of the museum’s freight shed and wanted to put it on display.
They and other volunteers lowered it from the ceiling, loaded it onto a dump truck and hauled it to the second floor of the nearby carriage house. Then they spent a whole day rigging it under the direction of Everett Brann, running the ropes along pulleys long unused.
Unfortunately the metal nameplates indicating the names of the boat and operator were removed from the upper beam before the museum acquired the ice boat some time in the 1970s.
“Nobody knows who donated it,” said F. Lloyd McCabe, 90, a museum trustee who not only works on the ice boat but shovels snow and trims the barn door so people can access the museum’s carriage house.
Another Monmouth Museum trustee, Larry Buggia, a veterinarian and co-owner of Annabessacook Veterinary Clinic in Monmouth, said the heavy boat likely was stored in a boathouse on a lake. “You could have a pulley system and pull it up to the boathouse roof,” he said.
McCabe speculated that the wooden ice boats were crafted in the carriage shops that were a necessity in most towns. “Those shops would be ideally suited to make an ice boat,” he said.
While there’s still work to do on the vintage boat itself, the trustees want to display it when the museum opens for the season on Memorial Day. “Hopefully it will draw crowds,” McCabe said. He would have preferred to put it out on Cochnewagan and charge for rides this winter, but knew that would have required a shelter and a lot more work.
He has one particularly fond memory of sailing across the ice in a two-seater similar to this one.
“I was ice skating around the southern tip of Cobbossee in 1938. I was probably still in grammar school. Six ice boats came sailing into that tip, and one operator said, âWould you like a ride?'” McCabe recalled. “I said, âI sure would.'” The sail took him to the opposite end of the lake and he skated back, a frequent winter pastime for him and his brother.
McCabe remembers seeing nine different ice boats at one time competing in races near Island Park on Cobbossee Lake.
Today that would be quite rare although Lloyd Roberts, secretary-treasurer of the Chickawaukie Ice Boat Club, the largest in Maine, said members of that club were sailing in Monmouth about six weeks ago. However, their craft are small, light single-seaters equipped with one sail.
The operators sail in a semi-reclining position with legs stretched out, wearing protective helmets in case they’re beaned by the boom and to keep warm.
The Chickawaukie Ice Boat Club, which was founded in the 1960s, puts up regular postings on the club’s website.
The club’s home ice is Lake Chickawaukie in Rockport, but members also sail on Damariscotta Lake, Lake Megunticook and Plymouth Pond.
Roberts said the current sailing season has been on hold waiting for ice. The boats don’t sail on snow. They need the same gleaming surface that supports figure skaters and hockey players.
While waiting for the precious ice, Roberts and a handful of club members are working to design a better ice boat. “The real hardcore thinks and does ice boating year-round,” he said. “Build in the summer and sail in the winter.”
Roberts said a prototype has been sailed a few times. “It’s a crossbreed between a Sunfish and a DN ice boat.”
Monmouth Museum’s ice boat, Roberts said, is typical of those made in the late 19th century to about 1930, with a jib and a gaffe-rigged mainsail. “There are a few of those around today,” Roberts said.
Most people today sail a DN class boat, named after the Detroit News-sponsored contest in 1937 to design a single-seater ice boat that could be carried on top of a car and work well.
Today, that’s the principal ice-racing vehicle, Roberts said. “It’s small, convenient, easy to take apart and can be built in a home workshop.”